Ghent Light Festival is a free light art festival happening every three years in Ghent, Belgium. It runs for five nights and features light installations by local and international artists. The festival illuminates historic landmarks and various city spaces. In 2024, the event will occur from Wednesday 31 January to Sunday 4 February 2024, starting at 7pm each night and ending at midnight. On the last day, lights turn on at 6pm for families with children.
The festival takes place across Ghent's historic center, lighting up areas like Graslei and Korenlei canals, Saint Bavo's Cathedral, and Belfry Tower. The route extends to city parks and industrial areas, covering approximately 6.6 kilometers. The pathway begins at Bijlokesite and loops through key landmarks.
- What is Ghent Light Festival?
- When is Ghent Light Festival 2024 taking place?
- Where is Ghent Light Festival 2024 taking place?
- What is the route of the Ghent Light Festival?
- How to get to the Ghent Light Festival?
A special event, Night of the Darkness, turns off all lights for one night, offering a contrasting experience. There's also a free guided Light Walk that lasts about two hours and educates visitors about Ghent's innovative lighting strategies.
The festival debuted in 2011 and gained global attention, drawing over 800,000 visitors in 2018. It is open to the public, requiring no tickets or registration. Artists can submit work proposals, and volunteers help with operations. The event aims to be inclusive and accessible. Optional extras like guided tours have fees, but walking the festival route is free.
What is Ghent Light Festival?
The Ghent Light Festival is a free light art festival that takes place in the city of Ghent, Belgium every three years. The festival lights up historic buildings, squares, parks, rivers and streets across the city with dazzling light installations and projections created by local and international artists. The festival transforms Ghent into an illuminated winter wonderland and gives visitors the chance to discover and experience the city in a new light. The light festival runs for 5 nights, from 7pm to midnight each evening. The event attracts over 500,000 visitors who follow the festival route to enjoy the magical light artworks.
When is Ghent Light Festival 2024 taking place?
The Ghent Light Festival 2024 will run for 5 nights from Wednesday 31 January to Sunday 4 February 2024. Each evening the lights are switched on at 7pm and stay illuminated until midnight. On the final Sunday, the installations will be activated slightly earlier at 6pm to allow families with young children to experience the event. The festival does not run during the daytime, only coming to life as the sun sets each evening. The 2024 edition will mark the 6th Ghent Light Festival.
Where is Ghent Light Festival 2024 taking place?
The Ghent Light Festival 2024 will take place throughout the historic center of Ghent, Belgium. Light installations and projections will illuminate landmarks across the medieval city such as the Graslei and Korenlei canals, Saint Bavo's Cathedral, Belfry Tower, Castle of the Counts, and Saint Michael's Bridge. The festival route will also extend to the city's parks such as Baudelopark, as well as industrial areas like the Dampoort district. Locations like Sint-Pietersplein, Vlasmarkt, and Coyendanspark will host light artworks. The festival spreads across the city, using Ghent's iconic architecture and riverfronts as stunning backdrops.
What is the Night of the Darkness in Ghent Light Festival?
The Night of the Darkness is a special event within the Ghent Light Festival program. For this one night, all of the dazzling light installations and projections are switched off, plunging the festival route into complete darkness. Night of the Darkness offers visitors a rare opportunity to experience the medieval streets and waterways of Ghent in a different light – or rather, in total darkness. Occurring on the Thursday night, it provides an interesting contrast to the illuminated artworks seen on other nights. The city almost disappears, inviting contemplation.
What is the light walk in Ghent Light Festival?
The light walk is a free guided tour that takes place during the Ghent Light Festival, introducing visitors to Ghent's innovative lighting plan. The light walk lasts around 2 hours, and the walk passes illuminated historic facades and light artworks from the festival, explaining the ideas behind the city's approach to urban lighting. The tour discusses how light can enhance architecture, improve sustainability and create an inviting nighttime ambience. It provides insider knowledge to better appreciate the Ghent Light Festival installations.
What is the route of the Ghent Light Festival?
The Ghent Light Festival route starts at the Bijlokesite exhibition hub, then heads south past Ghent Cathedral and west along the Graslei harbor. It continues north to Baudelopark, then loops east via Vlasmarkt and Koophandelsplein back to Bijloke.
The full route of the Ghent Light Festival is:
- Start: Bijlokesite
- Ghent Cathedral
- Graslei harbor
- Return to Bijlokesite
The route covers approximately 6.6 kilometers in a loop through Ghent's historic center. It enables visitors to experience the installations in a set sequence and facilitates crowd flow. The curated path links up key landmarks like the Cathedral, harbor and Belfry Tower as well as highlights including Baudelopark, Sint-Pietersplein and Coyendanspark.
How does the route of the Ghent Light Festival look like on the map?
Find below a map of the Ghent Light Festival 2024 route.
What is the history of the Ghent Light Festival?
The Ghent Light Festival debuted in 2011 as a free biennial event to brighten the dark winter months. It quickly expanded from projections on a handful of buildings along the Graslei harbor to a citywide spectacle spanning 5 nights. The early editions focused on the historic center before also incorporating outer districts. International artists were invited to contribute works, bolstering the festival's reputation globally. Visitor numbers grew exponentially, surpassing 800,000 in 2018. After a two year break forced by the pandemic, the event continues to evolve, using light to refresh Ghent’s appeal.
Who can participate in Ghent Light Festival?
The Ghent Light Festival is free and open to the general public. No tickets or registration are required to view the installations and projections. Visitors of all ages are welcome to explore the festival route and experiences the city illuminated. Light artists from Belgium and across the world can submit proposals to have their work featured, with installations selected by a jury. Volunteers assist with operations while local residents often host projections. The inclusive event aims to spotlight Ghent for all.
What is the cost of entering Ghent Light Festival?
Entry to the Ghent Light Festival is completely free for the public. Visitors do not need to purchase any tickets or passes to access the light artworks and installations displayed across the city. The festival is funded by the City of Ghent to create an accessible event that is open to all. Optional extras like guided tours, river cruises and festival merchandise are available for additional fees if desired, but simply following the walkable route to enjoy the lights is completely free of charge.
Are there any organised guide walk tours for the Ghent Light Festival?
Yes, various guided tours are available to enhance the experience of visiting the Ghent Light Festival. Tour themes include a general festival highlights tour, a kids' light trail, architectural lighting tours, photography tours, and bike tours. Walking tours typically last 1.5-2 hours and cost around €15 per adult. Small group tours offer the advantage of commentary and local insights. Boat cruises, bus tours, and self-guided options using mobile apps are also available. Tours should be booked in advance online due to high demand during the event.
How to get to the Ghent Light Festival?
Visitors can use the train, the bus or tram and a car to get to the Ghent Light Festival and Ghent. Find below the ways to get to the Ghent Light Festival.
- By train. Train station Gent-Dampoort is located close to the festival route and offers easy access from various big and smaller cities around Belgium. Belgian Rail company has timetables and prices for all train connections in Belgium.
- By bus or tram. If you're coming from close to the center, taking the bus or tram might be an option. Check the website of transportation company De Lijn for timetables and prices.
- By car. If you plan to travel to the festival of lights by car, prepare for the possibility of a traffic jam and please don't drive into the center. It's designed to keep cars out, making it hell to find a spot on the streets. The route of the festival will also be made traffic-free for non-locals. Your best option is to follow the signs from the highway to the parking lots of event hall Flanders Expo. Most of the Park&Ride options offer free parking, but you need to get a ticket to take the tram into the city center. From there, you can take the tram into the city center. Traveling by car in Flanders isn't the most relaxed way to travel, and especially not around peak traffic times which has basically become from Monday morning 6.30 a.m. until Friday evening 9 p.m. in some regions.
What are the best things to do in Ghent?
Listed below are the best things to do in Ghent.
- Gravensteen Castle. Gravensteen Castle is a medieval castle in central Ghent, Belgium. Originally built in 1180, it has many original features like imposing stone walls, towers, central keep and moat. Visitors can explore dungeons, see torture devices and medieval artifacts. Located at Sint-Veerleplein 11, the castle appeals to history and architecture lovers. Admission is 13 € ($14, £11). Open daily 10am-6pm. Visiting the Gravensteen Castle is one of the best things to do in Ghent during the Ghent Light Festival.
- Belfry of Ghent. The Belfry of Ghent is a 13th century bell tower in Ghent's historic center. At 91 meters tall, it offers panoramic city views. Its spire has a golden dragon weathervane from 1377. The tower contains a carillon with 54 bells and is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visitors can take the lift or climb 366 steps to the top. Located off Sint-Baafsplein, the belfry appeals to sightseers and photographers. Admission is 11€ ($12, £10). Open daily 10am-6pm.
- Ghent's local delicacies. Ghent has signature local delicacies like the purple conical raspberry-flavored candy called cuberdon and the vegetable stew Gentse waterzooi. The Great Butchers' Hall displays over 175 regional products. Ghent is a haven for vegetarians with “veggie days” on Thursdays in restaurants. Foodies flock here for the diverse cuisine.
- Patershol. Patershol is a historic neighborhood with cobblestone streets and medieval architecture dating to the 12th century. Once home to leather traders, it is now a trendy district with restaurants, bars, galleries and cafés. Located by the Castle of the Counts, it offers charming ambience. Patershol appeals to photographers and foodies.
- House of Alijn. The House of Alijn in a former children's hospital illuminates daily life in 20th century Ghent through recreated shops, exhibits and artifacts. Located at Kraanlei 65, it appeals to all ages. Hands-on exhibits bring history to life. Admission is 9€ ($9.50, £7.70). Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm, closed Mondays.
What are the best hotels to stay in Ghent while visiting Ghent Light Festival?
Listed below are the best hotels to stay in Ghent while visiting Ghent Light Festival.
- The Pillows Grand Boutique Hotel Reylof: The Pillows Grand Boutique Hotel Reylof, located in the heart of Ghent, offers a blend of historic charm and modern comfort. Its prime location allows guests to explore the old town's paved streets and iconic landmarks with ease. The hotel is ideally located for the Ghent Light Festival.
- Ghent Marriott Hotel: The Ghent Marriott Hotel, located near the Korenmarkt square, offers contemporary accommodation and convenient access to the city's attractions. Its proximity to the historic centre and Ghent Light Festival makes it an ideal choice for those looking to immerse themselves in the city's vibrant atmosphere.
- 1898 The Post: 1898 The Post, housed in a former post office building, exudes elegance and character. Positioned within the city's bustling old town, right in Ghent Light Festival, it offers guests a unique and immersive experience, with easy access to the bustling Gravensteen Castle and charming canals.
What are the best restaurants to eat and drink in Ghent during Ghent Light Festival?
Listed below are the best restaurants in Ghent:
- Vrijmoed: Vrijmoed is a Michelin-starred restaurant that offers a fine dining experience like no other in Ghent. Known for its innovative approach to Belgian cuisine, the restaurant utilises locally sourced ingredients to create visually stunning and delicious dishes. Vrijmoed is located about 1.2 km (0.7 miles) from the old town and is a must-visit for those visiting the Ghent Light Festival.
- Roots: Roots is celebrated for focusing on sustainability and using organic, locally sourced produce. The restaurant offers a modern twist on traditional Belgian dishes, making it a favourite among locals and tourists. Roots is approximately 1 km (0.6 miles) away from the historic old town and provides an ethical and delicious dining experience during the Ghent Light Festival.
- Restaurant Cocotte: Restaurant Cocotte is specialising in French-Belgian cuisine. It offers a cosy, intimate setting perfect for a romantic dinner during Ghent Light Festival. The restaurant is known for its meticulous attention to detail, from the presentation of the dishes to the selection of wines. Located just 0.8 km (0.5 miles) from Ghent's old town, Cocotte is ideal for a refined dining experience.
What other festivals taking place in Ghent?
Listed below are the best festivals in Ghent.
- Gentse Feesten. The Ghent Festivities (Gentse Feesten) is an annual 10-day long cultural festival held in Ghent, Belgium during July. Dating back to 1843, it is one of the biggest festivals in Belgium and Europe with around 1.5 million visitors each year. The festival starts on the Friday before July 21st, which is Belgian National Day, with a wide range of free musical performances, street theatre, exhibitions, events for children, fairs and parades spread throughout the historic city center.
- Gent Jazz Festival. The Ghent Jazz Festival (Gent Jazz Festival) is an outdoor music festival held annually in July at the Bijloke site in Ghent. The festival started in 2002 and has featured stars like Herbie Hancock, Snarky Puppy, Gregory Porter and Janelle Monáe. Visitors can enjoy lunchtime concerts in the courtyard of Restaurant Lof or late night DJ sets.
- Festival of Flanders. Festival of Flanders, also know as Festival van Vlaanderen, is dating back to 1958, is a 3-week long international music festival held in Ghent and East Flanders during September-October. The festival opens with a spectacular concert along the Ghent canals called OdeGand. It aims to make classical music accessible with events like “Parklife”, a musical bicycle tour through the countryside..
- Ghent Film Festival. The Ghent Film Festival in October presents over 100 feature films and 50 shorts. It focuses on “the impact of music on film” and hands out awards for best film and best soundtrack. The festival has premiered work by renowned directors like Ken Loach, Paolo Sorrentino and Nanni Moretti. In addition to screenings, it programs film music concerts, exhibitions and seminars. The festival first started in 1974 and has grown into one of Europe's leading film events.