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 Christmas 2021.
Illuminature at WWT London, Barnes
New for this year, the London Wetlands Centre in Barnes hosts Illuminature, a trail of nature themed sculptures, lit after dark. Follow the route through Instagram-friendly light tunnels and across interactive, light-up lily pads that the kids will love, passing giant, illuminated sculptures of some of the creatures that call the wetlands home.
Illuminature at WWT London, 22 October 2021-9 January 2022.
Enchanted Woodland at Syon Park 2021
Think of this as a mini version of Kew's famous offering, 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:
Enchanted Woodland 2021, 12-28 November 2021.
Christmas at Kew 2021
The daddy of London's Christmas calendar, and one our 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, illuminated trees and mire. Food and drink stalls are dotted throughout, selling hot chocolate and other warming treats. Watch our video of Christmas at Kew 2019 for an idea of what to expect.
Christmas at Kew, 17 November 2021-9 January 2022.
Lightopia London at Crystal Palace Park
This time it's happening pre-Christmas, rather than in January, but we're still promised large-scale installations and plenty of interactive exhibits, with a focus on telling the history of the park. The Crystal Palace dinosaurs are brought to life with illuminations and joined by more prehistoric creatures in lantern form. A butterfly field, rainbow road and giant hourglass are among the attractions, but the centrepiece is the Palace of Light, a recreation of the Crystal Palace which gives the area its name.
Local food and drink producers sell refreshments from stalls along the route.
Lightopia London, 19 November 2021-2 January 2022.
Light Fantastic at Epping Ongar Railway
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'll 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 spectacular from the outside.
Light Fantastic at Epping Ongar Railway, 19 November 2021-9 January 2022
Winterfest at Wembley Park
Reunited in Light is the theme of this year's Winterfest, a free illuminations display in Wembley Park. London's largest LED tree returns, 25ft tall with 100,000 lights, and big enough to walk through.
New for this year is Reunion by Kumquat Lab, a series of technicolour light arches filling Market Square. The 2021 centrepiece is Reflections of the Future by Lucid Creates, which combines light, sound and optical illusion in a trail down Olympic Way.
While you're there, check out the Reunited in Light photography exhibition. It's a new, permanent addition to Olympic Way, featuring moving photographs by 12 UK-based photographers.
Winterfest at Wembley Park, 24 November 2021-9 January 2022
Christmas at Kenwood House, Hampstead Heath
Kenwood House in Hampstead hosts a new winter lights trail for Christmas 2021. Details of the illuminations haven't been released yet (except that fire, light and sound will all be involved) but we do know there'll be a Christmas market and food and drink stalls alongside the lights.
Christmas at Kenwood, 26 November 2021-9 January 2022
Palace of Stardust at Hampton Court Palace
Another one that's brand new this winter, Palace of Stardust is a celestial-themed after hours trail at Hampton Court Palace, based on the building's astronomical clock. Moons, planets, clocks and a sundial all feature in lantern, projection and illumination form as you wander through the cobbled courtyard and extensive gardens
Palace of Stardust at Hampton Court Palace, 8 December 2021-3 January 2022
Enchanted Eltham at Eltham Palace
Eltham Palace is beautiful at the best of times, but it really comes into its own when the gardens are illuminated at night for Enchanted Eltham.
The festival is back in over three weekends in December this year, with a colourful light trail through the gardens. Warm up afterwards with hot drinks and marshmallows in the Great Hall — plus the gift shop is open and selling Christmas gifts. Here's an idea of what to expect:
Enchanted Eltham, 9-30 December 2021
Light festivals outside London
Willing to travel a little bit further for your illuminations fix? Here's our pick of light festivals close to London.
IGNITE AT POLESDEN LACEY: Surrey Hills National Trust property Polesden Lacey hosts Ignite Trails for the first time, in a special autumn event. Flickering lights illuminate the towering trees for an atmospheric stroll after dark. 22 October-7 November 2021
CHRISTMAS AT WADDESDON MANOR: Buckinghamshire's Waddesdon Manor offers Christmas lights by the bucketload, with the building's facade, gardens, trees and drive all illuminated for the festive trail. A special installation by Leo Villareal is on display for Christmas 2021, celebrating the completion of the Illuminated River project here in London. 13 November 2021-3 January 2022
CHRISTMAS AT BLENHEIM PALACE: They take Christmas seriously at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, with rooms decked out, a festive outdoor market, and a seriously impressive illuminated trail after dark. The Nutcracker is this year's theme, making use of lights, lasers, lakeside reflections and sound effects. 19 November 2021-2 January 2022
CHRISTMAS AT BEDGEBURY: National Pinetum Bedgebury is located in the Kent countryside, and comes alive for a weeks each year when Christmas at Bedgebury happens. By the same company behind Christmas at Kew, it's an illuminated, after-dark walk through woodland, making use of over a million twinkling lights. 19 November 2021-3 January 2022
RHS WISLEY: Located just outside the M25 in Surrey, RHS Wisley has been running Glow Wisley for a few years now. This year, fire candles and fountain displays have been added to the usual line-up of illuminated trees and laser shows. 19 November 2021-4 January 2022
CHRISTMAS AT HEVER CASTLE: Pinocchio is the theme of this year's Christmas trail in the grounds of Anne Boleyn's childhood home in Kent, which are illuminated after 4pm each night. Tickets to meet Santa are sold out but you can still visit the gardens to see the castle exterior, lake and other areas lit up in all manner of colours. 20 November 2021-3 January 2022
WAKEHURST: Countryside cousin of Kew Gardens, Wakehurst in West Sussex offers a similar light trail, albeit more family-oriented. Glow Wild sees a series of lanterns installed in the gardens and around the lake, with glow worms and digital artworks added for 2021. Wend your way along the route before finishing outside the manor house for food, drinks and a Christmas market — all below the UK's tallest living Christmas tree. 25 November 2021-2 January 2022
IGNITE AT NYMANS: Following on from Ignite at Polesden Lacey in autumn, the Ignite team turn their attention to Nymans in West Sussex in the new year. Expect a similar vibe — a woodland walk illuminated by flickering flames. 11 February-6 March 2022
London's Christmas light switch-ons 2021
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.