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14 of the best Christmas light trails for 2023

Aug 10, 2023

Phoebe Taplin

Thursday August 24 2023, 16:09pm

Bringing cheer and brightness to the darkest months, Christmas light trails have blossomed in recent years all over the UK. You can find them in parks, woods and gardens, zoos, cathedrals and even steam trains. In November and December, you’ll discover twinkling tunnels, glowing lanterns, flaming torches, lasers, neon swirls and stirring seasonal music. And don’t forget the mulled wine and hot chocolate to warm you up on a wintry walk. Here are some of the best Christmas light trails for 2023.

Main photo: Blenheim Palace has one of the best Christmas light trails this year

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Dates selected evenings from November 16 to December 30, 2023Prices from £19 adults, £13.50 children, £62 families (free for children aged 3 and under)

Flowers, vines and leaves unfurl across the walls of Inverleith House at Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden as plant-themed projections light up the 18th-century stones. With new lights for 2023, this trail features cosmic crocuses blooming across the lawns, rainbow-bright grasses sprouting and huge incandescent seedheads floating through the air. The garden has great views across the city too, taking in Edinburgh Castle, which is hosting its own lights. Ten minutes’ walk from the garden gates, with teal-and-heather decor, roll-top baths and a big log fire in the bar, the Raeburn makes a comfy Edinburgh base.

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Dates November 23, 2023, to January 1, 2024Prices from £19 adults, £13.50 children, £61.48 families (free for children aged 2 and under)

A new light trail for 2023 will wind through central Newcastle’s oldest park for five weeks this winter. Leazes Park is 150 years old in December and lighting up the venerable woods and buildings, lake and statues is a fine way to celebrate. The trail promises a mile of original music and soundscapes, and choreographed illuminations with seasonal refreshments along the way. It will feature gentle starlight, spheres dancing over the water, neon-green lasers beaming through mist and lots more in Newcastle’s only immersive light trail. Stay 20 minutes’ walk away at the modern INNSiDE by Meliá with views of the Tyne’s multicoloured floodlit bridges.

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Dates November 22, 2023, to January 1, 2024Prices from £22 adults, £10 children (National Trust members half price; free for children aged 4 and under)

Narnian snowscapes, Peter Pan’s adventures, the playful psychedelia of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — Waddesdon’s theme this year is classic British tales. Why settle for just one story when you can showcase three? The manor’s chateau-style turrets look like a fairy tale at any time of year, but they’re even more surreal bathed in iridescent colours that shift in sync with the soundtrack. There are new animated projections, an engaging light trail and Christmas Fair. Inside the house, with its gold ceilings, candelabras and portraits by Gainsborough, themed installations include the Mad Hatter’s tea party and the White Witch’s castle. At the garden gates, the neo-Tudor Five Arrows hotel, with its decorative ironwork and twisted chimneys, has 16 tastefully refurbed bedrooms.

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Dates November 16 to December 17, 2023Prices £20 adults, £10 children, £50 families (free for children aged 2 and under)

This ancient, moated wonderland in peaceful countryside has gardens that are seriously worth seeing from May to September as well as at Christmas. Kick off with free mulled wine in Helmingham’s centuries-old courtyard before following a mile-long trail back over the drawbridge, through the knot garden, parterre and avenue of apple trees, into the wilder meadows and woodlands. Sounds and lighting match the different areas to enhance the garden’s natural loveliness and for 2023 there is a new drinks and street food area with s’mores roasted over the fire pit and a pop-up bar. Stay at Retreat East, five miles away, in a shepherd’s hut, farmhouse or converted barn with an outdoor bath.

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Dates November 24 to December 30, 2023Prices £29 adults, £20 children, £95 families (free for children aged 3 and under)

Ride the steam train along the Devon coast, where the moon makes a silver path over Tor Bay. The toasty carriages are festooned with tinsel and baubles, while a narrator matches a baroque adventure to luminous trackside dioramas outside the windows. Nearby Powderham Castle also hosts a crowd-pleasing trail through grounds and castle, past a walled garden full of geese and goats, an illuminated maze and twinkling Christmas trees. Stay close to the sparkling, palm-studded seafront in nearby Torquay at the charming Charterhouse Hotel.

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Dates selected evenings from November 17 to December 31, 2023Prices from £19 adults, £13 children, £61 families (free for children aged 2 and under)

Forestry England is hosting vibrant trails at several sites, including Delamere Forest in Cheshire and Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire as well as this Kent venue. All of them use the lights to accentuate the natural beauty of the site: the conifers at Bedgebury glow scarlet and turquoise, amber and pink ,while stalks of neon sprout beneath them and shimmering doves perch on the floodlit branches. Overhead, the multi-coloured Liquid Sky is one of several original displays for 2023. Book into one of the stylish rooms in the White Hart at Wadhurst, an innovative village pub serving elegant food and English wines.

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Dates November 17 to December 31, 2023Prices £18 adults, £12 children (free for children aged 2 and under)

Glowing birds and animals, luminous orangutans, colour-changing rainforests and a show-stopping giant octopus: the annual Lanterns and Light at Chester Zoo are a crowd-pleasing spectacle. This year, the zoo has joined forces with Sony Music and Culture Creative to add new installations and experiences to the old faves. On the trail you’ll encounter pea-lit animal sculptures, lions, dolphins and a 3D woolly mammoth hologram with stars winking from the trail-side trees. There’s marshmallow toasting, fairground rides, a fire garden, winter cathedral, and sleigh-riding Santa. Twelve miles south, the Pheasant Inn, with its log fires and comfortable bedrooms in converted barns, is perfect for a Christmas break. The restaurant, all gleaming brass and copper, serves up venison with chestnuts or hot chocolate fondant with wild cherry sorbet.

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Dates November 24 to December 31, 2023Prices from £15 adults, £10 children, £47 families (free for children aged 2 and under)

Set in the gently rolling Cambridgeshire countryside, the Wimpole Estate joined the growing list of National Trust properties with Christmas light trails a couple of years ago. This year’s display, with more than a million bulbs, includes rainbow-coloured Christmas trees and giant floating feathers. The 17th-century mansion has festive decorations and local choirs singing in the pine-decked halls. At the Varsity in nearby Cambridge, handy for pantos and carol concerts, you can watch boats on the River Cam from the hotel Jacuzzi.

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Dates December 1 to December 8, 2023Prices to be confirmed

There’s another Christmas sound and lights show at Liverpool Cathedral during the first week of December and the theme is nativity. Luxmuralis, which specialises in large-scale projected artworks set to original music, also has Christmas shows at Sheffield and Peterborough cathedrals plus a coronation-themed extravaganza at the Tower of London in November. In Liverpool, The Manger combines traditional and innovative elements as a kaleidoscope of shapes and images swirl across the gothic revival columns of the world’s longest cathedral. Stay at the waterside Titanic Hotel, a 19th-century warehouse with cool decor, dock views and festive afternoon teas.

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Dates selected evenings from November 23, 2023 to January 1, 2024Prices £19 adults, £12 children, £60 families (free for children aged 3 and under)

A new route and installations celebrate the tenth winter lantern trail at Wakehurst, Kew’s wilder sister garden. The globe-spanning collection of plants include the UK’s tallest living Christmas tree, a decorated giant redwood. Most of the lanterns have an organic theme: glowing yellow bees, three feet long and realistically buzzing, hover over incandescent flowers; a giant woodpecker clings to a tree trunk and a luminous frog stands guard over a lily pond; thousands of lanterns have been made by community groups and local art collective Same Sky. The Wowo campsite, with a wild spa and wood-burners in the yurts and huts, is a 20-minute drive away.

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Dates November 24, 2023, to January 1, 2024Prices from £22.95 adults, £15.95 children, £68.52 families (free for children aged 2 and under)

Tickets sell fast for the UK’s most popular light trail outside London and the most popular in Wales. This year an extended route includes immersive, cutting-edge sights and sounds featuring lasers, fire gardens and shimmering globes. The avenues twinkle with golden fairy lights and a tunnel of neon hoops leads to a mesmerising glade of shifting patterns, dancing in time to original music. Cardiff’s favourite street food vendors are here too, serving Keralan curry, Welsh sausage pizza and chocolate brownies. Parador 44, a ten-minute walk away above the Asador44 restaurant, has elegant Spanish designs and lovely details, including an honesty bar and roof terrace.

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Dates Wednesdays to Saturdays from November 15 to December 30, 2023Prices £14.95 adults, £7.95 children (discounts for RHS members; free for children aged 4 and under)

All five Royal Horticultural Society gardens have Glow trails weaving through their twinkling borders and iridescent trees. Bridgewater in Manchester opened in May 2021 and its walled gardens and ferny woods are flourishing. The trail incorporates fairy-lit domes of topiaried yew, huge glowing stars, themes from local folklore, and colour-changing musical fountains over Moon Bridge Water. Novotel Manchester West, just off the nearby M60, may not sound like a fairytale lodging, but it’s handy and reasonably priced.

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Dates selected evenings from December 1 to December 23, 2023Prices from £21 adults, £11 children, £59 families (free for children aged three and under)

Scotland’s longest tunnel of lights winds for over a mile through atmospheric woods in Beecraigs country park. The trees include gnarled oaks, sculptural beeches and towering pines, enhanced by coloured lights and audio effects. Come for the Scottish street food, hot drinks, Santa’s grotto, a carousel, a rollercoaster and bungee jumps. Stay in nearby Linlithgow at Court Residence, an Aparthotel in a 19th century courthouse, where the suites and studios come with a galley kitchen and daily breakfast hamper.

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Dates November 17, 2023 to January 1, 2024Prices from £26.50 adults, £19.50 children, £89 families (free for children aged 2 and under)

The Great Court at baroque Blenheim Palace becomes a Christmas market, where you can sip mulled cider before walking into the after-dark gardens full of glowing fountains and craggy floodlit trees. A winding, mile-long trail of lights passes pulsing vines and dancing lasers, an 8m sphere filled with over 20,000 moving LEDs, a prismatic waterfall, a rose garden full of flaming torches and a spotlit bust of Winston Churchill, who was born here. Inside the palace, this year’s overgrown theme is Sleeping Beauty, featuring the evil fairy’s toad-filled lair, the sleeping palace kitchens and the princess’s candlelit bedroom. In the pretty town of Woodstock, minutes from the palace gates, there are enchanting places to stay such as the boutique Feathers Hotel, in a smart 17th-century house.

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