Blackpool Illuminations

Tom Grieve, Cinema Editor
Blackpool Illuminations
Image courtesy of Blackpool Illuminations/ Visit Blackpool.

Known as the greatest free light show on the planet, the famous Blackpool Illuminations have been around for some 140 years now. Visitors first started to arrive in 1879 when Blackpool became the first town to have electric street lighting. The eight arc lamps on the promenade eventually succumbed to the elements as seawater leaked into the wiring, but the public’s love affair had begun. The first modern display took place in 1912, and local pressure forced the council to bring the lights back the next year, and the year after that…

Animated tableaux would follow in 1932, and, wartime pause aside, the display has been increasing in size and complexity ever since. Today, there are just under six miles of lights, with over a million lamps, LEDs, lasers and video screens combined into over 500 designs and features. The effect is stunning and whether you choose to drive, walk or take a tram along the promenade, there is no denying the enduring charm of the vast, twinkling overhead display; best enjoyed with warming seafront fish and chips.

There are just under six miles of lights, with over a million lamps, LEDs, lasers and video screens combined into over 500 designs

The Illuminations usually run from late August/early September until the start of November, but do check before making a trip. Visitors may also want to take note of Blackpool’s free annual Lightpool Festival. A supplementary event, this mix of live performance and epic light-based art installations expands the fun to all corners of town. If you can’t wait for that, then mark your calendars for the famous ‘Switch On’ in front of Blackpool Tower.

Ever since Lord Derby did the honours in 1934, each year’s switch on has been performed by a notable public person. Past luminaries include Hollywood actress Jayne Mansfield, England goalkeeper Gordan Banks and singer Shirley Bassey — we’d like to have been there in 1979 though, when Kermit the Frog and The Muppets flicked the switch.

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