Longleat is best known for its safari park and 16th century stately home. But for two months of the year it also plays host to the Festival of Light, a spectacular collection of giant Chinese lanterns.
We went to Longleat at the weekend, combining a tour round the safari park and a visit to the house and grounds during the day with a stroll round the lantern route once the sun had gone down.
This year’s theme is ‘The Magic of Storytelling’, with the lanterns depicting classic fairy-tales. These cover a range of much-loved stories, including Cinderella, Goldilocks, Thumbelina and the Nutcracker Suite.
As sun fell, we started by taking in the 15-minute Enchanted Christmas Tree show. This runs at half-hour intervals in the main square. It centres on the 50-foot tall tree and uses projectors, lights and animations to tell a story about the real meaning of Christmas. It was really rather lovely, just the right side of saccharine.
From there we (and thousands of others) set off on a shuffling procession around the lanterns. Both Rapunzel’s tower and Sleeping Beauty’s castle rival the giant Christmas tree in height, while even the Seven Dwarfs and Frog Prince loomed high above our heads. Up close the detailing of the lanterns is impressive. From a distance they are even better as they light up the night sky with intense splashes of colour.
I was most impressed by the ‘Gurt Wurm’ dragon and Cinderella’s horse-drawn pumpkin carriage. Every child will have their own personal favourites.
I hadn’t really entered into the Christmas spirit yet before Longleat. (Well, it is still November.) I’m definitely getting there now. The Festival of Light is a truly magical way to spend a wintry evening, keeping warm with either coffee or mulled wine depending on what takes your fancy.
Longleat isn’t cheap. A day ticket will set you back £33.95 for adults and £25.45 for children (£30.55 and £22.90 respectively if you pre-book online), although under-threes get in free. Coupled with a visit to the safari park, it’s nonetheless excellent value. Thoroughly recommended.
10 top tips for a day at Longleat Safari Park and Festival of Light
1. Book in advance to benefit from 10% discounts and arrive early (Longleat opens at 10am). It’s a big day out.
2. Wrap up warm and wear sensible shoes. Longleat is open and exposed and can get very chilly in November and December. While the pathways around the house and ground are flat and even, the car parks can get very muddy.
3. Take the kids to the toilet before setting off around the safari park. It isn’t a motorway – there are no service areas! – and once you’re inside you cannot get out quickly as you’re at the mercy of other traffic. We took nearly two hours to drive round and it can take up to three.
4. Don’t eat at one of the many (but not cheap) eateries on site. Take a packed lunch instead. It’s cheaper, quicker and the kids can eat during the duller bits of the safari park when you’re not moving and can’t see anything.
5. When you drive through the monkey section, they will use your car as a climbing frame or personal carriage. The monkeys sometimes pull off windscreen wipers and hub caps but they’re mostly pretty well-behaved. If you’re worried about damaging your car, you can bypass the section altogether. However, our kids found the monkeys’ antics hilarious – it was their favourite bit.
6. When you get to the car parks at the house, make careful note of where you parked. It will be very dark when you return!
7. Some areas close earlier than others. For instance, the Adventure Castle playground closed at 3pm.
8. It’s worth setting aside 1-1½ hours to wander around the Animal Discovery sections beside the house. Here you can see everything from Humboldt penguins to meerkats and bats. You can also take a Jungle Cruise to see gorillas, hippos and pelicans.
9. For the Enchanted Christmas Tree show, stand somewhere with a good view of both the tree and the side of the square where the Christmas shop is. This is where the animations are projected.
10. The lantern route traces a clockwise path starting at Beauty and the Beast and finishing with Sleeping Beauty, the ‘Gurt Wurm’ of Shervage and the Firebird. You don’t have to adhere to the route but it’s easier to go with the flow. It also means you save the biggest and best lanterns for last.
Longleat’s Festival of Light runs until January 7th 2018. Find out more at https://www.longleat.co.uk/festival-of-light.
I was not paid or in any way incentivised to write this post.