The optimization of wind farms with respect to spatial layout is addressed experimentally. Wake effects within wind turbine farms are well known to be deleterious in terms of power generation and structural loading, which is corroborated in this study. Computational models are the predominant tools in the prediction of turbine-induced flow fields. However, for wind farms comprising hundreds of turbines, reliability of the obtained numerical data becomes a growing concern with potentially costly consequences. This study pursues a systematic complementary theoretical, experimental and numerical study of variations in generated power with turbine layout of an 80 turbine large wind farm. Wake effects within offshore wind turbine arrays are emulated using porous discs mounted on a flat plate in a wind tunnel. The adopted approach to reproduce experimentally individual turbine wake characteristics is presented, and drag measurements are argued to correctly capture the variation in power generation with turbine layout. Experimental data are juxtaposed with power predictions using ANSYS WindModeller simulation suite. Although comparison with available wind farm power output data has been limited, it is demonstrated nonetheless that this approach has potential for the validation of numerical models of power loss due to wake effects or even to make a direct physical prediction. The approach has even indicated useful data for the improvement of the physics within numerical models. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.