Seeing stars: stargazing in Snowdonia

Along with cleaner air, peaceful countryside and quieter streets, one of the real upsides to North Wales’s lack of pollution is the crystal-clear sky. Perfect for examining the cosmos in all its glory, the skies in North Wales promise even the most novice of astronomers a celestial experience not to be missed. Stargazing is a fantastic way to experience the majesty of the North Wales countryside and makes for a unique experience during your stay here.

International Dark Sky Reserve

Snowdonia National Park was named an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2015 – becoming just the tenth area in the world to be given this award. At the time of writing there are still just 13 designated Dark Sky Reserves, which goes to show just how prestigious an honour this is.

So, what exactly is an International Dark Sky Reserve (IDSR)?

An IDSR is an area of land, public or private, that experiences ‘exceptional or distinguished’ starry nights, due, in no small part, to concerted efforts to minimise light pollution. The IDSR is protected for scientific, educational, natural, cultural and heritage reasons. The area must meet specific criteria for natural darkness and quality. So, it’s official that some of the best nights in the world are to be had in the Snowdonia National Park!

Stargazing – How to Get Started

What to bring?

The main requirement for stargazing is stars, so heading to Snowdonia National Park is an excellent way to start. Other than that, there isn’t much restrictive or specialist equipment that’s considered essential – bring a blanket, a warm coat, provisions (a flask of hot tea is always a winner) and plenty of layers; nightfall, even during the summer months, can get very cold, so make sure to wear layers and bring weather-appropriate clothing.

A telescope or binoculars enhance your experience. A portable star map is extremely useful to help newcomers navigate the skies. Snaps from your stargazing adventure will be an incredible addition to your holiday photo album, so we recommend bringing a camera (or charging up your phone).

For phones, there are a number of really useful apps that can enhance your experience and make it that much easier – we love Star Walk (iOS) and Google Sky (Android) for letting you know which stars you can see where. A little less high-tech but incredibly useful is a compass – use it for locating specific constellations, or helping you out if you get a little lost!

Who?

Stargazing is a fun activity for all the family – as long as everyone’s wrapped up warm with plenty of snacks it can be an unforgettable educational experience for children. Gazing up at the celestial bodies can also be an endlessly romantic adventure.

When?

Fairly obviously, the best time for stargazing is at night. You’ll get the best visibility on clear nights, and for comfort its always best to try and choose a dry night (and one which hasn’t been preceded by rain, if possible). The night sky changes throughout the year, so if you’re lucky enough to return to North Wales during different seasons we recommend going stargazing more than once to enjoy different experiences and perspectives. The night sky is generally best for stargazing just before the moon is full, so it’s worth checking the lunar calendar before you head out.

Spectacular Snowdonia Stargazing Spots

Cadair Idris

To make the stargazing experience that much more magical, why not head to a place steeped in mythology? Legend tells that the fearsome giant Idris used this rock as his armchair as he gazed up at the stars. The best route up to the summit is the Minffordd Path.

Llyn Conwy

Just above Penmachno, the reservoir where the River Conwy begins its wending path through the hills enjoys incredibly dark and expansive skies. A lot of the charm of this place comes from its remoteness – so a map is definitely recommended! Wildlife enthusiasts will find plenty to look out for here too – keep your binoculars trained for nocturnal foxes and owls.

Cwm Idwal

Truly one of Snowdonia’s most breathtaking places, Cwm Idwal is a bowl-shaped valley containing the serene Llyn Idwal. Choose to visit on a clear night and you’ll enjoy a sky spangled with stars, and the amazing sight of them reflected in the lake’s waters.

Bwlch-y -Groes

For those not keen on hiking to find stars, Bwlch y Groes near Bala is a fantastic option. This is a mountain pass accessible by car – so if it’s a bit too chilly for you, you can simply roll down your windows and take a peek at the night sky! This is a Dark Sky Discovery Site, and the car park here is a great spot for standing telescopes for serious stargazing.

Llyn Geirionydd

With Betws-y-Coed nearby, this is a lovely scenic spot for exploring nature during the day and indulging your astronomical urges at night. Park at the lake carpark and find the perfect spot for admiring the dark skies here.

Llynnau Cregennen

Between Barmouth and Dolgellau, the twin lakes of Llynnau Cregennen are owned and maintained by the National Trust. There’s plenty of sky to examine here, and you’ll also be treated to spectacular landscapes and wonderful crisp, fresh air.

After your stargazing adventure, return to the warm environs of the Royal Victoria Hotel – superbly located in Llanberis. If we’ve inspired you to ‘look up’, choose Snowdonia and browse our selection of rooms here.