Gaze upon shimmering forests and postapocalyptic sunsets, chase the northern lights or let ancient tales guide you along city walls
Light trails and shows are more popular than ever this Covid-ridden winter: inventive and mostly outdoors, they brighten the long, dark nights. For those of us drawn to their sparkle, the good news is they’re not just for Christmas. These cities, gardens and resorts are hosting illuminated trails and festivals of light in January, February and March. Book ahead, and wrap up warm.
Love Light, Norwich
During the biennial Love Light festival in Norwich, the city’s landmarks become artworks. Cupid is projected onto the castle and psychedelic neon swirls across the western front of the cathedral. There’s after-dark bicycle ballet and a sound-and-light sculpture in Chapelfield Gardens, a heart-shaped mirror ball in the Forum and light graffiti scribbles across flinty medieval walls. The streets are alive with parades and performances on the suitably pandemic-defying theme of love and belonging. Watch shadow puppets in the marketplace, fiery marsh ponies on Cathedral Green and a glowing octopus and jellyfish, with a fleet of illuminated boats, as they process through the streets on Saturday evening.
17-19 February, 5.30-10pm, free, lovelightnorwich.co.uk
Spectra Festival of Light, Aberdeen
The soaring facades and gothic gables of the world’s second-largest granite building, Marischal College in central Aberdeen, are among the epic canvases for this mid-Feb festival. This year has been designated Scotland’s Year of Stories. Spectra draws on the theme to present new commissions around the city centre, as lines and images from Scottish prose and poetry illuminate grey stone walls. Light-formed artworks play across Marischal Square and the surrounding streets. And there are related events in Aberdeen art gallery, which won a 2021 architectural award as Scotland’s Building of the Year and is open until late.
10-13 February, 6.30-9.30pm, free, spectrafestival.co.uk
Nymans, West Sussex
The National Trust’s light trails have been increasingly popular recently. They offer a relatively safe chance to meet outdoors and enjoy dramatic settings picked out by shimmering pea lights and multicoloured lasers. This year, the grounds and formal gardens of the mock medieval mansion at Nymans are full of interest even in winter. Mossy tree roots, tall lime avenues and conical conifers are the setting for fantastical creatures, lantern-hung walkways and firelit lawns. The family-friendly trail takes about an hour to wander through, leading past themed illuminated spaces with matching music.
11-27 February, 2-6 March, time slots from 6.15pm (earlier some nights). Tickets from £16.50/£12 adult/child. Parking £8 for non-members; hourly buses to and from Crawley, nationaltrust.org.uk
The towers glow and the gardens are studded with fire: Derry’s new festival of lights this February aims to showcase the city’s history. Derry is the only completely walled city left in Ireland and the 17th-century walls are a monumental surface for light artists to work their magic. Digital projections turn familiar buildings and fortifications into huge audiovisual animations that play for a few minutes as visitors walk past. The trail charts five eras in the city’s history, from early settlement on a wooded island in the River Foyle to 21st-century cultural centre. There are ticketed concerts, too, in the Guildhall, Saint Augustine’s Church and other venues. Besides the festival, Derry Girls fans looking forward to series three in 2022 could tuck in to a Derry Girls-themed tea, cream horns and all, at the Everglades Hotel, a pint in the Walled City Brewery , and catch a huge mural of the cast near Badgers Bar .
17-20 February, 24-27 February, free, derrystrabane.com
Ignite: Fire and Fantasy, Tyntesfield, Bristol
Another new installation at a National Trust property, this trail lights up the golden limestone turrets and pinnacles, arched doorways and oriel windows of neogothic Tyntesfield. Victorian businessman William Gibbs, whose family made a fortune from nitrate-rich guano, turned a Georgian mansion into a palatial gothic revivalist fantasy. Flickering among the long lawns and neat formal terraces there should be curving banks of flame, glowing firmaments and galaxies. And there’s hot chocolate to ward off the chilly night air.
11-27 February (not 15/16), 6pm-9pm, £16.50/£12 adult/child, parking £8 for non-members nationaltrust.org.uk
Spectacle of Light, Haughley Park, Suffolk
The bulb-dotted hearts at Haughley Park near Stowmarket hint at one of many reasons for running this spectacle over Valentine’s Day rather than yuletide. This brick manor house in the Suffolk countryside is a popular wedding venue, and while the festival is bound to attract families, it’s also aimed at couples looking to wander romantically through tunnels of light and sip mulled wine together in the gardens. The contemporary glass sculptures dotted throughout the gardens gleam in the lights, and the 1,000-year-old oak and giant redwood create a wild setting. The 10 acres of woodland with bluebell carpets are also open on selected Sundays in April and May to raise money for the local church.
4-27 February, Fridays and weekends, 5.30-7pm, from £18/£9/£46.80 adult/child/family, haughleypark.co.uk
Winter Lights at Bluestone national park resort, Pembrokeshire
This eco-friendly, activity-packed resort spills across 500 acres of wooded countryside in the Pembrokeshire Coast national park. Hundreds of self-catering lodges and cottages are ranged around a private village, spa and waterpark with beaches and coast path nearby. As part of the package, the village becomes the Light Garden and, from 4pm to 9pm, there’s an illuminated Wonder Wood trail around the lake, with a maze and rainbow bridge, giant glowing owls, incandescent pillars and a fire for toasting marshmallows. Bookable extras include craft workshops, bowling and buggies.
Until 24 March, midweek packages from £269 for four nights in a four-person family lodge, bluestonewales.com
Light Festival, Battersea Power Station, London
The newly public riverside area in front of Battersea Power Station has six illuminated installations by international artists on display until the end of February. Huge, tiger-shaped lanterns made from recycled materials pulse with low-energy LED bulbs; a big-pixel screen turns visitors’ movements into blocks of light. There are light-emitting antennae, a post-apocalyptic sunset and a fluorescent greenhouse. The power station’s distinctive walls and chimneys were constructed over more than two decades from 1929, to form one of the world’s biggest brick buildings. It was decommissioned in the 1970s, and its £9bn regeneration now covers 42 acres. Some of the bars and restaurants in the project’s Circus West Village are offering Light Festival menus, and a new Battersea Power Station tube station opened in September 2021.
13 January-27 February, free, batterseapowerstation.co.uk
Winter Forest Lights breaks, Center Parcs, various venues
Center Parcs has been offering its trademark woodland cabins-plus-swimming pools combo for decades now. They took full advantage, once reopened, of domestic holidaymakers stranded for summer in the UK, and in 2021 identified a potential new site in West Sussex. The existing resorts in Cumbria, Bedfordshire, Nottinghamshire, Wiltshire and Suffolk have installed thousands of little bulbs, colour-changing lights and glades of luminous flowers to turn the wooded paths into a forest “wonderland” after sunset. There’s a whimsical accompanying storybook, a themed village and various wintry activities as optional extras.
10 January-27 February, Winter Forest Lights breaks start from £529 for a midweek (four-night) break in a two-bedroom lodge, centerparcs.co.uk
Dark Skies festival, Outer Hebrides
For a totally different kind of light show, travel to the Outer Hebrides and hope for fine evenings. There’s a chance of seeing the dancing green and violet clouds of the northern lights, given the right atmospheric conditions. Away from light pollution of big towns and cities, sights like the Orion Nebula are easily visible with the naked eye (it looks like a fuzzy star on Orion’s sword, but it’s a swirling cloud of dust and gas 1,344 light years away). In February, the sun sets soon after 5pm, so there’s plenty of time to stargaze. Then warm up with music and theatre, film and food at the Dark Skies Festival, led by Stornoway arts venue An Lanntair. This year’s programme includes science-based comedy, talks on astronomy, poetry, a night swim and weather-proof stargazing.
11-25 February, tickets from £4, free film screening on opening night, lanntair.com