With a second ‘lockdown to save Christmas’ now in force, it’s easy to feel like the festive season is a million years away. But the small matter of a pandemic won’t stop Britain celebrating, even throughout a national lockdown. While this year’s Christmas lights switch-on events have been blown out of the water, with the usual fanfare around the UK’s festive hotspots largely cancelled, there will still be fantastic illuminations across the country.
Many are ticketed events set to start once lockdown eases, while others in town and city centres will make an ideal socially-distant walk with the family or a friend from one other household. Whether it’s for a fun evening out with the kids or a romantic stroll amid amazing illuminations, here are the top Covid-safe Christmas lights displays in the UK.
Oxford Street, London; November 2
Oxford Street’s lights have arrived in London early this year, bringing much-needed festive cheer to the capital’s main shopping thoroughfare. While there was no major switch-on party – the lights were turned on on 2 November – it’s still an impressive and heart-warming display, and while shops are closed, the lights will remain on throughout lockdown.
This year’s theme is all about 2020’s heroes, and so every week a member of the public who has shown extraordinary kindness or bravery throughout the pandemic will have their name in lights above Oxford Street for seven straight days.
The first name is that of an NHS volunteer responder, Anis Ali, who was nominated for the accolade by the Royal Voluntary Service. From November through to January, you can nominate your own heroes of 2020 to appear in lights on Oxford Street at oxfordstreet.co.uk/christmaslights2020.
Belfast city centre; date TBC
The vast majority of Northern Ireland’s local councils have gone virtual with their switch-on ceremonies this year, proposing live-stream events instead of physical parties, and Belfast city centre is expected to join the fray. The city’s Christmas market has been cancelled, but lights will still go up in November (originally planned for November 14 but actual date still TBC) and some of its events – such as street theatre – will take place in a reduced capacity.
Lightopia Festival, Heaton Park, Manchester; November 20–January 3
Brightening up the northwest this winter is Heaton Park, whose Lightopia Festival is returning with an even bigger and better display than before. The illuminations here go well beyond just Christmas lights, with lanterns, shimmering walkways and bright sculptures to see on the trail, all amid the grounds of a beautiful 18th-century country house.
There’s also a mesmerising water show, which uses high-tech projections through fine mist to create a holographic effect on the surface of the lake. Especially for 2020, there’s a local heroes section, too, with a rainbow display and a huge illuminated ‘thank you’ sign to honour the people who have made a difference during the pandemic. Adults can visit from £20 and kids cost £13, or a family ticket (two adults, two kids) costs £60. The festival will be closed during the November lockdown, but hopes to resume once restrictions are lifted in December.
Lightwater Valley, Ripon, North Yorkshire; November 21–December 23
On the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Lightwater Valley theme park is bringing festive spirit to Ripon this year with a brilliant host of attractions. There’s a lantern trail with bright pink flamingos, iridescent mushrooms and a cast of glowing Alice in Wonderland characters. An ‘Elf Hunt’ around the park and a host of fairground rides will keep the kids busy, while parents can enjoy a mulled wine from the food and drink stalls throughout.
All activities are outdoors – including the Christmas Magic Puppet Show – so wrap up warm for this one. Tickets are £12.50 per person (under twos go free) and must be booked in advance. All November dates have been cancelled due to lockdown, but the event is set to resume in December once measures are lifted.
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Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire; November 20–January 3
Blenheim Palace is going all out for Christmas this year, with a light trail featuring over a million bulbs that will brighten up its grounds, trees and footpaths. Installations such as the ‘Sea of Light’ and neon tunnels will have you snapping with your camera, and a scented fire garden offers a multisensory experience.
Tickets for the trail are timed and separate to the palace, so both need booking independently in advance. Adults pay £21.50 and parking is an additional £10. Kids are £15 and under twos go free. The organisers are awaiting confirmation on how Christmas lights trails are going to be treated under the new lockdown, but once restrictions lift, it’s expected the attraction will be fully open again.
Kew Gardens, London; December 4–January 17
For Christmas, Kew turns into a technicolour wonderland, with hundreds of light installations that’ll have you mesmerised. Expect trees cloaked in glowing bulbs, a ‘tunnel of stars’, cleverly lit glasshouses and fire sculptures in a scented garden. The ‘treetop waterfall’ sees beams of light dancing across the sky, but the highlight will no doubt be the Palm House Pond finale, where a soundtrack of Christmas classics accompanies impressive water and light displays.
Off-peak adult tickets are £19.50, and £24.50 during peak hours (members are discounted), while kids pay £12.50/£14.50 (under 4s go free). Family tickets are available, and all tickets must be booked in advance. The organisers are awaiting confirmation on how Christmas lights trails are going to be treated under the new lockdown, but once restrictions lift, it’s expected the attraction will be fully open again.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh; November 26–January 3
While Edinburgh city centre won’t be getting any festive cheer this winter season, with events and light switch-on parties cancelled as of October 1, the Royal Botanic Gardens is still expected to have its own exciting light trail from 26th November.
Organised by the same events company that lights up Kew and Blenheim Palace, you can expect a kaleidoscope of colour this winter. Walk through an arboretum of multicoloured trees, where beams of light reach between the branches and bright bulbs hug the trunks of ancient specimens. See luminescent sculptures, explore the tunnel of light and watch choreographed beams of light dance across the face of the historic Inverleith House.
Timed tickets must be booked in advance, with adults paying £19 (£16 for members) and kids £13. Family tickets are available for £60 under threes go free.
Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire; November 28–December 21
Enchanted Christmas at Westonbirt Arboretum offers a mile-long festive trail amid some of the 18,000 trees that make up this 600-acre site. Aimed primarily at kids, it follows the story of the ‘West Pole’ workshop, where it’s said Santa’s helpers are getting him ready for the big day. Along the route, Santa and other characters from his world will be on hand to spread festive cheer, and there will be beautiful light displays at every turn.
Two Christmas villages – one at the end and one at the beginning – offer a chance to purchase seasonal snacks, drinks and souvenirs, and fairground rides will keep the kids entertained. Timed tickets must be booked in advance, costing £16 for adults and £8 for kids. Under fives go free, and there are concessions for jobseekers and students.
The Arboretum will be closed during the national lockdown, but they are hoping to add dates in December or extend the event to make up for those who have cancelled tickets.
Read more: Best Christmas gift ideas for 2020
Stourhead, Wiltshire; November 27–January 3
The National Trust’s famous landscaped gardens at Stourhead are the perfect place for a socially-distant stroll during lockdown, and the site is remaining open throughout November with timed tickets for sale. The Christmas lights displays are renowned, too, and there are plans for luminescent sculptures, trees wrapped in lights and giant baubles, plus the obligatory tunnel of lights for all the Instagrammers.
Tickets cost £27 for an adult with a parking space, or £19 for entry only. Kids cost £13 and family tickets with parking are £70 for two adults and two kids (£62 without parking). Some November dates may be cancelled due to the new national lockdown, but the National Trust is hoping to reopen the trail as soon as restrictions allow.
Bedgebury, Kent; selected dates from November 20–December 31
The UK’s National Pinetum is a spectacular place for a wintry walk, with its world-renowned collection of conifers, beautiful lakes and even a few Gruffalo characters hiding in the woods. During the Christmas season, it’s even better, with a light trail to wow and mulled wine on offer.
The trees will be illuminated in psychedelic lighting, neon strings will cast a futuristic glow amid the forests and giant baubles will hang from branches. The highlight will be the maze and light tunnel, and a fire garden will offer a warm place to rest a while.
Tickets must be booked in advance, costing adults £19.50 (plus £8 for parking) and £13 for kids. Under threes go free and a family ticket with parking is £67. Bedgebury will be closed during the national lockdown, but they are hoping to add dates in December or extend the event to make up for those who have cancelled tickets.