Best telescopes 2020: get stargazing with these top telescopes for beginners and pros

Take a closer look at the universe with these top scopes from Celestron, Orion and others

Best telescopes: start stargazing with top scopes from Celestron, Orion and others
(Image credit: Future)

The Universe is back in fashion! With incredible discoveries being made every week about the solar system, distant exoplanets beyond that might just host life, and the Universe at large, there’s never been a better time to buy a telescope to see more of the what’s above your head with your own eyes. 

Space is constantly in the news. Elon Musk wants to colonise Mars as his company SpaceX launches ever-bigger reusable rockets, while NASA’s missions to Jupiter and Mars grab the headlines. Meanwhile, both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are paving the way for space tourism, and more and more sci-fi movies about exploring the cosmos are released. 

As well as learning more about space, the best telescopes around will also let you dabble in astrophotography – and it doesn’t have to cost the Earth. There’s a growing number of excellent value and budget-friendly telescopes on the market, which is great for beginners or those who aren’t so sure about getting into astronomy in the long term. However, you do need to make sure your expectations are well-aligned for whichever telescope you set your sights on.

From price and portability to aperture and focal length, there’s a lot to consider when buying the best telescope for you. There are three basic types of telescope that do slightly different things, and it’s best to know about them before starting your search. 

We’ve collected together a range of the best telescopes, including GPS-enabled devices that find the stars for you and telescopes with out of this world optics, through to the top budget-friendly scopes and devices created with ambitious young wannabe astronauts in mind.

Best telescope: our expert pick

  • If you’re on a tight budget or travel a lot, the best telescope for you will be cheaper and far more portable. For anyone who wants to take their stargazing hobby seriously, they’ll need a telescope that’s sturdy, easy to set-up and powerful enough to view the moon, nearby planets and deep sky objects.
  • For those reasons, out of all of the best telescopes around right now, our top choice is the Celestron 31045 AstroMaster 130EQ Reflector Telescope. It’s a solid telescope that provides you with a premium stargazing experience at home, yet doesn’t require tools to set-up. This makes it a good option for stargazing parties and taking camping.

Choosing the best telescope for you

It’s a great time to find the best telescope for you. That’s because there’s more choice, more accessories to make your new stargazing hobby more practical and fun, as well as different brands entering the market to cater for all needs. But lots of choice can make finding the right telescope confusing.

The key questions you need to ask yourself are: what do you want to be able to see? How much room do you have to keep the telescope when you’re not using it? How much do you want to spend? 

It’s also worth considering where and when you’ll use your telescope. Most telescopes will need to be used outside – you won’t get a great view if you just point one out of your window because light pollution (and even the heat from your home) will affect your view. So bear that in mind when considering portability and ease of set-up.

There are three types of telescope: refractors, reflectors and catadioptric or compound telescopes. They each have a different kind of lens set-up, which means they provide different results.

Now you have answers to those all-important questions, it’s time to read through our list of the best telescopes you can buy right now. 

The best telescopes to buy now

Best telescopes 2019 - how to start stargazing: Svbony SV25 Refractor Telescope

(Image credit: Svbony)

1. Svbony SV25 Refractor Telescope

A small telescope that’s great for kids and beginners

Reasons to buy
+Light and portable+Super easy set-up

This quick to set-up, small telescope is perfect for beginners and children who want to try stargazing for the first time. The great thing about this telescope is because it’s small and easy to get up-and-running, it gives those new to looking at space more confidence before they graduate to a bigger telescope – without the commitment or big price tag. 

This 60mm aperture refractor telescope comes with an adjustable aluminium tripod, which can keep the scope stable as you stargaze, as well as a phone mount adapter so you can easily take photos and videos of what you spot in the sky.

Because it’s an entry-level telescope aimed mainly at kids, it’s good for looking at the Moon, closer objects and even land objects, but you’ll need a more advanced scope to be able to see other objects in the night sky in more detail.

Best telescopes 2019 - how to start stargazing: Celestron 11069 Nexstar 8SE Telescope

(Image credit: Celestron)

2. Celestron 11069 Nexstar 8SE Telescope

The best telescope for lazy stargazers with a big budget

Reasons to buy
+On-board computer does the hard work+Portable in comparison to others
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive for a hobbyist

Celestron is one of the best telescope brands out there, creating a huge range of devices aimed at all levels – that’s why many of the telescopes on this list are from Celestron. The NexStar 8SE is one of Celestron’s high-end computerised devices, which means it does the hard work for you and can automatically find more than 40,000 celestial objects with the touch of a few buttons.

It has a large 8-inch aperture and good light-gathering ability, which means you’re guaranteed to get a clear view of many deep space objects with this advanced telescope. 

Of course there are much cheaper options available, which can give you a similar view, as well as smaller 6-inch and 4-inch models of this same telescope with a smaller price tag to match. However, this model ticks all of the boxes if you’re looking for a telescope that helps you easily study the bits of the cosmos you’re most interested.

Amazon is currently selling the NexStar 8SE with a bundle of other fantastic stargazing additions, including an eyepiece and filter kit with 14 accessories and a phone scope adapter. The latter enables you to easily take photos of the objects you spot in space. 

Best telescopes 2019 - how to start stargazing: Celestron 21036 Powerseeker 70AZ Telescope

(Image credit: Celestron)

3. Celestron 21036 Powerseeker 70AZ Telescope

The best telescope for kids who are really into stargazing

Reasons to buy
+A solid option for beginners+Comes with astronomy software
Reasons to avoid
-Still pricey for newbie hobbyists

If you’re looking for a telescope that isn’t basic and aimed at smaller children but will still suit beginners, then the 21036 PowerSeeker 70AZ telescope from Celestron is an easy-to-use option that’s a good choice for both adults and kids who are new to astronomy. Its set-up is pretty simple thanks to its altazimuth mount, this essentially means there’s no additional alignment or calibration necessary.

As well as the simple set-up, this 70mm beginner’s telescope has a sturdy aluminium tripod and comes with two different eyepieces, as well as astronomy software to guide you on your journey into the cosmos. 

Of course this is still a rather basic telescope, so expect to see closer objects and the Moon as well, but not deeper parts of space. If you want a slightly better view, this same telescope comes with an 80mm lens or, alternatively, if you want a cheaper and more basic telescope for younger kids, check out the 50mm and 60mm versions.

Best telescopes 2019 - how to start stargazing: Meade LX90-ACF

4. Meade LX90-ACF

The best telescope for serious stargazers

Reasons to buy
+Tracking system finds objects automatically+Industry-leading optic technology

This high-end telescope has a built-in Sony GPS sensor, which determines your precise location and means it can find more than 30,000 stars, planets, nebulae, comets and galaxies for you super fast.  

Alternatively, you can select the ‘Tonight’s Best’ feature, which gives you a guided tour of the best sights based on where you are in the world and which celestial objects are visible right now.

It’s also built to download free upgrades about comets, satellites and any new discoveries, which means its smart features and role as a tour guide of the night skies are never going to go out of date.

Best telescopes 2019 - how to start stargazing: Celestron Travelscope 70

5. Celestron Travelscope 70

A rugged telescope that's built for adventures

Reasons to buy
+Ideal for those who want to stargaze on-the-move+Great value for money
Reasons to avoid
-Quality and experience is far from premium

Plenty of people want an old-school-style telescope that’ll look nice in their bedroom or living room and stay put. But if you’re a fan of the great outdoors, or live in a city and can’t see great views because there’s just too much light pollution, you’re going to need a telescope that likes to travel along with you.

Luckily, Celestron has a light and portable telescope called the Travelscope 70, which is lightweight, mobile and even comes with its own backpack making it perfect for travelling, hiking and any other kind of outdoorsy adventure.

Of course packing optical tech into a smaller, lighter frame is going to mean a slightly less premium experience when it comes to the quality of the tripod and lenses, as well as magnification. But for the price, it’s ideal for beginners, travellers and even kids who you’re not sure are likely to keep their new hobby up for long.

Best telescopes 2019 - how to start stargazing: Orion 10012 Skyscanner 100mm Tabletop Reflector Telescope

(Image credit: Orion)

6. Orion 10012 Skyscanner 100mm Tabletop Reflector Telescope

The ideal telescope for lunar lovers

Reasons to buy
+Super portable+Good price
Reasons to avoid
-A bit pricey for a beginner

If you’re looking for an entry-level telescope with a difference, try one of the tabletop designs from Orion. The 10012 Skyscanner 100mm telescope isn’t designed to be attached to a tripod, but works well on a table – ideal if you have a table in your garden or want a scope to take and use on the picnic tables at your local park. 

This super portable telescope comes with two 1.25” eyepieces, astronomy software to get you started, as well as an Orion EZ Finder II reflex sight, which makes aiming the telescope relatively easy.

It is a well-priced, entry level scope, so don’t expect to see deep space objects unless you’ve got no light pollution. However, you should be able to see the Moon, as well as details on nearby planets. What sets this telescope apart from some of the other entry level devices is it isn’t made from plastic parts – which makes for a more quality feel and sturdy telescope. 

Best telescopes 2019 - how to start stargazing: Celestron 31045 AstroMaster 130EQ Reflector Telescope

7. Celestron 31045 AstroMaster 130EQ Reflector Telescope

A highly-capable telescope for taking on camping trips

Reasons to buy
+Provides fantastically clear images+A no-tool set-up process

This Celestron is a very capable reflector telescope that has a sturdy, fairly large build. But despite its solid design and stability, you don’t need tools to set it up – and, it’s easy to pack away for taking camping or to stargazing events. 

It has everything you need to get started, including a 10mm and 20mm eyepiece, a StarPointer red dot finderscope and free astronomy software to teach you the basics.

The telescope has an Equatorial Mount, which allows you to track objects smoothly as they move across the sky, providing bright, clear images of the Moon, planets, star clusters, and much, much more.

Best telescopes 2019 - how to start stargazing: Celestron 76mm Firstscope Apollo 11 Edition

(Image credit: Celestron)

8. Celestron 76mm Firstscope Apollo 11 Edition

A tabletop telescope for lunar lovers

Reasons to buy
+Tabletop design makes it easy to move and view+Amazing Apollo 11 extras

The Celestron 76mm Firstscope has long been one of our favourite telescopes for beginners, with its lightweight, tabletop design, which makes it the best choice for kids or anyone else who might struggle with a larger scope on a tripod.

This year, the Firstscope has been redesigned for the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings. Now it features a Moon design on the side, as well as commemorative coins and an astronomy book all about the Moon and how to spot the 50 most interesting things on the lunar surface.

This is a Dobsonian-style telescope with a 76mm aperture reflector optical tube attached, which makes navigating the night sky really easy, all you have to do is point the tube and take a look.

Best telescopes 2019 - how to start stargazing: Orion Skyquest XT8 Plus Dobsonian Relfector Telescope Kit

(Image credit: Orion)

9. Orion Skyquest XT8 Plus Dobsonian Relfector Telescope Kit

Best deluxe Dobsonian telescope

Reasons to buy
+High-end telescope+Looks fantastic
Reasons to avoid
-Limited astronomy features

As you can probably tell, the SkyQuest XT8 Plus has a different look to some of the other telescopes on the list, which Orion believes makes it even easier to use. It’s known in the telescoping world as a Dobsonian design, which means it’s a Newtonian telescope based on the design of amateur astronomer John Dobson.

This great-looking telescope has been upgraded (that’s what the Plus is for) and now has space for accessories and comes with a lot of new features, including a redesigned base and focuser, as well as a Safety Film Solar Filter and DeepMap 600 folding star chart to help you navigate your way around the night sky. 

According to Orion, the telescope is built around an 8" parabolic primary mirror, which can collect a lot of light and therefore significantly increases your chances of spotting deep space objects, like smaller structures in faint galaxies, as well as dust lanes in nebulas – this is one seriously smart scope.

If the XT8 Plus is a little too expensive and luxe, then check out some of the other Orion Dobsonian telescopes in the same range, including the XT4.5. 

(Image credit: Meade Instruments)

10. Meade ETX 90 Observer

Best telescope for moon and planets

Reasons to buy
+Easy to align+AudioStar controller and 30,000 object database
Reasons to avoid
-Not great with deep sky objects

This latest version of a classic 3.5-inch ‘scope that’s been available for decades has everything a beginner needs. A Maksutov-Cassegrain design, the ETX 90 Observer is a Go-To telescope that can find and track specific objects across the night sky. 

It’s operated using an AudioStar controller that contains a database of 30,000 objects. When you point the ETX 90 Observer at them, the controller has a speaker to tell you all about what you’re looking at. There are a couple eyepieces (26mm and 9.7mm) supplied for both a wide-field and a close-up view, and a red-dot finder for manually pointing the telescope. 

Once aligned with either one or two stars, the ETX 90 Observer tracks stars and deep sky objects, but also gives excellent views of the planets and, of course, the moon. Attach a camera using a T-adaptor and the ETX 90 Observer can even be used for both observing and for basic astrophotography of solar system objects. It’s powered by six AA batteries.

(Image credit: Vaonis)

11. Vaonis Stellina

Best smart telescope

Reasons to buy
+You can stay indoors+Built-in light pollution filter
Reasons to avoid
-Very expensive

Here’s surely the strangest and most exciting telescope for decades. Designed and built to replicate how a professional observatory works, the 3.1-inch Stellina telescope can be set-up in the back garden and left to observe on its own. The user can then sit indoors and periodically check its images on a smartphone. Easy!

Arriving on short tripod and operating off a 10,000mAh portable battery, the Stellina is less like a traditional amateur telescope, and more like a camera. It’s designed not for looking at the moon or planets, but faint deep sky objects such as galaxies and nebula. For example, set it to find the Andromeda Galaxy and it begins to take photos. As soon as it’s got one, it shows on your phone. 

However, as it takes more long exposure images it stacks them, just as professional astronomers and astrophotographers do. So the longer you leave it observing one object – which it tracks across the night sky – the better the finished image. Sharing and downloading the images is then easy, though it only creates them in 6.4 megapixels.