Light-by-light scattering (γγ right arrow γγ) is a quantum-mechanical process that is forbidden in the classical theory of electrodynamics. This reaction is accessible at the Large Hadron Collider thanks to the large electromagnetic field strengths generated by ultra-relativistic colliding lead ions. Using 480 μb−1 of lead–lead collision data recorded at a centre-of-mass energy per nucleon pair of 5.02 TeV by the ATLAS detector, here we report evidence for light-by-light scattering. A total of 13 candidate events were observed with an expected background of 2.6 ± 0.7 events. After background subtraction and analysis corrections, the fiducial cross-section of the process Pb + Pb (γγ) right arrow Pb(∗) + Pb(∗)γγ, for photon transverse energy ET > 3 GeV, photon absolute pseudorapidity |η| < 2.4, diphoton invariant mass greater than 6 GeV, diphoton transverse momentum lower than 2 GeV and diphoton acoplanarity below 0.01, is measured to be 70 ± 24 (stat.) ± 17 (syst.) nb, which is in agreement with the standard model predictions.