Europe is home to some of the greatest seasonal light shows in the world.
If the thought of twinkling lights and evergreen trees sets your heart aflutter, pack your bags and head to Europe for the holidays, where these ten destinations boast some of the most awe-inspiring light displays in the world. From Spain to Croatia–and everywhere in between–visitors can enjoy light installations and adorned holiday towns that provide a truly exceptional holiday experience.
Well-known Spanish designers and architects in Madrid are responsible for the city’s artful light display, which begins each November and runs through early January. A series of impressive Christmas trees are erected every year in the Puerta del Sol, Plaza España, Plaza de Callao, and more. In particularly popular areas, like Calle Alcalá, lights are visible from nearly every vantage point. The city also hosts four major Christmas markets, which begin in November and run through December. These markets are strung with lights, making for an incredible holiday walk through the city.
From late November through the last days of December, the Alsatian village of Colmar, France does its best to impress visitors. Locals decorate their own homes, which resemble ornate gingerbread houses. A walk through the village evokes a magical, mystical trip to the North Pole. Half-timbered houses blink with white and colored lights and light projections of popular holiday imagery, like the advent calendar. The town’s six adjoining holiday markets, which opened in November, are equally festive, with lights strung above for an even more magical feel.
In Copenhagen, visitors will find a city filled with fun, festive holiday lights. In the waterfront neighborhood of Nyhavn, which was once home to Hans Christian Andersen, nearly all of the buildings decorate their façades with a flurry of lights. Kongens Nytorv, a public square, boasts the incredible Hotel D’Angleterre, which is covered in lights and decorations each season. But perhaps the most impressive light show in Copenhagen takes place at the Copenhagen Zoo, where 200,000 lights are set ablaze, transforming it into a holiday wonderland.
WHERE: Czech Republic
In Prague’s Old Town Square, holiday visitors will find the Prague Christmas Market, a medieval market festooned with decorated trees and holiday lights. Open from the last day of November through the first week of January, this market consists of traditional wooden huts decorated in their holiday best and selling local crafts and artisanal foods. A towering Christmas tree occupies the town’s center and is lit promptly at 4:30 pm every afternoon. The daily lighting is accompanied by holiday music.
From mid-November through late January, Salerno puts on one of the finest holiday shows in Europe, known as the Luci d’Artista Light Show. This show has been going strong since 2006. The city organizes this event, which includes light installations, light shows, and displays on public streets. Each year includes a theme, as well as a panoramic Ferris wheel, from which visitors can see the entire city’s display.
Known as the City of Light, Jena is home to one of the most festive and beautifully lit Christmas markets in all of Europe. Anchored by an enormous Christmas tree in the town’s market square, the 200-year-old market is lit with glittery white string lights. Adding to the mood, a local brass band plays Christmas carols from the Town Hall windows every afternoon at 5 pm.
Zagreb is full of holiday magic, from their open-air ice skating rink at the Park of King Tomislav to their massive tree in the Square of Saint Mark. And while the Christmas market, held on Bogovićeva Street, in the city’s center, is impressive, many visitors come just for the decorated homes. Locals take great care in presenting their homes for the holidays, which are adorned with white and colored lights, like a magical village right out of a holiday movie.
Vilnius is known for its beautiful Christmas tree and festive town, which even hosts a holiday train each year. The tree is not just an ordinary tree, however. A draped net of 70,000 colored lights extending over the Old Town is the heart of Vilnius’ light display and it draws in spectators from all over the world. The tree is lit at the beginning of December each year and continues to shine brightly into early January.
Vienna is home to understatement and elegance when it comes to holiday lights. Visitors won’t find blinking colored lights or displays in the shape of Santa Claus, but they will find bespoke light installations that speak to the city’s history and mood. In the city center, pedestrian-only zones along the Graben are illuminated with hanging LED chandeliers made from cascading lights. On Kohlmarkt, sheets of white lights sparkle like stars. Walking down these streets feels like walking through an outdoor opera house.
Edinburgh is known, during the holidays, for its Street of Light, an installation that runs from St. Andrew’s Day, in November, through the end of December. The light show features upward of 60,000 tiny bulbs, synchronized to music. Beginning on West George Street, this yearly event draws spectators from all over the world.