10 great light art festivals around the world

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Anna Melville-James
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There’s no better way to brighten up the dark midwinter than with a light show. And these celebrations of light art and installation - in cities and towns around the world - are a dazzling night out.

Most offer a party atmosphere along with their LEDs; everything from food stalls to funfairs and performances to live music. So what are you waiting for? Even in a President Trump world, the future’s still bright.

Magical Lantern Festival, London

Following a sell-out debut in February, London’s Magical Lantern festival is returning to Chiswick House Gardens in 2017 to trip the light fantastic again. The 18th Century West London gardens will host more than 50 brand new light installations, celebrating the Chinese New Year of the Rooster and 2017’s theme: The Silk Road.

Highlights include a 15-metre illuminated sculpture of the Houses of Parliament, a full-size replica of the ship that Chinese Admiral Zheng used on his trade explorations, and a lantern adventure across the Silk Road. An ice rink (and ice bar if you like a different kind of wobble), funfair and food stalls add to the dazzle. 
January 19th – February 26th 2017

Amsterdam Light Festival

Amsterdam may be famous for red lights, but there are plenty of other colours on show in its annual light festival: the only one you can see from a boat. Take to the canals on the Water Colours route that sails from the Herengracht to the Amstel - along, under and through - light artworks on a 75-minute cruise.

If you’re a landlubber, you can take the Iluminade walking route instead, which runs through the Plantage neighbourhood. The theme of the walking light festival this year is biomimicry, or the use of logic and structures in nature to solve human problems, so expect some deep thoughts along with the light entertainment. 

1 December 2016-22 January 2017

Fete des Lumieres, Lyon

One of France’s most well-known festivals, this three-night light show celebrates the city of Lyon’s heritage. Nights are illuminated old-school-style with candles in the windows of every house in Lyon – matched by a contemporary LED blaze of decoration and light installations at 250 sites, from buildings and rivers to parks.

Believed to have originated in 1643 to pay tribute to the Virgin Mary for sparing Lyon from The Plague, the tradition of midwinter light has evolved into a creative showcase for designers, architects, artists and lighting specialists, all vying to win one of two trophies each year. 

8th-10th December 2016 

Lux, Helsinki

It’s a cold one, but a good one; the five-day light festival held in the Finnish capital in January often bottoms out the mercury at temperatures of minus 25 at night. But wrap up warm and you’ll be treated to works by Finnish light artists in Helsinki city centre, along a route that includes the Ateneum Art Museum, Senate Square, the Esplanade Park, the Old Church Park and Annankatu – all lined with plenty of street food stalls along the way.

The original Finnish works are joined by light installations from other festivals on tour, so if you miss any of the others there’s a good chance you can catch up with all the big hits here. The lightworks are displayed each day from dusk until 10 pm. 

5th-9th January 2017

Field of Light, Australia

See Ulhuru rise up out of a carpet of coloured lights with this light festival by British artist Bruce MunroThe field of light installation has been at 11 other sites worldwide, including the Eden Project – but the Ulhuru version is the largest to-date, and the first to be solar powered.

Stand under vast star-filled skies – the original light show – and watch the rhythmic carpet of light at the feet of this iconic rock – a twinkling show created by 50,000 slender stems crowned with frosted-glass light spheres. Pathways draw viewers into the installation to enjoy the experiential artwork –  or book the ultimate experience, a special dinner excursion in the field. 

Until 31 March 2017

iLight Marina Bay, Singapore

The twinkling lights of Singapore offer a show all year round but the city-state also has a dedicated festival called iLight. Billed as Asia’s leading sustainable light festival, this parade of bright talent is held along the Marina Bay waterfront - on full wattage between 7.30pm -11pm (12am on Friday and Saturday).

Some 25 installations are created each year by a stellar line-up of international artists and all play with light, colour and shadow using recyclable, energy-efficient technologies. There are live performances, a nightly flea market, and telescopes on offer too. Plus, the festival even offers a one-for-one LED bulb exchange too, swapping old ones for new. 

3 – 26 March 2017

Lights in Alingsas, Sweden

At Alingsås, near Gothenburg in the west of Sweden, the annual light show is far from just a pretty twinkle in the small town’s eye. Each year, eight international light artists (with the help of 60 international art students), create an atmospheric light trail through the city spaces.

And the festival always takes an ambitious theme – 2016 was The Enlightenment, shining a light on the world’s big questions – with principles of sustainability at its core. You can walk the trail or even take horse and cart rides around the light sites, plus there is the chance to design your own sculpture at a week-long workshop before the festival and have it exhibited on the trail. 

30 September – 6 November

Auckland Lantern Festival, New Zealand

Coinciding with Chinese New Year celebrations, the Auckland Lantern Festival in February features more than 800 Chinese lanterns, music, martial arts, dance, Chinese art and street food in the Auckland Domain, the city’s oldest park. Legend has it lantern festivals evolved from an ancient Chinese belief that celestial spirits could be seen flying about in the light of the first full moon of the lunar calendar.

People used lanterns to help them spot the spirits – today you don’t need help to see the glorious paper illuminations here in all shapes and sizes, from animals and insects to flowers and people. 

9-12 February 2017 

Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival, China

It might not be in the most accessible place for a British visitor, but the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival in the Heilongjiang province of China is now in its 33rd year and the largest in the world. It’s a glorious celebration of light that combines ice sculpture with illuminations in several themed zones covering some 750,000 sqm.

The areas include ice lantern displays, snow sculptures and the highlight; incredible full-size buildings made from blocks of three-inch-thick ice, taken directly from the Songhua River, and lit from inside.

January 5th 2017 – February 25th 2017

Berlin Festival of Lights

One of the longest-running, Berlin’s light festival in October illuminates the city’s landmarks in crazy colours and fills the streets with installations. You might have missed it this year, but it’s an annual event that just keeps growing in popularity and innovation, so bookmark it for 2017.

Every year the festival’s partners offer lightseeing tours from bus, walking and guided jogging tours and even a spin around the sights by stretch limo. The city is lit up from 7pm to 12am every night; allowing you to enjoy architectural icons such as the Siegessäule, the Reichstag, Tempelhof airport and the Berliner Dom in a whole new light. 

October 2017


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Anna Melville-James

Travel writer Anna Melville-James has been trotting the globe for 15 years in search of great stories. She sifts the sands for, tracking down travel news, trends and destinations for the site to inspire holidays and daydreams. When she’s at home in London, Anna enjoys watching David Attenborough documentaries and counting her extensive collection of free sewing kits and miniature toiletries.