Christmas at Kew. Enchanted Eltham. Syon Park's Enchanted Woodland. 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 during winter 2019, and book yourself a day trip, pronto.
Glow at RHS Wisley 2019
Lanterns and light installations in the form of flowers light us RHS Garden Wisley throughout December. Glow is a light trail through the botanical gardens, with plenty of trees illuminated along the way.
There's the added bonus of the Enchanted Botanical Christmas installation, a spectacularly lit glasshouse full of festive plants and animals, with a touch of steampunk. Colour us intrigued.
Glow 2019 at RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey. 7 December 2019-5 January 2020
Illuminated Light Trail at Blenheim Palace
Think Christmas at Kew, but outside of London: 100,000 lights, a laser garden, fire garden, tunnel of light and Victorian fairground. In fact, the same company behind Christmas at Kew (and, in 2018, Christmas at London Zoo) does the honours at Blenheim too, which is why that light tunnel and sledge Christmas tree look so familiar... and why we're expecting excellent things here.
The grand finale is a projection onto the building's historic façade, followed by a chance to warm up with mulled and hot drink and toasted marshmallows in the courtyard.
Illuminated Light Trail at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire. 22 November 2019-1 January 2020
Christmas at Bedgebury 2019
For the second consecutive year, this huge forest on the Kent/East Sussex border hosts an enchanting mile-long trail through the trees. Again, it's by the company behind Christmas at Kew and the Illuminated Light Trail at Blenheim Palace, and includes a vortex tunnel, colour-changing tree lights, illuminated boats floating on the lake, jumping jets of light and a fire garden.
Christmas at Bedgebury, Kent. 22 November-30 December 2019
Enchanted Walmer Castle
Did you catch Enchanted Eltham at Eltham Palace last year? If so, you can imagine how much of a treat Enchanted Walmer Castle & Gardens will be. English Heritage is installing a similar family-friendly light trail at the Kent castle, with tunnels and pathways of twinkling lights through the Queen Mother’s Garden and Woodland Walk. Look out for fairies flitting among the gardens, and hear from a talking tree along the route.
Finish up with fairground rides, mulled wine or hot chocolate and mince pies, and make a dent in your Christmas shopping at the gift shop,
Enchanted Walmer Castle & Gardens, Kent. 5-22 December 2019
Enchanted Audley End
Yep, you may be noticing a theme here. Audley End House and Gardens — a Jacobean mansion house with grounds by Capability Brown — is another one getting English Heritage's 'Enchanted' treatment this year.
Again, it's a family-friendly affair, and this time round we're promised a mirror ball alley, a fairy light maze, trees ablaze with colour and trolls hiding under a bridge.
Enchanted Audley End, Essex. 5-30 December 2019
Glow Wild 2019 at Wakehurst
We've already tipped you the wink about this one — Wakehurst, Kew Gardens' sister site in the Sussex countryside, hosts it own light festival. Glow Wild is more family-friendly that the Kew spectacular, with a shorter route, and focus more on lanterns than lasers.
On a still night, the reflections on the lake are magnificent, and the UK's tallest Christmas tree towers over it all.
Glow Wild at Wakehurst, Sussex. 21 November-22 December 2019
Further afield: the best winter light and lantern festivals in the UK
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 2019: Sibling to London's Lumiere Festival, Lumiere Durham was actually the original, taking place as far back as 2009. As with the London offering, free light installations by British and international artists are in situ all over town.
- Festival of Light and Diwali at Robin Hood Country Park, Isle of Wight: Taking place earlier than other festivals on this list, this one's a celebration of Diwali rather than Christmas — albeit with a 21st century twist. The Electric Woods feature neon lights, a Holi powder arena, water projections, LED lighting and smoke machines.
- 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.
- Giant lanterns at Edinburgh Zoo, Scotland: Three words: Giant dinosaur lanterns. If that doesn't fire up your inner child, then quite frankly, you must be dead inside. Scotland's only giant lantern festival takes on a prehistoric theme, and yes, microbes blah blah, ice age, blah blah, but also, DINOSAURS.
- Alice in Winterland, Lightwater Valley, North Yorkshire: The lantern festival which took over Southwark Park last Christmas is heading north this year. Once again, Alice and various other characters loom over visitors in giant lantern form.
- Enchanted English Heritage, Worcestershire, South Yorkshire and Northumberland: Yep, English Heritage is going hard on the enchantment this Christmas, with other light trails at properties throughout the country.
- Northern Lights in York Minster, North Yorkshire: Sound and light installation Northern Lights returns to York Minster after an initial airing in June 2018. See the impressive nave illuminated with images inspired by the stained glass windows and medieval stone of the building.
- Where Light Falls, Coventry Cathedral: London's Where Light Falls — which sees images projected onto St Paul's Cathedral — moves onto Coventry after it leaves the capital.