Winter Lights Display

St Micheal Le Belfrey

York businesses expressed the need for a greater presence of winter lights that would stretch beyond the popular holiday market areas. In response, The York BID implemented a winter lights programme to transform our historic city to a stunning spectacle during the months of early-drawn evenings.

The BID piloted the programme in December 2016, lighting the city’s medieval city wall bars with a cascade of shimmering drapes on Micklegate Bar, Walmgate Bar, Monk Bar and Bootham Bar. The unprecedented display showcased York's renowned structures as ‘shining gateways’ that lead to the historic attractions and businesses in and around the city walls.

In December 2017 the BID in partnership with Make It York launched a wider Winter Lights scheme for the city centre. Consisting of over 160,000 lights stretching 15km end-to-end, the display has been hailed as the best that York has seen to date, securing the city's place in the Top 10 Best UK Winter Lights Festivals voted by the Guardian and Most Festive City in the UK voted by DigitalSpy. From November to December there was a 13.2% increase in rail journeys to the city (19 November – 23 December).  At the same time footfall into the city was up by 1.3% year on year and coach bookings were up by 8%.

In 2018 we extended the scheme by adding the Shambles market, New Street and Colliergate as well as strengthening some existing areas. The big switch on at St Helens square hosted by Minster FM was the biggest ever. St Leonards Hospice once again utilised the huge real tree covered trunk to tip in lights for their 'Light up a Life' campaign event.

In 2019 the popularity of the big switch on led to a new and bigger venue, with a move to Duncombe Place. Duncombe Place, York Minster and well known landmarks such as the Boer War Memorial and St Michael Le Belfry all received extra lighting. The display was also extended in Church Street.


York’s Winter Lights have been hailed a great success, helping to drive visits to the city during the off-peak tourism season. Visits to attractions and hotel occupancy levels were all up during November, December and January and the enhanced lighting scheme has proved popular with both visitors and residents alike. York BID have committed to repeating the scheme every year until their renewal in 2021.

To celebrate the achievements of the Winter light scheme we made a short promotional video which can be viewed here

Andrew Lowson is keen that businesses in the city centre make the most of the investment to drive spend at retail and hospitality venues. “When the Business Improvement District was set up, one of the core aims was to improve the appearance of the city centre – and the winter lights give it a boost for over three months, including the busiest shopping time of the year.  We would love for every shop window to continue the festive theme, and the welcome in our restaurants and hotels to be warmer than ever – York holds the crown as the most festive city in the country, and that’s a title we want to hold onto!”


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