You’ll be hard-pressed to find more impressive light displays than these 12 colossal collections and unique presentations.
’Tis the season for over-the-top light displays and, while some neighbors spend absurd hours and dollars trying to outdo each other, there’s nothing quite like the gargantuan spectacles put on by amusement parks, gardens, hotels, and even cities. From lights numbering in the millions to parades and nightly performances featuring hundreds of actors and musicians, businesses and communities across the country spend fortunes to bring you the best and brightest, year after year. Wherever you decide to spend the holidays this season, you won’t be far from twinkling lights and towering trees, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find more impressive displays than the 12 unique presentations on this list.
Top Picks for You
The Mission Inn
WHERE: Riverside, California
More than five million lights cover the castle-like exterior and grounds of The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside, California, and each year they’re illuminated during a switch-on ceremony followed by fireworks. For five weeks, the Festival of Lights includes more than 200 animated characters, a life-size gingerbread house, and the world’s largest man-made mistletoe, perfect for record-breaking romance during the holidays.
INSIDER TIPIf you’re staying over with kids, ask about elf tuck-ins at bedtime!
Tacky Lights Richmond
WHERE: Richmond, Virginia
There’s no question that over-the-top house displays tend to verge on tacky, and it’s no insult to say so—that’s often the goal! In Richmond, Virginia, tackiness isn’t just attempted, it’s achieved and celebrated. Each year, trolley and limo tours (with digital fireplaces and holiday music) take gawkers to some of the most outrageous displays in the city, but the highlight of the season is the 6K Tacky Light Run. Dress up in your warmest elf suit and plenty of twinkling light necklaces, then run through some of the tackiest streets in town.
WHERE: Bellevue, Washington
Each year from the end of November through Christmas Eve, the city of Bellevue, Washington is transformed into Snowflake Lane. There are countless twinkle lights all over town, and more than 400 ColorBlast machines illuminating additional buildings, but it’s the nightly show that attracts around 400,000 annual visitors. Each night, more than 275 performers parade through town under the freshly fallen “snow” of 50 machines, handing out lollipops, singing carols, and spreading holiday spirit. The $2 million spectacle includes 16 floats, seven snow princesses, more than 50 toy drummer characters, a 90-member snow flurry color guard, seven snowstorm characters, 50 jingle belle dancers, 18 stilt walkers, 45 additional holiday-themed costume characters, and, of course, Santa Claus.
WHERE: Chicago, Illinois
For a quarter of a century, Lincoln Park Zoo has been hosting ZooLights in a tradition that has grown to include more than 2.5 million holiday lights strung through hundreds of themed displays and a 30,000-light maze. Shop till you drop at the zoo-wide holiday market, then catch the musical light show at the Winter Wonderlawn all season long. Come on family nights, adults-only nights, or even free nights, depending on what suits your mood.
INSIDER TIPThis isn’t the only zoo in town with holiday spirit. Check out Brookfield Zoo, too, for the city’s longest-running light show and a 41-foot talking tree!
Silver Dollar City
WHERE: Branson, Missouri
The Silver Dollar City amusement park in Branson, Missouri, may be fun all year, but there’s no more visually dazzling time to visit than during the holiday season when 680 miles of lights cover just about every surface. With the recent addition of the 1.5-acre Christmas in Midtown display, the park’s light count comes to 6.5 million, and the experience includes a 90-foot tree, flying angels, dancing reindeer (with a parade led by Rudolph), trains, and epic 50-foot light tunnels perfect for social media.
WHERE: Murrells Inlet, South Carolina
For a few weeks each December, the already beautiful Brookgreen Gardens comes alive with more than two million sparkling lights and 2,700 hand-lit candles spread among the gardens, sculptures, trees, and flowers. Grab a cup of hot cocoa or warm cider (or go for a glass of wine for a more grown-up garden experience), and stroll among the gardens listening to holiday music and live carolers at one of the country’s most elegant takes on a holiday lights festival.
Austin Trail of Lights
WHERE: Austin, Texas
More than 50 years ago, a small group of Austin citizens gathered around a yule log to welcome the holiday season. Today, that tradition has expanded to include more than two million lights in Zilker Park, with a two-week festival of all things Christmas. Shop from local vendors at the holiday market, listen to live music, and snack from the food trucks among 90 illuminated trees and more than 70 additional holiday displays.
Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights
WHERE: Bronx, New York
Back after a 12-year break, the Bronx Zoo’s beloved Holiday Lights festival has returned, and it’s bigger and greener than ever. From late November through early January, stroll the zoo and catch wildlife-themed LED displays, Asian lanterns, and animated light shows at the historic Astor Court. Returning favorites include musical performances, roaming carolers in period costume, ice-carving demonstrations, train rides, and seasonal treats and souvenirs, and the new edition will include an Ice Jubilee featuring an ice throne, ice bar, and 20-foot ice slide for seriously wintry fun during the last 11 days of December.
Christmas Town at Busch Gardens Williamsburg
WHERE: Williamsburg, Virginia
One of the largest light displays on the continent, Christmas Town at Busch Gardens Williamsburg boasts a whopping 10 million lights covering almost every possible building and tree in its 100-acre park (and 85% of them are energy-saving LED lights). With many rides still open, there’s plenty of opportunity to catch a Santa’s-eye view of the impressive display, including more than 1,600 fresh-cut Christmas trees holding 20,000 ornaments, 2,000 wreaths, 900 window candles and luminaries, and eight miles of garland. Don’t miss the Escape from Pompeii® ride, transformed into the Polar Pathway by more than one million lights.
Lights Under Louisville
WHERE: Louisville, Kentucky
You may not associate Christmas with cave exploration, but it’s time to expand your holiday horizons. Head to Louisville Mega Cavern for the only underground light show of its kind in the world, featuring a 30-minute drive through 17 miles of underground passageways, brilliantly-lit with more than three million points of light that include 850 holiday characters. It’s the brightest and most festive time you’ll ever spend underground.
WHERE: Lahaska, Pennsylvania
The picturesque Victorian-style shopping and dining village of Peddler’s Village in Lahaska, Pennsylvania, illuminates its holiday nights with more than one million lights throughout its gardens, quaint shops, and cobblestone walkways. Be sure to visit the Village Gazebo, hosting the spectacular winners of the annual gingerbread house competition, and bring old-time Christmas to life with Dickens dinners, period decorations, and warm cider.
WHERE: Seattle, Washington
There’s no better way to immerse yourself in holiday lights than by getting lost in them, so make your way to Seattle’s T-Mobile Park for the world’s largest Christmas light maze with Enchant. Ramble through endless lights, decorations, and trees reaching 80 feet tall as you search for hidden items, scavenger-hunt-style, before enjoying a sweet reward for your success. You’ll also find a Christmas market, holiday food vendors, and an ice skating trail on site.
INSIDER TIPEnchant has expanded to baseball parks in other US cities, including Washington, DC, and St. Petersburg, Florida.