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Sick of Christmas markets? Wander around Birmingham's Magic Lantern Festival instead


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Getting your Christmas on in Brum used to mean one thing and one thing only: a trip to the German Market. 

While there's nothing wrong with this (everyone loves drinking a Bailey's hot chocolate from a boot-shaped mug), once you've visited a couple of times each year, it would be nice to have another festive-evening-out option too.

Now there is! The Magic Lantern Festival, which first debuted in London, has come to Birmingham this year, and more specifically, to Birmingham's Botanical Gardens.

For anyone considering a visit to the Magic Lantern Festival, or anyone else just interested some photos of the illuminations, here’s a review of/guide to the experience...

Getting There:

If you happen to live nearby, a walk to the Botanical Gardens is a chilly, but perfectly enjoyable start to the evening.

But don't worry, on foot isn't the only way to get there - there are easy to follow travel instruction on the event's website, which includes information on special Lantern Festival discount offers for National Express bus tickets and Uber journeys.

The Price:

As with anything in the city, it’s basically just accepted that it will cost a whole lot of money. (Especially anything Christmas related-because, in case you didn't know, making something even ever so slightly Christmassy requires a 4000% increase in RRP)

Of course we try to budget and save, but who can help justifying the occasional extortionate purchase as a 'well-deserved treat'? Especially if it is a Christmas treat.

Now, as to whether the Magic Lantern Festival ticket prices count as 'extortionate' or not is rather subjective, but as a poor little student, I would say they are hefty: Concession tickets cost £10.50 in advance and £12 on the day.

Although it would seem to be worth it to buy the tickets in advance online,what they don't tell you is that online purchase fees are added, meaning that your saving is only around 30p!

Personally, I would still say it was worth it as I had such a great evening, but of course it does depend on your preference and your idea of a good time - I know most students would rather spend their £12 on a bottle of vodka-. Each to their own.

The Magic Lanterns:

Now let's get down to the good bit: the actual lights themselves.

First things first, the marketers for this event definitely got something right in calling
these 'magic lanterns' rather than 'illuminations'; it sounds so much classier. As much as I enjoyed the evening, I have to admit that these 'lanterns' really are just giant glorified Christmas lights.

But that's not necessarily a bad thing!

Yes, it is true that when you first enter you will see a big - admittedly kind of tacky -Christmas themed archway with a cheesy Santa Claus on it where Shakin' Stevens' Merry Christmas Everyone is being played on repeat... but please don't let that put you off, just hear me out.

Once you really get inside, you will find yourself on a long and meandering tour of the beautiful gardens, and although it is too dark to see the flowers and plants, there is something much more interesting to discover. Everywhere you turn there are illuminations with various themes, some tailored more towards children, some a lot more sophisticated, but most really are fantastic to look at. You will find yourself wondering how long it took to make some of these amazing structures, and you will wish you could take some home to fill up your garden.

I enjoyed how winding the path was, as it meant that I could see the different lanterns and how they looked in relation to each other from so many angles; it made for a lot of nice photo-taking opportunities.

Some highlights include the towering, embellished bird cages, a beautiful bandstand-like structure above a fountain, a huge colourful peacock, and a pond full of lilypads and frogs accompanied by appropriately atmospheric oriental music. And of course, we can’t forget Birmingham's iconic Bullring Bull!

Other Tips:

Wrap up warm

Not in a mumsy 'put on a jacket' way, seriously - wear every item in your wardrobe. There is a lot to see so you can't go rushing by, and even if you wanted to it is very busy so there are a lot of people in the way, and having to walk quite slowly around the wide open park means that you will probably be left feeling freezing. So don't forget to don some woolly socks, hat, scarve, and plenty of layers.

Don't expect the place to yourself

You may be imagining a stroll throughan almost empty park with the view of the pretty lights all to yourself. But in reality-the place is packed.

Now you can complain about all of the people and how slow they are walking, or you can accept it, have a ‘the more the merrier’ attitude, and just enjoy sharing some Christmassy sights with other people. (It shouldn't really impact your experience much unless you are super grumpy.)

Food and drink

If you're feeling peckish there are a few food options; some nice food trucks before you enter, a churro stand or two on the way round, and the Botanical Gardens' cafe at the end. All of them are, of course, very overpriced. But since you've already decided to surrender your budget to the Magic Lantern gods, you might as well spend that little bit more on a hot chocolate (topped with cream and marshmallows) to keep your hands warm while you amble around.


The verdict is in: an expensive but thoroughly enjoyable evening. This a great way to spend an evening feeling festive, something about looking at beautiful illuminated structures (for some reason) definitely gets those seasonal sensations started. Christmas is here!

And along with that good old classic; a visit to the German Market, be sure to add a trip to the Magic Lantern Festival to your Birmingham December traditions.

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