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There are some things you just have to do during the holiday season. In addition to decorating your home, singing carols, exchanging gifts and baking delicious seasonal cookies, Christmas lights are a big part of what makes the season so magical. Throughout the country, you’ll find plenty of neighborhoods, parks and gardens displaying their greatest Christmas cheer with extremely creative scenes and characters made of lights and all sorts of colored bulbs accompanied by music and sound effects. Here are some of the most impressive displays across America.
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Since 1997, Albuquerque’s botanical garden has hosted River of Lights, which claims to be the largest walk-through light show in New Mexico. The exhibit features more than 550 sculptures and animated displays and 200 miles of twinkle lights. Guests can also ride around the park aboard the Polar Bear Express while enjoying a toasty hot chocolate.
Every year, Austin’s Zilker Park is transformed into a Texas-sized winter wonderland that attracts more than 400,000 visitors. Everything’s bigger in Texas, and at 155 feet tall, the Zilker Holiday Tree at the Austin Trail of Lights is claimed to be the largest man-made Christmas tree in the world. As for the trail itself, 90 lit holiday trees and more than 70 other light displays and decorated tunnels with a total of 2 million lights are spread along a 1.25-mile walk.
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Flowers, trees and plants are illuminated at night at Bellingrath Gardens. The Magic Christmas in Lights show at this Southern estate home features more than 1,100 set pieces, 3 million lights and 15 scenes spread across 65 acres that are accompanied by nightly choral performances. Many of the displays, which complement the same themes of the gardens in the daytime, were designed by former Disney imagineer Clare Graham.
Courtesy of Bentleyville Tour of Lights
On a sprawling 20 acres along the shores of Lake Superior lies The Bentleyville Tour of Lights, which claims to be America's largest free walk-through lighting display. The display is named after Nathan Bentley, a man whose home light display grew more and more elaborate until he got an offer from the city of Duluth to let his creativity run wild at Bayfront Festival Park. More than 300,000 visitors a year come to admire the ever-growing display, which includes a 128-foot animated tree.
The Bright Nights at Forest Park has whimsical displays featuring themes such as Peter Pan, Dr. Seuss, Jurassic World and Santa’s toy factory. In addition to Christmas displays, Bright Nights also has representation for those celebrating Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.
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Busch Gardens in Williamsburg has one of the best theme park holiday celebrations in the country, and its Christmas Town has more than 10 million lights. The 50-foot-tall central Christmas tree makes for an impressive sight, particularly during the half-hour lights show. Even off-season rides like the water attraction Escape from Pompeii become part of the icy exhibit.
Just 15 miles outside of Los Angeles, Altadena’s first Christmas lights went up in 1920, which has led the town to claim that its display is the oldest large-scale Christmas lights display in the world. It started when Altadena native (and Pasadena businessman) Frederick C. Nash lit up a quarter-mile section of roadway in his hometown with the help of The Pasadena Kiwanis Club and the City of Pasadena. It was officially named a California State Landmark and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. Today, Christmas Tree Lane has more than 10,000 lights decorating its giant deodar cedar trees, a task that takes 10 weeks to complete and 10 weeks to undo.
Courtesy of The Coeur D’Alene Resort
The Coeur d’Alene Resort in Idaho, one of the best hotels in America, boasts that it is home to the country’s largest holiday display on water. Visitors take a boat cruise to experience 250 floating scenes made of 1.5 million lights. Employees spend more than eight weeks preparing the display and use more than 5 miles of electrical wiring.
Blossoms of Light at the Denver Botanic Gardens is considered one of the best light shows in the state of Colorado. In fact, some people choose to pop the question and get engaged with the dreamy enchanted display as their backdrop. Along with stationary lights that can be viewed with HoloSpex glasses, the gardens also have interactive displays, including a large field of sound-reactive, animated LED lights.
The tree in Rockefeller Center in Manhattan might get all the hype, but this Brooklyn neighborhood has given it a run for its money as a premier NYC holiday attraction since the 1980s. More than 100,000 people pass through every holiday season. While you can take in the professional displays on your own, there are multiple guided tours that will give you the history of the traditions and the families that participate.
Courtesy of Doug Barnette Photography for Enchanted Garden of Lights
You’ll definitely want to keep a lookout in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, for Rock City's Enchanted Garden of Lights. Within its four themed realms (The Arctic Kingdom, Magic Forest, North Pole Village and Yule Town) you’ll find more than 30 holiday scenes and over 1 million bright LED lights. There’s also gingerbread cookie decorating, specialty foods and drinks, and a peculiar toy soldier mime named Jerry wandering the grounds.
Thanks to its casinos, Las Vegas has no shortage of bright colors and flashing lights. It’s fitting, then, that Sin City would have a stellar Christmas light display that shines as the best in Nevada. During the holiday season, the Las Vegas Motor Speedway is turned into a 2.5-mile drive-through light show featuring more than 3 million lights and 400 animated displays.
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What’s a better companion to a winter wonderland than chocolatey treats? Take a trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania, where more than 4 million lights are put up around Hersheypark, including more than 250,000 that flicker in a choreographed light show. There are four different shows every night during the holiday season, and in addition to Christmas Candylane, Hersheypark also hosts a 2-mile drive-through display during the holiday season called Sweet Lights.
True to its name, the Holiday Fantasy of Lights in Coconut Creek’s Tradewinds Park consists of 3 miles of huge, animated displays and illuminated trees. A drive-through experience, this trail in Broward County has been decked out for 25 years with impressive displays created by Brandano Displays. More than 125,000 people are expected to visit the Holiday Fantasy of Lights.
For almost 20 years, the intricate decorations made by Josie Chansky using recycled materials drew visitors from across the island and the country to her home. After the death of her husband, Chansky no longer had the heart to put up her decorations and wanted to sell everything. A fellow island resident recognized the beauty of her efforts, however, and turned her collection into an installation at the Country Historical Building. The Festival not only showcases Chansky’s work but also hosts “Santa’s Workshop events” where volunteers create new ornaments and folk art of their own to add to the display with themes from sea creatures to spam, celebrating the rich culture of Hawaii.
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This still-operational water-powered mill in Ohio gets layered with lights during the holiday season. More than 4 million lights, put up over the course of three months, cover the building, gorge and nearby trees, and there’s even a 100-foot “waterfall” of lights. Every hour, the lights go out before majestically exploding back on all at once while Christmas music plays. There’s also a synchronized light show alongside the covered bridge.
Claiming to be the largest Christmas festival in the Pacific Northwest, the Lights of Christmas is held every year at Warm Beach Camp in Washington state. In the winter months, 15 acres of the camp’s property becomes home to 1 million Christmas lights. Enjoy the lights as well as live entertainment, arts and crafts, holiday shopping and fresh hot doughnuts.
Every year, the Louisville Mega Cavern turns into a seriously impressive underground holiday light show featuring more than 850 lit-up characters made up of more than 3 million lights. The 17-mile drive-through experience takes 30 minutes, every one of which is mesmerizing. More recently, Lights Under Louisville has also begun to offer visitors a tram ride known as the Christmas Express through the underground lights display.
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“Christmas Street” in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore earned its nickname after two married Christmas fanatics living on the 700 block of 34th Street inspired their neighbors to follow them in going all out for the holidays. Now, thousands of visitors stop by each year to admire the street’s custom and unique decor, including a neon crab sign and a hubcap Christmas tree.
Courtesy of Visit Newport Beach
Although it’s called a parade, this yearly event in Newport Beach is more of a display. It draws more than 1 million people along its 14-mile route and includes both decorated waterfront homes and as many as 100 boats of different shapes and sizes. Sailing past the colorful homes, everything from kayaks to yachts are decked out with extravagant themed displays based on pop culture figures like Minions, Mickey Mouse and, of course, Santa.
The nation’s oldest city doesn’t hold back when it comes to decorating for Christmas. St. Augustine’s historic district is decorated with 3 million lights, which can be viewed on foot, via a carriage ride, a Christmas train, a helicopter or a sailboat.
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If you’re looking for something beyond the typical Christmas lights, the breathtaking Nights of a Thousand Candles could be the new holiday tradition for you. More than 2,700 hand-lit candles and millions of twinkling lights illuminate the sculpture garden inside South Carolina’s Brookgreen Gardens. Take in the 80-foot-tall fir tree while strolling with a cup of cider or cocoa and enjoying the seasonal sounds of carolers and handbell choirs.
Courtesy of Oglebay Resort & Conference Center
More than a million visitors a year check out this West Virginia park and resort’s yuletide display, which covers 300 acres and a 6-mile drive. There are 90 illuminated installations, including a snowman named Willard in honor of TV weatherman Willard Scott, who visited the fest in 1986.
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Missouri’s 1880s-themed park, Silver Dollar City, is one of the most underrated theme parks in America. It doesn’t shy away from using the latest, greatest technology to light up more than a thousand Christmas trees for the holiday season. More than 6.5 million lights adorn the park, and 200,000 LED bulbs light up the nine musical floats in Rudolph's Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade. Also featured are a decorated eight-story tree, interactive children’s shows, holiday shopping and a Christmas-themed train ride.
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Visitors to this southeast Portland neighborhood’s decades-long tradition can enjoy free cocoa and cider while driving or walking by four blocks of displays, which range from modest and traditional to professional and over-the-top. In 2017, Oregon’s Peacock Lane earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, meaning its English cottage- and Tudor-style homes can’t be demolished by developers.
Courtesy of Rhema Christmas Lights
Since 1982, Rhema Bible Church in Oklahoma has transformed its campus into a captivating display of more than 2 million lights synchronized to both classic and modern Christmas tunes that attracts more than 200,000 visitors every year. The Rhema Park Bridge is decorated with over 90,000 lights alone, and a 22-foot Christmas tree is topped with a five-foot star. While the show can be enjoyed on foot, horse-drawn carriage rides are also available for even more country Christmas cheer.
Located in Southern California, the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa hosts its annual Festival of Lights, which attracts more than 500,000 visitors every year. The display includes 200 animated figures, one of the world’s largest man-made mistletoes and falling “snow.” Visitors who choose to stay in the hotel can get even more special holiday experiences, such as Santa’s elves coming to tuck in the kids at night.
Courtesy of Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland
Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland claims to be the world’s largest fully synchronized LED Christmas light and music show. Originally starting in Tennessee, it has expanded to multiple locations in different states. Their main display in Sevierville features hundreds of thousands of LED lights on more than 1,000 different light circuits blinking along to Shadrack’s custom-arranged holiday songs.
Richmond, Virginia, has dubbed itself as the “Capital of Tacky Lights,” thanks to a yearly list of gaudy homes published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. To make the cut, homes must have a minimum of 40,000 lights, though the side-by-side homes of the Phifer family, a highlight of the tour, have more than a million. The tour’s 50-plus houses attract visitors from hundreds of miles away who rent buses, limos and trolleys to take them along the tour’s route.
Though Disney World retired its famed Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights to construct Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, “the most magical place on Earth” still has plenty of Christmas magic on display. Elsa from “Frozen” illuminates Cinderella’s Castle in a nightly show in the Magic Kingdom, a 50-piece orchestra and full choir accompany Epcot’s Candlelight Processional and the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood Studios becomes the backdrop for a projection show. Both kids and adults alike are sure to be amazed by Disney’s holiday light displays, which are just one of many reasons to visit Walt Disney World at Christmas.
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