9 Wildest Holiday Light Displays
Deck the halls… and the sidewalks, boulevards, bridges, malls and parks. Nothing screams the Holidays like an over-the-top light display, and we know where to find the best and brightest around the globe. .
Photo by Sean Pavone
British Columbia’s city by the sea sparkles throughout December with a knockout lineup of light shows, from the Bright Nights in Stanley Park to the Carol Ships in Vancouver Harbor. Best of all is the Festival of Light at VanDusen Botanical Garden. The annual spectacle features over a million twinkling lights and hosts events like the Dancing Lights on Livingstone Lake, the Scandinavian Gnome Show, pics with Santa and themed storytelling with Vancouver Public Library. Local eats and drinks are supplied by favorites, Cin City Donuts, Mogu Japanese food truck and Whistler Wood Fired Pizza.
NOLA does the holidays right with Christmas markets along Canal Street and glittering trees, but the city's signature event Celebration in the Oaks trumps the lot. The winter wonderland covers 25 acres of City Park and attracts more than 165,000 visitors during its five-week run. Head to the Amusement Park for the 17 vintage rides or go to the Botanical Garden to see the 500,000 coordinated lights and classic Cajun Night Before Christmas display. Tip: Arrive at least an hour before the park closes for a 20-minute train ride through the lights.
Miracle on 34th Street. Home Alone 2. Elf. When Harry Met Sally. These classic flicks taught us that New York is the greatest city in the world to get you in the Christmas spirit. Join famous tree-lighting ceremonies at Lincoln Square, the Rockefeller Center, along Park Avenue and in Madison Square Park or take the kids to the Bronx for the annual train show and light displays in the Botanical Garden. In Brooklyn's Dyker Heights neighborhood, join the three-and-a-half-hour Christmas Lights and Cannoli Tour and ogle houses tricked out with over-the-top decorations and animatronics. Downtown, South Street Seaport shines with its 32nd annual holiday market and 60-foot tall Christmas Tree, while Brookfield Place mall kicks off its first ever Luminaries show with over 650 lanterns and choreographed light shows.
Anyone headed to the Austrian capital is in for some serious holiday eye-candy. Over 2.2 million LED lights adorn the city’s main shopping streets and roads, including, for the first time ever, the Ringstrasse, which celebrates its 150th birthday in 2015. Brilliant "light gates" line main thoroughfares like Stubenring, Schubertring and Kärntnerring, while other major routes are individually designed: bright red balls along Rotenturmstrasse, a snow flurry effect on Meidlinger Haupstrasse and angel motifs up and down Thailastrasse. If you need even more Christmas cheer, head to one of the festive markets (Christmas Village at Belvedere Palace and the Viennese Christmas Market in front of City Hall are among the best known) for a glass of warm glühwein and shopping.
Christmas is no joke in Copenhagen, especially at Tivoli Gardens, the city's largest park and site of almost two months of festivities. Everything here is handcrafted, from the star on the enormous tree to the 30,000 new ornaments that are hung across trees, wooden houses and trinket stalls. Shows for the annual light display kick off three times an hour from 3:30 p.m. until the park closes and there are choreographed projections on Tivoli Lake each night. Three must-dos while there: eat a roasted pork sandwich, ride on the Tyrolean Carousel and see the Tivoli Youth Guard play Danish Christmas songs in their traditional red uniform jackets and bearskin hats.
Niagara Falls, Canada
On the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, the Winter Festival of Lights is a family favorite, with nightly illumination of the Horseshoe Falls and American Falls, 3D light displays of Canadian wildlife in Dufferin Islands, and tree lighting throughout the Niagara Parks. Don't miss the Spirit of Niagara sound and light show, a 15 minute long extravaganza that uses 3D mapping tech to "paint" with light. Other highlights include weekly fireworks displays, laser light shows, the world's largest illuminated Canadian/American flag and the sparkling Zimmerman Fountain.
Colombia’s second largest city began its light show on the Medellín River 50 years ago, and it's outshone itself every year since. By the numbers, the 2015 performance is the largest to date, with almost 560 miles of illuminated strings and 31 million LED lights, plus more than 40,000 decorations in 100 locations across the city. Most popular is the mile-long display along the river from Guayaquil Bridge to San Juan Bridge, where you'll also find street performers, food stalls and local vendors selling seasonal keepsakes, selfie sticks and other bric-a-brac. Slip away from the crowds at least once to admire the lesser known displays along Paseo Carabobo and up Cerro Nutibara on the west bank of the river.
Hong Kong celebrates all the garlands and glitter of the festive season with lavish decorations in the city’s malls and light displays across Victoria Harbour. The cherry on top is WinterFest, which includes the nightly Hong Kong Pulse 3D Light Show in Kowloon and centerpiece decorations in Statue Square. Arrive between 5 and 11 p.m. to snap photos of the enormous "serpenti" installation and glitter-ball Christmas trees. A cruise on Victoria Harbour is a city highlight at any time of year, but especially magical at Christmas when buildings are lit up with hundreds of thousands of LED lights and laser shows.
Known as “Christmas City,” Gothenburg is home to Sweden's largest Christmas market at Liseberg Park ⎯ a winter wonderland of stalls, restaurants, Santa's grotto, roller coasters, an ice-skating rink, and the signature light show with more than 5,000,000 light bulbs. Families love Santa's Christmas workshop, open-top sleigh rides, the vintage carousel, fairytale castle, medieval village and Liseberg rabbits, while foodies find their way to the Lapland enclave to sample smoked meats in traditional Sami tents, or indulge in a gourmet Christmas dinner at Hamnkrogen. Beyond the park, the almost two-mile-long Lane of Lights walk stretches from the harbor to Liseberg, marked with more than 50 individual attractions like the pink lights and butterflies at Harry Hjörnes Square, organic Christmas tree balls above Kungsportsavenyn boulevard and sparkling lights on the Stora Hamnkanalen and Tyska Bron bridges.