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The UK’s best light festivals this winter

Are you seeking a way to light up those dark mid-winter days? Look no further than these illuminating events across the UK, from Solstice and Saturnalia celebrations to multi-sensory trails and shining art installations.

Published 16 Nov 2021, 06:00 GMT
Colourful lights and sculptures make up part of the illuminating displays at Christmas at Kew.

Colourful lights and sculptures make up part of the illuminating displays at Christmas at Kew.

Photograph by Goddard on the Go / Alamy Stock Photo

London

Winter Light returns to the Southbank Centre for a second year, featuring more than 15 artworks and new commissions. Part of the Winter Festival (4 November 2021–9 January 2022), it will transform the brutalist Thameside buildings and riverside boardwalks into giant, glowing canvasses. Head west along the Thames to Kew Gardens this festive season for Christmas at Kew (17 November 2021–9 January 2022). Spot dancing waterside reflections and explore tunnels of light before warming up in the Fire Garden and basking in the spectacular glow of the iconic Palm House. Meanwhile, in the east, Canary Wharf’s Winter Lights showcases interactive installations by innovative international light artists.

Chester

Join the Chester Winter Watch Parade (9 and 16 December) in the recreation of a tradition dating back to the 1400s: following a procession around the city walls, the city’s keys would be formally handed over to the City Watch (an early police force) to secure the place for winter. A parade of torch-bearing, fire-breathing ghouls, devils and skeletons join proceedings on 16 December and, this year, revellers will dance by the light of a ‘roving moon’, a new art installation illuminating Chester’s skies. For six weeks from 25 November the moon will rise above different landmark buildings, part of a major new six-month programme of community arts projects exploring the natural world, entitled Chester Designed By Nature. 

Crewe

The Cheshire town’s annual Lumen Festival of Lights transforms into a self-guided trail this year, with a programme targeting emerging and mid-career artists from the local area. The bright sparks behind Blackpool Illuminations are behind the twilight adventure, which will feature magical ‘Moon Folk’, a TARDIS and son-et-lumière projections along Earle Street. 26 November-12 December 2021

Manchester

This year’s Lightopia Festival brings an illuminated trail to Heaton Park, lined with multi-sensory interactive lights, lanterns and installations. There’ll also be glowing art installations, mythical creatures and a glittering circus display. 18 November 2021- 3 January 2022, with additional events on similar dates in London’s Crystal Palace and Alton Towers. 

West Sussex

The grounds of Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens are set to come alive this winter with arty illuminations, large-scale projections, music and theatrical performances. Set off on a trail through the grounds before rounding off with a whirl on the funfair rides and a rummage through the Christmas market. Select weekends between 25 November and 22 December 2021. 

Virtual

You don’t have to go to Stonehenge to enjoy mid-winter celebration, as English Heritage live-streams sunrise over the stones at their YouTube channel.. Alternatively, see if you can see the solstice sunrise from your city’s streets. Sztanko has painstakingly put together a website project that identifies streets around the world that align as closely as possible with the solstice sunrise. 

Published in the December issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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