It's that wonderful time of year again, the time for Christmas and twinkly lights! Nobody does festive lights better than the spectacular Grade I listed gardens at Helmingham Hall, Suffolk, which is open from Thursday 16th November 2023 when the annual Illuminated Garden Trail opened for 2023.
I love an illuminated trail. I have been to this stunning event before and you can also read about my visit to the National Trust's beautiful Wimpole Estate Illuminated Trail. I went along to this year's event with my good friend Stella to check it out.
This year, new for 2023, the dog-friendly Helmingham Hall event is open for seven nights a week. In a new theme it also features an alpine-themed food and drink area. As the darker nights draw in, the lights go on amongst the structured and less formal areas of the gardens surrounding the 16th century moated hall, transporting visitors into a magical world.
Image: Beckie Egan Photography
The trail is like stepping into a magical world of light, colour and sound, as you explore the grounds of Helmingham Hall adorned with thousands of lights transforming the gardens into an enchanted winter wonderland. It takes you around the distinct areas of the gardens including the knot garden, parterre, woodland garden and the tree-lined apple walk.
Sound and lighting effects have been carefully matched to different stages of the trail to enhance the special experience. The trail is designed to showcase the very best of the gardens and the Hall’s exterior features including its award-winning moat. Walking around the gardens with Stella was so nice, by the light of the moon. It was a lovely evening and the atmospheric music playing in the background makes you feel like you are in a film as you stroll around the lights. We were very lucky in going at a later slot that we had the whole trail to ourselves (top tip!) so felt a bit like we had a private manor.
Halfway round we crossed Helmingham’s famous drawbridge (pulled up every night since 1510) and warmed up with a complimentary mulled wine (or in our case spiced hot apple juice) within the courtyard steeped in over 500 years of historic charm. Complete with a huge Christmas tree. New for this year is a wintery Alpine food and drink area, where guests can enjoy drinks at pop-up pub The Stag Tavern, a variety of street food options and toasted s’mores around the firepit. Wright’s Café, which opened in May this year, will also be open for refreshments alongside the Stable Shops, packed with festive treats and gifts.
It takes about an hour and a half to walk around the trail, but we stopped to take a lot of pics! I’d advise dressing up warm and wearing suitable footwear as it’s a little muddy in places. It is dog-friendly on the trail, you just need to keep them on a lead at all times and clean up after them.
Image: Beckie Egan Photography
There is ample free parking.
Some of the paving is as old as the house and can be uneven and slippery in places so wear sturdy footwear
Wrap up warm
You might want to take a torch as some areas of the trail will be darker than others
Due to the nature of the Grade 1 Listed gardens and two sets of steps, there is an alternate route for wheelchair users. Contact 01473 890799 or email email@example.com to book a guide.
All well-behaved dogs on leads are welcome. Please ensure that you clean up after them though!
Open every evening through to Sunday 17th December, with reduced capacity nights on Mondays and Tuesdays for those who prefer a less crowded experience. Unlike many other light trails, dogs on leads are more than welcome to join in for festive walkies along the Illuminated Light Trail. Gates open at 4.30pm, with timed sessions every 15 minutes.
Tickets are available now from helmingham.com priced at £22 for adults, £11 for children aged 3 – 15 years or £55 for a family ticket (2 adults and 2 children). Tickets must be booked in advance.