During the darker months, cities around the world host light festivals and displays to brighten spirits and bring the community together. Featuring illuminated sculptures, 3D mapped projections and imaginative light shows from local and international artists, these light festivals give visitors a dazzling new perspective on their cities.
In this post, you can read about my favourite light festivals, as well as amazing light festivals around the world suggested by some of my fellow travel bloggers. If I’ve missed out one of your favourites, be sure to let me know in the comments!
Amsterdam Light Festival, Amsterdam, Netherlands
The annual Amsterdam Light Festival brings light and thoughtful art to Amsterdam’s canals and docklands each winter. During December and January, you can see between 20 and 30 illuminated art displays by a range of Dutch and international artists.
Each edition of the Amsterdam Light Festival has a theme; for 2023-2024 the theme is LOADING… Revealing Art, AI and Tech, and each work explores a different aspect of our relationship with technology.
Visiting the Amsterdam Light Festival is free, but one of the most popular ways to see the works is to take a special canal boat cruise to tour the route. There are also some interactive light installations, so it’s a good idea to walk at least some of the way so you can experience them.
GLOW festival, Eindhoven, Netherlands
Contributed by Daniela from Exploring the Netherlands
Every year in November Eindhoven bursts into an explosion of colourful light for the GLOW festival. Local and international artists showcase their most amazing, high-tech light installations across the city, confirming the status of Eindhoven as the Dutch capital of light, design and technology.
You can walk around the city admiring light shows and 3D-mapping projected on various buildings or immerse yourself in vanguard art installations in pop-up exhibition spaces. GLOW is all about innovation and creativity.
If you don’t want to miss out on anything, I recommend that you follow the special walking route. It’s about 5 km long and starts at the Central Train Station. You can download the map of the route online or there are brochures available at a few places around the city.
The best way to visit GLOW festival is by public transport, as it can get quite busy in the city. You should arrive after 5 pm in order to be able to fully enjoy the festival.
In 2024 GLOW festival will be held from 9 to 16 November.
Lilu Light Festival, Lucerne, Switzerland
Contributed by Zoe from Together In Switzerland
A magical light festival that you can visit in Switzerland is the Lucerne Lilu Light Festival. This yearly event brings the nightly streets and buildings to light with special art installations and videography. The festival started back in 2006 and has been an annual event since.
With a provided free map (at a few kiosks in the city centre or online), you can walk a special route to see all 20 installations, as they are dotted around the city centre of Lucerne. The walk is is also suitable for those with young children as it doesn’t take too long. The art and light installations are also great for families, with interactive installations too!
The special moment that you need tickets for is the 30 minute light show inside the Jesuit Church church. This is the highlight everyone should experience once during the festival. With a small cost (usually around 15CHF per adult) you can enter at a specific time slot and take a seat in one of the church pews. The show surrounds you, but best to get a seat near the middle if you can.
The next Lilu Light Festival will be held from 11 to 21 January 2024.
Blackpool Illuminations, Blackpool, England
Contributed by Paulina from the UK Every Day
The history of Blackpool illuminations dates back to 1879 when the town’s council decided to celebrate the switching on of electric street lighting. This event marked the beginning of what would become an annual tradition that attracts millions of visitors each year. The first illuminations were relatively modest, consisting of just eight arc lamps along the promenade.
This spectacular festival is scheduled to run from the 1st of September to the 1st of January. These dates provide plenty of opportunities for visitors to plan their trip and experience the magic of the illuminations.
Along the Promenade, you can expect to see a variety of illuminated features, including animated displays and larger-than-life sculptures. Families can enjoy the illuminated trams that run along the promenade, providing a unique way to experience the lights.
To make the most of your visit to the Blackpool Illuminations, consider visiting on weekdays or during the earlier weeks of the festival to avoid larger crowds.
Llum Festival, Barcelona, Spain
Contributed by Vicki from Vicki Viaja
Every year, Barcelona hosts the Llum Festival, a light festival often referred to in Spanish as the Luz Festival. This event, held on a weekend in the Poblenou district during the winter months from November to February, attracts many visitors. In 2024, it will take place on the February 3-5 weekend.
Poblenou is one of my favourite neighbourhoods in Barcelona – and not just because of its proximity to the beach – and is known for its alternative industrial atmosphere and impressive street art.
What I particularly like about the festival is that businesses open their premises for artistic performances and light installations. Various performances take place here, where visitors can immerse themselves in the world of light. A magical atmosphere is created annually with light, art, sound effects, and show elements.
However, the main aim of the Llum Festival is to promote the creativity of local and international artists. It aims to create a link between design, light, and outdoor architecture, offering a cultural and creative exchange during the year’s cooler months.
Festival of Lights, Berlin, Germany
Contributed by Ali from Berlin Travel Tips
Every autumn, Berlin hosts an event called the Festival of Lights. This festival is an artistic display of images and designs projected onto famous buildings and landmarks around the city. Sometimes music is also included depending on the work of art. The theme changes every year, but it is usually focused on something promoting diversity. For example, “colours of life” was the theme in 2023.
The Berlin Festival of Lights is a free festival so anyone can enjoy it. The organisers also strive to be sustainable, so they use 100% renewable energy to power the lights. They’ve also made sure all the locations are in places that are easy to reach on foot, by bike, or with public transportation.
I really enjoy seeing the light displays, and I try to see a bunch of different places each year. It’s a fun way to spend an evening, and visitors can do some sightseeing at the same time. Some of my favourite landmarks that are often used include Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Cathedral, the TV Tower, Oberbaum Bridge, Charlottenburg Palace, Bebelplatz, and dozens more locations.
The 2024 dates have not been released yet, but it usually takes place in October. In 2023, the Festival of Lights ran from October 6 to 15, 2023. Most of the light displays begin around 7pm since they have to wait for the sun to go down.
Signal Festival, Prague, Czechia
Contributed by Veronika Primm from Travel Geekery
The Signal Festival in Prague has been around for 11 years and has evolved into a mixture of free and paid light installations, videomapping, and a whole cultural event.
Signal is actually not just a light festival but one of digital art. It’s a wonderful show of contemporary art with younger artists at heart.
I’ve been to the festival numerous times and still remember its first year fondly. Seeing the videomapping technology bring a historical cathedral to life was just mesmerising.
The Signal Festival occurs yearly in the month of October over the span of a long weekend. In 2023, the festival was held from Oct 10 to 13th, with the announced 2024 dates remaining the same.
There are typically light installations in the streets with a suggested route to see them all and regular videomapping performances on selected buildings. Then there’s an array of other cultural events and/or indoor shows of light that are available for a fee.
Each year there’s a new concept or a format presented at the Signal Festival so hardly any two years are alike. October is a wonderful time of year to visit Prague also thanks to the Signal Festival!
Fête des Lumières, Lyon, France
Contributed by Elisa from France Bucket List
The Fête des Lumières in Lyon (Festival of Lights in English) is one of the best winter festivals in France. It takes place every year all around the city during the first weekend of December (from Thursday to Sunday) and it is free to visit.
Although the origin of this festival is religious, today the Fête des Lumières is mainly a light show, the perfect occasion for local and international artists to showcase their digital creations (light installations, light shows, and mappings).
Lyon’s Light Festival attracts more than 2 million people every year, so advance booking (train and hotel) is essential.
There are multiple installations in the city, usually in the main squares and buildings. Some must places to visit are Place des Terreaux, where the City Hall is located (this is usually the best light show), Saint Jean Cathedral, the banks of the Saône River (my favourite light show this year), Place Bellecour, and Parc de la Tête d’Or (where you can see multiple light installations).
During the Festival, the Old Town becomes fully pedestrianised, and access to certain streets is blocked to help manage the flow of people. I find it a bit crazy, but it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I recommend!
Sharjah Light Festival, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Contributed by Alison Watt of Glimpses of The UAE
February is my favourite time of year in Sharjah as that’s when buildings across the city, and the emirate, provide a canvas for stunning light displays. I love to look at government buildings and mosques with their exquisite Arabic architecture all year round, but during Sharjah Light Festival, they’re even more beautiful.
Some shows have both sound and light and include a variety of art forms while the shows on religious buildings are light only and incorporate Islamic designs, for example geometrical, floral, arches and calligraphy.
Although the sites may change, there are a few regulars and my favourite in the city is Al Noor Mosque and in the suburbs, Sharjah Grand Mosque and University City Hall. Outside the city, I love the recent addition in the eastern region of the light show on the mountains at Al Rafisah Dam, Khor Fakkan.
Over the twelve days of the festival, I try to visit as many locations as possible as well as the City of Lights exhibition at Sharjah University City. To see as much as possible in one evening, visit Sharjah University City and Sharjah Mosque. In 2024, the festival runs from 7-18 February.
Los Alumbrados, Medellin, Colombia
Contributed by Dan from Backpacking Latin America
Each year thousands of people flock to Medellin, Colombia to visit Los Alumbrados (the lights) which is the name of a light show that is set up and displayed during the whole month of December.
The main event is located in a place called Parque Norte where the primary light display is open to everyone, free of charge. You can also see the lights in more than 100 locations dotted around the city.
Los Alumbrados is an annual show that brings everyone together. In the past, the municipality has even reached out to the public to ask for ideas for new themes for the installations.
I spent around 3 days in Medellin and dedicated a couple of nights to exploring the installations. The intricate design of the light displays is unlike anything I have seen before. Not only is it free to go and see the light exhibitions in one of the many locations, but the city museums are open during this event and offer free entry to all children under 12. The Museum of Antioquia is also free for adults.
Vivid Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Contributed by Shandos Cleaver from Travelnuity
Every year during early winter the Australian city of Sydney hosts Vivid. While the festival also has strands devoted to music and ideas, at its heart lies a celebration of light.
Sydney is lit up nightly with magical light installations from artists around the world. One of the highlights is the Lighting of the Sails, with projections onto the iconic Sydney Opera House.
There are also projections onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Customs House and Museum of Contemporary Art. A Light Walk is set up along the edge of the harbour foreshore, connecting Central Station and Circular Quay.
My top tip for experiencing Vivid is to visit during the week. On weekend nights, particularly towards the end of the festival, the crowds can be overwhelming. Allow plenty of time for your visit – perhaps visit on two separate nights, like I did in 2023.
Along the way, relax and enjoy a meal or drink in one of the venues along the Light Walk, with many offering Vivid specials.
Lights On, Stratford, Canada
Contributed by Stephanie from The World As I See It
One of the most amazing things to do in Stratford is check out the Lights On festival. This fun event brings light to the otherwise dark nights of winter in Ontario.
The festival launched during the first year of the pandemic to bring light and hope. It’s now an annual award-winning light festival that sees visitors from around the world.
During Lights On Stratford, you’ll find an array of interesting, illuminating and interactive art installations across town. The main attraction is located in Market Square, in the heart of downtown. While it’s the biggest of the light installations, you can follow the ‘light trail’ to all the others.
Along the ‘light trail’ you’ll see various shops and landmarks lit with fun light displays. Plus, two of Stratford’s main parks are home to incredible illuminations. There are lights in the Shakespearean Gardens as well as Tom Patterson Island. You can use the free hop on hop off shuttle bus to get around the various light displays.
Lights On Stratford takes place on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from December 15, 2023 until January 13, 2024. However, some of the light displays are on all year round, like the bridge to Tom Patterson Island.
I absolutely love visiting a light festival, and my fellow bloggers have shown that I’m not alone! Whether it’s a thoughtful piece of illuminated art, an interactive installation or a dramatic projection on a city landmark, light festivals bring joy, colour and life to the dark winter months.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article about the world’s best light festivals. If there’s a light festival that you love that I haven’t included, please let me know in the comments!