Blackpool Illuminations: a guide
Blackpool, Lancashire’s glitzy gem, is a fun visit all-year round. However, come autumn, the seaside town truly (and literally) shines, drawing millions with its awe-inspiring display: the Blackpool Illuminations.
Spanning six miles along the Promenade, this light show has been called the 'greatest free light show on Earth'. Let’s delve deeper into the history and technology of these illuminations, opened officially by a celebrity each year.
A bright start: the history
The beginnings of the Blackpool Illuminations date back to 1879. Then, they were a mere eight arc lamps, dubbed ‘artificial sunshine’.
Fast forward to 1912, and the lights took on a grander scale, with 10,000 bulbs used to celebrate the opening of Blackpool's new promenade. Since then, the display has continued to evolve, becoming a much-loved annual phenomenon interrupted only by the two World Wars.
Now, more than 711 metric tonnes of equipment is needed to keep the historic ceremony alive, with over a million lamps and 100 miles of electric festoons.
Technology behind the twinkle
From those initial eight arc lamps, the technology fuelling the Illuminations has changed dramatically. Traditionally, incandescent bulbs painted the town in colourful hues.
Today,more environmentally friendly LED technology has replaced archaic wire bulbs. LEDs are not only energy-efficient but also offer a vibrant colour palette, making the displays even more mesmerising.
These days, the displays are no longer limited to static bulbs. Advanced lighting technology, including fibre optics, lasers, and interactive installations, have become a significant part of the event.
This blend of art and technology results in an ever-changing interactive experience that captivates an audience of over 3.5 million visitors each year.
Evolving with time
In recent years, Blackpool Illuminations have undergone huge changes. There's been a conscious effort to be more sustainable, with LED illumination helping reduce the carbon footprint of the shows by over two-thirds.
Collaborations with contemporary artists, designers, and technicians have given the displays new life, adding a touch of modern flair to the traditional charm. Stars are now invited to perform and open the illuminations annually (Sophie Ellis Bextor performed the honours in 2023).
Additionally, the Illuminations now boast 3D projection shows, interactive installations, and even a dedicated section showcasing young artists' lightworks, keeping it relevant for future audiences.
When to witness the magic
The Blackpool Illuminations typically light up the town from September to early November. While the entire duration offers a brilliant display, the best time to visit would be during the Blackpool Illuminations Switch On festival which marks the beginning of the Illuminations season. Featuring celebrity performances, concerts, and of course, the ceremonial switching on of the lights, it's a staple in the Blackpool calendar. Artists who have performed or exhibited include singer Alfie Boe, Coronation Street’s Lucy Fallon, and filmmaking legend Tim Burton.
There are illuminated trams, a Ride the Lights bike event when the Promenade is closed to cars, and lots of events for kids.