The Amsterdam Light Festival is one of the world’s most accurately named festivals in the world – it’s a festival of lights, and it’s in Amsterdam.
But there’s a little more to this wintertime spectacular than a few errant light bulbs; it’s an innovative platform for international artists that has grown from its humble beginnings to become one of the most popular art festivals in the Netherlands. This year’s festival runs from 29 November until 20 January and is gearing up to be bigger and brighter than ever before!
A Modern Tradition
The Light Festival already feels as integral to the Dutch wintertime as Sinterklaas and pepernoten, but it’s actually a relatively new celebration. The first festival was held in 2011, and it’s stuck to much the same formula ever since. ‘Light Art’ has existed in various forms for centuries, but it was only with the advent and affordability of LED technology that the potential for creating truly retina-boggling exhibits and sculptures really took off. The dimly lit open spaces of the Amsterdam canals proved too big an opportunity to miss, and ALF as we know it was born.
In the Spotlight
This year, the festival proudly features the work of 30 artists from all over the world, united by the theme ‘The Medium is the Message’, the famous statement by the Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan. The idea behind his statement was simple: the medium with which we send a message is more important than the message itself. The role of light in conveying a message and the city of Amsterdam as a medium for telling stories are central to this edition.
An undeniable highlight of this year’s roster is guest of honor Joroen Henneman. Particularly known for his sculptures that look like ‘standing drawings’, develops especially for the festival two artworks and a ‘limited edition’ will be for sale.
With artworks custom-designed for Amsterdam’s iconic canal network, the best way to see the festival is always from the water itself – with many of the installations taking on a different form and meaning when viewed from below, their thousands of lights dancing across the water’s surface.
Luckily, there are many specialized canal cruises available, ready to take you right up to (and in some cases right through) all of the festival’s illuminated artworks. Whether you’re departing from Centraal Station (perfect for those visiting the city to see ALF) or nightlife hotspot Leidseplein, you’ll never have to wait more than a few minutes to hop on a dedicated cruise ship, following the optimized ‘Water Colors’ route.
Snap-happy shutterbugs will want to climb aboard the special Open Top cruise, which is perfect for capturing those long-exposure shots of the dreamlike sculptures with nothing to obstruct your lens. Just make sure to wrap up warm – the Dutch winter can be extra brisk when out on the water! And, if you’re looking for something cozy, go for the Historic Boat experience and enjoy a perfectly intimate experience with gluhwein of the Amsterdam Light Festival, on board the Avanti or the Delphine.