Running from 28 November 2015 to 17 January 2016, the fourth annual Amsterdam Light Festival sees the historic heart of Amsterdam become a glowing outdoor sculpture gallery as artists from all over the world transform the Dutch capital into a city of light, taking the theme ‘friendship’ as their inspiration. Exclusively for I amsterdam, the festival organisers have compiled a top-ten list of unmissable artworks on display.  

1. Paths Crossing 

This hand-crafted, 160-metre long  construction by artist Ralf Westerhof stretches between two bridges on Herengracht. From a cruise boat travelling underneath it, spectators can see an animation about friendship. Light beams in different colours represent different people, whose paths are crossing as the beams move towards each other.  

See it from: Herengracht, between Utrechtstraat and Amstel

Map location: N 

Paths Crossing by Ralf Westerhof for Amsterdam Light Festival

2. Light Wave 

With a length of 20 and a width of 11 metres, Anita Doornhein's  ‘Light Wave’ is the largest artwork at the Amsterdam Light Festival. Cruise boats can move through its waves of light. Their passengers experience a magical, otherworldly trip as images of water and air bubbles make it look like they’re underwater. 

See it from: Prins Hendrikkade

Map location: B

Amsterdam Light Festival Anita Doornhein

3. The Uniting Lightstar

Created by design agency Venividimultiplex, this artwork is extra fun, because it’s interactive: visitors can adjust its brightness by pulling a lever. ‘The Uniting Lightstar’ is about friendship, too, but it’s the friendship between European countries that is addressed here. The twelve pentagonal surfaces stand for the number of stars on the EU flag, while the ‘strings’ – thin, intense laser beams – that connect them symbolise the relations between the countries and their inhabitants.  

See it from: Amstel, outside the Hermitage Museum

Map location:

Amsterdam Light Festival Uniting Lightstar

4. Northern Lights 

Those who dream of seeing aurora borealis don’t need to go to Norway – they can also visit this year’s Amsterdam Light Festival. Aleksandra Stratimirovic's ‘Northern Lights’ consists of 100 vertical light beams that form a dancing curtain above the canal. The breathtaking artwork symbolises the beauty of friendship. 

See it from: Amstel, outside the Nationale Opera and Ballet

Map location: K

Northern Lights by Aleksandra Stratimirovic for Amsterdam Light Festival

5. Tranquilles 

You have to look closely at this work by Remi Brun to realise that it depicts two people in a rowing boat. The image is an illusion consisting of only 40 spots of light – its motion capture technique took the artist eight years to develop.   

See it from: Brouwersgracht

Map location: U

6. Dearest Friend… 

There is a good reason why Darya von Berner's light sculpture depicting the letter that Baruch Spinoza wrote to his friend Lodewijk Meijer in the 17th century looks as if it’s floating on the water. When Spinoza’s friends brought his letters to a publisher in Amsterdam after the philosopher’s death, a number of them fell into the canal, among them the one shown here. Without hesitation, one of Spinoza’s friends jumped into the water to save the letter – a real act of friendship. 

See it from: Zwanenburgwal

Map location: L 

Amsterdam Light Festival Dearest Friend

7. Birds Fly Around with You

‘Birds Fly Around with You’ is an exciting experience for visitors of all ages. The more spectators enter the artwork, the more birds fly around. The artist, Masamichi Shimada from Japan, sees his work as a playground and recommends to bring friends when going to see it – or to make new ones while you’re there. 

See it from: Hoftuin

Map location: 7

8. Holon Light 

A holon is a philosophical concept describing something that is simultaneously a part and a whole. This concept also applies to ‘Holon Lights’ by designers Michiel Martens and Jetske Visser: as a cruise boat nears, the ‘holons’ are awakened one by one and start to spin. When all lights are active, the whole symbolises a united Europe.   

See it from: Halvemaansbrug

Map location: M

9. Light Droplets 

Residents of the Netherlands know more than enough about rain, and for the majority, this is no reason to rejoice. ‘Light Droplets’, however, sets out to bring happiness: drops of light fall and burst at the visitors’ feet within a seven-second span. Artist Eva van der Moer dedicated extensive research to the creation of ‘Light Droplets’, but the result is a colourful and fairytale-like artwork.   

See it from: Jonas Daniel Meijerplein

Map location: 23

10. KEU (Kaleidoscope Europe) 

KEU by Visual Skin is one of the most colourful works at the Amsterdam Light Festival. It’s a four-metre-high tube filled with mirrors, which creates a wonderful world of colourful light. The artwork’s theme is friendship and tolerance amongst all people, regardless of their faith, sexual identity or gender.

See it from: Plantage Middenlaan

Map location: 17

Amsterdam Light Festival 2015 map (click on the map for a fully interactive version)

Amsterdam Light Festival 2015 map