Friendship, Freedom & Festivities: The Amsterdam Light Festival Netherlands

Every year Amsterdam is transformed into an illuminated masterpiece of light and art during the Amsterdam Light Festival from November until January.

Since this year’s Light Festival was coming to an end, I couldn’t resist seeing what the event is all about and booked a night time canal cruise during my visit to Amsterdam last week. It was a miserable and rainy day, but I decided not to let the weather spoil my stay. What better way to avoid the rain than on a cosy canal boat with a cup of mulled wine?  The boat tour started just outside Amsterdam’s Central Station and a ticket was 20,50€ for a 75 minute canal cruise.

I took a seat at the back of the boat while the captain introduced himself to the mainly Dutch crowd on board. The windows were starting to steam up and it became increasingly difficult to see through them. I noticed a few people heading to what I assumed to be an outside area and decided to follow suit. I peeked outside and knew I had a decision to make. I could stay in the warmth, have my mulled wine and look at the illuminations through the foggy windows or I could stand on the back half of the boat, be rained on and enjoy a breath-taking view of a glowing Amsterdam. I choose the latter and let me tell you, it was worth it.

The Amsterdam Light Festival 2015/2016

This year’s Light Festival was dedicated to “friendship” and featured the artwork of national and international artists. Here are some of my personal favourites of this colourful spectacle.


Friendala Amsterdam Light Festival

This hypnotising piece has been created by the Chilean artists Macarena Meza and Daniela Orallana and is based on a mandala, which symbolises unity and harmony between peoples.

Light Wave

Light Wave Amsterdam Light Festival

This piece by Anita Doornhein was a particular highlight for me, as the boat didn’t just pass the artwork, but drove right through it and gave the observer the feeling of momentarily entering a different world. The artist herself says: ‘When a boat sails in, the sensors are activated, changing the colours of the Lightwave. Visitors see dynamically flowing hues in oxygenated blues, turquoises and silver. Images of water and air bubbles give you the feeling of sailing under water, or underneath an iceberg.’

Bands of Friendship

Band of Friendship Amsterdam Light Festival

The Bands of Friendship and their popping colours reminded me of the Olympic rings. The two Indian architects Vikas Patil and Santosh Gujar that have created the piece had something much more simple and moving in mind. They based the piece on the bands of friendship, the bracelets young people often carry on their wrists to symbolise eternal friendship. The bands represent the European Union from an outsider’s perspective. Depending on your point of view, the bands can be separate or be combined to one strong union.

Talking Heads

Talking Heads Amsterdam Light Festival

This artwork is truly spectacular. The Hungarian artist Viktor Vicsek has made these “Talking Heads” become alive by using 4000 individually controllable LED lights that communicate via WIFI. The same way humans subconsciously react to each other’s facial expressions; these two react to the movement of each other and visitors.  What a clever way to combine technology and art!

Freedom as a Valuable Friend

Freedom as a Valuable Friend Amsterdam Light Festival

I found this piece created by artist Erik Sok especially moving as it had a great deal of personal meaning to me. Freedom has always been something I rate very highly and essentially it was freedom that gave me the courage to make me leave my day job and move into travel writing. Freedom really is a valuable friend, this is something I never want to lose sight of again.

Although the Amsterdam Light Festival 2015/2016 has now finished, artists and light architects can apply until the 11th March for their art to be featured in the fifth Amsterdam Light Festival starting in November 2016.


  1. WOW! What an awesome festival! I would love to go here one day <3 Thanks for sharing!!

  2. I live in Amsterdam and got to see this too! You took great photos and I like your take on it.

  3. I’m from the Netherlands and I didn’t even know that they also held this festival in Amsterdam! They have some other ones around the country which I love! Around what date is it every year? Going to make sure that I don’t miss it next time..

    • globalbrunch Says: February 1, 2016 at 8:30 pm

      Hi Anne, yes it’s on every year. It will start again in November and it runs until mid January. The festival has a different theme every year, so you never see the same artwork twice 🙂

  4. @Anne, it lasts almost all of December until early January.

  5. I live in Amsterdam and visited this year as well. I missed out on the mulled wine, but it was interesting to read an explanation of the exhibits since I just biked by…and some of the experiences aren’t the same. If you ever come back, there’s a separate part in the Hortus Botanicus that’s free!

    • globalbrunch Says: February 1, 2016 at 8:28 pm

      That’s really good to know! I wish I would have had time to walk the route and get a little more time with some of the artwork.

  6. That’s so cool! I’ve seen Christmas light shows/parades, but never something like that out over the water!

  7. Great post! Funny enough I was in Amsterdam at this time but never thought to go around and take pictures. The Statue of LIberty I thought was the coolest one.

    • globalbrunch Says: February 2, 2016 at 10:39 am

      Oh no way! I think Amsterdam is definitely one of the most popular urban destinations in Europe. I did not nearly have enough time to explore it!

  8. Light Wave is my favorite!! Wow, what a sight. Very cool. Thanks for the post!

    • globalbrunch Says: February 2, 2016 at 10:41 am

      So glad you like it! Light Wave was spectacular as the boat went right through it. Can’t wait to see what they come up with for this year. 🙂

  9. Awesome post, I didn’t know about this light festival. My favourite is the Talking Heads exhibit, it’s like a sci-fi film (and also one of my favourite bands :P)

  10. Wow this was so interesting, I had never heard of this festival! Thanks for giving me another excuse to head back to Amsterdam! 😊

  11. I would love to see this. The light wave is very cool.

  12. Nice post, great festival. Pictures are loading a bit slow. There is a similar festival in November in Riga, Latvia.

    • globalbrunch Says: February 2, 2016 at 5:57 pm

      I would love to visit Riga, maybe this November is a great time to check out the festival! Thanks for the info 🙂

  13. What a beautiful theme and I loved the talking heads. It is amazing how during this internet age also there is so much we do not know about. Thank you for introducing such a beautiful fest. To us

    • globalbrunch Says: February 2, 2016 at 6:36 pm

      I’m so glad you liked the article! I was so impressed with the clever technology and thinking behind the Talking Heads. Brilliant work.

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