‘Tis the season for decking the halls, and while some families focus on trimming the tree, others are all about decorating as many things as they can with twinkling lights. America has a reputation for going big, so it’s no surprise that holiday light displays across the country amp up the Christmas magic with lots of megawatts.
In addition to the delicious eggnog, the warm gingerbread cookies and the Christmas ham, as well as looking forward to that first dusting of snow if you are lucky enough to live in a place that guarantees you a white Christmas, for many people, one of the greatest joys of the holiday season is heading out to see some dazzling holiday light displays. Whether you enjoy the biggest and brightest professional displays at theme parks or want to bask in the do-it-yourself glow of a residential neighborhood, there’s a jaw-dropping work of art ready to light up your life and knock your socks off. Here are 27 of the best places you can visit to see Christmas lights this holiday season.
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Since 1998, Albuquerque’s botanical garden has hosted River of Lights, the largest walk-through light show in New Mexico. More than 400 sculptures and animated displays are illuminated with 2 million bulbs, which require 8 miles of extension cords. The decor also includes traditional Southwestern luminarias, or paper bag lanterns. Guests can ride around the park aboard the Polar Bear Express while enjoying a toasty hot chocolate.
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Flower bulbs during the day are illuminated with light bulbs at night at this light display in Alabama. 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 Claire Graham.
Courtesy of Bentleyville Tour of Lights
On a sprawling 20 acres along the shores of Lake Superior lies America's largest free walk-through lighting display. The Bentleyville Tour of Lights 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, Minnesota, to let his creativity run wild at Bayfront Festival Park. More than 200,000 visitors a year come to admire the ever-growing display, whose centerpiece is a 128-foot animated tree.
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Christmas Town at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg claims to have the largest light display in North America thanks to its more than 8 million lights. The 50-foot-tall central Christmas tree alone has 500,000 lights for a musical show that plays every half hour. Even off-season rides like the water attraction Escape from Pompeii become part of the icy exhibit.
Courtesy of The Coeur D’Alene Resort
Idaho’s top resort 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 of the award-winning hotel spend more than eight weeks preparing the display and use more than 5 miles of electrical wiring.
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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 the New York neighborhood 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.
Thanks to its colorful casinos, Las Vegas has earned the nickname of America’s City of 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, 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 Pennsylvania where more than 4 million lights are put up around Hersheypark, including 200,000 that flicker in a choreographed light show. There are four different shows every night during the holiday season as well as a 2-mile drive-through display called Sweet Lights.
Courtesy of Kauai’s Festival of Lights
For almost 20 years, the intricate homemade decorations by Josie Chansky drew visitors from across the island and the country. A fellow island resident recognized the beauty of her efforts and turned her collection into an installation at the Country Historical Building. The Festival showcases Chansky’s work as well as 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 3.5 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 all go out while Christmas songs play before majestically exploding back on all at once. There’s also a synchronized light show alongside the covered bridge.
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“Christmas Street” in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland, earned its nickname after two Christmas fanatics moved to the 700 block of 34th Street more than 70 years ago and inspired their neighbors to go all out. 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.
Although it’s called a parade, this yearly event in Newport Beach is more of a display, as it runs for an entire week along a 14-mile route and includes both decorated homes and more than 100 boats of different shapes and sizes. Everything from kayaks to yachts are literally decked out with extravagant themed displays based on pop culture worlds like Minions, Peanuts and Star Wars.
Located in the First Coast region of Florida, 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, on a carriage ride, on a Christmas train, on a helicopter or on a sailboat.
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If you’re looking for something more unique than the typical Christmas lights, the traditional but still breathtaking Nights of a Thousand Candles could be the new holiday tradition for you. More than 5,500 hand-lit candles as well as twinkling lights illuminate the sculpture garden inside of 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 almost 70 illuminated installations, including a snowman named Willard in honor of TV weatherman Willard Scott, who visited the fest in 1986. The park grounds are home to two different musical light shows, one in the Good Zoo and another in the gardens.
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Missouri’s 1880s-themed park, Silver Dollar City, 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 100,000 bulbs light up the nine musical floats in Rudolph's Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade. Main Street Square also features a five-story tree decorated with 400 ornaments and 350,000 LED lights that “dance” along to music in a light show.
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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 hundreds of thousands of visitors. The Rhema Park Bridge is draped with over 90,000 lights alone. While the show can be enjoyed on foot, horse-drawn carriage rides are also available for even more country Christmas cheer.
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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 uniquely West Coast display includes 200 animated figures, the world’s largest man-made mistletoe 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 Sevierville location display features hundreds of thousands of LED lights on more than 1,000 different light circuits blinking along to Shadrack’s custom-arranged and -recorded holiday songs.
Flickr/Kim @ LiaH/Public Domain
Richmond, Virginia, has established 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 Phifer family house, a highlight of the tour, has more than one 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.
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Every year, Austin’s Zilker Park is transformed into a Texas-sized winter wonderland that attracts more than 400,000 visitors each year. Everything’s bigger in Texas, and at 155 feet tall, the Zilker Holiday Tree is the largest man-made Christmas tree. As for the trail itself, 40 light displays and 100 lighted trees with a total of 2 million lights are spread along a 1.25-mile walk.
Though Disney World has retired the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights to construct the new Star Wars themed land, “the Happiest Place on Earth” still has plenty of Christmas magic on display. The park-spanning spectacle includes 1,000 trees, 300,000 yards of ribbons and bows, 8.5 million lights and more than 800 performers every night. Elsa from “Frozen” illuminates Cinderella’s Castle in a 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 display, which is just one of many reasons to visit Walt Disney World at Christmas.