Village of Lights, Leavenworth, Washington
Photograph: Courtesy Village of Lights

The best Christmas light displays in the U.S.

From the twinkling streets to illuminated towns, the best Christmas light displays will wow you this holiday season

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Christmas lights are to Christmas what pumpkins are to Halloween or hearts are to Valentine’s Day: absolutely essential decor that helps create an air of festivity. Whether you’re the type that hangs up a simple string of lights or an enthusiast who maxes out your electricity voltage Clark Griswold-style, we can all stop and appreciate a really well-done Christmas light display. 

Across the county, families bundle up for drives through stunning local light shows every year. And while most towns have one, there are only a few that really knock it out of the park and create awe-inspiring, illuminated worlds that will reignite your childlike wonder. 

From brilliantly lit neighborhoods to charming towns that create dazzling journeys, these ultimate Christmas light extravaganzas will ignite the holiday spirit within even the grinchiest of grinches. 

RECOMMENDED: The best Christmas towns in the U.S.

Best places to see Christmas lights in America

When most people think of Christmas lights in New York their minds go immediately to the tree at Rockefeller Center and the shop windows on Fifth Avenue. But deep within Brooklyn, there’s a winter wonderland that requires so much wattage you’d think the Griswolds took over the streets. Christmas completely consumes the residential Dyker Heights neighborhood in southwest Brooklyn from Thanksgiving until January, where massive front yard displays (yes, some New Yorkers have real yards!) range from specific themes—like illuminated Christmas toys or millions of icy blue lights—to a hodgepodge of all things Christmas. 

Composed of a whopping 10 million lights, Callaway Resort & Garden’s Fantasy in Lights is like no other display in the country. Guests can walk, drive, or ride (an open-air Jolly Trolley is most popular) through 2,500 acres of illuminated landscape. More than a dozen mystical scenes like Enchanted Rainbow Forest and Firefly Cove set the display apart from traditional Christmas-themed displays throughout the country, and a massive Magical Field of Lights (almost two football fields long) features a 10-story tree that’s bigger than most buildings. New in 2023 is the Callaway Christmas Village, featuring massive nutcrackers and snowflakes. 

November 17, 2023 to January 1, 2024.

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Not far from Alabama’s coast, Bellingrath Gardens and Home’s 65-acre campus lights up every year with over 3 million lights from late November to early January. The Magic Christmas in Lights features an “underwater” tunnel (cue The Little Mermaid soundtrack) that twinkles with fish and crabs surrounded by a swath of blue “water” lights. Peep out the tunnel window and you’ll see an illuminated igloo complete with roly-poly polar bears and a few other surprises, too: the display honors southern favorites like the MoonPie (IYKYK), Mardi Gras, and Coca-Cola. There are over 1,100 set pieces in this massive exhibit, which requires three full-time employees working year-round to pull off.

Magic Christmas in Lights runs from November 24, 2023 to January 3, 2024 (closed December 25 and January 1).

At any other time of year, the 700 block of 34th Street in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood might not ring any jingle bells. But during the Christmas season, the area, nicknamed Miracle on 34th Street, is the talk of the town. Ever since 1947, when the movie of the same name premiered, residents have put their unique twist on traditional Christmas decorations, featuring anything from a vinyl record Nativity scene to a hubcap Christmas tree. Expect lots of crabs (this is Maryland, after all), and keep your eyes peeled for the kitschy pink flamingos (a nod to Baltimore’s own John Waters).

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This tiny town in Ohio—with an overwhelming population of about 130—has one of the most unique light displays in the country. Some 4 million Christmas lights cover the town’s historic Clifton Mill, a 19th-century water-powered grist mill, and the surrounding gorge, riverbanks, bridges, and trees to create a 100ft 'waterfall' of twinkling lights. There’s a synchronized light and music show on the covered bridge, not to mention a miniature display featuring Clifton Village itself. Grab some hot cocoa inside the mill and peek into 'Santa’s Workshop' to watch as he prepares for Christmas Eve and loads up his sleigh.

The Legendary Lights of Clifton Mill runs from November 24 to December 30, 2022.

Yes, there’s a town called Santa Claus in Indiana. And yes, it’s one of the best Christmas towns in the USA. Is it really any surprise this town gets lit during the holidays, too? Nope. At The Santa Claus Land of Lights, a 1.2-mile drive-through experience that tells the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in lights and storyboards, you’ll see brilliant LED-rendered Christmas characters like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer himself, albeit with few twists. Expect to chuckle when you catch Rudolph clip-clopping on a treadmill or Santa jetskiing—although this town takes Christmas seriously, it’s certainly in on the joke.

Santa Claus Land of Lights is open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from November 24 to December 10 and nightly from December 15 to December 23, 2023.

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Believe it or not, Hersheypark, the sweetest place on earth, gets even sweeter around the holidays after it installs over 5 million holiday lights for its annual Christmas Candylane celebration. But the real light show might be Hershey Sweet Lights, a two-mile drive outside the park through wooded trails that sparkle with 600 animated light displays (made with 2 million LED lights). It's best to tack this onto a day inside the park, where you might spot Santa and his reindeer enjoying the rides and, of course, some Hershey kisses.

Hersheypark Christmas Candylane and Hershey Sweet Lights run on select dates from November 10, 2023 to January 1, 2024.

The 59th annual Austin Trail of Lights welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors to Zilker Park, which is transformed into an otherworldly jungle of dazzling rainbow trees. More than 2 million bulbs light up 90 glittering trees. There are more than 70 holiday displays and lighted tunnels, too.

The Austin Trail of Lights runs December 8 to 23, 2023 (closed on Mondays).

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Although Chicago has a range of beautiful Christmas lights, ZooLights is certainly the crème de la Chi-Town. Found at the Lincoln Park Zoo, the spellbinding display includes a Wonderlawn of synchronized lights that dance to holiday music, photos with Santa, live ice carving, roaming Christmas carolers, and hundreds of lighted displays. And, if you’re hoping to dazzle your special someone, the zoo also offers a proposal package for anyone hoping to pop the question amidst millions of sparkling lights.

ZooLights runs on select dates November 17, 2023 to January 7, 2024.

Join this quaint neighborhood as it carries out a tradition that began in 1932. The small four-block street, located in southeast Portland, is lined with Tudor Revival and English Cottage homes that serve as the backdrop to a nearly ninety-year-old Christmas light destination. While some homeowners hire professional decorators, many residents of Peacock Lane build their own displays—sometimes with nontraditional Christmas characters like the 'Fa La La La Llamas,' or pop culture staples like the Muppets and Star Wars. Feeling the classics? Fear not: you’ll spot plenty of holiday characters like Frosty, the Grinch and St. Nick himself.

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Although St. Augustine forgoes multi-colored bulbs for its Nights of Lights, its historic downtown—lit up in all-white lights—is no less transfixing. Head to Plaza de la Constitución, a market where locals have sold goods since the 1500s. Here, bulbs drape from the market’s trees to form a heavenly canopy. Visitors can see the 3 million lights by land (via the Old Town Trolley or Ripley’s Red Train), by sea (on a boat tour), or even by air (in a helicopter).

Nights of Lights runs from November 18, 2023 to January 31, 2024.

Leave your sunnies and sunscreen at home. Altadena’s Christmas Tree Lane, just one of L.A.’s many Christmas activities, is something of a marvel for SoCal—majestic deodar cedar trees that line the street (also known as Santa Rosa Avenue) bring an all-around alpine vibe that’s a complete 180 from L.A.’s typical landscape of palm trees. The conifers of Christmas Tree Lane have been lit up for the holidays for over 100 years, and the California State Landmark is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The official lighting ceremony is held on the second Saturday in December.

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A slightly newer tradition that’s no less impressive, the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens’ Gardens Aglow has been lighting up Maine for the last nine years. A walking tour throughout 14 acres of botanical gardens, Gardens Aglow boasts 750,000 LED lights (that's 60 miles!) strung up across the scenery.

Gardens Aglow runs Thursday to Sunday, November 19 to December 31, plus select dates.

In the past, the town of Leavenworth held a Christmas lighting ceremony every weekend, flipping a switch to light up the entire city center; however, as the events grew in popularity, they decided to keep the lights on every night from Thanksgiving through Christmas. The Bavarian village-themed downtown looks magical, covered in snow and surrounded by mountains, with every building and tree lit up as far as the eye can see during its annual Village of Lights celebration. And as if this Christmas town couldn’t get more idyllic, there’s even a sledding hill to round out the charm.

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For over 25 years, the team behind Make-A-Wish Iowa has dreamed up Jolly Holiday Lights, a spectacular display that raises money to grant wishes for sick children. What started as a small fundraiser has bloomed into a two-mile drive that funds about 80 wishes per year (one wish alone turned a 7-year-old cystic fibrosis patient into a superhero for a day). The whimsical displays are divided up by theme, including Holiday Hoedown (with lights like 'Cowboy Riding Polar Bear') and Santa’s Out of Office (featuring 'Santa’s RV Retirement'). The wholesome display and its excellent cause will warm your heart like a candy cane latte.

Jolly Holiday Lights runs from November 17, 2023 to January 7, 2024.

Yes, there's a winter wonderland in Miami and it arrives each November in the form of Santa's Enchanted Forest, the world's largest holiday theme park. The 40-acre park features carnival rides, live shows, Santa sightings, and, of course, copious amounts of Christmas lights.

Santa's Enchanted Forest runs from November 9, 2023 to January 7, 2024.

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Atlanta Botanical Garden is all aglow during the holiday season with thousands of colorful Christmas lights during Garden Lights, Holiday Nights. Stroll through the glowing gardens to admire a lighted flower walk and illuminated sculptures. New this year is a 144-foot-long "wintery white skynet" by Poetic Kinectis' Patrick Shearn and, in the Anne Cox Chambers Garden, French artist Cédric LeBorgne brings a more extensive collection of illuminated metal woodland creatures.

Garden Lights, Holiday Nights runs from November 18, 2023 to January 14, 2024.

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