Getting your Christmas on in Brum used to mean one thing and one thing only: a trip to the German Market. Now while I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this (I love a Bailey’s hot chocolate in a boot-shaped mug as much as anyone) I do think that once you’ve visited a couple of times each year, it would be nice to have another festive-evening-out option too.
That’s why I was so pleased when I found out that the Magic Lantern Festival, which first debuted in London, was coming to Birmingham this year, and more specifically, to Birmingham’s Botanical Gardens. (Which are ‘only’ a 40 minute walk from where we live in Harborne.)
For anyone considering a visit to the Magic Lantern Festival, or anyone else just interested to see photos of some beautiful illuminations, I’ve written a review of/guide to the experience…
Maybe we are crazy, but my boyfriend and I decided it would be nice to do the 40 minute walk from our house in Harborne. It was very, very, very cold (see the ‘Other Tips‘ below) but apart from that it was a lovely stroll, the perfect time for a caramel latte and a chat! And not to mention an excuse to eat a lot because ‘the walk there counts as exercise.’
But don’t you 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.
As with anything in the city, I’ve basically just accepted that it will cost me 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)
Don’t get me wrong, I do try to live on a budget and I make sure I’m always saving, but sometimes I can’t help justifying an 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 fairly hefty…
- Adult= £12.50 in advance/ £14 on the day
- Child= £8.50 in advance/ £10 on the day
- Family= £38 in advance/£44 on the day
- Concessions= £10.5o in advance/£12 on the day
At first glance, it does seem that it would be worth it to buy the tickets in advance online. However what they don’t tell you is that online purchase fees are added, meaning that although you do still save money, it is only about 30p in the end!
Luckily, both of us managed to get in as concessions even though my boyfriend didn’t have his student ID (shh) so altogether entry set us back £24. Personally, I would definitely 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‘ instead of ‘illuminations‘, it sounds so much classier. As much as I enjoyed the evening, I wouldn’t want to fool anyone into thinking that these ‘lanterns’ are anything more than what they really are : 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 are tailored more towards children and some are a lot more sophisticated, but most of them 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 you 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 of my personal favourites were; 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 cant forget Birmingham’s iconic Bullring Bull!
- Wrap up warm
And I don’t mean this in a mumsy ‘put on a jacket’ way, I mean seriously- wear every item in your wardrobe. Even what you would normally wear on a very chilly evening just doesn’t seem to cut it when visiting this festival. 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.
We impulse bought some outrageously overpriced gloves from a petrol station on the way, and I’m so glad we did because I think if not my fingers would’ve fallen off!
- Don’t expect the place to yourself
I have to admit that in my little dream world I had kind of imagined us strolling around an almost empty park with the view of the pretty lights all to ourselves. Of course, in reality- it was packed.
Now you can do what some people did and complain about all of the people and how slow they are walking, or you can accept it and take ‘the more the merrier’ as your attitude and just enjoy sharing some christmassy sights with other people. (It shouldn’t really impact your experience much unless you are super grumpy.)
We visited on a Sunday evening, so it could be that’s why it was extra busy, but I would imagine it is quite busy most nights.
- Food and drink
If you’re feeling peckish there are a few food options; some nice food trucks before you enter, a churro/donut/toasted marshmallow 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 aswell 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; we spent a lot of money but we had a lovely time. I think this is a great way to spend an evening feeling festive, I don’t know what it is about looking at beautiful illuminated structures, but for some reason it definitely gets those seasonal sensations started. Christmas is here!
And along with that good old classic; a visit to the German Market, I’ll be sure to add a trip to the Magic Lantern Festival to my ‘list’ of Birmingham December traditions.
Have you visited the Magic Lantern Festival? Would you like to? Leave a comment; I’d love to know your thoughts!