Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, is known for its captivating history, magnificent castle, and vibrant festivals. Yet, when dusk falls and the city lights dim, a different kind of spectacle begins. The night sky above Edinburgh transforms into a celestial theatre, where stars, planets, and constellations play out their timeless drama.
While stargazing in a city might seem counterintuitive, Edinburgh offers an array of spots perfect for urban astronomy. From the iconic Arthur’s Seat offering panoramic views of the sky, to the city’s Royal Observatory with its regular public events and powerful telescopes, the city can provide surprisingly stellar views. Venturing just outside of Edinburgh, darker skies at locales like the Pentland Hills or Newbattle Abbey College offer an even more immersive stargazing experience, where the Milky Way becomes a visible river of stars crossing the sky.
So, let’s embark on a starlit journey in and around Edinburgh, exploring the cosmic beauty that dances above this enchanting city. Prepare to be amazed by the celestial treasures hidden in plain sight, for in Edinburgh, the sky is not the limit – it’s just the beginning!
Featured photo courtesy of Magnus Hagdorn via Flickr
Stargazing in Edinburgh Map
Before jumping into the list of places for stargazing in Edinburgh, I thought it might be helpful to also have a map of those places; consider opening this map to use alongside the list to help you plan which spots you want to go stargazing at.
The Best Spots for Stargazing in Edinburgh
Arthur’s Seat is one of the city’s most prominent landmarks and a popular tourist attraction that appears on most Edinburgh weekend itineraries. Locals and visitors walk up Arthur’s Seat for exercise and to enjoy views of the Old and New Towns. On a clear day, you can see the Forth Bridges and over to The Kingdom of Fife. Film fans reading this may recognize Arthur’s Seat and its Salisbury Crags from Trainspotting with Ewan McGregor and One Day with Anne Hathaway.
It takes less than an hour to walk to the summit and there is a well-trodden path to get you there. However, it is recommended you do this hike in daylight before you attempt to walk up it at night as it can be rocky underfoot. There’s also a bit of scrambling at the top, depending on what path you take. The hill has no barrier protection, just a cliff edge so don’t get too caught up on the views and watch your step.
Calton Hill is an easier hike compared to Arthur’s Seat as it takes less than 10 minutes to get to the top.
The old City Observatory is located here, next to the monument dedicated to John Playfair, the first president of the Edinburgh Astronomical Society. Also known as the Playfair Observatory, this wonderful piece of architecture, which resembles a Greek temple, was designed by John’s nephew, William Henry Playfair. Over the years it has changed hands and parts have been added. Today it houses the Collective, a contemporary art gallery.
Calton Hill is where locals head to get a decent view of fireworks going off in the city, for example on New Year’s Eve or during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. If you plan to visit Calton Hill at dawn you will most likely be rubbing shoulders with photographers as it is a favored spot for Instagram photography fans with views taking in Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh Castle, The Balmoral and Princes Street.
Yes another hill, Edinburgh is known for its Seven Hills so they are a good start of stargazing.
Blackford Hill is an important one when it comes to astronomy as it is where The Visitor Centre of The Royal Observatory Edinburgh is located. Its distinctive A-listed green dome is known to walkers who enjoy the nature of The Hermitage around it.
When the original City Observatory on Calton Hill was threatened with demolition in the late 1800s, the Royal Observatory Edinburgh on Blackford Hill was born and still owns the original books and equipment donated by Lord Lindsay (Earl of Crawford) which includes works of Newton and Galileo.
If you don’t fancy walking up Blackford Hill in the dark you can join a virtual event hosted by the ROE or one of their Astronomy Talks. The ROE is a working environment, all visits must be pre-arranged and pre-booked.
The final Edinburgh hill in our stargazing guide is Corstorphine.
The viewpoint three-quarters of the way up the hill is a little shaded with woodlands but it does provide excellent views of Edinburgh Castle.
This photographer caught a cracker of a picture from this hill when the full moon shone above Edinburgh Castle.
Stargazing Spots Within One Hour of Edinburgh
Moving away from the city of Edinburgh, you will find better opportunities to see stars at night.
Within an hour of leaving Edinburgh by car or public transport, star chasers will reach the coastal regions of The Kingdom of Fife and East Lothian. The bigger towns in both areas are quite built up and residential with lights restricting stargazing. Cloud coverage can also be an enemy. However, there will be some nights where the skies are clear and you will see a flutter of stars with the naked eye.
St Andrews in Fife does have a working observatory at its university which hosts events. It is home to the James Gregory Telescope, the largest operational telescope in Scotland.
Stargazing Spots Within Three Hours of Edinburgh
As you might know from this guide to stargazing in Scotland, there are some fabulous spots for stargazing across the Kingdom of Scotland. Here are a few of the best places within a couple of hours’ drive from Edinburgh.
Galloway Forest Park
No stargazing in Scotland guide is complete without a mention of The UK’s first Dark Sky Park in the South of the country. Galloway Forest Park is made up of 777 square kilometers of forest, lochs and low hills. The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory can also be found in this dark park and has a public observatory.
Another 1.5 hours away from Galloway is Moffat, Europe’s very first Dark Sky Town. The town has special street lights to keep light pollution to a minimum. It took the town three years to win the award of Dark Sky Town and they are proud that they can offer winter tourists the chance to enjoy 2-3 more stars than street-lit towns.
Tomintoul and Glenlivet
At the very tip of Cairngorms National Park is Tomintoul, the Cairngorms Dark Sky Park and the UK’s most northerly. It is possible to see constellations, shooting stars and the Milky Way at this park. The magical Aurora Borealis has been spotted from this area too with Tomintoul Field of Hope cited as a potential viewing place.
How Good is the Stargazing in Edinburgh?
While you can see stars on the stage and at sports games in Edinburgh, the visibility of stars in the sky is pretty poor. If you are visiting Scotland and are dead set on experiencing a Disney-like sky make your way to the Highlands and Islands or South West Scotland for undisrupted dark skies with a sea of stars.
Again, since Scotland’s weather is never predictable, give yourself a few nights in rural locations for maximum opportunity for stargazing.
Best Times of Year to Go Stargazing in Edinburgh
As you might imagine for any part of the U.K., Edinburgh has a temperate climate which comes with a fair amount of cloud cover. The summer months of June and July are typically the clearest and warmest, which makes them an ideal time if you’re planning a trip to Edinburgh that also specifically includes stargazing. If you have the flexibility, you might even chance the clouds to see the Perseids meteor shower in mid-August.
Other Space-Related Experiences in Edinburgh
In addition to the night sky – or in the event that clouds foil your plans –, there are a few other space-related experiences to enjoy in Edinburgh.
Just underneath Arthur’s Seat is Dynamic Earth, the state-of-the-art family attraction which takes visitors through history from the Big Bang to modern day. This is home to Edinburgh’s only large-scale planetarium, which boasts of a newly upgraded projection system. Expert astronomers and science communicators present live shows using footage during Planetarium shows which are usually aimed at school class trips.
However, there are some 6K shows for paying members of the public such as Planets 360, a re-imagining of British composer Gustav Holst’s The Planets orchestral suite’ which mixes art, music and science into a 360-degree immersive experience.
Astronomical Society of Edinburgh
The Astronomical Society of Edinburgh has been active since 1924 and continues to meet at least three times a month through a series of events, talks and as part of their Imaging & Observing Group (IOG). You can also find an observing forecast for Edinburgh on the ASE website.
Edinburgh Science Festival
The Edinburgh Science Festival is an annual multi-day event hosted in a variety of venues throughout the city. Events include outdoor exhibitions, tours and trails, workshops, discussions and family shows.
Ready to give stargazing in Edinburgh a try? Let me know any questions or concerns in the comments below!