The best places on earth to see the sky at night

With the Patrick Moore Planetarium in Leicester inspiring a new generation of stargazers, Aaron Miller finds ways to let you get close to the wonders of our cosmos

What's the attraction?

Tomorrow the Space Theatre at Leicester's National Space Centre is renaming the Sir Patrick Moore Planetarium in honour of the pioneering TV astronomer. And with Stargazing Live whetting astronomical appetites, you may be ready for the next giant step. A stargazing holiday puts you in prime locations to see the most impressive displays in the universe. This year alone, there's a once-in-a-lifetime transit of Venus across the sun. Your holiday might even lead to a discovery: last week two amateur astronomers discovered a new planet after watching Stargazing Live. Next time, it could be you.

Rain of stars

The Perseids meteor shower is one of the best annual displays of shooting stars in the world, often with more than 50 meteors per hour. A new trip takes you to the Wadi Rum desert, aka the Valley of the Moon, in Jordan for the peak of the activity in August. Explore archaeological sites by day, and dine under clear desert skies, gazing up at this celestial spectacle at night. On The Go Tours (020-7371 1113; onthegotours.com) has an eight-day trip departing 11 August for £779 per person. It includes accommodation (with two nights in a desert camp), transport, activities, some meals and a local guide; flights extra.

 

Walking on the moon

The first man to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong, referred to Mount Teide National Park in Tenerife as the closest thing to the lunar landscape he'd ever seen. It's also one of the best places in Europe for stargazing. Wait for a new moon and cast your eyes upwards – no equipment needed. The only accommodation in the park is the Parador de las Cañadas del Teide (00 34 922 374 841; bit.ly/tenerifeparadores, with doubles from €110. Teide Astro (00 34 922 373 773; teideastro.com) provides free stargazing tours every Friday night for hotel guests.

 

Take the kids

Stargazing breaks for children entertain them by day and educate and enthrall by night. The "Turkey Adventure and Astronomy" trip features a walk, bike and horse-riding adventure through Cappadocia, with nightly live planetarium shows. The eight-day itinerary run by Explorers Astronomy Tours (0845 508 6651; astronomytours.co.uk) costs £1,429 per person, with Turkish Airlines flights from Gatwick to Kayseri via Istanbul, transport, accommodation, meals and tuition from astronomer Dr John Mason. Departures on 21 July and 7 August. Aged 12 and up.

 

Wow factor

A total solar eclipse is an awe-inspiring, rare cosmic event that happen every 18 months or so (although viewing them is tricky). Catch one this year on the beaches of Queensland, Australia on 13-14 November, or you'll have to wait until 2015 – and travel to the Arctic Ocean – to see the next. Bridge & Wickers (020-7483 6555; bridgeandwickers. co.uk) offers a 10-night package for £2,555, departing on 8 November with Qantas from Heathrow to Cairns via Singapore and Sydney, five nights' B&B at the Peninsula Boutique Hotel in Port Douglas and five nights' room only at the Angsana Resort beside the Great Barrier Reef.

 

Size matters

If you fancy a look around some of the world's biggest telescopes then you could do worse than visiting the high mountains of Arizona and California. Explorers Astronomy Tours (0845 508 6651; astronomytours.co.uk) offers a trip that combines visits to four observatories – including the Lowell telescope – with time at the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff Meteor Crater and the site of an annular eclipse. The 18-day trip costs £2,709 per person including Virgin Atlantic flights from Heathrow to Las Vegas, transport, accommodation, breakfast and tuition. Departs 17 May.

 

Now or never

The transit of Venus across the sun has only been seen seven times since the invention of the telescope in 1608. On 5 June, those in the know are heading to the Big Island of Hawaii – one of the few places on earth where the full transit, a dark disc crossing the sun, will be visible. MWT Associates Inc (001 408 279 5589; melita trips.com) offers a five-day package for US$2,195 (£1,463), which is organised and led by the experts at Astronomy magazine. The tour starts in Hawaii and includes accommodation, lectures, and a visit to the Keck Observatory, but not flights.

 

Dark sky destinations

Dark skies are a prerequisite for stargazing. Last month, Jasper National Park in Canada was designated a Dark Sky Preserve (jasperdarksky.org); Canadian Affair (020-7616 9184; canadianaffair.com) offers packages from the UK. Galloway Forest Park in Scotland has been designated a "Dark Sky Park", and wild camping is allowed (01671 402 420; www.gallowayforestpark.com). The Atacama Desert in Chile is dark enough for some of the largest telescopes in the world. The Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa (00 56 2 957 0303; altoatacama.com) has doubles from US$491 (£327) per person.

 

Who said that?

I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.

Vincent Van Gogh

 

If you take a 5p coin and hold it 75ft away, the space in the sky it would obscure would hold 10,000 galaxies. It's mind-blowing.

Professor Brian Cox

 

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Oscar Wilde

 

Insider information

The location is as important as what you'll experience at night. Take appropriate clothing – even in the tropics it gets chilly at night. Take a camera that can handle long exposures. It makes a huge difference to have an expert there who can give you background information and a few tips. Dr John Mason, "galactic ranger" for Explorers Astronomy Tours.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football Polish side was ejected from Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
news
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone