While Christmas might steal the winter limelight, Europe's many winter festivals also light up the darker days.
The coming of winter brings shorter days and longer nights but Europe knows how to cut through the gloom and cold with flair. From Sikh celebrations to large-scale light festivals, there are events-a-plenty to ward off the winter blues and warm the soul. Find out more about some of Europe’s most spectacular seasonal events and brilliant festivals, all accessible by train.
Amsterdam Light Festival
Each year, Amsterdam hosts its canal-side Light Festival, one of the best winter festivals in Europe, which sees the city transformed into an illuminated open-air gallery. From late November until mid-January, Amsterdam’s canal belt sparkles with light sculptures, art installations and projections. Whether you choose to enjoy the illuminated art by foot, by boat or by bike, the Amsterdam Light Festival will make your winter sparkle like no other.
Hanukkah in Berlin
Another name for Hanukkah is “Festival of Lights,” and it is celebrated by the Jewish community over eight nights, each one marked by a lit candle on the menorah. Berlin celebrates the holiday with one of the biggest menorahs in Europe, erected in front of the city’s iconic Brandenburg Gate, and lit each night for the duration of the holiday. Berlin’s Jewish Museum also hosts Hanukkah with a lighting of the menorah ceremony in its Glass Courtyard and a night of traditional klezmer music.
The UK’s largest light festival, Lumiere Durham, takes place around mid-November every year. This annual event sees Durham City transformed into an illuminated winter wonderland, with up to 40 light and art installations spread out across the city, free for all to enjoy. Read more about the Lumiere Festival here.
No other nation celebrates New Year’s quite like Scotland, where Hogmanay festivities on 31 December outdo most others in both size and energy. Dating back to when the Vikings would throw wild parties in celebration of the winter solstice, Hogmanay is an event you won’t want to miss. Visit Edinburgh for three days of events, including a torchlit procession on 30 December and a city-wide party on New Year’s Eve. Alternatively head to Stonehaven, less than 20 mins by train from Aberdeen, for the annual New Year’s Eve Stonehaven Fireball Festival to see daredevils swinging fiery balls over their heads at the stroke of midnight.
There are two very different ways to enjoy the lights of London during winter. First, Diwali, the Festival of Lights for Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist and Jain communities, is celebrated the world over. London does so with a huge festival in Trafalgar Square. The event attracts more than 30,000 people each year who come together to dance, eat and enjoy the meaning of Diwali: love, joy and the power of good over evil. Second, Kew Gardens hosts their annual Christmas at Kew Festival from late November until the beginning of January, where the gardens are bathed in thousands of twinkling lights and adorned with wow-worthy light installations. Take a train direct to Kew, one of many London green spots accessible by train.
Lyon’s Fête des Lumières
Lyon’s Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights) dates back to 1852 when the city began placing lit candles in their windows on 8 December for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The tradition has continued ever since, only now, the simple candles have made way for stunning art installations and light shows designed by international artists and designers, set against the backdrop of Lyon’s historic streets and buildings.
Image credits top to bottom: Christmas decoration iStock ©joannatkaczuk, Hanukkah menorah at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin iStock ©RomanBabakin, Edinburgh fireworks at dusk from Calton Hill iStock ©georgeclerk, Place Bellecour iStock ©vwalakte
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