Every year, my best friend comes over from Germany to see the Norwich Christmas lights switched on. According to her, Christmaslightswitchonday – all one word – in Norwich is the most Norwichy of all Norwich things, and every November she comes back and we watch the lights and fireworks, drink spiced cider and walk around the illumined city eating roasted chestnuts from the van on London Street.
And I know I’m biased, but the Christmas Light Switch on (this year on the 16th of November) is my favourite Norwich thing too. It’s like a big family party (one where everyone likes each other), and it’s such a special thing to be able to huddle right in the city centre with thousands of other bescarved people, and watch a beautiful city become bathed in light for as far as you can see. I’ve been every year since I moved here, and this year, ‘Christmaslightswitchonday’ is set to be more spectacular than ever before: you may have seen the news already, but just in case you haven’t, Norwich’s spectacular ‘Tunnel of Light’ is returning to historic Hay Hill, for the second year in a row.
If you didn’t see it last year, you missed out on something very special indeed. Specially commissioned for the city of Norwich, the Tunnel of Light is a one-of-a-kind light tunnel, comprising of 57,000 RGB LED lights, specially programmed to show a glittering display of illuminations.
So imagine a TV screen, and then imagine that each pixel is represented by one of the tunnel’s lights. Running over 48m, and through 5.6 miles of light strings, sequences are displayed that illuminate the whole tunnel (so bright that the bulbs have to run on 70% brightness), both inside and out. Inspired by the Aroura Borealis, visitors can walk through the thousands of twinkling lights, and completely immerse themselves in a beautiful show of light and colour.
Last year proved to be sensational, seeing enormous engagement across social media: #tunneloflight has over 2,235 posts on Instagram, and a video on the BBC website was viewed over 1 million times. For businesses too the tunnel proved to be a fantastic boost to the high street, bringing an increase of 200,000 extra visitors compared with visitor numbers in 2016.
So why is it so popular? I spoke to Martin Blackwell, who is Operations Manager at Norwich Business Improvement District (BID), and who oversaw the entire Tunnel project from conception to illumination. Martin told me about one group of visitors to the tunnel, who’d been over from America and staying in London, when they saw the Tunnel of Light in the news and decided to make the dedicated journey to Norwich just to see the spectacle for themselves. “It’s because it’s completely immersive”, he continued, and certainly all of the sparkling selfies shared on social media seem to agree with him. Martin admits that last year wasn’t completely without a hiccup though: thanks to some interesting programming, “at one point you may have seen a Reindeer flying around the tunnel upside down”. This year, you probably won’t see an upside-down reindeer, but you will find a twinkling crown at both entrances to the tunnel, and several stunning new sequences. Also, in the same night that the tunnel is switched on, Norwich will be celebrating winning the Purple Flag award for its ‘gold standard’ nightlife, so keep an eye out for the tunnel to interrupt its Northern Lights display with a sumptuous flood of purple.
In addition to the tunnel of light, there will be an incredible 70ft projection sequence lighting up Norwich Castle until 5th January, which – just this morning – I got a sneaky preview of. It’s the maddest, most beautiful, psychedelic thing, and it’ll make you do all manner of shock-and-awe faces.
Coupled with that are the spectacular fireworks display, outside catering at the top and bottom of Hay Hill, and a very special guest... Plus music, performance and a general atmosphere of celebration.
So you’re warmly invited to join us for this free event. The show starts at 7pm outside City Hall. Wrap up warm, bring your favourite people, and come outside to see Norwich at its glittering best; it’s always a spectacular show, and definitely a good excuse to drink mulled wine on a school night.
Title Image Credit: Oliver Lall, Thin Line Photography
Greater Anglia has Advance fares from £10 one way between London Liverpool Street and Norwich. Trains run every 30 minutes. Greater Anglia also serves Colchester, Ipswich and Diss on the Norwich line. Direct trains also run from Cambridge.
East Midlands Trains runs services from Liverpool, Manchester and Nottingham.
Flights into Norwich served from Edinburgh, Manchester, Exeter, Aberdeen, Jersey*, Guernsey* and Amsterdam.
To plan a trip to Norwich check out our website www.visitnorwich.co.uk