Travel tales

Exploring the Amsterdam Light Festival with KLM

Amsterdam Light Festival

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of weekend breaks, but for a short trip I’d usually go for somewhere in the UK and get there by train or car. Having to drive for four hours to get to Gatwick, braving the weekend check-in queues and the budget airline scrum always seemed a bit too much effort to fly somewhere just for a couple of days. So when KLM contacted me about doing a one-night trip to Amsterdam to check out the city’s Light Festival, I was a bit sceptical. But it turns out that they fly from 17 different regional airports across the UK, which makes a huge difference. I could fly from Birmingham, which is less than an hour from home, and being a smaller airport means it’s not so busy and hectic. So I headed off to try it out.

Amsterdam in January

Winter in Amsterdam

The Amsterdam Light Festival has been running for the last five years and takes over the city’s canals during December and January. Over 1800 different artists, designers and architects from around the world submitted different concepts and designs, ranging from the beautiful to the bizarre. Then the festival judges whittled them down to a final list of 35 artworks, which were built along (or sometimes even in) the canals. It all adds a dose of light and colour during the gloomy winter nights – especially at the start of January when the Christmas decorations are all packed up but spring still seems like a really long way away.

KLM plane window view

Sunset on our way to Schipol

In winter it’s dark by 4.30pm in Amsterdam, so as we arrived into Schipol airport we were treated to a gorgeous sunset from the plane window. I’m so used to no-frills airlines that it was a nice surprise that you still get a free drink and a snack on KLM, even on our short 50-minute hop. It’s an easy 20-minute train journey into the centre of Amsterdam from the airport. So after checking into my hotel room (complete with grand piano and biggest bed I’ve ever seen!), I bundled up in plenty of layers and headed out to explore.

Amsterdam Light Festival

Nest light sculpture

There are two different routes for the light festival – the Water Colors and the Illuminade. The Water Colours route is a boat route, so lots of different companies run night-time tours which take around 75 minutes and start near Centraal station. The bonus of the boats is that you get to see a lot without having to walk miles or freeze in the cold, but the glass in the windows mean it’s not so good for photos. So if you don’t want to take a boat trip you can see a lot of the same sculptures by walking along the canalside.

Amsterdam Light Festival

Rotifers and a Bunch of Tulips

There’s also the shorter Illuminade walking route which takes about an hour to wander around. Each Illumade has a theme, and this years was ‘biomimicry’ – aka using nature to solve human problems. So a lot  of the sculptures were inspired by nature, like a giant tree projected onto the walls of the greenhouse at the Hortus Botanicus – Amsterdam’s Botanical Garden. And the colourful ‘Nest’, which was built to look like a giant nest of twigs that change colour. Or the slightly creepy ‘You Lookin’ at me?’ – with a row of eyeballs poking up out of the ground – and the giant ‘Rhizome House’, a multicoloured sparkly root system.

Amsterdam Light Festival

Rhizome House – aka sparkly roots

One of the good things about the festival is that the sculptures are so varied. Some are huge, some are tiny, some are bright and bold, and others are so subtle you could walk right by them. I stood next to a concrete tower before noticing there was a projection with silhouettes of people on the side that made it look like an apartment block. Some sculptures are obvious and some are baffling (giant colour-changing, DNA-stealing creatures climbing up a building anyone?). But there are information boards by each of the exhibits so you can find out who the artist was and what the inspiration behind their design was.

Amsterdam Light Festival

By the fire in the Botanic Gardens

By this time it was starting to get pretty cold, so when my camera lens started to freeze up, I took it as a sign to go and warm up. Along the Illuminade there are fires and stalls selling hot drinks – and in a greenhouse in the Botanic Gardens I came across a hot concoction of whisky, schnapps and apple juice which kept me radiating heat from the inside for a while. So I headed back out to see some of the biggest sculptures along the canals, featuring Dutch-inspired designs like lace handkerchiefs dangling over the water, neon bike silhouettes and of course a giant bunch of tulips (Amsterdam fact of the day: did you know that in the 1630s tulips were so popular here that they were as expensive as an Amsterdam canal house?).

Amsterdam

Snowy morning in Amsterdam

As my fingers went numb it felt cold enough to snow – and during the night it did. Next morning Amsterdam was blanketed in fog with a thin layer of snow covering every surface. With just one night I was never going to have time to see everything I wanted to, so I decided to focus on my two favourite Amsterdam activities for the rest of the day – wandering around the canals and eating pancakes. The washed-out colours and sprinkling of snow made the city’s canals look even more beautiful than usual. I came across some of the sculptures I’d missed in the daylight along the way, before it was time to head back to the airport.

Amsterdam canals

Wintery morning

Schiphol is KLM’s hub, so you can fly there from the UK and then easily connect on to destinations all over the world, from Africa to South America. It’s one of Europe’s busiest airports and is almost like a mini city, with restaurants, shops, a casino and even a library. There are lots of Dutch touches as well as some quirky design features – my favourite was the projected clock which looked like there was someone inside cleaning it. One of my airport pet hates is not having enough seating, so it was good to see so many seating areas, as well as workstations with plenty of plug sockets and unlimited wifi so you can get some work done. But I just had time to stock up on as many stroopwafels as I could fit in my bag before it was time to head home.

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Exploring the Amsterdam Light Festival, where the canals are lit up with 35 colourful light sculptures to brighten up the winter nights.

Many thanks to KLM for hosting me in Amsterdam. All views and opinions are, as always, my own.

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38 Comments

  • Reply
    maria
    January 19, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    You are right! The Amsterdam Light Festival is so amazing! Good to hear you have had a wonderful time!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 19, 2017 at 8:24 pm

      I had a great time thanks!

  • Reply
    Darlene
    January 19, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    I have only been to Amsterdam once and i loved it. The light festival would be great to see. Schiphol is my favourite airport and pass through it often on my way to somewhere. Sounds like a fun overnight trip.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 19, 2017 at 8:26 pm

      I love Amsterdam too – though every time I go it’s always grey skies, one day I hope to finally get sunshine!

  • Reply
    Tanja
    January 19, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    very nice!

  • Reply
    Sara @allaboardtheskylark
    January 19, 2017 at 6:37 pm

    Love the look of this! Does it take place every January? Also very much like the sound of warming up with schnapps and pancakes.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 19, 2017 at 8:25 pm

      It’s on from the end of November/start of December until mid January, so would be a good pre-Christmas trip too – pack lots of thermals though it was pretty chilly!

  • Reply
    Nicola
    January 19, 2017 at 8:31 pm

    I had no idea that there was an Amsterdam light festival until you said you were going. It sounds wonderful! Although I think I’d prefer to stay longer than one night…

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 19, 2017 at 11:01 pm

      I’d not heard of it too but so glad to get out and see it – one night trips are a bit unusual for me too though, I like a pretty relaxed pace normally!

  • Reply
    aeparker81
    January 19, 2017 at 9:06 pm

    Fantastic light show – it’s great when a city does something a little different. As for snacks on planes… BA don’t even given them out in economy now!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 19, 2017 at 10:59 pm

      I hear the M&S food on board BA has been a bit of a shambles so far, will be interested to try them out next month on my way back from Bulgaria (and hoping Percy Pigs are on the list!).

  • Reply
    Sara Dobak
    January 19, 2017 at 10:08 pm

    Some of these displays are random and off-the-wall, eh?! Eyes and roots? The Dutch are nothing if not creative and avant-garde, it sounds like this all made for a fascinating juxtaposition between modern art and the historic canals and architecture.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 19, 2017 at 10:58 pm

      There were a few which had me scratching my head a bit – especially the creepy eyeballs! Like you say though it was really interesting to see them mixed in with the classic Amsterdam architecture.

  • Reply
    Rachel Gault (@rachelgault)
    January 20, 2017 at 1:31 am

    So awesome! We only had a day in Amsterdam and went on the canal tour of the light festival too. It was so cool!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 21, 2017 at 7:09 pm

      Amazing how much you can squeeze into one day!

  • Reply
    Explore With Ed
    January 20, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    Lovely pictures Lucy, sounds like a fun weekend break that’s actually a lot more feasible than I thought.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 21, 2017 at 7:15 pm

      Thanks, yes I was surprised how easy it all was too, will definitely look into more mini breaks like this.

  • Reply
    Travel Candy
    January 20, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    This is a wonderfully different way to explore the city 🙂 I went to Utrecht recently and followed its light trail – it was magical. I’m thinking of heading to Amsterdam this year; it’s a shame I’ll miss the light festival.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 21, 2017 at 7:17 pm

      I’ve done a couple of light trail events but this was the first one where they were just dotted around the city, such a nice idea!

  • Reply
    alison abbott
    January 20, 2017 at 4:20 pm

    Light festivals have such a different way of showing off a city. Amsterdam looks so beautiful.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 21, 2017 at 7:25 pm

      They do – it’s such a great idea!

  • Reply
    abitofculture
    January 21, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    I love Amsterdam, and love the fact it’s such a short flight to get to it. Last time I was there, I took the ferry from Hull and only had six hours in the city-centre but would do that again. Despite its reputation for sleaze and drugs, it is so romantic and looks lovely during this festival.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 21, 2017 at 7:27 pm

      I always have really bad luck with the weather every time I visit Amsterdam, still really like it there though (and in the dark the lack of sun doesn’t matter).

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    January 22, 2017 at 1:14 am

    This looks fab – I love the light and colours which are perfect for brightening up a dull January.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 25, 2017 at 5:55 pm

      It’s such a good idea at a really dull time of year!

  • Reply
    Shikha (whywasteannualleave)
    January 22, 2017 at 6:08 pm

    I’d always previously thought that I’ll go to Amsterdam for the first time in the summer but this is now the 2nd blog post I’ve read about the light festival and it really gets me thinking twice about going in the winter instead!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 25, 2017 at 6:01 pm

      As long as you don’t mind the cold it’s a great time to visit – and even better if it snows!

  • Reply
    Kathryn Burrington
    January 22, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    I’m lucky I live fairly near Gatwick but I can still appreciate how convenient regional airports must be for others. I’ve heard good things about this light festival and would really love to go one year. And I bet Amsterdam looked really pretty in the snow.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 25, 2017 at 6:03 pm

      Must be so much easier to live close to Gatwick, it’s such a pain for us having to go around the M25. The light festival was great – definitely worth a look sometime!

  • Reply
    Jaillan Yehia
    January 23, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    I didn’t know about this light festival in Amsterdam but I went to a similar one in Turin and I have to say it was extremely memorable and definitely would have been worth travelling to see even if just for one night.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 25, 2017 at 6:05 pm

      I’ve been to one in Strasbourg where they projected lights onto buildings but this is the first one with sculptures I’ve seen, but will keep an eye out for more!

  • Reply
    thebritishberliner
    January 27, 2017 at 6:36 am

    ‘Nice one Lucy!

    I’ve just got back from Amsterdam. I tend to go in the winter and each time I always promise myself to dedicate some real time to the Amsterdam Light Festival rather than “Oooo, there’s another one!” but I never seem to be able to do so, as I’m just too short on time, but I’ll do better next time!

    We were there just two weeks ago, and it was snowing and pretty freezing. Here’s my take on it if you’re interested: https://thebritishberliner.wordpress.com/2017/01/23/how-to-visit-amsterdam-in-two-days-with-a-teenager/

    p.s. love the photographs

  • Reply
    Clare
    January 30, 2017 at 10:37 pm

    I always forget just how simple it is to get to Amsterdam! So many short and cheap flights! I guess it’s totally doable for one night and I’d love to go back. And I do like Schiphol, too. I always think they’ve covered every base in terms of airport facilities! I feel like light festivals have become a bit of a thing in the past couple of years- and I’m definitely missing out so Amsterdam is one to watch for next time! Thanks for linking up to #take12trips – I am hoping it will be a good way to keep track of everyone!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      February 2, 2017 at 10:47 am

      It was so easy – seemed like as soon as we got up we were on our way back down! Light festivals seem to have sprung up everywhere, such a good idea for the dark winter nights.

  • Reply
    Thomas
    February 6, 2017 at 8:08 am

    Have not been to Amsterdam since my childhood. I remember I was a littlle scared of all the barefooted hippies at that time…long time ago. Times are changing and I am not afraid anymore 🙂 I probaly go there again. Soon.
    Thanks for the post.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      February 6, 2017 at 10:28 pm

      Sure you would find its changed so much! Hope you get to visit again soon.

  • Reply
    Hotel Amsterdam
    August 22, 2017 at 9:52 am

    Those photos are beautiful! I love how you captured Amsterdam in the winter! It really is a magical city, both in winter and summer! Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      August 23, 2017 at 1:48 pm

      Thanks so much, it’s such a pretty city!

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