Monday, 21 November 2016

The UK's best winter lights and lantern festivals 2016-2017

Lumiere London 2016. Photo: Laura Reynolds
In January 2016, London was lifted briefly out of its post-Christmas, freezing weather, no money slump by Lumiere London. Lumiere London was a light festival on a huge scale, taking over the city for a few days, closing streets to traffic and sending Instagram into a veritable frenzy. Everyone was talking about it. I can say without a doubt that it's my favourite event ever to come to London (and dealing in London events is my bread and butter), and I now get quite excited every time I hear about another light festival.

Sadly, it doesn't look like Lumiere is coming back to London this year, but there are plenty of other light and lantern festivals taking place in London and across the UK. Some are family-friendly, others lean more towards the romantic spectrum, so choose your companions carefully. Can't make it along to any of these? Follow the venues on Instagram to get the best of the pretty lights without battling the cold weather.

Magical Lantern Festival at Chiswick House

The previous Magical Lantern Festival at Chiswick House. Photo: Magical Lantern Festival
For its second outing at Chiswick House in south-west London, The Magical Lantern Festival takes on a Silk Road theme. Lanterns will represent themes from the route the Silk Road trade route took between Europe and China. The other entertainment on offer at the festival is rather eclectic, ranging from fun fair rides and a synthetic ice rink to virtual reality games to play.

Oddest of all, bearing in mind the festival takes place in January and February, is the Santa's Grotto. Makes sense that the guy in red would be less busy at this time of year, but surely that's just asking to have overexcited kids on your hands for 11 months?

The Magical Lantern Festival, Chiswick House. Adult tickets £16-50-£20. 19 January-26 February 2017.

The Festival of Light, Longleat Safari Park

Photo: Longleat
Beatrix Potter fans are in for a right treat as the author's animal characters are brought to life in light form, among more than 2,500 lanterns. There's also a Beatrix Potter exhibition in the Great Hall.

Longleat's famous pride of lions is also immortalised in light, as are some of its other residents, including elephants and gorillas. It's all part of the safari park's 50th anniversary celebrations.

The Festival of Light, Longleat Safari Park. Various ticket prices, 11 November 2016-2 January 2017.

Tunnel of Light, Norwich

Photo: Norwich BID
You only need to head as far north as Norwich to experience the Northern Lights this winter -- sort of.

A 45m long tunnel of light, made of more than 50,000 LEDs will be set on Hay Hill, as part of the City's Christmas celebrations, in what it's claiming is a UK first.

Tunnel of Light, Norwich, 17 November 2016-5 January 2017.

GLOW, Eastbury Manor

For two nights only, National Trust property Eastbury Manor House in Barking is taken over by local organisation Studio3arts. The house and grounds will be illuminated with events including a fire garden and fire sculptures, illuminations in patterns representing the building's Tudor heritage, sound installations and a model solar system. If ever there was a time to head for the end of the District line, this is it.

GLOW, Eastbury Manor, Barking. Adult tickets £5, 25-26 November 2016

Winter Lights Festival, Canary Wharf

Photo: Canary Wharf
Move over suits and briefcases, it's playtime in Canary Wharf. In what is probably the most interactive event on this list (and free -- yippee!), Winter Lights Festival is back.

30 light installations will be dotted among the east London skyscrapers, with work by artists from four continents. Visitors to last year's event could hook up their smartphones to control some of the lights in what appeared to be a 21st century form of witchcraft. Expect similar this year.

Winter Lights Festival, Canary Wharf. Free, 16-27 January 2017.

Dulwich Winterlights, Dulwich Picture Gallery
Photo: Dulwich Picture Gallery
The world's first purpose-built picture gallery steps elegantly into the 21st century with a pre-Christmas illumiation festival. The 19th century building and impressive grounds will be lit up and decked with lanterns by the same people behind Christmas at Kew (see below). As you follow the trail, enjoy the accompanying music, which include live roaming choirs.

Dulwich Winterlights at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Adult tickets £12, 6-18 December 2016.

Enchanted Woodland at Syon Park

Photo: Steve Newton/Enchanted Woodland
South-west London's Syon House is a sleepy place most of the year, but it comes alive for a few weekends before Christmas when it transforms into the family-friendly Enchanted Woodland.

A colourful, illuminated mile-long trail through the trees and around the lake is enough to enchant adults and kids alike -- and it's worth keeping your eyes open for little touches like fairy doors in the trees. Booking in advance is a must, but even then be prepared to queue to get in.

Enchanted Woodland at Syon House. Adult tickets £9, 18 November-4 December 2016.

Christmas at Kew, Kew Gardens

Christmas at Kew 2014. Photo: Laura Reynolds
Inevitably, gardens lose their appeal in winter, but those clever people at Kew have found a way to keep the visitor numbers up; Christmas at Kew.

The light trail winds around a corner of the sizeable garden, taking in the dancing fountains in the lake, a Five Gold Rings themed fire garden, a light tunnel and much more. There's also a Victorian funfair, food and drinks stalls and more.  In short, it's an Instagram addict's heaven.

Christmas at Kew, Kew Gardens. Adult ticket £16-£20, 23 November 2016-2 January 2017.

 Magical Lantern Festival, Leeds and Birmingham

The people behind the Magical Lantern Festival at Chiswick House (above) are also lighting up Leeds -- Roundhay Park to be precise -- and Birmingham's Botanical Garden.

Tip: while you're in Leeds, it's also worth checking out the Leeds Christmas Market.

Magical Lantern Festival Leeds. Adult ticket £12.50-£14. 25 November 2016-2 January 2017.
Magical Lantern Festival Birmingham. Adult ticket £12.50-£14. 25 November 2016-2 January 2017.

Lumiere Durham 2017

While they may not be gracing London with their much-missed presence this year, there's a rumour that Artichoke  Arts are bringing Lumiere Durham back in 2017. At time of writing, the link on the website isn't working, but it's something for light fans in the north of England to keep an eye on.

What have I missed? Add any other events to the comments below or tweet me @scribbling_lau and I'll add them to the list.

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