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Amsterdam Light Festival: Is it worth it?

Amsterdam Light Festival 2023-2024: by bike, boat, or on foot

Amsterdam Light Festival
This photo shows a long exposure photo of the point in downtown Amsterdam where the canals Nieuwzijds Voorburgwal, Oudezijds Voorburgwal, and Oudezijds Kolk meet.

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

In Brief: Many visitors are not happy. We’re not surprised, and we show you where to find a much more enjoyable Amsterdam light show.

Amsterdam Light Festival, Edition 12 (2023/2024) Information

  • When: November 30, 2023 — January 21, 2024
  • Where: downtown Amsterdam
    • Map available only in the festival’s €8 app. [A user on Reddit, who was not impressed with the light installations, says the map in the app does not work with GPS. That makes it necessary to keep switching to Google Maps. He also says, “The ‘explanations’ of the artworks are rather childisch and uninspiring.” [More reviews]
    • In previous years Reddit users have posted free maps, such as this Amsterdam Light Festival map from 2019, or this one from 2022. The art installations will, of course, be different, but the route tends to remain more or less the same.

      This year the light installations are mainly located along the Herengracht, the Nieuwe Herengracht and the water in front of Central Station.

      The 2023 Amsterdam Light Festival Map – issued by a boat rental company – is posted at Imgur. (But note that visitors use terms like “lame,” “disappointing,” “terrible,” and “a supreme letdown” in their reviews. That is why we suggest you go and see a much more enjoyable lightshow).

      If you plan to walk, count on a distance of about 7.5 km (4.6 miles).
  • Theme: LOADING… Revealing Art, AI and Tech. The 24 light installation depict the effect of technology and artificial intelligence on daily life.
  • Tickets: Many canal tour boat options to choose from (Powered by GET YOUR GUIDE)
  • Opening Hours:
    • Sunday — Tuesday: Lights on from 17:00 (5:00 pm) until 22:00 (10:00 pm)
    • Wednesday — Saturday: 17:00 (5:00 pm) until 23:00 (11 pm)
    • December 31: Lights are off all day

The annual Amsterdam Light Festival® is a winter event that combines light, art and — of course — water.

Dotted around canals in the center of the city are 24 light sculptures created by international artists.

The art installations can be viewed from canal tour boats, on foot, and by bicycle.

Video: 2023/2024 Amsterdam Light Festival Art Installations

This video provides an excellent impression of the light installations that feature in the 12th edition of the Amsterdam Light Festival

Amsterdam Light Festival Tickets

The festival can be enjoyed free of charge. You can walk, bike, or sail your own boat along the route.

But of course, a canal cruiseAmsterdam’s top tourist attraction — is the most popular way to experience the Amsterdam Light Festival:

light art installation
Bridge of the Rainbow, by Gilbert Moity. Amsterdam Light Festival, 2016. Photo by Marion Golsteijn. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Not into Light Art Installations? Here are your alternatives

The Light Art Installations are not everyone’s cup of tea. But if the Amsterdam Light Festival doesn’t quite float your boat, so to speak, no problem. There are plenty of alternative Amsterdam canal cruises that, in our opinion, are actually more enjoyable.

Personally we prefer to take one of these evening boat rides. You will see Amsterdam illuminated by street lanterns, the lights in the windows of canalside houses (yes, many with open curtains), and bridges strung with lights.

No wonder Amsterdam has a love song dedicated to the canals.

Tips for Amsterdam Light Festival Visitors

Most people prefer to see the works of art from the water. Almost all the canal boat companies offer special tours during the festival.

You can choose glass-topped or open top boats. But do keep the weather in December and January in mind. Dress warmly!

If you are an experienced photographer, familiar with nighttime photography, an open boat (or, indeed, a walking tour) would probably be your best choice since the windows in a regular tour boat would present a challenge — particularly in inclement weather.

Reviews often mention things like ‘dirty windows,’ ‘rain-splattered windows made it hard to see,’ or ‘the windows kept fogging over.’

So, walking or cycling might even be the better option. For instance, here’s a 1-day bike rental with hotel delivery and pickup. Alternatively you might want to take advantage of this Winter Light Art Guided Bike Tour.

Video: Amsterdam Light Festival 2022/2023 Aftermovie

What kind of light art installations can you expect? Watch this aftermovie from the 11th edition of the festival. That edition drew just under 1 million visitors.

Aftermovie Amsterdam Light Festival 2022-2023

Amsterdam Light Festival: Reviews and our Opinion

As Amsterdam locals we have seen most editions of the Amsterdam Light Festival since the first one in 2012.

The first one was a novelty. We visited the second one — and many subsequent editions — in order to review the festival for this website. At times we saw all or part of the route by boat or on foot while accompanying friends or family members from abroad.

Frankly, the festival always leaves us feeling underwhelmed, to say the least. So we finally decided that it wasn’t worth our time and money.

Mind you, none of us are really into contemporary art. Perhaps as a result most of the art installations left us puzzled, bemused, or both.

There were some notable exceptions, but they were far and few between.

Now, if you appreciate modern art installations, particularly when they involve light, your mileage may well differ.

But us Amsterdammers much prefer to take one of the regular evening canal cruises.

Amsterdam is a city of lights. In our opinion the illuminated bridges, the monuments lit up by spotlights, and the gezellige interiors of countless different houses along the way provide a much more entertaining light show than anything we have seen at the Amsterdam Light Festival.

Fewer Installations. Smaller Installations. Much More Commercialism

In the festival’s early years there were some 40 works of art — generally large installations. There was a boat route (you pay for a canal cruise that sails past each of the installations), and a walking/cycling route (guided by a free map).

Recent years have seen far fewer installations (as few as 20). The emphasis is on buying canal boat tickets from the festival organizers. And post-Covid, even the map showing the route can only be had at a price. [But usually private individuals post their version of the current Amsterdam Light Festival map online]

Amsterdam Light Festival Reviews

Tellingly, the festival reviews we have seen on Google through the years are rather bleak:

“Waste of time,” “boring,” “couldn’t wait to get off the boat,” “BIG disappointment,” “an embarrassment for the city,” “epic waste of time and money,” and “low budget light installations” are among the phrases we would use as well.

Since a few years ago reviews have gone missing from the business listing for the Amsterdam Light Festival Foundation on Google Map.

Tripadvisor: more than 27% of visitors say it’s ‘terrible’

However, the reviews on TripAdvisor, the largest “social travel website” in the world, tend to give pause for thought as well.

Amsterdam Light Festival reviews on Tripadvisor. Screenshot taken Monday, December 23, 2019.

In 2019, 434 reviewers gave the festival an average of 3 out of 5 points. Fully 26% of the travelers rated the event as ‘Terrible.’ The site ranks the festival at “#707 out of 868 things to do in Amsterdam.”

In 2023, Tripadvisor visitor ratings for the Amsterdam Light Festival are even worse. The event dropped from 3 out of 5 stars to 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Now 27.39% of visitors rate the Amsterdam Light Festival as Terrible.

Our Suggested Alternative

For a much more enjoyable light show, tour the canals of Amsterdam at night!

After taking a December boat tour of the 2023/2024 edition, A poster on Reddit called the Amsterdam Light Festival, “Absolutely overrated. There’s nothing special about it. … a supreme letdown.”

On Tripadvisor, a family this year wrote, “I do hope that this is not public funded, not impressed, compared with Glow in Eindhoven it is really bad. I will not visit it again.”

Another poster who took a boat tour said, “Very nice people/crew but this event was so lame. Barely any lights, such weird art pieces, not Christmasy at all. Terrible.”

A couple: “We travelled from Cologne for a weekend especially for the Light Festival. If we had known that there was so little to see and that it was bad, we wouldn’t have travelled.

Another couple on Tripadvisor: “Just terrible, save your money, this was a real low point in what was otherwise a great weekend away. “

Back on Reddit, Redditor MaxGaav wrote:

I bought the app (€8), we did it on foot, 5 people. Everybody was rather disappointed and at about 2/3 we quit.

Largest amount of installations is along the Herengracht and the Nieuwe Herengracht, roughly forming a circle.

Parts of the route are pretty difficult on foot. It is clear the route is especially made for canal boats (that’s where the money is earned).

But Amsterdam showed itself from it’s best side; loads of X-mas lights, terraces with fires etc.

The same user later added that the app does not work with GPS. That makes it necessary to keep switching between the app and Google maps. In addition, the app regularly jumps back to the overview, so that you again have to find out where you are. Not only that, but “The ‘explanations’ of the artworks are rather childisch and uninspiring.” [An alternative map is posted online]

Tripadvisor reviews for the Amsterdam Light Festival
Amsterdam Light Festival reviews on Tripadvisor. Screenshot taken Tuesday, November 14, 2023.

Displeased visitors denounce the festival with terms like, “cheap looking art,” “we were expecting more,” “horrible rip off,” and “boring.”

Get the picture?

Suggested alternative: a much more enjoyable canal tour

For a much more enjoyable light show, tour the canals of Amsterdam at night — for instance with an Amsterdam Classic Boat Cruise with Cheese and Wine, a 2-hour 3-Course Dinner Cruise, or an Amsterdam Evening Cruise with Pizza and Drinks

These are tours we can heartily recommend — from our own, repeated experience:

Can you guess how many canals and bridges Amsterdam has?

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Category: Events, Outdoor Art, Things to Do | Related to: ,

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