The 43 Best Christmas Light Shows That Will Totally Wow You
America has no shortage of fun Christmas events, but these amazing light shows take the holiday spirit to a whole other level.
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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Here’s a fun bit of Christmas trivia you probably don’t know: Christmas light shows began in 1880, in Menlo Park, New Jersey. That’s when and where Thomas Edison first made festive use of his new invention, the light bulb. He strung up the lights outside his laboratory, and commuters heading to and from New York City witnessed the birth of outdoor Christmas light displays.
Today, it’s impossible to imagine Christmas without holiday lights, and some of America’s best are worth traveling to from great distances, especially if they’re located in an adorable Christmas town. But chances are, you’re looking for something a little closer to home and you’ve probably Googled “What are the best Christmas lights near me?” After all, piling the kids into the car to see the best lights in the area has become an annual Christmas tradition for many families, especially since it’s an affordable treat that gets you in the spirit of the season.
How we chose the best Christmas light displays
Of course, not every Christmas light display is as amazing as it sounds, which is exactly why you need this list. We sourced recommendations from local experts, sorted through user reviews, and found bona fide award winners—for walk-through and drive-through events at local parks, zoos, arboretums, resorts, riverfronts, and even an underground mine. Trust us: You won’t be disappointed, and you’ll likely find yourself visiting these spots year after year and getting inspired to make your own outdoor Christmas decorations more amazing. Dreaming about celebrating in a warm locale? Combine this holiday activity with a trip to one of these warm-weather Christmas getaways for the ultimate experience (and follow these holiday travel tips to make everything go smoothly). ‘Tis the season!
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Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, Illinois
The Chicago Botanic Garden’s Holiday Lightscape is an illuminated trail set along a mile-long path of singing trees and the twinkling glow of the Winter Cathedral. This year’s Christmas light display will feature both old favorites from previous years and plenty of new and stunning installations, all of which will likely give you some Christmas decoration ideas for your own home. Just make sure to get your tickets soon because the event completely sold out last year!
Leigh Valley Zoo, Schnecksville, Pennsylvania
With 1.2 million twinkling lights in the shapes of animals, Christmas symbols, and more, the Leigh Valley Zoo’s Winter Light Spectacular will be back this year and better than ever. It will also feature other holiday displays, fire pits, and live performances every night by some well-known princesses like Anna, Elsa, Belle, and Cinderella. Bonus: The zoo is located near Christmas City USA, the little town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which offers evening tours by certified guides wearing 18th-century-era costumes, so you can make a whole day out of it!
New Orleans City Park, New Orleans, Louisiana
Cost: $39.99–$225 (per car, based on size); $5 per bicycle on bike nights
New Orleans goes over the top for just about every event (see: Mardi Gras), and Christmas is no different. During your 2.5-mile trek through City Park’s Celebration in the Oaks, you’ll be treated to more than a million twinkling lights on the famous oak trees, as well as other light displays. The drive-through experience lasts approximately 30 to 45 minutes, but the memories will linger far longer in the minds of young kids and the young at heart.
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Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas, Nevada
Drive-through Christmas lights don’t get any cooler than this. The Glittering Lights at Las Vegas Motor Speedway give the bright lights of the Vegas Strip a run for their money. This 2.5-mile-long display is adorned with millions of holiday lights and custom displays, including the Neon Forest, with its glowing trees and its mythical guardian, Gumdrop! Just go with it, and trust us—the kids will love it. Speaking of little ones, they will also love making Christmas crafts, so you’ll want to bookmark our list of simple DIYs.
Oregon Zoo, Portland, Oregon
Cost: $40–$65 per vehicle
One of the best zoos in America shines even brighter during the holidays because of the annual ZooLights festivities. This year, it’s a drive-through event, so your whole family can enjoy the brilliantly illuminated tunnels and animated-animal displays safely and while listening to the best Christmas songs on your own playlist.
Louisville Mega Cavern, Louisville, Kentucky
Cost: $30 per vehicle
This is a Christmas light show experience unlike any other. Louisville’s Mega Cavern is the world’s only fully underground drive-through Christmas lights display—with three million twinkling lights and 850 displays that are actually beneath the city! The former limestone mine is a popular attraction year-round, but the 30-minute-long Lights Under Louisville experience is something you really don’t want to miss during the holiday season. Get in the spirit even more by seeing which family member can answer the most Christmas riddles correctly on your drive to the caverns.
North Carolina Arboretum, Asheville, North Carolina
Cost: $25–$75 per vehicle
Winter Lights is an artistic delight for revelers who want something more than simply gazing at millions of (admittedly gorgeous) twinkling bulbs. This is a full experience. The walk-through event features beautifully lit displays and glowing landscapes scattered throughout the stately Arboretum, including an illuminated polar bear and igloo, a giant caterpillar, and colors dancing like Christmas fairies in the canopies of the trees. You might get inspired to create your own miniature versions of these at home, along with these DIY Christmas ornaments.
Griswold Lights and Sights, Raleigh, North Carolina
Some of the largest and most spectacular holiday displays in the country are found in Wake County, North Carolina. This particular two-hour, family-friendly trolley tour—based on Christmas Vacation, one of the funniest Christmas movies of all time—will take you through downtown Raleigh before heading to the ‘burbs to see dozens of hilarious and over-the-top Christmas light displays at local homes. Clark Griswold himself would be impressed!
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Descanso Gardens, Los Angeles, California
If you want a different kind of Christmas experience, Descanso Gardens’ Enchanted: Forest of Light is the place you’ll want to be. There is a delightful absence of toy-making elves and red-nosed reindeer here. Instead, this Christmas light show attempts to evoke the magic and imagination of the holidays by bathing the trees, plants, and flowers in dazzling lights. You’ll also find things like “fireflies” zipping through an ancient forest and brightly lit tulips and Sycamore trees dancing in rainbow hues when guests play with a special keyboard. This mental break from the typical red and green Christmas colors is as unique as the Descanso Gardens themselves.
Callaway Resort & Gardens, Pine Mountain, Georgia
Callaway’s Fantasy in Lights ranks as one of National Geographic‘s Top 10 Light Displays in the world, and it’s easy to see why. There’s the chance to ride through the dazzling illuminated forest and a Christmas village, and because this is a resort, you can enjoy an overnight stay, a meal, or just a few cups of cocoa. New this past year was the Magical Field of Lights, a scene set on Callaway’s 2,500 acres that is nearly two football fields long and features a Christmas tree over 10 stories tall—the tallest in the South! It just may give you some ideas for your own Christmas tree.
Philadelphia Zoo, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
America’s first zoo is awash in colorful lights at the LumiNature display. You’ll get to explore 14 illuminated experience zones that will feature, in total, more than a million lights (running on 10 miles of power cord), 500 illuminated flamingos, 200-plus shining penguins, and cascading blue and white meteor light showers. You’ll also be treated to hot cocoa and acts by strolling performers.
Silver Dollar City Theme Park, Branson, Missouri
This theme park doesn’t mess around when it comes to Christmas. Its Old Time Christmas Festival transforms this Ozark staple with more than 6.5 million lights, a thousand decorated trees, nightly parades, and two musical productions, including the new Broadway-style show Home for Christmas. But the pièce de résistance is a five-story special-effects tree decorated with 350,000 LED lights that are synchronized with Christmas music and make up to 100 color changes per second! Another highlight: The brand-new, $26 million Time Traveler coaster will be decked out with 30 miles of lights for a one-of-a-kind nighttime holiday ride.
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Bellingrath Gardens and Home, Theodore, Alabama
For more than two decades, Bellingrath Gardens and Home has been the best spot in Alabama for Christmas light shows. This year, the Magic Christmas in Lights display will feature more than 1,100 illuminated sets and three million lights spread throughout the impressive grounds of this 65-acre estate. Over the years, it has received tons of accolades, from outlets including the Southeast Tourism Society and USA Today.
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Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, Newport Beach, California
Cost: Free parade viewing; $20–$32 for a holiday-lights cruise
Who says Christmas lights are only for trees and houses? Watch beautifully decorated yachts, boats, kayaks, and canoes sail along the harbor in the 113th Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade from December 15 through December 19 this year. Or, at any time throughout the holiday season, you can book a 75-minute holiday-lights cruise to see multimillion-dollar estates decked out with thousands of Christmas lights.
Goodwin Park, Hartford, Connecticut
Cost: $16–$20 per vehicle
During the park’s Holiday Light Fantasia, you and your little elves will experience a full-blown winter celebration with larger-than-life scenes depicting Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s Eve. While driving through, keep an eye out for Flurry, an adorable puppy wearing a Santa hat—he is hidden among the lights, so your tiny tots in the backseat can play a little seek-and-find game! They’ll also love these pictures of animals filled with the Christmas spirit.
Shady Brook Farm, Yardley, Pennsylvania
Cost: $25 per vehicle
Whether you experience this classic drive-through in your own car or in an open-air, tractor-drawn wagon, you will quickly see why multiple generations return to Shady Brook Farm’s Holiday Light Show every year. With more than three million lights illuminating acres of farmland, you’ll encounter whimsical displays and familiar characters from TV shows, books, and movies—including some of your favorite Christmas cartoons. At the farm, you can also wander down Candy Cane Lane and book a private campfire for making s’mores and getting all toasty on a cold winter night.
Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
This year’s theme? Fire, ice, and everything nice. In the indoor part of the display, you’ll find tall trees in fiery red lights, a “frozen” fountain of succulents, and a veritable winter wonderland. Follow the twinkling lights out into the open air, where there are fire pits and garden pathways, with half-a-million lights to help you kick-start the most wonderful time of the year.
The Biltmore, Asheville, North Carolina
The stately Biltmore Estate in Asheville brings luxe to a whole new level during the holidays. Candlelight Christmas Evenings feature cascading lights, meticulously illuminated trees, pathway luminaries, and the elegant glow of candles and fireplaces, making this already-gorgeous home even more stunning at this time of year. Arguably the most upscale Christmas light show anywhere in the country, it’s definitely a splurge—but one you won’t regret. Translation: You have to do it at least once!
The Bronx Zoo, Bronx, New York
Immersive light displays, custom-designed illuminated animals, and lively light shows bring a festive flair to the famed Bronx Zoo over the holidays. The main draws are the 260 lanterns representing nearly 70 zoo creatures, including 30 new animal species making their illuminated debut this year. The annual outdoor Christmas party also boasts live entertainment, tasty treats, and classic holiday music. If you’re throwing your own bash this year, check out these Christmas party themes for a truly merry (and memorable) celebration.
The Atlanta Botanical Garden, Atlanta, Georgia
With capacity reduced and timed tickets required, this annual treat in Atlanta is expected to sell out for many of the dates this winter, so make sure to reserve your spot as soon as possible. Fans will be delighted to see their old favorites this year, as well as some fabulous new displays. You definitely won’t want to miss the colorful Glowing Grove along the Flower Walk. This display, which debuted at a glass art exhibition last summer, features oversized flowers leading to the stunning Ice Goddess and lighted sculptures.
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The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, Illinois
In its ninth year and still going strong, the Illumination: Tree Lights event at the Morton Arboretum provides an affordable way to enjoy the splendor of the holidays. One of the new things you’ll find this year is the Human+Nature display, with its 150 colorful lanterns. Other than that, you’ll walk along a mile-long paved path bathed in holiday lights as you listen to festive music. Take a break from your stroll to roast marshmallows by the fire or grab a snack at one of the concession tents.
Hersheypark, Hershey, Pennsylvania
What goes better with Christmas than chocolate? How about five million lights? That’s what decks the halls of Hersheypark’s Candy Lane every year, and the fun doesn’t stop there. NOEL, a family-friendly holiday show, sets more than 250,000 lights dancing to classic holiday tunes, and the iconic Kisses Fountain will be all dressed up in its holiday best. Bonus: All of the rides will be running at night, so if you can keep your eyes open while you’re on the roller coasters, you’ll see the lights of the park from the above! Keep the giggles going on the way home with these funny Christmas jokes for kids.
ABQ BioPark Botanical Garden, Albuquerque, New Mexico
What began in 1997 as a fundraiser is now a beloved annual tradition in Albuquerque. Millions of lights and nearly 600 luminescent holiday displays bring sleighs full of Christmas cheer to you and your family as you stroll along New Mexico’s largest walk-through light show. River of Lights made USA Today‘s list of the 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards for the Best Botanical Garden Holiday Lights in 2020.
Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, Palm Desert, California
Now in its 29th year, WildLights transforms this Palm Desert zoo into a “snowy” wonderland with more than a million twinkling lights. Recognized as one of the Top 5 zoo light shows by USA Today, WildLights is home to a herd of life-size animal lanterns, as well as a famous tunnel of lights that flashes along to holiday tunes. Even the zoo’s G-scale model trains and their 3,300 feet of track will be decked out for the holidays this year!
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Coastal Maine Botanical Garden, Boothbay, Maine
Usually enjoyed on foot as a walking tour, the Gardens Aglow experience at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden will light up the Boothbay peninsula as a drive-through Christmas lights event. From the safety, warmth, and comfort of your own car, you will get to enjoy nearly 650,000 energy-efficient LED bulbs. Don’t forget to bring a thermos filled with hot chocolate! If you have the time, take a coastal road trip and hit a few more quaint towns in Maine.
Coeur d’Alene Resort, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Take one of the resort’s “merry cruise boats” to see a massive floating Christmas tree and 1.5 million bulbs shining and reflected in the water of the lake. The signature experience is the Journey to the North Pole Holiday Lake Cruise with fireworks, and it makes a stop at Santa’s Toy Workshop—that’s where America’s tallest floating Christmas tree towers above, and your kids can peek in on Santa’s elves hard at work in preparation for the big day.
Adventureland Park, Altoona, Iowa
Jolly Holiday Lights will remind you what the true spirit of Christmas is all about. Sure, there are fabulous lights and 100-plus holiday displays along the 2.5-mile-long drive through the park, but here’s the really wonderful part: Adventureland donates 100 percent of admission fees to Make-a-Wish Iowa, which helps grant “wishes” to children with critical illnesses. If you love this idea, make sure to check out our list of gifts that give back while you’re doing your holiday shopping.
Botanica: The Witchita Gardens, Witchita, Kansas
For Kansas residents Googling “the best Christmas lights near me,” there is one result worth paying extra attention to. Illuminations adorns Botanica with more than two million lights that completely transform it into a Christmas wonderland. Kids will particularly love the Children’s Meadow, where 360 poles with 6,000 lights move in sync to holiday music. There’s also a new display in Koch Carousel Gardens, with three dozen dazzling beams dancing in the sky around a 25-foot-tall Christmas tree.
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Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, New York
New Yorkers aren’t particularly subtle, and when it comes to Christmas, that’s a particularly good thing. While you’re experiencing the magic of the city in December, hop over the bridge to Dyker Heights, a residential Brooklyn neighborhood that goes all out for the holidays…and that’s putting it mildly. Residents deck their homes and front yards with innumerable Christmas lights and over-the-top displays, transforming the area into a true winter wonderland that you can explore free of charge. The exact place you’ll want to be? Between 11th and 13th Avenues, from 83rd to 86th Streets (and between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.). If you live relatively nearby, visiting may become one of your regular Christmas Eve traditions!
Huckleberry Railroad, Flint, Michigan
Cost: $10 per vehicle, or $22–$24 for the train and village
Sure, the Tom Hanks–voiced animated movie is great, but this is the real Polar Express! Or, at least your kids might think so when they get all aboard this train. Michigan’s Huckleberry Railroad takes you on a holiday-themed ride, passing by Christmas light displays. Not quite ready to be in close quarters with a bunch of strangers? This year, visitors can also take in the sights safely, from the comfort of their own cars.
Strawberry Banke Museum, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
The Candlelight Stroll at Strawberry Banke deftly manages to roll up 350 years of seasonal and holiday traditions and set them against the stunning backdrop of the area’s historic houses. The Candlelight Stroll Under the Stars takes you on a walking tour past the gorgeously decorated buildings, hundreds of candle lanterns, candlelit pathways, and actors in vintage garb, recreating Christmases of yore. This year’s event is expected to sell out, so definitely buy your tickets sooner rather than later.
Forest Park, Springfield, Massachusetts
Cost: $23 per vehicle
Named one of the Top 100 Attractions in North America by the American Bus Association, listed on People.com as one of the Top Ten Holiday Happenings in America, and featured in the New York Times, Massachusetts’ drive-through Bright Nights has been making the holiday season brighter for New England residents and tourists alike since 1995. This year, you’ll once again see glowing Christmas light displays like Seuss Land, a bright and proud American flag, and the woodlands in wintertime, as well as illuminated scenes celebrating Kwanzaa and Hanukkah.
Storybook Land, Egg Harbor, New Jersey
This New Jersey amusement park is a paradise for children every single day of the year, but during the Christmas season, even more magic is afoot. Santa Claus himself lights the park every night, bringing to life thousands of bright, colorful lights that can be enjoyed while riding the rides in this kiddie wonderland.
Tanglewood Park, Clemmons, North Carolina
Cost: $20–$23 per vehicle
Every November and December, this beautiful countryside park in Clemmons, North Carolina, is flooded with more than a million colorful holiday lights. You can choose to explore the park in your own car, or you can opt for a ride in a tractor-pulled wagon or a horse-drawn carriage. Fun!
Historic Clifton Mill, Clifton, Ohio
More than four million bulbs shine on the mill, gorge, riverbank, bridges, and nearby trees at the Historic Clifton Mill, but the highlight of this naturalistic Christmas light show is the 100-foot “waterfall” of light. Amazingly, just the single flip of a single switch transforms this idyllic scene into a beautifully illuminated winter wonderland that also includes a miniature Christmas village, a Santa Claus museum, and plenty of Christmas music. Of course, you’ll be taking lots of pictures here and at your other holiday events, which means you’ll need some clever Christmas captions. (We’ve got more than 100 for you to choose from!)
Rhema Bible School, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
The sprawling Rhema Lights display has been dazzling kids of all ages in Oklahoma since the mid-1980s. Two million lights decorate Rhema Bible School each year during the holidays, with walk-through tunnels, an illuminated nativity scene, and a Christmas tree forest with a 22-foot tree and five-foot star. Despite its location, this unique Christmas light show is visited by more than 200,000 people annually. While this experience is 100 percent free, carriage rides are also available for $10 per person (or $50 for a private ride) if you and your little ones don’t want to walk.
Riversford Park, Roseberg, Oregon
Cost: $10 per vehicle
The Umpqua Valley’s Festival of Lights is a hit with kids because they love seeing animated characters from Frozen, the world’s largest nutcracker (who has his own social media presence—seriously, he is @KingNutcracker), and animated cheetahs, similar to their live cousins at Oregon’s Wildlife Safari. The drive-through experience features 500,000 lights and 90 animated light displays. Even better? All the proceeds from your visit go toward Rotary Club scholarships. You’ll make Christmas memories, have a blast, and do good all at the same time, which is what the holiday season is about.
Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, South Carolina
Brookgreen Gardens is beautiful all year long, but it really shines during the Nights of a Thousand Candles event, which starts right after Thanksgiving and lasts till right after the new year. Although candlelight doesn’t create the literal or figurative buzz of electric lights (though there are some of those, too), the warm, soft glow of more than 2,800 hand-lit candles will cause sparks in the eyes, hearts, and minds of visitors of all ages. Walk the garden’s pathways with a warm cup of cider, cocoa, or wine while enjoying the old-fashioned sounds of Christmas carols, and you’ll soon see why Travel + Leisure named this elegantly low-key celebration the Best Christmas Lights in South Carolina.
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Zilker Park, Austin, Texas
Equal parts carnival and Christmas light show, the Austin Trail of Lights is a long-running Texas holiday tradition. For its 57th year, and for the second year in a row, guests will enjoy the lights from the comfort of their own vehicles, with tickets being timed to keep the magic alive and everyone safe. More than two million lights create the 70 displays, lighted tunnels, and 90 lighted trees in this beautiful downtown park. We guess even the holiday magic is bigger in Texas!
Menominee Park, Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Cost: $10 per vehicle
With half a million lights and a soaring 100-foot-tall Christmas tree, Wisconsin’s Oshkosh Celebration of Lights in Menominee Park is a stand-out in the Midwest. The merry event also collects non-perishable food and personal items for charity, so you can experience the true meaning of the season while gawking at all the pretty lights!
Oglebay Resort, Wheeling, West Virginia
Cost: $25 per vehicle
One of the longest-running Christmas light show traditions in the country, Oglebay’s Winter Festival of Lights has been pleasing West Virginia residents and tourists alike since 1985. For this event, you’ll drive through light tunnels, and see Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and other Peanuts characters, as well as an awesome illuminated depiction of the 12 Days of Christmas. All in all, there are more than a million LED lights over 300 acres on this six-mile drive, and you can even stay overnight (and meet Santa!) and make a whole festive weekend out of it.
Christmas in Color, Various Locations
There are more than a handful of Christmas in Color locations across the country, meaning you are probably within a short drive from a spectacular lights extravaganza this holiday season. From Utah to Florida, and Minnesota to California, this drive-through takes things to a whole new level with light tunnels, dancing snowflakes, and synchronized music-and-light displays that make brilliant use of more than 1.5 million LED bulbs. Plus, a portion of the proceeds goes to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
The Lights of Christmas, Stanwood, Washington
Cost: $25–$55 per vehicle
Located an easy one-hour drive from Seattle, the Lights of Christmas in Stanwood is the largest Christmas lights display in the whole of the Pacific Northwest, making it the perfect holiday day trip whether you live in Oregon, Washington, or British Columbia. This is bright and brilliant drive-through boasts more than a million lights spread across 15 acres—and all enjoyed from the safety and comfort of your own vehicle. For a different kind of festive home, check out these gingerbread house ideas even novices can make.