Getting away from city lights to sleep under a glimmering night sky can be a transformative experience—few settings offer such a moving reminder of Earth’s infinitesimal place in our universe. Since 1988, the Tucson, Arizona–based International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) has worked to certify and protect night skies around the world from light pollution by implementing controls and regulations that preserve the natural nighttime environment. There are now more than 200 such “Dark Sky Places” around the world, with five categories ranging from remote Dark Sky Sanctuaries to Reserves and Communities, all committed to protecting our view of the cosmos.
Once upon a time, dark sky viewing required camping out, but you no longer have to rough it to sleep beneath the stars. Boutique hotels and lodges have begun to appear in these dark sky reserves, offering plenty of creature comforts alongside front-row seats to the celestial show. Imagine waking up to the Northern Lights in a glass dome in the Arctic. Or falling asleep with the Milky Way shining above your open-air safari bed. How about stargazing at a Himalayan monastery? Here are 10 places to stay to behold nighttime wonders.
andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge
- Where: Sossusvlei, Namibia
- Book now
Since its founding in 1991, andBeyond has developed a proven model of impact and conservation with care of the land, wildlife, and people at its core. Sossusvlei Desert Lodge sits on a vast private concession in the Namib Sand Sea, a coastal fog desert that’s home to the largest sub-Saharan dune field. The lodge borders the NamibRand Nature Reserve, Africa’s only dark sky reserve designated by the International Dark-Sky Association. With the nearest town close to 90 miles away, the sky here measures as one of the darkest on Earth.
The lodge’s 10 glass suites sit along the curve of an escarpment, each producing solar energy to power the air-conditioning, water treatment, and recycling systems. Floor-to-ceiling glass panels offer views of the desert and the night sky, and there are stargazing skylights above each bed and in the spa treatment room.
Every evening in a dedicated observatory area with cushioned seating, resident astronomers offer a tour of the night sky using an 11-inch Celestron computerized telescope, which can zoom in on such deep sky objects as Saturn’s rings and colorful nebulae, the gaseous regions where stars are formed. At sunset, animals congregate at a nearby water hole, which makes for outstanding twilight wildlife viewing. Daytime adventures include hikes of the aptly named Star Dunes, hot air ballooning, desert drives that teach visitors about the ecosystem, geology, and Indigenous peoples, and desert sundowners to watch night fall with a drink in hand.
Explora Atacama Lodge
- Where: San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
- Book now
Thanks to a dry, high-altitude climate, the skies above Chile’s Atacama Desert are some of the world’s clearest and darkest, and Explora Atacama Lodge, located in the settlement of San Pedro de Atacama, takes full advantage of them. The Milky Way, which Atacama Quechua speakers call Mayu, or “celestial river,” is a nightly spectacle above the lodge.
Explora Atacama has a private observatory with a Meade 16-inch f/10 LX200R RD telescope, which means it can show brighter star clusters and detailed surface features on the planets in our solar system. Staff astronomers lead nightly open-air stargazing sessions that cover basic astronomy, the solar system, and deep space. Explora Atacama Lodge is only 30 miles from the ALMA international radio observatory, which offers guided tours that reveal how the telescopes listen to radio waves emitted by gas and dust in deep space, offering insights into the origins of the universe.
The lodge’s 50 adobe-style guest rooms and suites sit on 42 acres of land with ruins of an ancient Aymara Indigenous settlement whose historic buildings and pathways are respectfully preserved. The open-air spa features four natural pools, a sauna, and steam baths, all surrounded by the original landscape and native plants, such as pampas grass and high desert flowers.
Battlesteads Hotel & Observatory
- Where: Northumberland, England
- Book now
This marriage of posh English country hotel and astronomical observatory makes for an alluring dark sky getaway. On the edge of Northumberland International Dark Sky Park—established in 2013 as England’s largest dark sky preserve—Battlesteads Observatory offers talks, stargazing, and astronomy courses by a team of professional astronomers. On the same property, the 22-room Battlesteads Hotel is housed in an 18th-century stone farmhouse; adjacent to it are five stand-alone rooms built from sustainably sourced local wood. Lodgings are located down a quiet pathway near the observatory.
Stargazing and other nighttime activities like aurora hunting are on offer almost every evening. Sustainability is baked into Battlesteads’ operations, which include a carbon-neutral heating and hot water system from a biomass boiler. Its gardens supply produce for the restaurant, which serves such dishes as seasonal game, house-smoked kippers, and summer salads.
Adero Scottsdale Resort, Autograph Collection
- Where: Fountain Hills, Arizona
- Book now
Sitting 2,500 feet above the Sonoran Desert in the McDowell Mountains, Adero Scottsdale is a contemporary-feeling resort located in Fountain Hills, one of 38 International Dark Sky Communities (IDSCs) around the world. IDSCs are certified towns and communities that have implemented lighting ordinances and protections for the nocturnal environment. The town is in the middle of fundraising to build an International Dark Sky Discovery Center with an astronomical observatory and planetarium.
Adero, an independent hotel under Marriott’s luxury and lifestyle Autograph Collection brand, has a designated area for stargazing, and every Friday evening a local astronomy group guides guests through the night sky using telescopes, binoculars, and naked-eye stargazing. The resort offers guests a premium version of StarWalk 2, an augmented reality app that allows users to explore the constellations and planets by pointing their phone at the sky.
The resort takes full advantage of the town’s abundant dark skies. The 177 rooms and suites have either mountain or desert views and feature balconies for private stargazing sessions; for an added treat, book a corner Dark Sky Suite for floor-to-ceiling, south-facing windows perfect for stargazing. The star-themed restaurant, Cielo (“sky” in Spanish), serves farm-to-table dishes such as walnut chimichurri–stuffed acorn squash on an outdoor deck under the stars. In the hotel’s front garden, the SkyTop outdoor cocktail lounge sits along the edge of a hilltop and faces panoramic views, with astro-inspired cocktails, such as the Milky Way with salted caramel bourbon, espresso, hazelnut, and amaro.
- Where: Ladakh, India
- Book now
A community-led program of six homestays in Ladakh, India, Astrostays aims to create regenerative livelihoods for remote Himalayan communities. The program is part of Global Himalayan Expedition, a regenerative travel social enterprise that uses tourism revenue to electrify remote villages and create educational opportunities. It trains women homestay owners how to operate a community telescope located in a public area at the village center, and those owners then lead guests on stargazing adventures under the high, arid Ladakh night sky.
Astronomy is at the heart of these homestays. But they also offer visitors ample opportunities to connect with local cultures. In 2022, Astrostays launched a new community space called Cosmohub. Run by five women from the village of Phyang near Leh, Cosmohub is adjacent to a 16th-century Buddhist monastery. A visit integrates stargazing with a monastic prayer session and traditional Ladakhi dinners like momos (dumplings) and thukpa (noodle soup), cooked with produce from a local greenhouse, plus a guided tour of its astronomy exhibit.
Dark Sky Dome
- Where: Tallaminnock, Scotland
- Book now
Located an hour’s drive southeast of Glasgow in Britain’s first International Dark Sky Park, certified in 2009, the Dark Sky Dome offers guests unfettered access to Galloway Forest Park’s starry nights. Opened by local amateur astronomer Christopher McCrindle, who comes from five generations of fishermen and was a navigator in the Merchant Navy, the open-plan dome is the largest of its kind in Scotland and offers a glamping-style stay.
Up to four guests can sleep in a king bed and a pull-out futon, while an upstairs area contains two mezzanine nets on which to recline and stargaze through the dome’s clear plastic roof. Though accommodations are rustic, there are plenty of creature comforts, including Wi-Fi, a wood stove, an indoor shower and toilet, and a full kitchen. (Guests must bring their own food but there is a village shop five miles away.)
The dome has no exterior lighting (guests are given flashlights) and its interior “Block Blue” light bulbs don’t emit damaging, short-wavelength blue light, allowing eyes to stay adjusted to the surrounding natural darkness.
- Where: Northern Territory, Australia
- Book now
Australian Indigenous groups are among the world’s first astronomers, with thousands of years of starlore and an early understanding of the night sky. With almost no urban development, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park contains some of the most expansive skies in the world, with unobstructed views from horizon to horizon. Sitting adjacent to the park is Longitude 131, a luxury tented camp that overlooks the Outback’s vast, dusty Red Centre and the famed monolithic Uluru (Ayers Rock) and the Kata Tjuta domed rock formations.
The lodge’s 16 tented pavilions are designed to have minimal impact on the delicate, red-dune environment. Tents feature floor-to-ceiling windows with views of Uluru, and private outdoor decks have ecofriendly, clean-burning fireplaces and safari beds for sleeping under the stars. Want views of both Uluru and Kata Tjuta? Book the two-bedroom Dune Pavilion suite, with private outdoor stargazing beds and an outdoor plunge pool to soak up the sky.
Guided excursions include sunrise and sunset walks around Uluru and Kantju Gorge and sundowners at a sunset viewing area with a pop-up bar to watch the light change into night over the desert. Several local tours, which can be arranged by the resort, offer visitors a deeper understanding of ancient Indigenous astronomy and starlore, such as the story of the Great Emu, made up of dark patches in the center of the Milky Way.
Hoshinoya Taketomi Island
- Where: Taketomi Island, Okinawa, Japan
- Book now
Remote Taketomi Island, which sits in the southernmost reaches of the Okinawa Islands, is part of Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park—Japan’s first dark sky preserve established in 2018. To protect the natural environment of the island, Hoshinoya Taketomi Island worked with Masanobu Takeishi from Tokyo-based lighting design firm Illumination of City Environment to create a lighting scheme that uses sparse, small lights in key locations that give way to moonlight and starlight. There are no tall structures, so guests can view the night sky from any vantage point.
All of the resort’s 48 villas are single-story wooden buildings that follow the island’s traditional architecture: stone walls, white-sand gardens, and red-tile roofs. In the bar, you can sample traditional Okinawan rice-wine cocktails, and the swimming pool is designed to reflect the sky, at night turning into a stargazing float pool.
During the summer months, the resort offers such night-sky programs as a three-day wellness stay called Star Sky Misurin. The word “misurin” is Okinawan for “eyes that sparkle full of life.” The resort’s program includes sunset and starry sky viewing, spa treatments, and meals with ingredients including goya (Japanese bitter melon) that are said to be good for the eyes.
Hoshinoya Taketomi Island also hosts a nighttime ritual movement program year-round called “Tinnu Deep Breathing,” where participants practice stretching exercises under the stars and moon before going to bed. During the summer, the activity takes place at the beach. You can also take a traditional wooden sabani boat out to sea to watch the sunset from the water.
Northern Lights Ranch
- Where: Lapland, Finland
- Book now
Above the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland, Northern Lights Ranch was designed to offer convenient access to the night sky and Northern Lights via Kittilä Airport 18 miles away. Located just north of the ski resort village of Levi, the ranch sits within an area that’s far away from light pollution.
The 15 Sky View cabins were built with oversize windows and heated glass roofs designed for cozy stargazing and aurora viewing from bed. Book a Deluxe cabin, which can accommodate up to three adults or a family of four. It has a double bed, an additional alcove sofa bed, and a private outdoor hot tub for evening soaking as the aurora undulates above. All cabins are equipped with Scandinavian-style whitewashed timber furnishings and kitchenettes.
To get the best chance at seeing and photographing the Northern Lights, book an aurora-chasing tour, available year-round but best in winter. The tour equips travelers with Arctic overalls, winter boots, and a headlamp and offers brownies and hot berry juice along the way.
Mt. Cook Lakeside Retreat
- Where: Lake Pukaki, South Island, New Zealand
- Book now
Located in the vast Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve (the first in the Southern Hemisphere, certified in 2012), Mt. Cook Lakeside Retreat is so remote it practically has no light pollution. Each of the four villas is a private, two-bedroom lake house decorated in Tuscan farmhouse style with big windows. All face the turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki and the Ben Ohau Mountain Range and have outdoor hot tubs for relaxing under the night sky.
A culinary team provides fresh local fare, such as wild alpine salmon and free-range South Island lamb, either in your villa or the communal Moraine Lodge dining area. Guests can also book a “Billion Star Dining” experience, which starts with a three-course meal in the lodge and ends with a stargazing experience. The retreat’s nocturnal calling card is its purpose-built wine cellar and astronomical observatory. Here, guests can take part in a wine or whiskey tasting followed by a guided tour of the night sky through a six-inch refractor telescope in a circular observatory with a retractable roof.
As its name suggests, Mt. Cook Lakeside Retreat is about 30 miles from New Zealand’s highest peak, Mount Cook, which makes for an easy day excursion. Surrounding the property are three miles of walking trails and wellness activities, including forest bathing, yoga, and in-room massage treatments.