TL:DR Lumiere Durham is a nocturnal light sculpture festival where the artworks are placed outside in city centre spaces. Every two years in November the city of Durham, north England, hosts this fantastical feast of illuminated installations.

“The dance between darkness and light will always remain— the stars and the moon will always need the darkness to be seen, the darkness will just not be worth having without the moon and the stars.” This quote from C. JoyBell C. eloquently sums up why light festivals are the perfect start to enjoying long dark northern European nights. Popping along to the UK’s largest light festival ‘Lumiere Durham’ in North East England was a wondrous winter treat.

Situated just south of the party capital Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Durham has heaps of illustrious history and more than a dash of class. Durham’s cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site and hosts the last resting spot for a number of saints. The city’s university is only stumped by Oxford and Cambridge in prestige and some lucky undergrads can even live in Durham’s Norman castle that forms part of the University’s student accommodation and facilities. The river Wear on which the city stands is well known for its rowing regattas and cricket is a popular county Durham sport.

Commissioned by Durham’s City Council, the Lumiere festival was curated by innovative art events charity ‘Artichoke’. They first brought pretty installations into Durham’s public spaces in 2009 and due to popular demand have returned biannually in early November ever since. The streets were not too crowded yet over the four evening event more than 240,000 people joined the arty party.


The riverbanks and woods coloured purple, blu and red through lights

An illuminated River Wear

The lit up blue trees reflected in the water


cathedral lit up by lights in rotation

Entre Les Rangs

Each installation was marked on a map and there were twenty-nine in total to discover. There were some truly magnificent displays that were quite remarkable – the most spectacular being the audiovisual delight ‘Frequencies’ that greeted visitors on the banks of the river Wear, closely followed by the live synchronised bell peeling and lighting up of Durham’s cathedral named ‘Entre Les Rangs’.

A cylinder where flames would rise and fall

Fire Tornado

‘Fire Tornado’ was also a nice pyrotechnic performance in one of the industrial zones and ‘Anonymous’ featured displays of funky silhouettes made by audience participants from a concealed dance room.

Giant billboard with silhouette of dancer


At random points, a wandering spectacle of lit up umbrellas paraded through the crowd. The atmosphere was super too; everyone was enjoying the show despite the cool night air.

lit up umbrellas in the street

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Almost like a lit up standing xylophone of musical barbells


A lot of the Lumiere Durham festival was musical and appealed to both children and adults. It was certainly more active and interactive than the usual indoor style art gallery shows, and healthy too – it was a good six or seven miles to get around all of the installations!

An LED white bird in flight


lit up sign for Lumbiere the craft beer stall

Not officially part of the show but still a great place to stop off at was the Lumbiere. A pop-up craft ale stall was just what was needed to fire up the internal boiler.

a long white line of light over the river with reflection

White Line

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Vibrating ribbons that were illuminated

Some of the installations were impressive due to the amount of time and effort to create the whole illusion, and others by the fact they needed industrial equipment such as cranes to be lowered into their open-air gallery space.

Hanging lit up mobile of every day street objects including house, tree, bicycle, car, lamp post

Others were just beautiful on their own, quite simple and understated. It was symbolically representative of the variety of the human race too – that is the spice of life.

Pretty engraved glass that changed colour

Lumiere Durham really brought light and life to the dark nights of the city, creating a playful landscape of aglow art. The subtlety was a welcome change from overly dramatic and hyped up shows that always fail to deliver; instead, this was well thought out and quietly crowd-pleasing. With plenty of bars and restaurants welcoming the extra trade and giving a warm respite for hardy exhibit chasers it was an excellent evening out.

Dome and Arches

the arches

inside the tiara like lit up dome of multicoloured lights

inside the dome

Lumiere Durham is back in November 2019, but if you cannot wait that long head over to Utrecht for the permanent light show there.

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