Finn Lough Forest Domes
Northern Ireland spoils sky-watchers with big open skies and incredible places to get up close and personal with the sight of thousands of bright, glimmering stars.
To get an inkling of what’s twinkling in the night sky, here are seven places that play a starring role.
An official Dark Sky Discovery Site, it’s recognised for low levels of light pollution and good public access. This is a heavenly spot for views of the Milky Way, night-time photography and the chance to see nature’s most remarkable light show, the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis.
Enjoy the night sky here at any time of the year, or look out for the special star-gazing evenings periodically hosted by the National Trust, with experts and equipment on hand from the Northern Ireland Amateur Astronomy Society.
Stay at: The Causeway Lodge
2. The Mourne Mountains
Many people are drawn to the Mournes for the stunning daytime views, but the night skies should be on the list too.
The lack of light pollution in the mountains turns the darkness into a scene bursting with life. The nightscapes are stunning, especially during the winter months when the nocturnal skies are ripe for those wanting to capture perfect pictures of faraway galaxies.
Look up and get lost. With the sky spread out above, it’s possible to spot planets, comets, shooting stars, and maybe the odd satellite passing by.
Stay at: Spelga House
3. Davagh Forest
Peel away from the city light pollution to the middle of the Tyrone countryside and get ready to experience the wonders of thousands of glimmering stars.
Take a camera and telescope to the dark skies around Davagh Forest, say, and on a clear night spot you can even see the Milky Way.
The night sky around Tyrone has captivated people for thousands of years. Sky-scanners should also check out the nearby Beaghmore Stone Circles, another top dark sky site that has long been thought of as having underlying celestial purposes.
Stay at: Pat Larry's Cottage
4. Oxford Island
Star gazing, moon gazing and planet gazing are all possible at the miles of uninterrupted dark skies at the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre at Oxford Island.
This top Dark Sky Discovery Site has even hosted BBC Stargazing Live events with the Irish Astronomical Association.
The beauty of Oxford Island is that it offers dark skies but is also relatively easy to travel to. The Milky Way and other galaxies such as Andromeda, home to 200 million stars, are among the glories visible here.
5. Finn Lough bubble domes
How about a night lying beneath a sheet of stars – indoors… in the middle of a Fermanagh forest… and from the warmth and comfort of a bed?
The luxury bubble domes at Finn Lough have a transparent walls and roof that provide 360-degree views of the sky and surrounding forestry, plus all the creature comforts you could wish for.
As the moon casts milky light across the treetops all you need do is lie back in your four-poster and marvel at the vast constellations.
6. Divis Mountain
Up on Divis Mountain of an evening and the lights of Belfast will twinkle below. Yet the true night-time spectacle will be the stars hanging in the sky above.
The elevation allows you to escape the city lights, providing a lovely spot to cosy up with a blanket, a flask and watch the night sky unravelling before your eyes.
If you don’t fancy hiking in the dark for stargazing, park up somewhere in the Belfast hills and make your own little stargazing base.
Stay at: The Rocks Bed and Breakfast
7. Benone Beach
Picture the scene: peace all around, soft sand underfoot, only the sound of waves caressing the shore. Above, a sky full of stars.
When it comes to back-to-nature activities, beachside stargazing is right up there as one of the best ways to spend an evening.
Grab that blanket and head for Benone Beach for some starry-eyed surprises. You might be lucky to spot a shooting star, or maybe even the Northern Lights.
Stay at: Strand House