Taking “O Tannenbaum” to the next level.
The Christmas tree may be German in origin, symbolizing hope and light in the middle of wintry darkness, but different countries around the world have long adopted the tradition and made it their own. Glittering with baubles, ribbons, velvet, and plenty of lights—or wooden beads, shells, or illuminated star lanterns—each one surpasses the next in terms of beauty and its own unique touch. From NYC to Dubai to Rio de Janeiro, here are some of the world’s most beautiful trees to light up the holiday season.
With half a dozen main trunks and myriad branches spreading more than an acre in the heart of Lahaina, the historic banyan tree—planted in 1873 upon the 50th anniversary of the island’s first missionary—shines during the holiday season with 6,500 colored lights. The season kicks off with a lighting on December 1, including fun activities for keiki (kids) and a special Santa appearance.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio loves a party, so you can bet the festivities surrounding its iconic Christmas tree are top-notch. The artificial metallic extravaganza floats on a moving platform in heart-shaped Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, considered the world’s largest floating Christmas tree. This year, more than 1,200 engineers, technicians, and artists created the 230-foot-tall tree, illuminated by more than 900,000 LED lights that constantly change color.
Famed through the ages for its artisan blown glass, the Venetian island of Murano outdoes itself with an all-glass Christmas tree, bold and bright in its contemporary design. You’ll find it on Campo S. Stefano, on display through Epiphany on January 6. The island goes out in full holiday force with the Natale di Vetro (Christmas of Glass) celebration, in which beautiful Christmas-themed decorations created from Murano glass adorn the isle’s ancient houses and narrow lanes.
Asheville, North Carolina
A 35-foot fraser fir, dripping with lights, garlands, and hundreds of ornaments, lords over the stately Banquet Hall at the iconic Biltmore. This in itself is worth the trip, though America’s largest house, built in the 1890s for George Vanderbilt, has more in store: 55 other elaborately decorated trees throughout the house—plus a hundred across the estate, along with 1.5 miles of fresh garlands, 500 wreaths, 2,000 poinsettias, and 100 kissing balls.
INSIDER TIPIt’s beautiful to visit the Biltmore anytime throughout the holiday season, but nothing beats the magic of a Candlelight Tour.
New York City, New York
Since 1933, the nation’s Christmas season has officially kicked off with the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in NYC, always a nationally televised extravaganza of celebrities, music, and entertainment. The seven-story-plus tree this year dons a sparkling new, nine-foot-wide Swarovski star topper, weighing in at 900 pounds and sporting 70 spikes covered with crystals.
INSIDER TIPAfter the lights dim on January 7, the tree will be milled into lumber for Habitat for Humanity.
London, United Kingdom
The world-famous Ritz’s dazzling tree starts off in the Scottish Highlands, where the hotel’s florist handpicks the perfect specimen among three that are specifically grown for him. Once installed in the opulent lobby, the massive tree glimmers with 10,000 shimmering baubles of green, gold, and red, with more than 6,500 lights ensuring the proper amount of sparkle. But at the Ritz it’s not just about the tree, it’s the whole package: corridors and fireplaces and cozy nooks and crannies all decked out, merry and bright.
Surrounded by picturesque Cathedral Square and bedecked with thousands of fairy lights, the Vilnius Christmas tree is often proclaimed as Europe’s most beautiful. It’s also said to be so bright that it can be seen from an airplane on its descent into Vilnius. That said, don’t think it’s a real tree beneath all that adornment—the tree is actually intricately created from spruce branches and decorations draped on a large metal frame, to the most stunning effect. Join locals wandering the town’s sparkling streets, nibbling on gingerbread and honey cake and some of the greatest Christmas spirit around.
INSIDER TIPThe Vilnius Christmas Train, traveling around the festively bedecked Lithuanian capital, has become a popular holiday tradition. Hop aboard at the stop opposite Cathedral Square.
Generations of Parisian families have rushed to the Grands Boulevards every Christmas season to take in the lights and decorations of its luxurious department stores. Among them, Galeries Lafayette always stands out, with a glittering tree rising to the art-deco cupola in the main lobby and themed windows filled with Christmas cheer. This year, the Piaget-sponsored tree is bejeweled with shiny green, blue, and red baubles, while the windows showcase Santa and his workshop at the North Pole.
The world’s largest Christmas tree has reigned on the slopes of Mount Ingino since 1981, overlooking the medieval town of Gubbio in Umbria. Measuring 1,475 feet at its base and 2,362 in height, this is no normal tree. It’s not even a tree. Thousands of lights are strung together by more than 5 miles of electrical cords, creating a stunning outline that can be seen up to 30 miles away. Its lighting celebration is no small event, either, with such luminaries as Pope Francis in 2014 doing the honors. This year, the Italian Aeronautic Military’s tricolore jets officiate, painting the sky with the green, white, and red of the Italian flag.
A golden tree lit by thousands of lights—said to be Asia’s largest such tree—joins other luminarie light sculptures in illuminating Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay. It’s part of the magical Christmas Wonderland, which also includes an outdoor skating rink (with real ice in this tropical climate!), choral performances, and “blizzard time” (when “snow” drops from the skies). Famed illusionist Rob Lake kicks off the festivities on November 30.
As Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition back in the 1500s (perhaps by preacher Martin Luther himself), you can bet the country is full of beautiful examples. Among the most beautiful is the tree erected in front of Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. And while there isn’t a Christmas market clustered around its base as is the case in so many other places, the city has more than 60 markets, so there’s never one too far away; the closest is on Gendarmenmarkt Square.
Related: Iconic German Christmas Markets
Prague, Czech Republic
An 80-foot tree decked out in dazzling green, white, red, and gold and topped with a shining star rises above the Gothic fairytale architecture of Old Town Square, Prague’s historic heart. Beneath its branches, one of Europe’s biggest Christmas markets unfurls, with huts purveying crafts, tree ornaments, traditional Czech food items (including Trdelník, a hot sugary pastry), and mulled wine to ward off the chill. This year, the theme is “back to the roots of Czech folk tradition,” and concerts and performances take place every day through the holiday season.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Christmas in Dubai: the capital of glitz is a lovely place to spend the holidays. The light-bedecked pine tree and traditional German market at Madinat Jumeirah, complete with roasted chestnuts, may seem a little out of place, but that doesn’t take away from the beauty of the festive setting, perched against a backdrop of Mina A’Salam. Or the fact that you can take a ride with Santa on his abra (a traditional wood boat).
Every Christmas needs a Charlie Brown tree, and in this case we have Montreal, known for its Ugly Tiny Fir. It all started in 2016 when, striving to have the tallest tree in North America, its tree sagged under the weight of its ornaments and became a national joke. Well, now Montreal’s in on the joke. Situated at the corner of Prince-Arthur Street and St.-Laurent Boulevard, the Ugly Tiny Fir is equipped with a state-of-the-art system of motion detectors and speakers, so that when people tickle it, it starts to laugh and shake. Christmas kiosks and music add to the holiday mood.