Courtesy of Oglebay Resort & Conference Center
'Tis the season for decking the halls, and while some families focus on trimming the tree, others are all about the twinkling lights. While plenty of parks, homes and gardens get lit up every holiday season, these 27 Christmas light displays are the best in the country.
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Since 1998, Albuquerque’s botanic garden has hosted River of Lights, the state’s largest walk-through light show. More than 400 sculptures and animated displays are illuminated with two million bulbs, which require eight miles of extension cords. The decor also includes traditional Southwest luminarias, or paper bag lanterns. Guests can ride aboard the Polar Bear Express around the park while enjoying a toasty hot chocolate.
Flickr/Jared/(CC BY 2.0)
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, three 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 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, Virginia, claims to have the largest light display in North America thanks to its more than eight 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 Christmas in the Grove
Tony and Katie Paradowski’s desire to have “one of those displays” in 2010 has led their DIY efforts at their home in Decatur, Ga., to receive national attention. Their display won first place on an episode of ABC’s The Great Christmas Light Fight in 2013. The light show has grown to include more than 115,000 lights, a 20-foot animated light tree and 80 lighted candy canes. Though it’s free to visit, the family accepts donations for the ALS Foundation of Georgia and has collected thousands of dollars over the years.
Courtesy of The Coeur D’Alene Resort
This resort in north Idaho 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 five miles of electrical wiring.
Flickr/Amy Aletheia Cahill/(CC BY-SA 2.0)
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 gives it a run for its money as a premier NYC holiday attraction since the 1980s. More than 100,000 people pass through the 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. 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.
Flickr/Ben Ferenchak/(CC BY 2.0)
What’s a better companion to a winter wonderland than chocolatey treats? More than four 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 two-mile drive-through display called Sweet Lights.
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Mark and Kathy Hyatt have been decoring this home outside Fort Lauderdale since they got married in 1990. It’s grown to become a local attraction, and the family begins prepping their decorations in August each year before assembly begins. The display employs more than 200,000 lights and includes a 20-foot Ferris wheel, an inflatable movie screen and the largest residential nativity display in Florida.
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.
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This still-operational water-powered mill 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.
The largest light display in the Pacific Northwest can be found at Warm Camp Beach. 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, holiday shopping and fresh hot doughnuts.
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“Christmas Street” in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore 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.
Courtesy of Visit Newport Beach
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, such as Minions, Peanuts and Star Wars. The winning boat in 2016 was dinosaur-themed and could shoot fire.
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.
Flickr/John Hensler/(CC BY 2.0)
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 Brookgreen Gardens’ sculpture garden. 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 hand bell 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 six-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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Branson’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, 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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The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside hosts the 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 in 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. It has expanded to multiple locations in different states, but the original Bristol location’s 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, Va., 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 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. These light displays are just some of the reasons to visit Walt Disney World at Christmas. If the crowds at Disney World or in Brooklyn are too much for you and your family, check out some of America’s best small towns for Christmas lights.