10 of the best astronomical observatories in the UK

Whether stargazing at night or discovering the cosmos by the day, these are some of the best astronomy centres Britain has to offer.

Spaceguard centre, Wales.
Published: January 31, 2022 at 1:44 pm
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From northern Scotland to the Isles of Scilly, astronomical observatories are dotted all over the UK.

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It really does feel that no matter where you are on the British Isles, an observatory is never too far away.

These often dome-shaped buildings are not only a place for a chance to use some seriously large telescopes, but they are a location to enjoy talks, tours and even some astrophotography.

Not all observatories are in the deepest darkest countryside - you may be surprised to learn that there are quite a few situated in Britain's towns and cities.

The aurora can sometimes be seen in the skies over Kielder Observatory, Northumberland
The aurora can sometimes be seen in the skies over Kielder Observatory, Northumberland

If you're based in the UK and planning a day trip or even a staycation this year, or if you're a visitor to these islands and want to include some astronomy in your holiday, there are a great many observatories worth a visit.

Whether it be a city break or camping in the countryside, there's bound to be an astronomy centre not too far away.

Here is our guide to some of the best observatories in the UK.

10 UK astronomical observatories

1

Mills Observatory, Dundee

mills observatory dundee at night

Located on Balgay Hill just one mile from the city centre, the view from across the River Tay is spectacular.

Mills was the first purpose built public observatory and is just one of two surviving observatories in the UK with a papier-mâché dome (the other being Godley Observatory in Manchester).

Hosting planetarium shows for a very small fee or free open evenings with no need to book, the historical Mills is a must visit for astronomers and lovers of all things cosmic.

More info: Mills Observatory

2

Royal Observatory Edinburgh

Royal Observatory Edinburgh
Credit: ROE

This historic observatory and science centre hosts regular astronomy talks, night-sky observing sessions and special events, including some held as part of the annual Edinburgh Science Festival.

Local astronomers lead stargazing sessions for beginners, while the talks and lectures programme invites astrophysicists, engineers and other expert speakers to discuss their work.

More info: Royal Observatory Edinburgh

3

Kielder Observatory, Northumberland

The Milky Way above Kielder Observatory. Credit: Daniel Monk
The Milky Way above Kielder Observatory. Credit: Daniel Monk

Situated within the Northumberland and Kielder Water and Forest International Dark Sky Park, Kielder is perhaps one of the best known astronomy sites in the UK.

Boasting two observatories, an observing deck and an astrophotography academy, the events here sell out quickly so plan your visit well in advance.

More info: Kielder Observatory

4

Jodrell Bank, Cheshire

The Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory, Cheshire. Credit: Travel Ink / Getty Images
The Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory, Cheshire. Credit: Travel Ink / Getty Images

Part of the astrophysics department at the University of Manchester, the radio telescopes at Jodrell Bank must be seen to be believed.

Probing the depths of space for radio signals, the observatory's main dish, the Lovell Telescope, is a whopping 76 metres in diameter.

Jodrell Bank is also home to the headquarters of the Square Kilometre Array, which when complete will be the largest telescope in the world.

Check out the Discovery Centre and Telescope Talks to learn all about radio astronomy and the Universe.

More info: Jodrell Bank

5

Royal Observatory Greenwich

Royal Observatory Greenwich, London.
Credit: Majaiva / iStock / Getty Images Plus

London seems an unlikely place to have an observatory, but the Royal Observatory Greenwich was constructed in Greenwich Park in 1675.

Home to ‘The Great Equatorial Telescope’, which is open for use by the public during special events, the observatory has played host to some of the greatest astronomers of all time.

The observatory has a state-of-the-art planetarium, and you can enrol on some of their popular short astronomy courses.

Here, you can even straddle the Prime Meridian and stand in the western and eastern hemispheres at the same time. Very cool!

More info: Royal Museums Greenwich

6

The Observatory Science Centre, Herstmonceux

Night falls at the Observatory Science Centre, Herstmonceux
Credit: Observatory Science Centre, Herstmonceux

Perhaps one of the most recognisable observatories in England thanks to its six green domes, the Science Centre at Herstmonceux hosts stargazing evenings and astronomy courses, including telescope clinics.

Keep an eye out for astrophotography workshops, stargazing events and the observatory's annual astronomy festival which is normally held each year in September.

More info: The Observatory Science Centre

7

COSMOS Observatory, Isles of Scilly

cosmos observatory scilly

We cannot get enough of this observatory on St Martin’s due to its outstanding location. Scilly's COSMOS observatory boasts two domes housing three telescopes, one of which is used for solar observing.

The site enjoys very little light pollution making this one of the most desirable observatories to visit in southern UK.

It is open for scheduled events twice a week between April and October.

More info: COSMOS Community Observatory

8

The Spaceguard Centre, Knighton

Star trails over Spaceguard centre, Wales.
Star trails over Spaceguard centre, Wales.

Situated in rural Wales not too far from the Shropshire Hills in England, the Spaceguard Centre is the National Near Earth Objects Information Centre (NNEOIC) and the only organisation in the UK dedicated to researching Near Earth Objects and the risk they pose to Earth.

Open Wednesday to Sunday throughout the year for conducted tours and hosting private evening tours in the winter, you can use one of their telescopes to enjoy the dark skies of Wales.

More info: Spaceguard Centre

9

Armagh Observatory and Planetarium

armagh planetarium

Opened in 1790, Armagh Observatory has an impressive history and its adjoining planetarium will intrigue amateur and professional astronomers alike.

From augmented reality experiences to a splendid meteorite display and the planetarium’s digital full dome theatre, visitors are spoilt for choice.

Take a stroll around the 14-acre Astropark, immerse yourself in the scale models of the Solar System, the Human Orrery, sundials and historic telescopes. Pre-booking for this brilliant site is essential.

More info: Armagh Observatory & Planetarium

10

OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory, Tyrone

Stargazing outside OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory, Northern Ireland.
Credit: OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory

A relative newcomer to the Northern Ireland astronomy scene, OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory opened in October 2020 in a Dark Sky Park region of County Tyrone.

The observatory boasts a 14-inch LX600 Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope for astronomy outreach and a science centre that teaches visitors about the workings of the Universe via touch screens, binoculars, mini-telescopes and exhibitions.

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More info: OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory

Authors

Katrin Raynor Evans astronomy
Katrin Raynor EvansAstronomy writer

Katrin Raynor-Evans is an astronomy writer and a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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