Several viewing points in the capital give a wide-angle panorama of the night sky. If you’d like to try stargazing in London, we’ve found the best places to peer down, or up, a telescope.
Can you see the stars at night in London?
Stargazing is entirely possible in this city of a zillion streetlamps. Look beyond the urban lights and you might just see Pluto or Venus from one of the capital’s observatories.
Dr Greg Brown, an astronomy expert from London’s Royal Observatory, says:
“The wide green spaces within London, such as the parks and heaths, can cut down on light pollution by a surprising amount, making the sky far easier to see. “Unfortunately, even the darkest places in London will still struggle to see the pale light of the Milky Way that crosses our sky. “While there’s plenty to see throughout the year, winter, with its longer and darker nights, is a far more accessible time, even if the weather isn’t quite as pleasant.”
“Unfortunately, even the darkest places in London will still struggle to see the pale light of the Milky Way that crosses our sky.
“While there’s plenty to see throughout the year, winter, with its longer and darker nights, is a far more accessible time, even if the weather isn’t quite as pleasant.”
If you’re serious about star gazing, London has several clubs and organisations to further your interest in all things astral.
Dr Brown continues to say that there are numerous amateur astronomy societies you can join, such as Baker Street Irregular Astronomers and Flamsteed Astronomy Society. They meet regularly to observe the sky and take beginners through starting up their own observing.
Or, you can head straight to the source, with observatories like the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, or UCL’s Mill Hill, for regular observing nights.
The Royal Observatory, Greenwich
There’s one obvious spot in London for star-spotting and that’s the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park. Close to Greenwich and Maze Hill stations, this historic stargazing centre dates back to the 1600s, and was built from a disused castle.
You can check your clock by it, as a Time Ball is raised and dropped at 1 pm every afternoon.
Flamsteed House is on the Meridian Line, and all global longitude measurements are taken from here. Under an iconic onion dome is the Great Equatorial Telescope, the largest of its kind in the UK.
This huge machine is in line with the Earth’s axis and moves parallel to the equator. Time your visit during winter months to coincide with one of the public viewing sessions.
Nearest station: Cutty Sark, DLR
UCL Astronomical Observatory, Mill Hill
No wonder this astronomical spot attracts coach-loads of schoolchildren as well as keen astronomers.
Sitting on high ground in a leafy suburb, the UCL Astronomical Observatory is a research site, as well as a great place for stargazing in London. Undergraduate astrophysicists study here, alongside people taking short courses in astronomy.
Because of this focus on training, the observatory telescopes are mainly for student use. Thanks to school visits and open evenings, the public gets an idea of what goes on behind the scenes, or under the domes. Book in for a short introduction and tour of the telescope.
Nearest station: Mill Hill Broadway, Thameslink
Hampstead Scientific Society Observatory, Hampstead
This pretty London village is perched at the highest point of London, so it’s the perfect place for an observatory. A refracting telescope dates back to the late 1800s, treating visitors to some top-quality stargazing in London on clear nights.
Tours to the Hampstead Scientific Society Observatory take place from September to April, depending on planetary positions. It’s all managed by volunteers from the Hampstead Scientific Society.
They’ll be happy to discuss everything astrological with you, but as with all astral events, pray for a clear sky so you stand a chance of seeing the stars.
Nearest station: Hampstead, Northern Line
Nonsuch High School and Observatory, Cheam
To the southwest of London, Nonsuch High School and Observatory in Surrey is the meeting place for the Ewell Astronomical Society, dedicated to amateur astronomy. Go on a group tour to explore the on-site observatory.
During your visit, the Society will offer stargazing sessions through its impressive telescope, if weather and skies allow it.
If you’re interested in the science of stargazing, you can go to one of the talks in the building’s library. Topics at the time of writing include telescopes, Saturn and the universe. The nearby parkland is perfect for gathering after dark to stare up at the night sky.
Nearest station: Cheam, Southern
Norman Fisher Observatory, Kenley
At the site, down a farm track in Surrey, there are talks every two weeks for anyone interested in astronomy.
Nearest station: Horsham, Thameslink
Crayford Manor House Astronomical Society, Dartford
The Crayford Manor House Astronomical Society, based in Kent, uses the Dick Chambers Sutton-at-Hone Observatory. Most events are for members, but the Society allows visits from clubs and schools.
On a good night, schoolchildren and regular members can view the night sky through the telescope.
Nearest station: Farningham Road, Southeastern
Go stargazing in London
There are plenty of stargazing spots in London, where astronomy groups can check on the stars and discuss their favourite subject. You don’t always need a professional telescope, but it helps to have a dark sky and a willing solar system.
Morden Hall Park
South of the city is a good place for astral gazing. This is because there’s a direct line towards the southern horizon, and that’s where most stars appear. Morden Hall Park is a great spot.
Nearest station: Modern, Northern Line
Regent’s Park Hub
Organised by The Baker Street Irregular Astronomers, this monthly meet at the Regent’s Park Hub welcomes stargazers hoping to spot something more than another plane flying over the capital.
Nearest station: Baker Street, Bakerloo Line.
High above London, this green patch of parkland between Hampstead and Highgate treats night strollers to stunning views. If the stars aren’t playing, the city’s twinkling skyline at Parliament Hill is just as photogenic.
Nearest stations: Kentish Town, Highgate or Hampstead, Northern Line.
Getting to London by train
If you’re ready to go stargazing in London, Avanti West Coast trains will take you right into the capital, where you’ll soon be eyeing the skies through your telescope. To make sure you get the right train to London for your stargazing trip, check in at the ticket booth first.