Home to some of the clearest, brightest night skies in the UK and a host of family-friendly, space-themed attractions, Wales serves as the perfect holiday choice for kids with an interest in all things interstellar.
The country has even been given the seal of approval as a top stargazing destination for young people by British astronaut Tim Peake.
'Looking up at the night sky shows children that they have a lifetime of limitless possibilities ahead of them,' said the famous space traveller during a recent visit to Wales. 'Wales offers a huge number of opportunities for seeing the night’s sky at its best with Dark Sky Reserves and Dark Sky Parks and of course low levels of light pollution.'
And who are we to argue with a real-life spaceman? Here’s our selection of Welsh attractions that are perfect for young travellers with a love of space and the stars.
Wales is revered by astronomers due to its low levels of light pollution found in its areas of countryside. These impressive cosmos-observing credentials have been recognised by the International Dark Sky Association, who have designated three areas in Wales as International Dark Sky Places, officially ranking them as some of the best stargazing spots on the planet.
Two areas in Wales have achieved International Dark Sky Reserve status, the Brecon Beacons – one of the first five areas to gain Dark Sky Reserve status in the world – and Snowdonia National Park, while the smaller Elan Valley Estate in Mid Wales holds Dark Sky Park status.
Visitors to Wales keen to marvel at the heavens can simply wrap up warm and head to one of these spots (or a multitude of other dark sky destinations in Wales) after dark to take in the spectacular celestial show happening overhead.
However, those looking for a little bit of guidance might consider embarking on a guided stargazing session, such as the ones run by Dark Sky Wales or Dark Sky Telescope Hire in the Brecon Beacons, or joining one of the regular events hosted by local astronomy clubs, such as the viewing nights run by North Wales Astronomy Society at Colwyn Bay or those organised by Cardiff Astronomical Society at Dyffryn Gardens in the Vale of Glamorgan.
Space-themed museums and exhibitions
You don’t have to stay up past bedtime to get your space fix in Wales, however, with the country home to a number of family-friendly museums with exhibitions and artefacts focused on the big black beyond.
Science centre Techniquest in Cardiff Bay is an essential stop, with a dedicated planetarium that regularly hosts fun and educational talks on the topic of space and the stars. The centre also has a recently-renovated space-themed zone, with hands-on puzzles and exhibits for kids to enjoy – from attempting to launch a rocket to trying to park a spaceship.
Wrexham’s Xplore! Science Discovery Centre boasts a similar offering for visitors, with interactive science-based exhibitions and regular kid-friendly talks about all things extra-terrestrial (check the website for details of upcoming events).
Slightly older outer space enthusiasts should also touch down at National Museum Cardiff, which has a number of space-themed artefacts in its permanent exhibition, including a rock retrieved from the surface of the moon during the Apollo 12 mission in 1969. Sealed within a protective airtight container, it’s considered to be most expensive item in the museum.
A working Welsh observatory
Located on a patch of farmland near Knighton, close to the English border, The Spaceguard Centre is one of Wales’ more unusual cosmic-themed attractions.
The centre is a working observatory that continually scans the night sky for ‘Near Earth Objects’ (namely asteroids and comets) that, if they were to collide with Earth, could pose a threat to our planet. Privately run and staffed by volunteers, it’s the only facility in the UK of its kind.
Tours of the observatory (suitable for children aged 9 and over) run from Wednesday to Sunday, which provide an insight into the work of the facility, lessons on the make-up of stars and asteroids, and an intro to the site’s small planetarium and hefty telescope, used to scour the sky on clear nights.
Visitors young and old will certainly come away with new-found knowledge about stars and asteroids, as well as potentially a small degree of anxiety about the threat posed by interstellar objects – though knowing the cost of your visit helps fund the work being conducted should ease fears of imminent comet-based catastrophe. After all, the life of a space explorer is not without its risks.