When you think of public art, the chances that you picture a statue in a park are probably pretty high. But, light installations are becoming a popular medium and are a wildly imaginative way to reinvent and see a city. The Festival of Lights in Zagreb, the Amsterdam Light Festival and the Murten Light Festival in Switzerland are all incredible spectacles that locals and travelers alike enjoy. For some around the world, it’s an unofficial start to the tourism season, while for others it is simply another fun and colorful event and a growing trend among artistic and culturally-rich cities. Visit one of these three light festivals to celebrate public art in a new way this year.
In Zagreb, the Croatian capital, Festival Svjetla takes over the scenic Upper Town or Gornji Grad starting on March 18. From the Strossmayer Promenade to the World War II underground, Tunel Gric, the light installations take over the city. There are illuminated forms like statues, suspended pieces that resemble graphic art, and projections onto buildings to play video and a kaleidoscope of patterns. If there is one stop you shouldn’t miss, it’s the fresh take on the Hall of Mirrors, which includes a few dancing characters in a suit of reflective armor. When you’re done dancing under the disco ball, follow the raindrops through the streets to find other exhibits inside courtyards farther from the city center and large crowds.
In the heart of the Netherlands’ most popular city, Amsterdam, the light festival takes over for many weeks at a time during the holiday season, running from November to January. While other festivals can be a bit invasive to how the location operates, the Amsterdam Light Festival is easily within sight but does not interfere with day-to-day traffic. Lights are strung along the canals and on buildings high above to create playful scenes and reinterpretations of how the city exists. Be sure to walk around the city as well as take a boat down the canals to catch all of the exhibits from the best perspectives possible.
In Switzerland, the Murten Light Festival takes place over a week and a half in January and brings the sleepy, Medieval town to life at night. The old castle is lit up with bright, colorful lights, while other buildings and walls have thoughtful projections, and moving patterns or animations capture viewers’ attention. There are festival characters clad in light costumes and interactive exhibits for kids and adults alike to enjoy. Keep in mind that all works of art are created by regional artists, so the messages should be read with an eye for local culture.
Murten Light Festival photo from Wikimedia under a Creative Commons license
Festival Svjetla photo by Miroslav Vajdic, shared under a Creative Commons license.
All other photos courtesy of Getty Images.
Molly Harris is a freelance journalist. You can often find her on the highway somewhere between Florida and North Carolina or taking life slow in Europe.