January has come around and that, of course, means the end of the holiday season. All of the beautiful Christmas light shows are being taken down and turned off. You know what that means, back to the colourless streets of London…right? WRONG! Canary Wharf is hosting their annual Winter Lights Festival, and this is sure to get rid of those holiday blues.
Canary Wharf’s Winter Lights Festival is back for the fifth year running and this year many of their installations have been created with the environment, recycling and sustainability in mind. The Winter Lights Festival has not one, not two, but a grand total of twenty-one light exhibitions! My friend and I braved the icy cold to visit each and every installation and, let me tell you, they did not disappoint. Each installation has its unique and extraordinary qualities which made walking in the cold worth it.
Traditionally festivals are held in a single area with a sea of people fighting to get a glimpse of the exhibitions. One of my favourite things about Winter Lights is that it completely changes this traditional idea of festivals. Instead, the Winter Lights Festival is arranged like a treasure hunt in which you must navigate your way around a multitude of areas in Canary Wharf to visit the art shows. Fear not, they are fairly close to one another and are situated near the station. The best part is that because they have been spread out, you are able to savour each and every installation without being rushed and you don’t have to worry about there being large crowds. In this modern day and age, we have become so reliant on our smartphones that we forget to enjoy the beauty of the environment around us. The festival encourages us to embrace and explore our environment. You are handed maps by the Winter Lights team who are dotted in various locations and you are required to navigate yourself to each of the installations, it almost feels like an adventure. Furthermore, you are given the chance to explore Canary Wharf and visit places that you might never have seen before and on the way to these exhibitions you are able to take in the picturesque and scenic views of Canary Wharf.
One of my favourite light shows was number 17 which was called “Submergence.’ This is an installation with over 24,000 lights hanging from the frame. It is an interactive art display and you are literally ‘submerged’ into the mesmerising lights display. The Canary Wharf website describes it “as a hybrid environment where virtual and physical worlds coincide.” As you stand in the installation the lights shift colours creating these hypnotic patterns which are also synchronised with an entrancing soundtrack. It is an otherworldly experience!
Another truly astonishing place to visit was Cabot Square. There was a section called ‘Winter Lights Bites’ which is clearly marked on the maps provided at the festival. This is a mini food market if you’re beginning to feel peckish on your trail where you can check out the variety of foods on offer. The majestic fountain is placed in the middle of Cabot Square which is something you HAVE to see. The fountain is transformed into an aesthetically pleasing spectacle using coloured water jets, music, lights and patterns in the water. A quick word of warning: you are very likely to be sprayed with the water! We were fortunate enough to arrive when the song Pure Imagination by Gene Wilder was playing (you might recognise this song from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory). This was a very fitting song because the whole festival felt like an extraordinary dream and it required us to use our ‘pure imagination’ to be able to truly be immersed in the experience.
Another unmissable installation is number 14 which is called ‘Enchanted Connections.’ This is situated in Crossrail Place Roof Garden, Level 1. This is one of the largest light shows of the collection and it is one of the most captivating and spellbinding shows that I have seen so far. Walking through the rooftop garden was truly a magical experience, you almost feel like you are in a fairytale land. This light show is definitely Instagram-worthy, so be sure to have your camera ready! Also, as you are entering the roof garden don’t forget to check out number 13 which is ‘Vena Lumen’ which is situated at the entrance of this paradise. ‘Vena Lumen’ is a marvellous bench which combines lights and technology to create a truly magnificent spectacle. You are required to place your finger on a heartbeat detector which then transforms your heartbeat into pulsating and dancing light display. In this show, the physical being and the virtual world are combined to create an exhilarating artwork. There are, of course, plenty more installations to visit but I don’t want to spoil this sensational experience. Be sure to visit the festival and get ready to be submerged into the festival of lights!
This event is completely FREE! But be sure to check it out soon, as the event is on for a limited time only.
Dates: 15th January to 26th January.
Times: 5pm – 10pm
Closest Stations: Canary Wharf (Jubilee Line and DLR)