The use of fluorescent proteins has revolutionized our understanding of biological processes. However, the requirement for external illumination precludes their universal application to the study of biological processes in all tissues. Although light can be created by chemiluminescence, light emission from existing chemiluminescent probes is too weak to use this imaging modality in situations when fluorescence cannot be used. Here we report the development of the brightest luminescent protein to date, Nano-lantern, which is a chimera of enhanced Renilla luciferase and Venus, a fluorescent protein with high bioluminescence resonance energy transfer efficiency. Nano-lantern allows real-time imaging of intracellular structures in living cells with spatial resolution equivalent to fluorescence and sensitive tumour detection in freely moving unshaved mice. We also create functional indicators based on Nano-lantern that can image Ca2+, cyclic adenosine monophosphate and adenosine 5'-triphosphate dynamics in environments where the use of fluorescent indicators is not feasible. These luminescent proteins allow visualization of biological phenomena at previously unseen single-cell, organ and whole-body level in animals and plants.