From dancing lasers to magical gardens, imaginative light shows are being switched on throughout the land. We previews 10 Christmas spectaculars.
Christmas light trail, Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire
The Capability Brown-sculpted parkland at Blenheim features a new one-mile multisensory path, including a scented fire garden, fibre-optic lawns and twinkling hedges. The lake is illuminated with lit-up boats, the fountains cascade in time to Christmas music, the waterfall is bathed in colour and the arbour sparkles with fairy lights. Santa Claus and his elves have set up their workshop in the boathouse, and there are festive sideshows and a Victorian carousel in the courtyard. Warm up with spiced cider, mulled wine and hot chocolate, roasted chestnuts and toasted marshmallows.
• From £16 adult/£10 child/£48 family/under-fives free; until 2 January;blenheimpalace.com
Festival of Light and Sound, Eden Project, Cornwall
The Eden Project has a spectacular new light and sound show this Christmas. Visitors can watch from a viewing platform or walk along the pathways as lasers create a canopy of light, painting the biomes with festive colours, set to a soundscape of music and stories. There are light projections in the Mediterranean biome, too, illuminating the winter planting displays, plus live performances by musicians and choirs from the south-west. The show is the brainchild of light artist Chris Levene, who created the laser tribute to David Bowie at Glastonbury festival, and Marco Perry, Björk’s spatial sound designer. Other festive fun includes ice skating, winter storytelling, festive crafts and meeting Father Christmas and his elves. A baobab rum cocktail (or a smoothie for the kids) will take the chill off.
• From £22.50 adult/£12.60 child/£62 family/under-fives free, 5pm-8pm on 3, 4, 9, 10, 11 and 16-23 December, and 5pm-7pm on 27-30 December, edenproject.com
Festival of Light, Longleat safari park, Wiltshire
Longleat is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and it has pulled out all the stops for its third light festival. Giant lanterns take the shape of some of the park’s animals – an avenue of lions, a troop of monkeys – but there are also lots of Beatrix Potter characters, to mark the 150th anniversary of the author’s birth: Peter Rabbit, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Squirrel Nutkin will all be there. There is also an illuminated Christmas scene and a 20-metre-high birthday cake. Altogether, the displays use 12 miles of silk, 30,000 bulbs and 2½ miles of LED lighting. Plus there is a Santa Express, a musical Christmas tree, an Arctic playzone for kids and an exhibition of costumes from the 1971 Royal Opera House production of The Tales of Beatrix Potter.
• From £27.85 adult/£20.65 child/under-threes free, to 2 January, longleat.co.uk
Enchanted Parks, Gateshead
Light up the North is a network of light festivals in the north of England: York, Leeds, Lancaster, Durham, Blackpool, Salford – and, over Christmas, Gateshead. Enchanted Parks is an interactive walk through Saltwell park, just south of the town centre, along a trail of light with art installations, performances, sculptures and projections. The story being told is a Midwinter Night’s Tale, inspired by the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.
• £8 adult/£2 child/under-fours free, 6-11 December, newcastlegateshead.com
Christmas Glow, RHS Wisley, Surrey
The garden is glowing with giant illuminated flowers for the second year running – but this year they are bigger and brighter. Some of the trees are ablaze, too, including a liquidambar, giant redwood and scots pine. The glasshouse is decorated like a gingerbread house, and displays seasonal plants such as poinsettias, Christmas cacti and bromeliads. There are lanterns around the lake, and the plant centre has been turned into Santa and Mrs Claus’s grotto. The cafe serves hearty goulash, hot chocolate with marshmallows and spiced apple juice. Visitors can stock up at the Christmas shop, join stories and songs with Santa, and attend gingerbread-decorating workshops.
• From £9.90 adult/£3.60 child, until 2 Jan, rhs.org.uk
Christmas at Kew Gardens, London
Kew is a special place to visit at any time of the day or year, but the festive light show gives it a magical twist, as the mile-long trail through the garden sparkles with 60,000 lights, passing a Christmas karaoke juke box and eight newly commissioned artworks. These include singing Christmas trees, a light installation of 1,700 swaying flowers and a roaring fire garden. Some of the garden’s oldest and tallest trees are also beautifully lit along the way. The finale is the iconic Palm House and pond lit up with coloured laser beams and streams of light dancing to Christmas songs.
• From £16 adult/£10 child/£48 family/under-fours free; until 2 Jan, kew.org
Enchanted Christmas, Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire
The national arboretum has a one-mile illuminated trail, with the towering trees lit up, and interactive displays along the way. There are free Christmas crafts, carol singing, an old-fashioned carousel and two Christmas shops – one is devoted to decorations, housed in a shepherd’s hut. Father Christmas is there with his elves, Mrs Christmas tells stories in a yuletide yurt, and stilt-walking versions of Jack Frost and the Christmas Fairy flit around. Winter warmers include hog roasts and Baileys hot chocolate.
• £12 adult/£6 child/under-fives free, Friday to Sunday until 18 December,forestry.gov.uk
Magical Lantern festival, Leeds, Birmingham, London
The first Magical Lantern festival was held in Chiswick House Gardens, London, last winter. It is back from 19 January but, first, the magic is heading to Roundhay Park in Leeds and the Botanical Gardens in Birmingham. Each festival has a trail of giant lanterns, mixing seasonal themes, local landmarks and Chinese culture. In Birmingham, for example, there is a Bullring Bull alongside a Christmas fairy, snowmen, penguins, trees and presents. London (again at Chiswick) has a Houses of Parliament lantern and a Silk Road theme. Leeds is home to Santa’s grotto and a funfair, London has an ice rink and ice bar, and all three have Chinese food stalls and global street food.
• Leeds and Birmingham from £12.50 adult/£8.50 child/£38 family/under-fours free, until 2 January, London from £16.50/£10.50/£50/under-fours three, 19 January to 26 February, magicallantern.uk
Tunnel of Light, Norwich
Norwich has created the UK’s first tunnel of light this Christmas. The 45-metre passage on Hay Hill is made from 50,000 pulsating LEDs, designed to echo the colours and patterns of the northern lights. The city is also projecting Christmas films set to music on to the castle and town hall each night. There are lights all over the city, a eight-metre Christmas tree on the corner of Bethel Street and events from a Christmas tree festival at St Peter Mancroft church to craft markets.
• Free, until 6 Jan, norwichbid.co.uk
Celebration of Light, Penzance, Cornwall
Penzance has pushed the boat out this Christmas. Landmarks including St Michael’s Mount and St Mary’s church are lit up, and there is a competition for the brightest light-themed shop window display. On 17 December, there is a lantern parade to celebrate local scientist Humphry Davy, who invented the miner’s safety lamp. The Montol festival marks the winter solstice on 21 December, with fire performers, processions and a huge midwinter bonfire. Nearby Newlyn and Mousehole, meanwhile, have spectacular displays of Christmas lights.
• Free, until 6 January, lovepenzance.co.uk
The best of the rest
Lots of National Trust properties are lit up at Christmas, including Calke Abbey in Derbyshire and Corfe Castle in Dorset. Edinburgh’s Street of Light is back in a new location at the west end of George Street, and features 60,000 light bulbs with live music. Chester Zoo has an enchanted forest with animal lanterns. St George’s Hall in Liverpool has a DreamWorks lantern show, with 100 characters and scenes from Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar. Portsmouth Historic Dockyard has an illuminations show where HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and the Mary Rose are projected on to the Action Stations’ building. Eastbourne has a light show, Neon Noel, at the town hall clock tower). Boats in Ramsgate harbour are festooned with lights, creating dazzling reflections in the water.
Best Value Tours U.K, London