Gleam dreams: 10 of Britain’s best light trails this autumn and winter

Glow Wild, Wakehurst Garden, Sussex

Celebrating its 10th birthday this year, Glow Wild at Wakehurst, Kew’s more rural botanic garden in the Sussex countryside, will feature a huge illuminated whale and a projected version of Catherine Nelson’s colourful Planet Wakehurst, one of the UK’s biggest outdoor artworks. There will be thousands of lanterns as always, crafted by local volunteers, community groups and artists. This year’s shapes include buzzing pollinators, leaping fish, raindrops, thunderclouds and tiny seahorses. Wakehurst boasts the UK’s tallest living Christmas tree, a 37-metre-high giant redwood decorated with 1,800 bulbs. There’s an interactive puppet show near the marshmallow-toasting firepit and wishing stars to hang in the trees.
Various evenings from 23 November to 1 January, adult from £18, child from £11.50, kew.org

Northern Lights, Newcastle

Central Newcastle’s oldest park celebrates its 150th anniversary this December by opening a new, mile-long trail of music and choreographed illuminations. The statues, lakes and woodlands of Leazes Park will be lit up by artificial starlight, powered by generators that use vegetable oil. Glowing globes will float over the water and lasers slice through dry ice, all accompanied by Christmassy refreshments and vintage fairground rides. On 23 December a fundraising night with carols from a community choir will raise money to revamp the children’s playground.
23 November to 1 January, adult £19, child £13.50, northernlightsnewcastle.com

Cambridge Botanic Lights

With thousands of plant species across 15 landscaped hectares (40 acres), Cambridge has one of the world’s biggest university-owned botanic gardens. Already known as a seasonal destination for its fragrant winter walks amid carpets of snowdrops, Cambridge University Botanic Garden is opening a light trail for the first time this December. It aims to showcase fountains, greenhouses and sculptural trees with effects designed to enhance rather than obscure natural features. There will be festive food and hot drinks from the popular garden cafe and a kiosk halfway round the trail.
Thursdays to Sundays from 1 to 22 December, adult £23.35, Cambridge University student £17.05, child £13.20, botanic.cam.ac.uk

Monteviot Lights, Scottish Borders

Another new trail twinkles into life from late November around Monteviot House, 10 miles south-west of Kelso. The 18th-century house, official home of the Marquis of Lothian (the Tory politician Michael Ancram), sits in 12 hectares (30 acres) of gardens. The first winter light trail in the Scottish Borders aims to turn the wooded grounds into a winter fairytale with shifting imagery and soundscapes. The team behind the trail is event company NL Productions, which creates other well-loved Scottish illuminations such as Edinburgh’s Castle of Light and Pitlochry’s Enchanted Forest in autumn.
Wednesdays to Sundays from 30 November to 10 December, adult £18, child £12, monteviotlights.co.uk

Christmas at Wrest Park, Bedfordshire

English Heritage is staging several new trails in properties across the south-east this year, including Walmer Castle in Kent, Eltham Palace and Kenwood in London. One of Britain’s most fascinating landscape gardens, elegant Wrest Park is also getting in on the action for the first time. The light show is produced by music and events promoter Kilimanjaro Live, which stages the popular trail at Wollaton in Nottingham, as well as concerts for numerous bands and stars from Simply Red to Ed Sheeran. Installations include an interactive maze of 25 mirrored monoliths, reflecting the surroundings in a web of light and colour.
1 December to 1 January, adult from £19.75, child from £13,
english-heritage.org.uk

Sheffield Cathedral Illuminated: Starlight

Featuring incandescent versions of Nativity scenes projected on to its huge stone walls, Starlight might be more of a kaleidoscopic installation than a walk-through trail, but it’s an impressive sound and light show with the sense of a journey as visitors follow the star-led magi. Sheffield Cathedral spans eight centuries of architecture from its medieval chancel to its modern lantern tower and this multi-sensory extravaganza highlights its towering columns and gothic arches. This year, the outside section of the show is free to everyone, so passersby can enjoy the music and projections. Inside the cathedral, abstract and figurative light artworks move in sync with original compositions. Creator Luxmuralis is responsible for a series of huge illuminations at venues around the country, including this year a special late November Crown and Coronation show at the Tower of London.
5 to 9 December, adult £6.50, child £5, sheffieldcathedral.org

Lanterns and Light, Chester Zoo, Cheshire

A huge cathedral of fairy lights, lanterns shaped like glowing birds and animals, giant LED-lit sculptures and stars glimmering from trail-side trees: the trail at Chester Zoo has been a popular winter spectacle for more than a decade. This year, the zoo has joined forces with Sony Music to add festive soundscapes and sparkly new features alongside old favourites. There’s an ultraviolet walkway with luminous animal faces, a glowing orangutan and dolphins that seem to leap from the moats and waterways. There are colour-changing rainforests, a supersized octopus and a lifesize 3D woolly mammoth hologram, not to mention fairground rides, a fire garden and glimpses of a sleigh-riding Santa.
17 to 31 December, adult £18, child £12, chesterzoo.org

Wild Winter After Dark, NT Blickling Estate, Norfolk

Several National Trust properties are hosting light trails this Christmas, from Anglesey Abbey near Cambridge to Dunham Massey in Cheshire. At the Blickling Estate in Norfolk, the parterre, avenues, woods, walled garden and farmyard are transfigured with festive colour and light. There’s an emphasis on the sensory delights of the season: the smell of spiced apples and gingerbread in Temple Walk or of fallen oak and chestnut leaves under the ancient trees in the arboretum. A wild trail through the Arts and Crafts-style house itself features snowy floors and frosty foliage, owls, bats and animal tracks.
2 to 17 December, adult £16, child £10, nationaltrust.org.uk

Christmas at Bute Park, Cardiff

Launching in late November, the ever-popular light trail at Bute Park has been revamped and redesigned. Between the wide River Taff and the old walls of Cardiff Castle, Bute Park’s avenues twinkle with golden fairy lights, and neon hoops lead to shape-shifting glades and hazy clouds of colour, pierced by numerous lasers. There’s a new Christmas village and several of Cardiff’s favourite street-food vendors will be on hand to serve up Keralan curry, Welsh sausage pizza or vegan chocolate brownies.
24 November to 1 January, adult from £19.50, child from £13.95, christmasatbutepark.com

RHS Glow at Rosemoor, Devon

Live music, magicians and performers using fire and light are all part of a new and extended route at RHS Rosemoor this winter. Six soundscapes and a spectacular field of fire enhance the gardens, woods and starlit meadows across this varied patch of Devon landscape. The atmospheric pinewoods are especially well suited to after-dark exploration, while the drifting scents from resiny branches or the sage-fragrant herb garden add to the multi-sensory adventure. All the Royal Horticultural Society gardens have Glow trails weaving through their twinkling borders and iridescent trees this Christmas, complete with mulled wine or hot chocolate to warm you up after a night-time stroll.
Various dates from 16 November to 30 December, adult £14.95, child £7.95, rhs.org.uk