Best telescope for stargazing 2021: great gear for watching the skies

Here are the best telescopes, whether you're starting out with stargazing or a seasoned astronomer

Best telescope for stargazing
(Image credit: Pixabay/Lorenzo Sestini)

Finding the best telescope for stargazing is a great idea if you're looking for a hobby that can take your mind off worldly worries. If you need to put everything into perspective, what better way than getting out into the back garden of an evening and looking out across the cosmos at the ancient light from unimaginably distant stars?

While the best telescopes aren't cheap, you can still get your hands on a perfectly decent piece of equipment without emptying your bank account, but if you're willing to spend a bit more you'll be rewarded with something that'll enable you to look deep into the sky with increased clarity, or even get a close view of our neighbouring planets than you'd ever imagined.

Whatever your stargazing plans and budget, we've already found the perfect telescope for you, from simple starter scopes to more advanced models and from pocket money prices up to eye-wateringly expensive.

Don't really know what you're doing? Follow our guide to how to set up a telescope and you'll soon be in business, and if you're planning on staying out late to get the best view of the stars, don't forget to invest in one of the best waterproof jackets and maybe one of the best hand warmers. And if a telescope's just a bit much, or if you'd prefer to look at something closer to home, check out our guide to the best binoculars (some of which can be used for stargazing, too).

How to choose the best telescope for you

Trying to find the best telescope can be pretty intimidating, especially if you're new to the whole business. There's so much choice, plus so many accessories and extra, that you might despair of working out what's the best option for you. However you just need to ask yourself some key questions: what do you want to be able to see, how much room do you have, and how much do you want to spend? 

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. 

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. Also consider if you'll want to be able to attach a stills or video camera to be able to record what you see, as you see it. 

For more guidance for beginners specifically, head to our guide to how to choose your first telescope. Now let's get started looking at the best telescopes for stargazing right now. 

The best telescopes to buy now

best telescope: SkyWatcher Explorer 130M Motorised Newtonian Reflector Telescope

(Image credit: SkyWatcher)

1. SkyWatcher Explorer 130M

A mid-range motorised option suitable for users of all levels

Specifications
Design: Reflector
Aperture: 5"/130mm
Focal length: 35.4"/900mm
Mount: Equatorial
Level: Intermediate
Reasons to buy
+Fairly priced+Well-built+Suitable for a range of abilities+Multi-speed handset included

Our pick for the best telescope overall is the SkyWatcher Explorer 130M Motorised Newtonian Reflector Telescope. It claims to be a perfect option for all levels of stargazers, whether you interest is in examining our closest planet(s) or shooting for the stars. This aluminium-constructed option's core specification comprises a 900mm focal length and an f/6.92 aperture. 

Affording a relatively speedy set up, it also comes with a large accessory tray, a fully adjustable aluminium tripod and, as the picture indicates, a multi speed handset. The latter is for controlling the 360° slow motion tracking gears, while its maker claims the flexibility of this telescope's dual metal setting circles allows for the tracking of planets in the night sky by their RA (Right Ascension) and DEC (declination) coordinates. This gives their location in relation to fixed stars, while a separate latitude adjustment aids polar alignment. A well-made and sturdy option for beginners and up, this one should whet your appetite for further investigation of the Moon – and beyond!

Not sold? Check out some more mid-range all-rounders in our Celestron Inspire 100AZ refractor vs Meade Polaris 114mm reflector telescope face-off. 

best telescope: Celestron 22203 AstroFi 130 Wireless Reflecting Telescope

(Image credit: Celestron)

2. Celestron 22203 AstroFi 130 Wireless

The best premium telescope, packed with the latest tech

Specifications
Design: Newtonian Reflector
Aperture: 5"/130mm
Focal length: 25.5"/650mm
Mount: Alt-Azimuth
Level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Wi-Fi enabled+Crammed with the latest tech+Available app+Comes with accessory tray and eyepieces

Bringing star gazing bang up-to-date is the Celestron 22203 AstroFi 130 Wireless Reflecting Telescope. This sturdy telescope with integrated Wi-Fi that works in conjunction with a free Celestron SkyPortal app for both iOS and Android devices. Aiming to provide clear views of the Moon and the planets beyond, it features a large 130mm lens and promises a wide field of view. Additionally, it helpfully comes supplied with an accessory tray for stashing your biscuits in, and more importantly two 1.25-inch eyepieces. 

A rubber-lined area is designed to hold miscellaneous accessories including your smartphone or small tablet, presumably having first downloaded the app, which replaces the need for a remote control handset, thus streamlining the whole operation. The user holds their smart device up to the night sky and, upon locating an object they want to view, it's simply a case of tapping the screen, whereby the telescope automatically zeroes in on the object and the screen displays information about it. You can even generate a 'sky tour' of the best celestial objects to view, based on time and location. Clever stuff.

Not quite right for you? Check out our Orion SkyView Pro 8 GoTo vs Celestron Nexstar 8SE showdown for two more top-end options. 

best telescope: Orion StarBlast II 4.5 EQ Reflector Telescope Kit

(Image credit: Orion)

3. Orion StarBlast II 4.5 EQ

The best telescope for beginners

Specifications
Design: Reflector
Aperture: 4.5"/114mm
Focal length: 17.1"/450mm
Mount: Equatorial
Level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+All-in-one kit for amateur astronomers starting out +Comes with moon map and observer's guide book

The Orion StarBlast II 4.5 EQ Reflector Telescope Kit is the best general-purpose telescope for novice star-gazers. It's a decent option for younger members of the family, or those showing a nascent interest in examining heavenly bodies who want to test the water without spending a small fortune at the outset of their hobby. Boasting a wide field of view, thereby making it easier for beginners to find objects of note in the sky, this telescope is suited to generating good views of the moon, planets and brighter 'deep sky' objects beyond. 

A 2x extension lens provided in the kit, which also includes a moon map and general observation booklet detailing more than 60 locations to explore, doubles the magnification of both the included 25mm and 10mm eyepieces, which offer a 52-degree field of view. On top of this, a mini LED light provides added illumination if/when required under starry skies. Essentially providing all you need to get started without breaking the bank, this is a sound telescope option for stargazers.

Not right for you? We compare two alternative beginners' telescopes in our Celestron 21039 PowerSeeker 50AZ vs National Geographic Refractor 60/700 AZ showdown.

best telescope: Orion SkyView Pro 8 GoTo Reflector Telescope

(Image credit: Orion)

4. Orion SkyView Pro 8 GoTo

This telescope offers superior viewing quality

Specifications
Design: Reflector
Aperture: 8"/203mm
Focal length: 39.3"/1000mm
Mount: Equatorial
Level: Advanced
Reasons to buy
+Locates targets from database of 42,000 celestial objects+2" focuser lets us zero in on deep space +Sturdy stainless steel tripod included

High-end telescope capable of providing bright views; in fact its 8-inch aperture parabolic mirror is said to let in 73% more light than a 6-inch scope. What's more, we get a 1000mm focal length and f/4.9 aperture, while the 2-inch Crayford focuser supplied is claimed to be ideal for the viewing of deep space subjects. As for finding them in the first place, the set up includes access to a computerizsed database of 42,000 possible places to visit with the 'scope, requiring only the pressing of a couple of buttons – and a mains power supply, naturally. In fact the 'GoTo' system can take us on a tour of the night sky and reveal to us the best sites that particular calendar month.

The package includes a one-year limited warranty, a stainless steel tripod to mount the scope on, plus a selection of eyepieces, telescope tube rings and software. In short, this is a comprehensively featured set for those who want to be able to resolve fine detail at high power and travel further than man has boldly gone before – all without leaving the house.

Best telescopes: Celestron 11069 Nexstar 8SE Telescope

(Image credit: Celestron)

5. Celestron Nexstar 8SE

The best hi-tech telescope

Specifications
Design: Schmidt-Cassegrain
Aperture: 8"/203mm
Focal length: 80"/2,032mm
Mount: Alt-Azimuth
Level: Advanced
Reasons to buy
+On-board computer does the hard work for you+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: Unistellar eVscope eQuinox

(Image credit: Unistellar)

6. Unistellar eVscope eQuinox

See deep-sky objects in stunning detail with this super-smart telescope

Specifications
Design: Reflector
Aperture: 4.5"/114mm
Focal length: 17.7"/450mm
Mount: Motorised Alt-Azimuth
Level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Easy to set up+Incredible views
Reasons to avoid
-Slow to focus-FOV too small for the Moon

Everyone knows that telescopes are for looking through. Except for this one. Unistellar's eVscope eQuinox is a definite oddity because it doesn't have an eyepiece; instead it connects to your smartphone or tablet via an app so you can see the stars on your screen. This may seem as if it takes half the fun out of stargazing, but there's one big advantage to this approach: thanks to the eVscope eQuinox's built-in image processing, you'll be able to see the skies much more clearly than you would simply peering through an eyepiece.

It uses live light accumulation to fix on a tiny point in space and build up images of deep sky objects in impressive detail, albeit eventually. It can take a good few minutes for 'live' image to feed through to your device, but once it does you'll find it's been well worth the wait. And as an added bonus, the Unistellar app has a built-in catalogue of 5,400 objects, making it easy for absolute beginners to quickly find obscure ring nebulae and spiral galaxies to look at.

Currently available to pre-order at the frankly heart-stopping price of $2,999/£2,599/€2,799 (shipping not included) it's not for everyone, especially when you bear in mind that its field of view is so narrow that it can't take in the whole Moon in one go. But if you want to see into the depths of space, even from a light-polluted back garden, this oddball telescope's well worth the investment; find out more in our Unistellar eVscope eQuinox smart telescope review.

best telescope for stargazing: Celestron 21036 Powerseeker 70AZ Telescope

(Image credit: Celestron)

7. Celestron Powerseeker 70AZ

The best telescope for kids who are super into stargazing

Specifications
Design: Refractor
Aperture: 2.7"/70mm
Focal length: 28"/700mm
Mount: Alt-Azimuth
Level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+A solid option for beginners+Comes with astronomy software

If you’re looking for a model that isn't basic and aimed at smaller children but will still suit those who are new to stargazing, try the 21036 PowerSeeker 70AZ telescope from Celestron. This 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 telescope: Nasa Lunar telescope for kids

(Image credit: Nasa)

8. Nasa Lunar telescope for kids

The best budget telescope for kids

Specifications
Design: Refractor
Aperture: 2”/50mm
Focal length: 14.1"/360mm
Mount: Equatorial
Level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+User friendly starter kit+Inexpensive, so won't matter if the kids lose interest+Hey, it's got a cool NASA sticker on it

Which telescope is the best match for small fingers and curious minds? The aptly named Nasa Lunar telescope (hey, before you can shoot for the stars, best you first aim for the moon) even comes with a NASA sticker to excite the imagination of future astronauts, with the claim that it's been designed to engender a love of scientific pursuits. 

Promising easy assembly, one of the best things is that this doesn't outwardly resemble a cheap toy, yet is still child's play to use, with a tabletop tripod and instructional guide book included to get fledgling voyages to the stars underway. A finder scope along with both low and high power eyepieces are included; a combination that lets children first pinpoint the moon before then zooming in for a close up view. Up to 90x magnification is provided here, enabling the little ones to surely determine the answer to the age-old question: is our nearest neighbour really made of cheese?

Best telescope for stargazing: Meade LX90-ACF

9. Meade LX90 8-inch ACF

The best telescope for serious stargazers

Specifications
Design: ACF Schmidt-Cassegrain
Aperture: 8"/203mm
Focal length: 80"/2,032mm
Mount: Dual-Fork
Level: Advanced
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 telescope for stargazing: Celestron Travelscope 70

10. Celestron Travelscope 70 Portable

A rugged telescope that's built for adventures

Specifications
Design: Refractor
Aperture: 2.7"/70mm
Focal length: 15.7"/400mm
Mount: Alt-Azimuth
Level: Beginner
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 telescope for stargazing: Celestron 31045 AstroMaster 130EQ Reflector Telescope

11. Celestron AstroMaster 130EQ

A highly-capable telescope for taking on camping trips

Specifications
Design: Refractor
Aperture: 2.7"/70mm
Focal length: 15.7"/400mm
Mount: Alt-Azimuth
Level: Beginner
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.

Meade Instruments 203001 LightBridge Mini 82

(Image credit: Meade Instruments)

12. Meade Instruments LightBridge Mini 82

A tabletop telescope for moongazing

Specifications
Design: Newtonian reflector
Aperture: 3.2”/82mm
Focal length: 11.8"/300mm
Mount: Alt-Azimuth
Level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Tabletop design makes it easy to move and view+360° swivel mount

For absolute beginners likely to have little patience there's nothing better than a tabletop telescope. There's no complicated mount to set-up, and no polar alignment required, and it can easily be used on a table in your back garden.

That's the case with Meade's LightBridge Mini 82, a lightweight tabletop telescope on a 360° swivel mount. It's a Dobsonian-style product with an 82mm aperture reflector optical tube attached, which makes navigating the night sky a point-and-shoot affair. All you have to do is point the tube and take a look, which makes it ideal for moongazing and the odd planet or two. To that end, it comes with a couple of eyepieces (9mm and 26mm) as well as a Barlow lens for magnifying everything 2x, which is useful for great close-ups of the Moon's surface.

best telescope for stargazing: Meade ETX 90 Observer

(Image credit: Meade Instruments)

13. Meade ETX 90 Observer

Best telescope for moon and planets

Specifications
Design: Maksutov-Cassegrain
Aperture: 3.5"/90mm
Focal length: 49.2"/1,250mm
Mount: Fork
Level: Beginner
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.

Best telescopes: Svbony SV25 Refractor Telescope

(Image credit: Svbony)

14. Svbony SV25 Refractor Telescope

A good small telescope for stargazing newbies

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 telescope: Orion SkyView Pro 8 GoTo Reflector Telescope

(Image credit: Orion)

15. Orion SkyView Pro 8 GoTo Reflector Telescope

This telescope offers superior viewing quality

Reasons to buy
+Locates targets from database of 42,000 celestial objects+1000mm focal length with 2" focuser lets us zero in on deep space +Sturdy stainless steel tripod included

High-end telescope capable of providing bright views; in fact its 8-inch aperture parabolic mirror is said to let in 73% more light than a 6-inch scope. What's more, we get a 1000mm focal length and f/4.9 aperture, while the 2-inch Crayford focuser supplied is claimed to be ideal for the viewing of deep space subjects. As for finding them in the first place, the set up includes access to a computerized database of 42,000 possible places to visit with the 'scope, requiring only the pressing of a couple of buttons – and a mains power supply, naturally. In fact the ƒGoTo' system can take us on a tour of the night sky and reveal to us the best sites that particular calendar month.

The package includes a one-year limited warranty, a stainless steel tripod to mount the scope on, plus a selection of eyepieces, telescope tube rings and software. In short, this is a comprehensively featured set for those who want to be able to resolve fine detail at high power and travel further than man has boldly gone before – all without leaving the house.

Best telescope for stargazing: Celestron 76mm Firstscope Apollo 11 Edition

(Image credit: Celestron)

16. 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 is another strong choice for beginners. Its lightweight, tabletop design is a great choice for kids or anyone else who might struggle with a larger scope on a tripod. 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.

Black Friday telecope deals: When's the best time to buy? 

Traditionally, the winter sales events are a great time to pick up a quality telescope at a cut price. Sadly, the 2020 Black Friday telescope deals were woefully thin on the ground, both in the US and the UK. This isn't what we'd usually expect: demand for the best telescopes has increased during the pandemic, which means that in the US at least, many ranges sold out completely well ahead of time.

In the UK, we did see some strong deals over Amazon Prime Day through, with big discounts on Celestron telescopes as well as binoculars and sporting scopes. The 2020 event took place in October, but usually Amazon Prime Day is in July.

In short, all we know is that in the current climate, it's hard to predict when and if we'll see deals on telescopes. We'll be keeping a close eye out for any price drops that do occur, and our dedicated tool will pull in all the cheapest prices on the products in our ranking at all times, so you can be sure you're not overpaying.