Lightwaves at Salford Quays

Gemma Gibb, Associate Editor
Image courtesy of Tom Dekyvere

Lightwaves at MediaCity and Salford Quays, Manchester 7 — 10 December 2023 Entrance is free

This digital light festival, one of the biggest in the UK, has fast become a much-Instagrammed outdoor winter experience and very welcome fiesta to link The Quays‘ public spaces each December. This year it returns with its 10th edition, packed with illuminated works from established as well as emerging artists, local and national.

The event is a way off and so details are a little thin on the ground right now, but you can expect “a variety of different pieces; thought-provoking, surprising and playful”, and if last year’s programme is anything to go by, there’ll be brand new commissions and world premieres involved, a number with interactivity at their core, making Manchester’s waterfront destination sparkle in all senses of the word.


Highlights for this year include: a whale shark diving in the waters of the Quays; a tunnel of giant mirrored rings stretching across the piazza at Media City; and the chance to become a pollinating insect moving between giant glowing flowers.

Nectary by Alison Smith

In a world premiere, CETUS is a luminescent artwork in the form of a six-metre long whale, shimmering through the dark waters created by CYGNUS, the creators of a flotilla of 12 floating swans viewers may remember from Lightwaves 2021. On a smaller scale, the gorgeously named The Nectary created by Alison Smith with Dr Chris Hassall is an immersive experience that allows visitors to be enveloped in six hanging luminescent blooms.

Pioneers of outdoor art – Walk the Plank – return to Lightwaves with Fire Garden which includes three brand new giant sculptures – one over nine metres in size. Visitors may remember Roost, from last year, a series of three nature-based interactive fire sculptures.

More details about this year’s programme will be released at the end of November so in the meantime, let’s take a look at some pieces from last year:

2022’s festival started with the eco-conscious work by artist Diane Watson is Gardens of the Deep – a gorgeous display of 100 flowers made from discarded plastic bottles. Matthew Rosier’s Navvies headlined, with a moving work that focused on the role of labourers who constructed the Manchester Ship Canal. The ambitious installation was accompanied by an orchestral composition composed by Hayley Suviste and performed by the BBC Philharmonic.

Once We Were Water by Manchester studio – idontloveyouanymore, takes inspiration from the surrounding waterways. The piece allowed visitors to ‘walk’ through the waters of a digitally recreated river.

Once We Were Water (2022), idontloveyouanymore, Lightwaves

We love the playfulness and the mad mix of cutting edge and popular culture of Lightwaves – where else might you see a digital artwork that responds to and reveals its audience’s emotions alongside a giant heart-shaped mirror ball whilst also bringing attention to the working conditions of the Manchester Ship Canal labourers?

No tickets are required, just turn up and enjoy this free festival to adventure around – aglow with all the good things.

Lightwaves at MediaCity and Salford Quays, Manchester 7 — 10 December 2023 Entrance is free

Where to go near Lightwaves at Salford Quays

squipsoup commission at mediacity create festival salford
Event venue
MediaCityUK Piazza

Open air square – notably not a Public Square  – owned by Peel Holdings who are the developers behind the Media CityUK project as a whole. It’s a fairly large…

Ice Rink
MCUK Ice Rink
at Media City

Embrace that most Christmassy of activities and get your skates on outside of the chaotic city centre this winter. The Ice Rink at Media City will be serving festive fun till January 5th.

Booths Media City

The Booths branch at Media City, Salford Quays is much appreciated by TV, radio and media executives who work in the area.

The Botanist Media City

The newest branch of the Botanist, featuring high-class herbal-infused cocktails and a variety of world cuisine – including those impressive hanging kebabs.

at Salford Quays

Jump into waters of dock 9 at Salford Quays with Uswim, they bring the benefits and freedom of open water swimming to the convenience of a central location.

The Quays
The Alchemist Mediacity

The latest offering from the UK-conquering Alchemist has an energetic vibe similar to others in this highly-regarded chain of restaurants.

Shopping Centre
Lowry Outlet Mall

The Lowry Outlet Mall in The Quays district of Manchester sits opposite both The Lowry and MediaCityUK, Europe’s largest media hub and the home of BBC North.

What's on: Festivals

Culture Guides

Festival-goers at Green Island
Music in Manchester and the North

Gazing longingly towards the good times that will accompany the surely imminent sun, we take a look at the best music festivals coming up in Manchester and Salford.

Theatre in Manchester and the North
Theatre in Manchester and the North

Affecting contemporary performances and fresh, relevant takes on enduring classics, we pick out shows that help us scrutinise the world we live in.