There’s a certain unspoken alchemy about the holiday season that is best expressed through intricate holiday light displays. My mind wanders to times crammed in the back of my family’s beat-up Suburban while my dad drove my friends and I through the “rich neighborhoods” to marvel at their 15-foot nutcrackers and robotic Santa Clauses, some of which were on their last leg and singing warpy carols, behind wrought-iron gates.
As an adult, I still find myself meandering through parks under incandescent canopies and gazing at the multi-colored strings in front yards each holiday season. Luckily for me and anyone else who loves holiday lights (read: everyone), there are plenty of places to see over-the-top spectacles beyond your neighbor’s yard.
Austin Trail of Lights – Austin, Texas
Here’s something you’ve heard before: Everything’s bigger in Texas. This time it’s sort of true. The annual Trail of Lights runs from December 8 to 23 and covers a total of two and a half miles of Austin’s Zilker Park with more than two million lights. Two million! Now in its 59th year, the trail will have over 70 light arrangements including light tunnels and a Ferris wheel. Better still, general admission to this event is free, though zip and platinum passes are for sale if you’re looking for more perks.
Boston Common Tree Lighting – Boston, Mass.
Here’s a free, family-friendly tree lighting ceremony with an international twist. Each year, Boston receives a Christmas tree as a gift from Nova Scotia, which is then promptly strung up with lights and displayed in the Common and Public Garden for the entire holiday season. This year, the tree lighting ceremony took place on November 30 and now the famous tree is beaming with 7,000 lights and is surrounded by over 80 other twinkling trees in the garden.
Clifton Mill Christmas Lights – Clifton, Ohio
Less than an hour from Columbus, Ohio, by car, the small village of Clifton has become a nationally recognized destination for their mighty annual holiday showcase. For the 36th year, the Clifton Mill Holiday Lights will cover the town’s water-powered grist mill, riverbanks, trees, bridges and gorge with a staggering four million lights, including a 100-foot waterfall of lights. The celebration runs now through December 30 and costs $15 per person, though admission is free for children age three and younger. Make sure to catch the music and light show on the covered bridge, visit the Santa Claus Museum and even check out the jolly big guy hard at work in his workshop each evening.
Dyker Heights – Brooklyn, N.Y.
Not too far from the iconic tree in Rockefeller Center, Dyker Heights hosts an annual DIY holiday light extravaganza beloved by New Yorkers across the five boroughs. Huge yard decorations overtake the southwestern Brooklyn neighborhood with a menagerie of lights, glowing holiday figurines and snowflakes, and candy canes lining the block. Visitors can walk, drive or pay extra to take a guided tour through spectacle. We suggest grabbing your hot drink of choice and taking it all in on a merry stroll.
Fantasy in Lights – Pine Mountain, Ga.
With 10 million lights spread across 2,500 acres, Callaway Resort & Gardens’ Fantasy in Lights is one of the country’s most impressive and over-the-top annual exhibitions. Just over an hour from Atlanta by car, the lights can be enjoyed via a seven-mile self-driving experience, a popular Jolly Trolley or a walk through the resort’s sparkling forest. You’ll see 17 Christmas scenes across the grounds and a 40-foot pixel pine tree in the new Callaway Christmas Village. The event runs through January 1, 2024, and costs $24.95 for adults and $19.95 for children 3 to 11 years old. Make sure to purchase tickets in advance.
Gardens Aglow – Boothbay, Maine
Gardens Aglow is shining now through December 31 at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, a little over an hour by car from Portland, Maine. Over 750,000 LED lights illuminate paths that wind across 14 acres of snowy gardens. After taking in the splendor of Maine’s biggest and brightest holiday lights, hop in the car and cruise around the town of Boothbay to check out the residential yard displays, a huge point of pride among local community members. Garden Aglow tickets for adults are $19 and $10 for children 3 to 17 years old and must be purchased in advance.
Koziar’s Christmas Village – Bernville, Pa.
If you’re a light-loving veteran, you’ve likely heard of Koziar’s Christmas Village in Bernville, Pa. Beginning in 1948, the family-owned and -operated farm has covered the original Koziar family home and barn with holiday lights each year and decked out the nearby trees and walkways surrounding the lake, too. Take a self-guided walking tour through the grounds, ambling through the Winter Wonderland, an 11-building North Pole with Santa’s workshop, a post office, a bakery, a manger scene, a sizable indoor train display and something called “Christmas beneath the sea.” General admission is $13 for adults — or $17 on prime nights — and $11 for children 4 to 10 years old. We recommend visiting on a weekday when the event is less crowded and you won’t have to wait as long to grab a photo with Santa.
Miracle on 34th Street – Baltimore, Md.
Since 1947, the residents of Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood have been decking the halls with sparkling lights. The illuminations on the 700 block of West 34th Street are a veritable love letter to the city of Baltimore, with crabs adorning lawns and even pink flamingos making an appearance as a nod to the Charm City’s “Pope of Trash” John Waters. If you’re looking for more traditional decorations, there are holiday trees, trains, string lights galore. The event is always free and runs from the first Saturday after Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day.
Night of Lights – St. Augustine, Fla.
St. Augustine is a fantastic destination year-round, but during the holidays, the Spanish Colonial buildings are covered in dreamy white lights. While you won’t find any multi-colored bulbs or inflatable Grinch figurines strewn about the St. Augustine historic district, there’s no charge to walk around and gaze at the three million lights wrapped around palm trees and more. The event will run through January 28, 2024, and can also be viewed via a trolley, train or boat tour for an extra cost.
Village of Lights – Leavenworth, Wash.
Reindeer sleigh rides, carolers and a Nutcracker Museum are but just a handful of holiday-themed activities at Washington’s favorite Village of Lights event. Nestled in the Cascade Mountains and only a two-hour drive from Seattle, Leavenworth is a Bavarian-inspired village complete with Alpine-esque buildings, plenty of beer halls and a panache for the holidays. Each year, half a million lights glow until February, illuminating the snowy village. When you need a break from strolling through the streets, hail a horse-drawn carriage and take in the lights in style.