Holiday lights — whether they be Yule logs or candles on Christmas trees — have been around for centuries, but it wasn’t until 1882 that electric lights made it on the scene.
Plus, it took several more decades before they were widely (and cheaply) available. Today, homes and businesses regularly deck their halls, trees and exteriors with lights, some creating enormous spectacles that draw crowds year after year.
To help you decide which to prioritize, U.S. News rounded up the top Christmas light displays across America. Whether you prefer small displays that pack a festive punch or flashy shows full of glitz and glamour, the colorful spectacles on our list are sure to bring you plenty of holiday cheer.
(Note: Some of the events may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. New policies may be in place, including capacity restrictions and ticket reservation requirements. Check with the official event organizer, the CDC, the U.S. Department of State and local tourism boards before traveling.)
The Best Christmas Light Displays:
— Fantasy In Lights
— Louisiana Holiday Trail of Lights
— Nights of a Thousand Candles
— Glendale Glitters
— Nights of Lights
— Blossoms of Light and Trail of Lights
— Magic Christmas in Lights
— Gardens Aglow
— ZooLights at Oregon Zoo
— Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
— Austin Trail of Lights
— Glittering Lights
— Garden Lights, Holiday Nights
— Pigeon Forge Winterfest
— Winter Garden aGlow
Fantasy In Lights at Callaway Resort & Gardens: Pine Mountain, Georgia
Travelers routinely recommend seeing Callaway Resort & Gardens’ famed Fantasy In Lights exhibition and staying at least one night at the resort to extend the fun. The gardens, which sit about 80 miles southwest of Atlanta, glow each year with colorful dragonflies, butterflies, ice skaters, toy soldiers and more. Plus, you can check out the Enchanted Rainbow Forest, where lights cascade down from tree branches, and attend a couple of 10-minute shows that combine lights and music. An added bonus? You’ll drive through these displays from the comfort — and warmth — of your own vehicle. If you don’t feel like driving, you can choose to ride the open-air Jolly Trolley around the property. (Keep in mind, masks are required to ride the trolley.) Ticket prices vary depending on the day you go. Expect to pay at least $19.95 for adults and $14.95 for children ages 3 to 11; admission is free for kids 2 and younger. Prices are the same whether you take the trolley or drive yourself. Each ticket is valid for a designated time slot and also includes access to the light displays and the Christmas Village, which features shops, snack venues and opportunities to meet Santa. You’ll also receive complimentary daytime admission to Callaway Gardens. Fantasy In Lights runs from Nov. 14 through Jan. 4. The light show begins at 6 p.m. and ends around 9 p.m. To learn more about the event, visit the Callaway Resort & Gardens website.
Holiday Trail of Lights: Louisiana
Holiday lights are such a big deal in Louisiana that the state couldn’t display them all in one location. Along the Louisiana Holiday Trail of Lights, you’ll have the chance to see five different light collections in various cities and towns, including Alexandria and Pineville; Minden; Monroe and West Monroe; Natchitoches; and Shreveport and Bossier City. Each destination features its own special offerings. For example, Natchitoches is known for its lights that adorn the downtown area and for hosting a plethora of events, including its annual Christmas Festival, a lighted boat parade and fireworks shows. Meanwhile, Minden is a nutcracker lover’s paradise. Visitors praise all of the different decorations, particularly those in Natchitoches. Most displays are free to visit, though extra charges may apply for attending events or buying treats. Keep in mind that you’ll need to purchase a $10 armband if you want to see Natchitoches’ lights on a Saturday. The displays at Natchitoches, and Alexandria and Pineville can be reached via Interstate 49, while those within Shreveport and Bossier City, Minden, and Monroe and West Monroe are easy to get to from Interstate 20. Displays usually go up in mid-November and are taken down shortly after New Year’s Day. Visit the Louisiana Holiday Trail of Lights website for a full list of events in each city and more information.
Nights of a Thousand Candles at Brookgreen Gardens: Murrells Inlet, South Carolina
Brookgreen Gardens‘ name for its wintertime event does not do it justice: The Nights of a Thousand Candles display actually includes 2,800-plus real candles in addition to strung electric lights. The 2020 event also includes Bruce Munro’s “Field of Light” mixed media light installation. Make a full evening at the gardens by enjoying dinner at one of several on-site dining venues before grabbing a hot drink at a beverage station to keep you warm as you stroll. There is also live music every night. Multiple visitors applaud Brookgreen Gardens’ display and particularly enjoyed seeing the oak trees aglow with cascading lights. The installation is open 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday from Nov. 27 to Dec. 31. Tickets must be purchased in advance and cost $25 for adults and $15 for children ages 4 to 12; kids 3 and younger can attend for free. If you wish to have dinner on-site, check in advance to see if a reservation is required. The gardens sit less than 15 miles southwest of Myrtle Beach in Murrells Inlet. For additional information, head to the Brookgreen Gardens website.
Glendale Glitters: Glendale, Arizona
Spanning 16 blocks, Glendale Glitters is a can’t-miss holiday tradition in the Phoenix area. Nearly 2 million twinkling lights adorn downtown Glendale’s streets and trees. In fact, the event is so impressive that it holds the distinction of being Arizona’s largest free Christmas light display. Visitors say that Glendale Glitters is a great event, particularly for families. The lights shine from 5 to 10 p.m. nightly between Nov. 25 and Jan. 9. There’s no fee required to enjoy the lights, but you may want to bring some cash if you plan on shopping at one of downtown’s boutiques or grabbing a bite to eat at a local restaurant. Find out more about Glendale Glitters by checking out the Visit Glendale website.
Nights of Lights: St. Augustine, Florida
Travelers hoping to get into the holiday spirit and avoid winter’s chill should head south to St. Augustine for its annual Nights of Lights celebration. Around 3 million lights illuminate the town’s Historic District, including must-visit sights like the Lightner Museum and St. George Street. If you’d rather explore with a guide, you can sign up for a tour of the lights with a local company like Old Town Trolley Tours or The Tasting Tours. Once you’ve seen the lights, admire the Villa Zorayda Museum’s holiday decor or partake in the Nights of Pints event, which lets participants sample beers from local breweries. Previous visitors said this is a terrific time to visit St. Augustine because the lights are spectacular. Perusing Nights of Lights is free for all, though tours, Nights of Pints and any goodies you wish to purchase from downtown vendors will cost you. The lights are viewable every night from Nov. 14 through Jan. 31. Head to the Florida’s Historic Coast website for more details.
[Read: The Best Places to Visit in December.]
Blossoms of Light and Trail of Lights at Denver Botanic Gardens: Denver
Denver Botanic Gardens hosts two separate holiday events: Blossoms of Light at its York Street location (near downtown Denver) and Trail of Lights at its Chatfield Farms outpost in Littleton (which sits about 20 miles south of the city). At Blossoms of Light, visitors walk through the gardens to see trees and brush aglow in a rainbow of colors. Meanwhile, Trail of Lights offers two paths of slightly different lengths that take patrons to a children’s play area and through two illuminated tunnels. Paths at both locations are accessible, but the venue notes that the walkways may be icy and visitors should exercise caution if using a wheelchair or stroller. Previous viewers loved the displays, especially Blossoms of Light, which they described as a stunning spot for date night. But remember, a separate ticket is required for each event. Entry for Blossoms of Light is $21 per adult, while Trail of Lights tickets cost $13.50 per adult. Children, students and seniors receive reduced or waived admissions, depending on their age and the event chosen. Each timed ticket must be reserved online in advance. Both displays open in late November and end in early or mid-January. Blossoms of Light is open between 4:30 and 8:30 p.m., while Trail of Lights welcomes visitors from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Snacks and refreshments are sold on-site as well. Visit the Denver Botanic Gardens website for more information.
Magic Christmas in Lights at Bellingrath Gardens and Home: Theodore, Alabama
Bellingrath Gardens and Home sits along the banks of the Fowl River in Theodore, about 20 miles southwest of Mobile. The venue’s annual Magic Christmas in Lights display spans 65 acres and features 15 different scenes illuminated with 3 million lights. After visitors walk the outdoor grounds, they can see the Bellingrath Home outfitted in its finest holiday decor as they take a guided tour to learn more about the property and its former owners, Walter and Bessie Bellingrath. Reviewers say the displays are stunning and highly recommend taking a tour of the Bellingrath Home, led by interesting and friendly guides. Magic Christmas in Lights glows nightly from Nov. 27 through Jan. 3 (though it’s closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1). Because all tickets are for set times between 5 and 9 p.m., the facility recommends buying online in advance. Each combined Gardens and Home ticket costs $25 per adult and $14 per child age 5 to 12. A cheaper option that only includes access to the gardens is available as well. To purchase tickets, go to the Bellingrath Gardens and Home website.
Gardens Aglow at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens: Boothbay, Maine
Previous travelers said Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is thrilling at any time of year, but they saved their biggest praise for the facility’s annual Gardens Aglow event. More than 500,000 lights adorn the gardens in shapes ranging from Christmas trees to round baubles. And this year, staying warm in the chilly Maine air won’t be an issue: The event is drive-thru only. Tickets cost $40 per vehicle and must be purchased online in advance. Lights are on display between 4:30 and 8:30 p.m. every night from Nov. 21 through Jan. 2 (excluding Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve). The property is located in Boothbay, a small town situated less than 58 miles northeast of Portland. Learn more about Gardens Aglow by visiting the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens website.
ZooLights at Oregon Zoo: Portland, Oregon
As you might expect, Oregon Zoo‘s ZooLights presentation depicts all kinds of critters who call the property home. Throughout the event, you’ll see lit figurines that resemble everything from wolves to beavers to snakes. Past visitors said the lights are incredible and that the event is a great family outing in Portland. For 2020, ZooLights is a drive-thru event that lasts approximately 30 minutes. Timed tickets, which are released to the public a week at a time, must be purchased online before you visit. Tickets cost $50 to $65 per vehicle, depending on the date selected. Visitors can drive through the ZooLights display each evening from Nov. 22 through Jan. 10 (except Dec. 25) between 5 and 9 p.m. Though refreshments are not sold on-site, you can elect to purchase goodies in advance to enjoy during your visit; you’ll get your snacks when you check in. Learn more about the event by visiting the Oregon Zoo website.
Dyker Heights Christmas Lights: Brooklyn, New York City
Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights neighborhood is a favorite holiday attraction for New Yorkers and visitors alike. Residents wrap their windows in fairy lights, twine colorful bulbs around the trees and erect wireframe displays atop their roofs. And, of course, you’ll see plenty of Santa Claus, nutcracker, snowman and elf figurines. Previous visitors praised the area’s light displays, saying the homes are beautiful and it’s a must-do activity in New York City come Christmastime. Some suggest arriving just after New Year’s to explore with fewer people around. The neighborhood is situated in the southwest corner of Brooklyn; the best displays are typically found between 11th and 13th avenues, from 83rd to 86th Street. Lights go up after Thanksgiving and generally stay lit from 5 to 9 p.m. (though some residents may keep their lights on later) through New Year’s Eve. The area is free to explore, though tour operators like Dyker Heights Christmas Lights and A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours offer guided trips through Dyker Heights at specific times for a fee. Tickets for tours range from $30 to $65 per person.
Austin Trail of Lights: Austin, Texas
Hosted in Austin‘s Zilker Metropolitan Park, the Austin Trail of Lights is a drive-thru holiday extravaganza. The trail glistens with more than 2 million bulbs. As visitors weave their way around the park, they’ll pass through tunnels and catch glimpses of holiday must-sees like Santa’s home and workshop. There are 70 displays in all, not to mention 90 trees wrapped in twinkling lights. It will take approximately 20 minutes to complete the course. Reviewers say the lights and displays are incredible but warn of heavy crowds and long wait times. The Austin Trail of Lights runs from Nov. 28 through Jan. 3, but keep in mind that it is closed on select dates like Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. Tickets are valid for a set time (the first entry is at 5:45 p.m., while the final entry is at 9 or 9:45 p.m.), and prices vary depending on which time is selected. Prices start at $25 per vehicle. There are no on-site vendors selling snacks and drinks; however, visitors are welcome to bring their own treats to enjoy. Visit the Austin Trail of Lights website for more information and to purchase tickets.
Glittering Lights at Las Vegas Motor Speedway: Las Vegas
The Strip isn’t the only place to see lights in Las Vegas come November. Every year, the Las Vegas Motor Speedway (about 15 miles northeast of The Strip) decks out its facility with more than 5 million lights that illuminate 500-plus displays across a 2 ½-mile course. Although the drive-thru event is located at a track known for hosting auto racing events, Glittering Lights encourages you to drive slowly so you can enjoy as much of the spectacle as possible and snap plenty of photos. Previous travelers raved about the event’s displays and were impressed with the sheer number of lights featured. Visitors can catch Glittering Lights nightly from Nov. 13 through Jan. 10 between 5 or 5:30 p.m. and 9, 10 or 11 p.m., depending on the day. Ticket options and prices vary, but attendees can expect to pay $25 to $55 per car. Purchase tickets and learn more about the event by visiting the Glittering Lights website.
[Read: The Best Cheap Winter Vacations.]
Garden Lights, Holiday Nights at Atlanta Botanical Garden: Atlanta
You’ll find double the joy at the Atlanta Botanical Garden‘s holiday spectacle. While Garden Lights, Holiday Nights showcases traditional holiday cheer (think: lights strung up to form Christmas trees and strands dangling from tree branches like icicles) every year, the 2020 event features magical light displays throughout the garden’s popular “Alice’s Wonderland Reimagined” exhibit. As you walk through the garden, you’ll see the Queen of Hearts’ guards, the White Rabbit and other characters from “Alice in Wonderland” glowing against the evening sky. Previous travelers said the entire presentation is lovely and a truly immersive experience. You can view the exhibits nightly from Nov. 14 through Jan. 16 from 5 to 11 p.m. Tickets start at $24.95 for adults and $21.95 for children between 3 and 12; kids 2 and younger get in for free. Keep in mind, prices are higher around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Visit the Atlanta Botanical Garden website to plan your visit and purchase tickets.
Pigeon Forge Winterfest: Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
More than 5 million holiday lights bedazzle Pigeon Forge — and for a much longer stretch of time than similar displays in other destinations across America. Pigeon Forge Winterfest showcases illuminated features throughout the town, including on many of its top attractions, which remain lit from mid-November to mid-February. Dollywood, in particular, earns rave reviews from its guests for its massive Christmas lights exhibition and family-friendly holiday shows. If you’d rather stay in your warm car while checking out the area’s twinkling lights, drive along the Pigeon Forge Parkway for a festive spectacle or about 15 miles north to Smokies Stadium to explore Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland. Be sure to leave room in your schedule for one or two Pigeon Forge Winterfest events — parades, train rides and shopping experiences are just a few options — in Pigeon Forge or nearby Gatlinburg. While there are no specific tickets and set hours for Pigeon Forge Winterfest, individual events and experiences have fees and their own timetables. Visit the Pigeon Forge Winterfest website for full details.
[Read: The Best Places to Visit in January.]
Winter Garden aGlow at Idaho Botanical Garden: Boise, Idaho
Previous visitors said Winter Garden aGlow is one of the best Christmas light displays available in the Boise area, if not the best they’ve ever seen anywhere. The Idaho Botanical Garden‘s annual holiday event takes up the entire complex; the one-way path winds visitors through the Willow Tunnel, a meditation garden and even past Santa’s cottage. The garden also sells snacks and warm drinks on-site to keep you extra cozy during your walk. The display is viewable Wednesday through Sunday from 6 to 9:30 p.m. between Nov. 26 and Dec. 27. You must purchase your timed tickets in advance, which cost $15 per person (kids 3 and younger enter for free). Find out more, including how to buy tickets, by checking out the Idaho Botanical Garden website.
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