Lumiere returns to Durham from 16-19 November 2023 and this year it’s the biggest yet with over 40 installations including works by Ai WeiWei and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, making it the biggest yet! The best part – it’s free!
Every 2 years Lumiere, the UK’s largest light festival, brings thought provoking artworks to Durham, illuminating the cathedral, castle and university and transforming the streets.
Lumiere first began in 2009 and now, thanks to Artichoke who produce the festival, along with support from Durham County Council and funding from Arts Council England, it’s grown dramatically. In 2021 Lumiere expanded and had installations at Finchale Priory and Penshaw Monument. For 2023, Bishop Auckland is part of Lumiere with four artworks to see in the town. Well worth a visit and these artworks don’t require a ticket at peak time.
I attended a preview ahead of Lumiere and had the chance to see the artworks in Bishop Auckland along with some of the pieces in Durham city centre. I since went back to Durham on Thursday evening to see more, so here’s some highlights of what you can expect from 2023. I’ve also shared some content on instagram.
The artworks in the town are produced in partnership with The Auckland Project. Amalgama Spanish Gallery transforms the Spanish Gallery featuring with melting paintings moving across the front. Illumaphonium is an interactive piece with chimes. Fun for everyone, including me! The Drop showcases sound and light on Auckland Tower.
In Durham city centre, don’t miss the artworks around Durham Cathedral. Like in previous years there’s a Liquid Geometry, a monochromatic projection on the outside of the cathedral, plus three to see inside too. It’s worth noting that if you’re visiting at peak time, there will be a queue to get into the cathedral, but it’s definitely worth it.
Pulse Topography was a particular highlight. This piece by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer combines art with science. 4,500 light bulbs glow in time to the heartbeat recorded by participants. It has to be witnessed to truly experience the spectacle and scale.
Head into the unmistakable cloisters in Durham Cathedral to see 28 archways illuminated in the inner cloister courtyard. Inner Cloister lights in sequence, in a nod to the monks who walked those corridors many years ago.
Illuminated Bottle Rack by Ai Weiwei incorporates 61 chandeliers into one giant chandelier. This one can be found in the Chapter House and it really is the perfect spot for a piece like this.
On Blank Pages is another interactive piece where people are encouraged to leave their comments on the UK justice system. Though since opening night I’ve spotted some other messages in there – one particularly about Greggs, well loved across the North East.
Market Square has been transformed with neon lights thanks to Chila Burman’s Hurts So Good. She celebrates her Hindu-Punjabi heritage and you can’t miss the stunning tiger in the middle of the square.
Parallels is a really fun immersive installation. Featuring a soundscape by Max Cooper (fun fact, an artist I regularly listen to on Spotify – if you’re a fan of electro/techno music, give him a listen) this piece uses laser beams and haze and gives a bit of an underground rave vibe.
Constellations is one I saw on Thursday evening when I went back along. This one is well worth visiting, you just need to head along Elvet riverside. Using water, light and wind, this installation is really impressive and takes you on a celestial journey.
On a side note, I found this one to be a lot quieter than some of the city centre pieces – so a good one to visit if you’re not keen on big crowds.
A little shout out for walking along the river when you visit Lumiere, see the castle illuminated and some fun pieces making the most of reflections across the water. I’d recommend going from the cathedral along South Bailey (to see Planetoids) then go across Prebends Bridge. You might choose to continue along Framwellgate to see installations along here, or do what we did and loop back up through the city centre and down to Durham Sixth Form Centre to see some really cute portaits in Watchtower.
Lumiere tickets and travel arrangements
If you’re driving, the park and ride service is a good idea. Buses run until 11:30pm and it’ll cost you £2. Easy. You’ll avoid busy queues of traffic and looping round car parks to find a space – especially if you’re headed through to Durham a little later on… those who have attended earlier may well be sticking around for some food/drinks after. More on that in a mo.
Of course if you want to park in the city centre, there’s plenty of options but Lumiere does attract big numbers to Durham, so don’t be surprised if the car parks are extra busy and it takes you longer to get into the city.
As I mentioned earlier the artworks in Bishop Auckland are free to see without a ticket. For the Durham city centre artworks you do need a ticket to attend at the peak times of 4:30-7:30pm. These tickets are free but sell out very quick. However, if you don’t have tickets then you can still attend. The festival runs until 11pm each evening and if you attend later, you’re likely to have a quieter experience – worth noting if you’re not a fan of busy crowds. If you don’t have a ticket for peak entry, go see some of the other installations and loop round the city centre from 7:30/8pm.
Where to eat / drink?
Great question. If you’re looking for somewhere to eat while you’re visiting Durham for Lumiere then here’s a few recommendations. Booking early is advised, but some of these venues will offer takeout too.
Tango – for the best burgers in Durham (dare I even say, the North East… look no further) Having recently moved from Elvet Bridge up to Saddler Street, Tango is at a very convenient spot on your way to/from Durham Cathedral. Enjoy the namesake burger, or the gaucho, or van man (with plant based alternatives available and gluten free options too) or just pop by to get coffee/hot chocolate to go.
Tapas Factory – order the paella – it’s fantastic. Lots of authentic Spanish tapas dishes available.
Not too sure what you want? Head along to The Riverwalk where you’ll find Pizza Punks, Turtle Bay and The Food Pit – so plenty options if you want pizza, Caribbean food (and cocktails) or street food from the latter.
Enjoy! Whether you get along to Lumiere this year or you’re planning ahead to 2025, it’s a great event.