Stunning Light Trails And Illumination Festivals To See Near London This Winter

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 7 months ago

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Last Updated 02 November 2023

Stunning Light Trails And Illumination Festivals To See Near London This Winter
A woman in a woolly hat walking past a wall of lanterns in various colours.
Glow Wild at Wakehurst. Image: James Ratchford © RBG Kew

London's absolutely buzzing with light festivals in winter — and so are its surrounds. Take a look at some of the best light, lantern and illumination festivals near London around Christmas 2023, and book yourself a day (well, evening) trip in south-east England, pronto.

Christmas at Bedgebury 2023, Kent

Once again, this huge forest on the Kent/East Sussex border hosts an enchanting mile-long trail through the trees. It usually includes a vortex tunnel, colour-changing tree lights, illuminated boats floating on the lake, jumping jets of light and a fire garden — and we're promised new lights for 2023, including Liquid Sky which fills the Pinetum with colours of the rainbow.

An on-site cafe is open, with additional street food vendors for the event, for all your hot choccie and toasted marshmallow needs. There are also a couple of fairground rides for children (extra charge), and if you keep an eye out, you might get a glimpse of Father Christmas along the way.

Christmas at Bedgebury, 17 November-31 December 2023. There's a special Relaxed Session on 6 December, for both children and adults with additional needs who would benefit from visiting the trail when it's less crowded.

Christmas at Blenheim Palace 2023, Oxfordshire

Always one of the most famous festive events in the country, Christmas at Blenheim Palace is having a makeover for 2023, with a new outdoor trail, and new Palace interior decorations themed on Sleeping Beauty. Outside, wander through heart-shaped glittering arches, glowing tunnels filled with stars, and an eight-metre sphere filled with over 20,000 moving LEDs, and watch colourful dancing reflections in the lake. Santa may well make an appearance too.

Christmas at Blenheim Palace, 17 November 2023-1 January 2024. Tickets are available for either the palace and trail combined, or just the trail. Either way, your ticket includes access to the Christmas market in the Great Court.

Glow Wild 2023 at Wakehurst

A very tall Christmas tree with Christmas lights wrapped around it, photographed from above.
Glow Wild centres around the UK's tallest living Christmas tree. © RBG Kew

Christmas at Kew is one of our favourite annual events in London — so it's no surprise that we're also huge fans of the light trail at Wakehurst, Kew Gardens' sister site in the Sussex countryside. On a still night, the reflections on the lake are magnificent, and the UK's tallest Christmas tree towers over it all.

We've always found Glow Wild to be better suited to younger visitors than the Kew spectacular, with a shorter route, and focus more on lanterns than lasers — and under-4s go free! It celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2023, and we're promised beautifully hand-crafted lanterns and captivating light installations, including a giant illuminated whale with 3m high tail; a sea of stars and epic thunder clouds; and Kerith Ogden's 'It’s a small world' series of enchanting tiny villages alongside Michelle Dufaur's seahorse lanterns.

There are pop-up food and drink stalls dotted around the event, as well as fire pits where you can toast marshmallows.

Glow Wild at Wakehurst, 23 November 2023-1 January 2024. Adult-only nights, quiet experiences, and relaxed slots adapted for children with special educational needs and disabilities are available on certain dates.

Glow 2023 at RHS Wisley, Surrey

The enchanting Glow trail around RHS Wisley has been reworked for 2023, showing off some of the garden's best sights in a brand new light. Visit a 'Christmas beach' in the Glasshouse, with glittering disco balls strung above the Glasshouse Lake, stroll through Wisteria Walk bathed in a purple glow, see the Alpine Meadow transformed into a 'field of fire' — and marvel at a grand finale on the Jellicoe Canal.

The Terrace Restaurant and Wisley Café are both open for refreshments, with further festive food chalets dotted along the route, and the RHS Wisley Garden Centre is open for Christmas shopping.

Glow 2023 at RHS Wisley, 24 November 2023-2 January 2024.

Glow events also take place at the other RHS gardens: Hyde Hall in Essex, Harlow Carr in North Yorkshire, Bridgewater in Salford, and Rosemoor in Devon.

Illuminate Tonbridge Castle, Kent

Brand new for 2023 is Illuminate Tonbridge Castle, a light trail around the grounds of Tonbridge Castle making use of various lights and installations. It's part of the larger Christmas at the Castle festival which also includes a Christmas market, and Alpine bar with live entertainment at the weekends. Read our guide to the town for other things to do in the local area.

Unlike some of the other events on this list, this one's very easy to get to by public transport. Tonbridge station is around 40 minutes from central London by train, and the Castle is a 10-minute walk up the high street in the centre of town — no messing about down dark country lanes or anything like that.

Illuminate Tonbridge Castle 2023, 26 November-30 December 2023.

Christmas at English Heritage

In addition to its festive light events at London properties Eltham Palace and Kenwood House, English Heritage offers new light trails at Wrest Park (Bedfordshire) and Walmer Castle (Kent).

At all sites, you can admire historic buildings shimmering in light as you follow illuminated trails through their grounds. At time of writing, details of the new events are still being finalised, but each trail will be no longer than 2km and take about an hour to complete.

Both run 1 December 2023-1 January 2024.

Further afield: the best winter light and lantern festivals in the UK

Illuminations covering the inside walls of a church building.
Luxmuralis produced Space, The Universe and Everything at the same venue in early 2023. Photo: Tabish Khan/Londonist

If you're willing to travel even further to get your winter light fix — perhaps make a weekend of it — check out the best illuminations in the UK:

  • Lumiere Durham: Really, one of the trendsetters for the new wave of light festival, Lumiere began in Durham before making a couple of trips to London. Now it's back up north where it's still free, but ticketed. 16-19 November 2023.
  • Longleat Festival of Light, Wiltshire: When wildlife park Longleat closes for the day, its animals go to bed and its lanterns come to life. A seriously impressive set of huge Chinese lanterns on a fairytale theme light a path around the house at the centre of the estate. 11 November 2023-7 January 2024.
  • Luxmuralis: Worth keeping an eye on this company's upcoming schedule. As well as running light events at the Tower of London and St Martin-in-the-Fields this winter, they're taking over several buildings beyond London, including Peterborough, Liverpool and Sheffield Cathedrals.