Few things warm the winter cockles like a light festival. Strolling through enchantingly illuminated gardens and forests after dark, wrapped up in your winter woolies, hot chocolate in hand, is a top-notch way to spend a winter evening. Here's our pick of the best light and illumination festivals in and around London for winter and Christmas 2023.
Crown and Coronation at the Tower of London
While most light festivals and trails are festive, this one is festive in a different way. Rather than heralding Christmas, it continues the celebrations of King Charles III's coronation, by projecting images and video clips of monarchs, coronation ceremonies and the Crown Jewels onto the exterior of the White Tower.
It's by Luxmuralis, who did a similar light show at the Tower of London last year, and regularly take over churches, cathedrals and the like for breathtaking installations.
Crown and Coronation at the Tower of London, 17-25 November 2023.
Christmas at Kew 2023
The daddy of London's Christmas calendar — and one our all-round favourite annual events in London — Kew Gardens' Christmas offering gets better every year. An atmospheric trail winds through the gardens after dark — perfect for a family-friendly night out, or a romantic date.
Over a million lights and thousands of laser beams go into the event, which also features a fire garden, light tunnel and illuminated trees. Food and drink stalls are dotted throughout, selling hot chocolate and other warming treats. Our video of last year's Christmas at Kew gives you an idea of what to expect:
Tickets for this one do sell out (no surprise — they've been on sale since February!) so book soon.
Christmas at Kew 2023, 15 November 2023-7 January 2024.
Christmas at Kenwood House, Hampstead Heath
Once again, a small corner of Hampstead Heath gets lit for the festive season, as Christmas at Kenwood returns. This year we're promised a brand new trail with colour, light and interactive elements, including 13 brand new installations. It's expected to be about 2km long and take about an hour to see it all. The house itself will be bathed in light, and there will be festive food and drink options available at the food court, located at the beginning and end of the trail.
Christmas at Kenwood 2023, 1 December 2023-1 January 2024.
Christmas at Eltham Palace
Gone is the Enchanted Eltham event which has taken place at Eltham Palace in recent years, replaced by Christmas at Eltham, a similar event to the one taking place at fellow English Heritage property Kenwood House (above).
It's another 2km trail, wending through the grounds of the art deco mansion and former Tudor royal palace and taking about an hour to complete. The interactive installations include 'Halo', a series of towers that feature illuminated halos, which play music in response to touch.
Takeaway food trucks will offer hot drinks and mince pies along the route, with a food court at the end of the trail selling more substantial refreshments.
Christmas at Eltham Palace 2023, 1 December 2023-1 January 2024.
Life by Luxmuralis at St Martin-in-the-Fields
Cast your mind back to January 2023, when St Martin-in-the-Fields church on Trafalgar Square was bathed in light for an installation by light art wizards Luxmuralis. The team are back at the same venue in early 2024 for a new show, Life, featuring spectacular projections and a soundscape. The 40-minute experience covers the exterior and interior of the church building, including the crypt, finishing with a seated sequence in the main part of the building.
Life by Luxmuralis at St Martin-in-the-Fields, 30 January-3 February 2024.
THE BELOW ENTRIES RELATE TO LAST CHRISTMAS. WE HOPE THAT MANY OF THE SAME LIGHT FESTIVALS WILL RETURN FOR THE 2023 FESTIVE SEASON, AND WE WILL OF COURSE KEEP THIS ARTICLE UP TO DATE AS THOSE ANNOUNCEMENTS ARE MADE.
Enchanted Woodland at Syon Park
Think of this as a mini version of Kew's famous offering (below), aimed predominantly at kiddies and their parents. A mile-long route winds around the ornamental lake where the trees are iridescent, before finishing in the historic arboretum. Drinks and snacks are on sale in the restaurant at the start and finish, so warm up with a hot chocolate before you set off, then indulge in a mulled wine on your return.
Here's what a previous version of the event looked like:
Lightopia Festival, Crystal Palace
Back in south London for a second year, Lightopia is a trail of large-scale illuminated installations, including a light dragon who dramatically breathes 'fire', and a magical forest display filled with mythical winged creatures. New for this year is a 40m wide, 15m high illuminated water show over the lower lake, with giant festive images of Santa, Rudolf, Christmas tree and snowflakes projected onto it. Kids will be fascinated by the interactive flooring, and there are food and drink stalls dotted along the trail.
Illuminature at WWT London, Barnes
For a second year, the London Wetlands Centre in Barnes hosts Illuminature, a trail of nature themed sculptures aglow after dark. Follow the route past twinkling lights and giant illuminated sculptures of some of the creatures that call the wetlands home. Use night goggles to indulge in a bit of birdwatching, and keep your eyes peeled for the resident family of otters at dusk.
Light Fantastic at Epping Ongar Railway
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We love illuminations, and we double love trains, so we're thrilled that Light Fantastic is returning to the Epping Ongar Railway on the London-Essex border.
Ride a special illuminated train on the railway's route, beginning at North Weald station. Ogle the train before boarding, then sit back and enjoy trackside illuminations from the windows as you wind through the Essex countryside on the one-hour trip. It's be like starring in your own version of the Coca-Cola lorry advert, but with train carriages.
Tickets for this will go fast, but if you miss out, rumour on the grapevine is that it's worth standing (safely) along the side of the route somewhere when the train's due to pass, as it looks rather spectacular going by.
Palace of Light at Hampton Court Palace
Following the success of last year's planet-themed Palace of Stardust event, Hampton Court Palace hosts Palace of Light for winter 2022. The festive lantern and light event is inspired by the Royal Beasts, a collection of heraldic statues which Henry VIII had commissioned for the Palace. Look out for lions, unicorns, greyhounds and panthers as you wander through the grounds, gardens and courtyards after dark — not to mention the 20ft tall Christmas tree.
If you fancy doubling up the festivities, Hampton Court Palace also has a seasonal ice rink.
Winter Lights at Canary Wharf
You know what it's like — Christmas is over, then mid-January rolls around and it's cold, dark and miserable. Thank goodness for Winter Lights, the (FREE!) illuminations festival dotted around the Canary Wharf area for a couple of weeks. It's basically the only good thing about January, and it's back in 2023, with more than 20 installations planned this time round. Keep an eye on the website for updates closer to the time.
London's Christmas light switch-ons
Of course, the world and his dog will be throwing parties and special events when Christmas lights are switched on in high streets and shopping districts around the capital. We'll be adding details of Christmas light switch-ons to this page as they're announced.