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Amsterdam Light Festival 2018-2019

Amsterdam Light Festival, on water and on land

Amsterdam doesn’t do Christmas well. But it does have the annual Amsterdam Light Festival® — a winter event that combines light, art and — of course — water.

Dotted around canals in the center of the city are 30 light sculptures created by international artists.

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

light art installation

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

Amsterdam Light Festival, Edition #7

The winter 2018-2019 edition takes place from November 29, 2018 through January 20, 2019.

The theme this year is: “The Medium is the Message.”

The artists focused on the questions: What role does light play as a means or just as a message, and how can light create spaces that would otherwise have remained invisible?

Now in its seventh year, the Amsterdam Light Festival Foundation claims this is “one of the largest light art festivals in Europe.”

Last winter the event drew 900.000 visitors — the same number of people as the year before. The first edition, in the winter of 2012/2013, was visited by 375.000 people.

Reviews, and Our Opinion
Our Suggested Alternative

Amsterdam Light Festival Tickets

Amsterdam Light Festival tours and tickets

Tips for Amsterdam Light Festival Visitors

A word to the wise: Most people prefer to see the works of art from the water. Almost all the canal boat companies offer tours.

You can choose glass-topped or open top boats. But you will want to keep the weather in December and January in mind.

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

Walking or cycling might even be better.

The boat route is 6.5 kilometers (4.03 miles).

The walking route is 8.5 kilometers (5.28 miles).

The length of the bicycle routes will depend on which company you select.

Dress warmly!

Video: Amsterdam Light Festival in previous years

Amsterdam Light Festival 2015-2016 Aftermovie
Amsterdam Light Festival 2016-2017 Aftermovie

Amsterdam Light Festival: Reviews, and our Opinion

As Amsterdam locals, the Amsterdam Light Festival leaves us underwhelmed.

By now we have seen 5 of the 6 editions. The first one was a novelty. We visited the second one — and subsequent editions — in order to review the festival for this website.

Last year 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 Amsterdammer much prefer to take one of the regular canal cruises at night.

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 better light show than anything we have seen at the Amsterdam Light Festival.

Tellingly, the festival reviews on Google 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.

Suggested alternative: Candlelight canal tour

For a much more enjoyable light show, tour the canals of Amsterdam at night — for instance with a Dutch Wine & Cheese Cruise, a 2-hour 4-Course Dinner Cruise, or an Amsterdam Evening Cocktail Cruise

These are tours we can heartily recommend — from (repeated) experience.

Amsterdam Light Festival

The Amsterdam Light Festival … and why we suggest an alternative. (Yes, you are welcome to share this graphic)

Can you guess how many canals and bridges Amsterdam has?

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This post was last updated: Nov. 26, 2018