Sleeping Beauty's castle

GLT attended the official launch of this year’s Festival of Light at Longleat in Wiltshire, to find out just why the event continues to prove so popular with visitors. Rachel Bailey reports. 

Alongside approximately 4,000 Longleat annual membership holders, I oohed and aahed as two airplanes lit up the dusky November sky above the Longleat Estate with brightly coloured fireworks to mark the big turn-on of the 2017 Festival of Light.

The annual light event, running this year from 5th November until 7nd January, is the fourth of its kind and reportedly the biggest to date, with a vast kaleidoscopic array of lanterns spanning much of the estate around Longleat House. The lanterns this year all go by the theme of story-telling, and you can expect to see illuminated recreations of Rapunzel, Snow White, Cinderella, Thumbelina and The Nutcracker, to name but a few.

The whole bonanza of displays, coupled with the sales of tasty treats (such as hot chocolate flavoured with salted caramel), an enchanted Christmas tree, and a new owl display (aptly titled The Flight before Christmas), all wraps up to be what I’d describe as the ultimate winter treat.

The Frog Prince

Pictured: The majestic Frog Prince.

It’s got mass appeal, with a lovely nostalgic element for those adults who can remember all the different fictional stories from childhood. The fairytale element will also have massive appeal for families, plus an educational programme means school groups are more than welcome to enjoy the displays – and learn from them – too.

The experience – what to expect

Picture this: You, with a delicious hot drink in gloved hand, gazing at the Longleat Lake under the night sky, where Prince Eric waves from his enormous sailing ship to the Little Mermaid who is perched on the land, while other mermaids sway in the water round it. All illuminated of course, in a dazzling array of rainbow colours – the reflections on the lake will certainly appeal to photographers, amateur or professional.

Imagine then heading off on a silk lantern trail, made of colourful forest trees, gargantuan shards of blue and silver ice, smiling woodland creatures and tall glowing mushrooms (depending on which section you’re in). You’ll spy the likes of Beauty and the Beast atop a bridge that towers over an enchanted rose garden; Hansel and Gretel, hand in hand outside the famous gingerbread cottage; the Ugly Duckling, along with his family; and an immense dragon that appears to be surrounding by real fire.

Snow White

Pictured: Snow White taking the enchanted apple from the Wicked Queen.

The pièce de résistance (for me, anyway) was the recreated castle from Sleeping Beauty (lead image). This particular installation towers high above the grounds, and is an awe-inspiring sight, especially if you’re driving into Longleat after nightfall. It’s surrounded by many thorny brambles, just like in the animated Disney film, and visitors are able to walk into this area and circle the base of the tower to see it all up close. It really is wonderful. 

Exploring more during your visit

The other exciting part of the Festival of Light is that you’re given access to many other parts of the safari park, including the newly built Longhouse, where the bird show takes place. Definitely go and see this, it’s worth it for the atmospheric story about Longleat accompanied by the appearance of some of Longleat’s feathered residents (I don’t want to give too much away, the surprise element is what makes it so marvellous).

The gift shops and eateries are open, there are rides, and you have access to many of the animal enclosures too, such as the meerkats, the porcupines and the bat cave. All of it adds to a surreal feeling, like you’re almost in a dream. The fairytale-esque music that follows you from section to section, and changes according to theme, also adds to the dreamlike quality of the Festival of Light, again aiding in making it a stand out event and one I’d recommend to everyone.

Rachel at Longleat

Pictured: Rachel at Longleat's Festival of Light. 

Your group ticket

Group rates are a given; parties of 12 or more paying guests are entitled to discounted entry.

Your ticket includes the Festival of Light lanterns; a winter safari drive-through; access to the Longleat House in all its winter décor; an enchanted Christmas tree show; and the Main Square attractions including Jungle Kingdom, Jungle Cruise and Animal Adventure.

To make a booking, and for more information, visit