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.
Winter Light at Southbank Centre 2023/24
Though it's not a fully-fledged light festival in the same way as other events on the list, Winter Light at Southbank Centre is the first glimmer of a warm glow as winter sets in — and it's free! It consists of a series of outdoor artworks by 10 different artists which are colourfully illuminated at night. Jakob Kvist's Dichroic Sphere makes a return, along with a Cosmic Bloom projected onto the Royal Festival Hall by Leo Villareal — the artist responsible for the Illuminated River project.
Winter Light 2023/24 at Southbank Centre, FREE, 13 November 2023-7 January 2024.
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, peddling 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.
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.
Epping Ongar Lights Express 2023
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We love illuminations, and we double love trains, so we're thrilled that Epping Ongar Lights Express is returning to the the London-Essex border this year.
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'll be like starring in your own version of the Coca-Cola lorry advert, but with train carriages. Commentary comes from "Voiceover Man" (as heard on Britain's Got Talent and X-Factor).
Tickets for this 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.
Epping Ongar Lights Express, 17 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 fresh installations. It's expected to be about 2km long and take about an hour to see the lot. The house itself will be bathed in light, and there will be festive food and drink 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 2023
Gone is the Enchanted Eltham event which has taken place at Eltham Palace in recent years. But fret not — it's 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 featuring illuminated halos, which play music in response to touch.
Takeaway food trucks 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.
The Luminaze at Wembley Park 2023
Wembley Park has made a name for itself offering creative light installations in recent years, and this year it's bringing the goods in the form of The Luminaze, a free to visit neon light maze, pitching up just off Olympic Way for a month. It's a walkthrough installation, with a specially curated soundscape, all centring around the 4-foot tall centrepiece, The Hourglass.
The Luminaze at Wembley Park, free, 2 December 2023-3 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.
Enchanted Woodland at Syon Park 2023
Sadly, the Enchanted Woodland at Syon Park isn't happening in 2023. Cross your fingers that it'll be back for 2024.
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 though it hasn't been officially announced for January 2024, the website announces that 'Winter Lights will return'. Phew.
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 — they start from 2 November 2023.