Amazing Light Trails in Essex, London and Herts 2023 - 2024

Have you explored one of the many light trails yet? They start from November with many of the Christmas trails ending at the end of the year, however there are a number of free displays in public places in 2024.  I love that light trails take the magic you get when you see houses all lit up before Christmas and mix it with a structured walk where you don’t have to hunt for the decorations. There are less events on for 2023, however if you are looking for a light trail near you then check out the list of light trails in Essex, London and Hertfordshire for 2023 and early 2024. 

Lightopia, crystal palace, london press image showing a large light bauble and tree
Lightopia is one of the great light trails in London, Essex and Hertfordshire this year

Tickets for early evenings, especially at weekends, go quickly as parents try and nab the most child friendly time, but if you can go on a weeknight or a little later in the evenings you might find availability is better.

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Light trails in Essex
Light trails in London
Light trails in Hertfordshire

Light Trails Near You in Essex, London & Herts

What Is A Light Trail? (And Advice For Visiting One)

Light trails are outside exhibitions which use light and often sound too to create exciting displays. They vary between locations with as some taking a more subtle approach with trees lit up pretty colours and strings of lights others have creative sculptures made of light and interactive displays. 

While for some venues the light trail is their festive event for the year, other locations have separate Christmas events normally taking place in the day. As dusk falls they then reopen as the light event. While some venues offer discounted tickets if you want to visit in the day too, you normally have to leave the venue and wait for your evening time slot to re-enter and enjoy the lights.

Wrap up warm and have waterproofs on standby because they often don't have any protection from the elements and they are on whatever the weather (except in extreme weather conditions). Suitable footwear is recommended as the ground can be uneven and muddy.

Some venues ask you not to bring torches (and definitely no head torches or open flames), while others advise you might want to bring one. I would suggest bring a torch to get to and from the trail and if you want to use it on the trail just be careful not to ruin the light effects for other visitors. 

Most venues require prebooking of tickets. Some venues (like Kew gardens) are nearly sold out at time of publishing while others (especially the newer venues) have really good availability. 

Most trails have no re-entry and you can only go through once (the exception seems to be the English Heritage sites) so make sure you bring everything with you and you make the most of your time walking through.

Please note the information below is taken from Press Releases and the venues websites. They are not meant as endorsements of the events. I visited Enlightened, Lightopia and Lumagica last year so make sure to check out my reviews if you are interested in visiting these trails. 

Light Trails In Essex

Enchanted Audley End - Audley End House and Gardens, Saffron Walden 

Location: Audley End House and Gardens, Off London Road, Saffron Walden, CB11 4JF
Dates and times: While Audley End is advertising the Christmas event and English Heritage is advertising other Enchanted events there is no mention of an event an Audley End this year currently. I will update if this changes. Last year it ran from 2nd to 30th December. 

Enchanted - Trail of Light, Colchester Zoo 

Location: Colchester Zoo, Maldon Road, Colchester, CO3 0SL
Dates and times: Saturday 2nd, Wednesday 6th, Friday 8th, Saturday 9th, Wednesday 13th, Friday 15th, Saturday 16th and Wednesday 20th December 2023. Entry slots from 4.30 to 7.45.
Tickets: £12.50 per person (no discount for members). Children under 3 free.
Described as: illuminations along a one way designated route, dancing fountains and fairies spreading their magic. Live brass band performance on selected evenings.
Useful to know:
The trail can take 1 1/2 hours.
You will not be able to see the animals during the visit.
Free parking.
Toilets and refreshments available.

Enlightened, Barleylands Farm Park, Billericay 

Location: Barleylands Farm Park, Barleylands Road, Billericay, Essex, CM11 2UD
Dates and times:1st December to 24th December. Entry slots from 4.30pm to 7.30pm. The Farm Park is closed to visitors from 4pm and anyone with tickets to the light trail will have to leave and re-enter at their booked time. Closes at 10pm
Tickets: Peak £20 adults, £15 children. Off peak: £15 adults, £12 children. Children under 3 are free, but need a ticket.
Useful to know:
The trail is approximately 1.4km and expected to take visitors about an hour (including time to stop and appreciate the displays). The Play Barn (soft play) and Petting Barn (farm animals) were open last year during the event and although this hasn't been confirmed for 2023 it is likely to be the same. The outdoor play areas will be closed so manage expectations.
Free Parking
Refreshments and toilets available.
Organised by Enlightened Moments.

Enlightened, Castle Park - Colchester 

Location: Colchester Castle Park, Colchester, Essex, C01 1TJ
Dates and times: 1st to 31st December. Entry slots from 5pm to 9pm
Tickets: Peak £18.50 adults, £12.50 children. Off peak £12.50 adults, £9 children. Children under 3 are free, but need a ticket.
Described as: "The grounds will be transformed into a magical illuminated light trail for visitors to enjoy with all the family." 
Useful to know:
Entrance is by the war memorial on the High Street
The trail is approximately 1.5km and expected to take visitors about an hour (including time to stop and appreciate the displays).
There is no dedicated car park, but Castle Park is in the city centre so there is a choice of car parks nearby.
Refreshments and toilets available.
Organised by Enlightened Moments.

Enlightened, Hylands Estate, Chelmsford

Location: Writtle Entrance off Greenbury Way, Chelmsford, CM2 8FS  (the same entrance you would use for the playground)
Dates and times: 24th November to 1st January. Entry slots from 4.30pm until 9pm
Tickets: Peak £18.50 adults, £12.50 children. Off peak £12.50 adults, £9 children. Children under 3 are free, but need a ticket.
Described as:  Described as “a dedicated trail of light around the ground of Hylands. On the trail there are numerous static and interactive light up attractions with an enchanting soundscape.”
Useful to know:
The trail is about a mile long and the visit is expected to take about an hour.
Parking is included with your ticket (so don’t use the machines when you are there).
Refreshments and toilets available.
Dogs on leads are allowed.
Organised by Enlightened Moments.

Read my review of our 2022 visit to Enlightened here.

Epping Ongar Light Fantastic - Epping Ongar Railway

Location: Epping Ongar Railway. Starting at Station Approach, off Ongar High Street, Ongar, CM5 9AB
Dates and times: Selected dates from 18th November to 15th January.
Tickets: £20 per person (or exclusive carriage use starting at £120 for 6 people, but these are selling fast)
Described as: a light trail with a difference. Instead of walking around and seeing the lights you get to enjoy them while on a train journey. The train will be lit up and there will be line side displays as well as on board narration and music.
Useful to know:
Last approximately 1 hour.
Starts at Ongar station where there is no dedicated parking, but there is street parking and a pay and display car park at the other end of the High Street. If you have been to Epping Ongar Railway before then you need to know for this event the train will not be stopping at North Weald and the heritage bus service won’t be running. EOR hope to run the steam locomotive, but as heritage trains this cannot be guaranteed and the Diesel engine may be used instead.
Refreshments and toilets available at Ongar station.
Care must be taken on the platforms and no visitors should walk on the track.

Epping Ongar Railway, an essex light trail with a difference
Epping Ongar Railway Light Fantastic Event

RHS Glow 2023 at Hyde Hall 

Location: Creephedge Lane, Rettendon Common, Chelmsford CM3 8RA
Dates and times: Selected dates: 23rd to 25th November, 29th November to 16th December (Wednesday to Saturday), 18th to 23rd December and 27th to 30th December. Entry slots 5pm to 7.30pm, closes at 9pm. 
Tickets: £15.95 adults, £8.45 children. Reduced price for members. Under 5s go free, but a ticket must be booked for them.
Described as: "Go on an enchanting journey around RHS Garden Hyde Hall and see much-loved garden areas awash with colour against the dark night sky. New for 2023, follow the trail up onto the Hilltop, past the iconic Thatched Barn, stopping to see a fountain on the top pond, before heading back down the hill through the Dry Garden, where you'll see a carpet of colour, mirror balls on the lake and lanterns lighting your way." Previous reviews have said to expect more lit up trees than colourful sculptures.
Useful to know: 
Free car parking.
Toilets and refreshments available.

Light Trails In London

Canary Wharf Winter Lights Festival, E14  

Location: Takes place around the Canary Wharf area. Download the map before visiting to find all the installations or collect a paper map from a steward.
Dates and times: 17th January to 27th January 5 to 10pm. 
Tickets: Not required: the installations are all in public areas.
Described as: Returning for it’s 8th year the Winter Lights Festival stands out because firstly it’s in January (after most of the other trails have been packed away) and secondly it’s free. There are 13 temporary installations as well as 6 permanent light artworks. I loved visiting in previous years, but it does get very busy. You can download a map or they have people handing out paper copies.
Useful to know:
There are public car parks in Canary Wharf area, but on weekdays it might be easier to get public transport. At weekends you can get 3 hours free parking if you spend over £10 in participating shops. cafés, bars or restaurants.
There are toilet facilities in the shopping centres.

Winter Lights festival in Canary Wharf
Winter Lights Festival is a free light trail in Canary Wharf in January

Battersea Power Station Light Festival, Battersea

Location: Circus Rd W, Nine Elms, London SW11 8AL
Dates and times: 25th January to 25th February, 8am to 11pm
Tickets: Free, tickets not required.
Described as: 7 light art installations from British and international artists. Both outdoors and inside the iconic Grade II* listed Power Station. There are also family-friendly workshops, live entertainment and music throughout the festival, some of which need to be booked in advance.
Useful to know:
Last year installations inside the power station were only accessible until 10pm, not confirmed if this is the same in 2023
There are food trucks plus numerous bars and restaurants 
Nearest tube station is Battersea Power Station on the Northern Line

St Martins-In-The-Fields - Life

Location: St Martins-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 4JJ
Dates and Times: 30th January to 3rd February 5pm to 9.45pm
Tickets: Adults £8 to £12, children £5. Prebooking advised.
Described as: An immersive light and sound experience. Designed as a walking journey through earth, sea and sky, Life invites visitors to reflect upon life on today’s planet during a single 24-hour period. 
Useful to know:
The experience takes about 40 minutes and ends with a 15 minute seated display in the Church, however their is no time limit.
The outdoor Courtyard Café & Bar will be open.

Press image from 2023 display at St Martins-in-the-fields showing a space projection on to the walls of the church
Projection from the 2023 St Martins-In-The-Field Space experience

Christmas at Kenwood, Hampstead Heath 

Location: Kenwood, Hampstead Lane, Hampstead, NW3 7JR
Dates and times: 1st December to 1st January. Entry times 4.30 to 8pm (closes at 9pm)
Tickets: Peak £30 adults, £22.75 children, standard £25.50, £19.25 and off peak £22 adults, £17.50 children. Children under 3 go free. 33% discount for English Heritage members with code EHMEMBER33 (bring proof of membership to the trail). You can also get a 10% NHS discount, in the FAQ section it has an address to email for a code.
There are also reduced capacity quiet twilight viewing tickets for the 4.30pm entrance which cost extra.
Described as: “Back with a brand new light trail for 2023, bringing colour, lights and interactive play to Kenwood this December and you immerse yourself in a world of seasonal sparkle and festive cheer."
Useful to know:
Trail expected to be “no longer than 2km” and take about 1 hour.
Refreshments available along the route and in the Christmas Market. Card payments only.
Toilets available.
There is also a long list of items on the website it says not to bring which is worth checking as it includes drinks, food and bags larger than A4 size.
Event managed by Kilimanjaro 

Christmas at Kew 

Location: Kew Gardens, Kew, Richmond, London, TW9 3AE. Entrance gate depends on your booking.
Dates and times: Selected dates 16th November to 8th January. Entry times 4.20pm to 8pm (closes at 10pm).
Tickets: Peak £29 adults, £19 children. Off peak £22.50 adults, £15 children.
Discounts for members. As probably the most popular light trail in the area book tickets early as they sell out quickly. 
Described as: “sparkling tunnels of light, dancing lakeside reflections, and trees drenched in jewel-like colour. Journey through the mesmerising flickering flames in the fire garden, spot larger-than-life illuminations and say hello to Father Christmas along the way.” 
Useful to know:
Trail is 3km long and estimated about 2 hours long.
Parking is available at Brentford Gate (must be prebooked, £10 and is a 10 minute walk to the trail). Parking also available at the National Archives car park, but public transport is encouraged.
Refreshments available including independent street food or a more substantial meal at Botanical Brasserie (which requires booking).
Accessible toilets at Victoria Plaza and Brentford Gate.
There will be fairground rides and tokens can be prebooked at a discount or bought on site.

Enchanted Eltham, Greenwich 

Location: Eltham Palace and Gardens, Court Yard, Eltham, Greenwich, London, SE9 5NP
Dates and times: Selected dates 1st December to 1st January. Entry slots from 4pm to 7pm. Closes at 9pm.
Tickets: Peak adults £22.50, children £19.25, standard adults £20.50, £15.25 and off peak adults £17.50 and children £11.50. Children under 3 go free. 33% discount for English Heritage members with code EHMEMBER33 (bring proof of membership to the trail). You can also get a 10% NHS discount, in the FAQ section it has an address to email for a code.
Described as: Explore the grounds and gardens lit up with illuminations, sound and colour.
Useful to know:
Trail is approximately 2km and you can walk it as many times as you want. Average time to walk it expected to take 45 minutes plus additional time for rides and food. There are traditional fairground rides for small children and the English Heritage shop will be open.
Refreshments and toilets available.
No parking available (other than Blue Badge holders).
Event managed by Kilimanjaro 

Lightopia Festival, Crystal Palace 

Location: Crystal Palace Park, Canada Gate, Anerley Hill, London SE19 2BA (visitor entrance address).

The company behind Lightopia went into bankruptcy in January 2023 so it is unlikely there will be an event an Crystal Palace this year.

London Christmas Lights

Of course many of the main shopping streets in London have Christmas lights that are well worth seeing too. It may not be a dedicated trail, but it's free, you can go any evening you want in late November and December and you can check out amazing shop window displays too. Check out this useful walking route to take in some of the best areas.

Crystal Palace light trail, London has a water show
A festive water show in 2022 (Crystal Palace, London)

Light Trails In Hertfordshire

I currently haven't seen any light trails advertised in Hertfordshire with previous years trails at Lumagica (Willows Farm), Hatfield House and Ashridge House not on sale this year. 

If you are looking for something to get you in the Christmas mood in Hertfordshire then I would suggest maybe a garden centre like Van Hage (Great Amwell, SG12 9RP), The Magic of Christmas (a Christmas shop with Grotto in Walkern SG2 7PD). There is also a Christmas Fair at Knebworth House on 24th to 26th November, a Tudor style Christmas Experience at Hatfield Park from 30th November to 31st December and a Family Friendly production of The Nutcracker at Ashridge House from 19th to 24th December.

Press image of a lit up hummingbird and lumagica, st albans new light trail
Visitors at Lumagica were greeted by a Hummingbird display

For more Christmas magic why not go outdoor ice skating or choose your own tree from a Christmas Tree Farm? Check out where the Christmas Tree Farms are in Essex here. 

If you are struggling to get your children outside in the colder weather then check out this post on how to be an outdoor family in winter.

If you are near to Kent, then Bedgebury light trail is also worth checking out.

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