Last year we spotted a new winter activity trend popping up on our radar and it came in the shape of glittering lights, sensible footwear and hot beverages. Yes, we’re talking about light trails. They were Christmas 2020’s roaring saviour because they beat the restrictions to allow an element of fun and festivity in a time when, well, it was hard to track down any fun or festivity. And judging by the internet, they’re not going anywhere this year.
If you’ve never been to a light trail, let us unlighten you (pun totally on purpose). Essentially you walk around a mile or two to enjoy and take in a collection of light installations after dark. There’s often things like mulled wine or food trucks and mood-setting music to enjoy as you stroll. It’s simple, but it’s nice to wrap up warm and go for a moonlit stroll – they’re also great for kids (so long as they’re happy to walk or the trail is pushchair appropriate).
There’s plenty of options across the UK, so we’ve rounded up the biggest, best and most generously reviewed across the British isles…
Bute Park, Cardiff
For a ‘breathtaking festival of light’ look no further than Cardiff’s Christmas at Bute Park which is the biggest light display Wales has ever seen. It opens on 25th November and prices start at £18 for an adult. It promises a 60-minute light trail with Christmas illuminations, sculptures and special effects as well as food vendors galore. More details here.
Lightopia Seasonal Wonderland, Alton Towers
The longest light and lantern trail in Europe, you ask? Well apparently it’s this 2km immersive journey in Alton Towers which takes you on a glittering walk through the four different seasons. The installment is new this year and opens on 27th November. Tickets are £20 which also includes admission into the Alton Towers Christmas market. (There’s also another Lightopia trail in Heaton Park, Manchester). More details here.
Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh
From 25th November the Royal Botanical Gardens will be opening their festive light trail to the public. As well as glorious illuminations and delicious street vendors there’s also the chance to toast marshmallows over a fire pit. Tickets start at £20 for an adult when booked in advance. More details here.
Kew Gardens, London
Opens on 17th November and prices cost £26.50 during peak-time or £21.50 for off-peak. You can expect to wander through sparkling tunnels of light, dancing waterside reflections, and trees drenched in jewel-like colour on your way to the panoramic Palm House light display. There’s also a Father Christmas and street food vendors. More details here.
Brand new this year is the after-dark illuminated trail through festive gardens at Killerton. The light trail opens on the 26th November and includes tunnels of light, giant baubles and a Father Christmas. There is, of course, refreshments available including toasted marshmallows. Prices start from £26 for an adult without a National Trust membership. More details here.
Hillsborough Castle, Belfast
Opening on 3rd December for the first time ever is the magical after-dark trail at Hillsborough Castle and Gardens. There will be festive music, twinkling lights and Father Christmas on the mile-long walk which also includes a mistletoe bench. Oo-er! Tickets cost from £18 for adults. More details here.
Margam Country Park, Port Talbot
Kicking off on the 18th November is Margam Country Park’s famous light trail which opened to a sell-out year back in 2019. The walk will take 69-90 minutes and ticket prices start from £15 for an adult. More details here.
Boasting London’s largest Christmas light display is Lightopia in Crystal Palace. It opens on the 19th November and offers plenty of unique installations including their brand new light-up dinosaur display. There’s also plenty of refreshment opportunities from well-loved local vendors. Prices start at £19.50 for an adult. More details here.
Now entering its eight year, the Glow Wild light trail at RBG Kew in Wakehurst opens on 25th November. There’s plenty to enjoy, including the tallest living Christmas tree which is adorned with 1,800 lights. There’s food and drink options available, as well as special ‘quiet ticket’ events for those with hidden disabilities. More details here.
Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire
The after-dark trail boasts over a million lights, lasers and seasonal sounds that fill the air with festive fun through the Palace’s picture-perfect gardens. It opens on 19th November and you can expect excellent street vendors alongside the glorious lights. Tickets start at £22.50 for an adult including parking. More details here.
The Enchanted Journey of Light is back again this year for another festive bonanza. It’s actually slightly shorter than 2020’s trail but that’s only to accommodate the Christmas Spectacular being back in the main building. Expect a breath-taking festival of luminous sculptures, from a fantasy underwater world to the wilds of the North Pole. There’s also a vintage funfair (although rides aren’t included in the £18 entry price. More details here.
The Lanterns at Chester Zoo
The only light trail in our list open at the time of writing is this one which opened its doors on the 12th November. The zoo is transformed into a magical winter wonderland full of sparkle, magic and cheer. There’s a Christmas food market and adult prices start from £13. There’s huge illuminated animal sculptures as well as dazzling walkways, and the trail will help the zoo earn back some of the vital revenue lost during the pandemic. More details here.
Not found one near you? The National Trust website is an excellent start point to find one you can visit locally.