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From Branson, Missouri, to Newport Beach, California, here's our guide to 13 of the best holiday light shows in the US

November 29 2021
25 min read
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There are Christmas lights and there are Christmas lights and I'll admit I am a sucker for the latter.

You know, the ones you can’t drive by without saying “whoa” and slowing down your car to take in the scene. Like me, you may have purposely gone out of your way to drive and see them in the first place.

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Well, these Christmas lights put those to shame, which is why we’ve rounded up some of our favorite Christmas installations from around the country to get you into the holiday spirit.

No matter what part of the country you’re in, there’s likely something for you here — and if not, can we interest you in a holiday lights-themed road trip? Meet you there.

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Glow Holiday in Minnesota

Glow Holiday is one of the best ways to get into the holiday spirit, and it's back this year with COVID-19 protocols as part of the Great Minnesota Holiday Get-Together at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. Located between St. Paul and Minneapolis, you’ll experience more than 1 million holiday lights, interactive displays and festive family-friendly activities, complete with Minnesota State Fair food and beverages.

Plan on spending about 60-90 minutes at Glow, followed by a visit to the State Fair Food Court. Tickets cost $20.75 per adult and $12.75 for children ages 5-12 and $1 from every ticket will be donated to local charities.

Make sure to catch it Nov. 18-Jan. 2.

 

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Magic Christmas in Lights in Theodore, Alabama

For its 26th year, Magic Christmas in Lights is back at Bellingrath Gardens and Home in Mobile County. On the 65-acre estate, you’ll be able to stroll through dazzling light displays featuring more than 1,100 set pieces, 3 million lights and 15 scenes, all on the former home of Coca-Cola's Walter Bellingrath and his wife and philanthropist Bessie.

The lights will turn on Nov. 26 and will run through Jan. 5 (closed Christmas and New Year's Day). Timed tickets are available until 9 p.m. and cost anywhere from $8 to $25.

If you are on the Gulf Coast, this display is guaranteed to get everyone into the holiday spirit!

Night of Lights in St. Augustine, Florida

It may not snow in Florida, but the Night of Lights will sure make it feel like Christmastime for the 28th year. Every evening from Nov. 20 through Jan. 31, visit the Plaza de la Constitucion and the Bridge of Lions to see one of National Geographic’s top 10 holiday light displays. There are even live music performances in the plaza during weekends and holidays.

It’s free to everyone and sure to please children and adults of all ages. Better yet, you don’t even need tickets to see it. You can tour by trolley, train, boat — or even do a wine-and-carriage tour to see this exhibit featuring millions of tiny white lights in the Nation’s Oldest City.

Related: 5 things you need to do early this year for holiday travel

Lights of Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, New York

While it is hard to rival New York City's Rockefeller Christmas tree, some of the best Christmas lights you’ll find near the city are actually in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn — specifically from 11th Avenue to 13th Avenue and between 83rd and 86th streets. About an hour from midtown Manhattan, these massive, professionally done light displays shine brighter than the top of the Chrysler Building.

The lights start the weekend after Thanksgiving, but the best displays are usually on the weekends starting in mid-December. It is recommended to go during the evening as well, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. If you are without a car, consider an escorted bus tour to see the lights; tickets start at $55 for adults.

(Photo by OlegAlbinsky via Getty Images)

Hersheypark’s Christmas Candyland in Hershey, Pennsylvania

What’s sweeter than chocolate? Not much, but if we had to guess, we’d say something that has to do with chocolate and the holiday season — and at Hersheypark‘s Christmas Candylane, you’ll get just that. Starting Nov. 12 and running through Jan. 2, you can see more than 5 million lights while enjoying your favorite rides, the holiday show "Noel" and the park's "Kissmas Tree" display. You can also take photos with your favorite Hershey characters.

 

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Oglebay Winter Festival of Lights in Wheeling, West Virginia

The Oglebay Winter Festival of Lights dates back to 1985 and currently stands as one of the nation’s largest holiday light shows. In fact, it’s so popular it attracts more than 1 million visitors a year. The festival features 300 acres of twinkling lights over a 6-mile drive, plus 90 lighted attractions made up of more than 1 million energy-efficient LED lights. New this year are a 60-foot-tall Welcome Tree and 14 new audio experiences to complement your lights viewing, along with a life-sized nativity scene. The festival runs Nov. 4 through Jan. 9, and is free to the public.

Related: What to do now if you want your kids vaccinated ASAP for holiday travel

Christmas Town USA in McAdenville, North Carolina

A town called “Christmas Town“? Say no more. McAdenville is marking its 66th year of celebrations, and is frequently nominated as one of the best holiday light displays in the nation. The route goes on for more than a mile and features more than 250 evergreen trees covered with half a million red and green lights, 160 decorated homes and seasonal music at its historic McAden Mills Bell Tower. The tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 1 marks the official start of Christmas Town USA, along with the yule log ceremony on Dec. 16, a tradition since 1950, followed by a parade.

Christmas Town USA. (Photo by Steve Rankin/mcadenville-Christmas Town)

The display is free and open to the public, and you can walk or drive through as many times as you’d like. You can visit each night from Dec. 1 through Dec. 26, between 5:30 and 10 p.m.

Glittering Lights in Las Vegas

Glittering Lights at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway is a wholly American Christmas tradition — and it’s not just because of the millions of twinkling lights. This drive-thru light show also hosts different initiatives to support local charities, churches and schools, including Speedway Children’s Charities. We love a holiday tradition that gives back to the community.

Running Nov. 12 to Jan. 9, you can also enjoy the Glittering Lights via a ride in an open-air Santa Tram; tram tickets range from $20-$25 and regular tickets cost $25-$35.

 

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An Old Time Christmas in Branson, Missouri

An Old Time Christmas at the Silver Dollar City theme park in Branson is a tried-and-true fan favorite. Here, you’ll find an eight-story Christmas tree display, 6 1/2 million twinkling lights and 30-plus live holiday shows daily on outdoor stages. This year features the debut of "Home For Christmas," a Broadway-style show at Red Gold Heritage Hall, along with the return of "A Dickens' Christmas Carol." Pricing is not cheap; tickets start at $74 plus tax, but do include ride access. Silver Dollar City’s An Old Time Christmas runs Nov. 6 through Dec. 30.

(Photo courtesy of Silver Dollar City)

Holiday Festival of Lights in Charleston, South Carolina

The Holiday Festival of Lights is open nightly from Nov. 12 through Dec. 31. You can visit Santa at his village, take a train ride to check out the lights and indulge in all sorts of holiday treats at the Winter Wonderland. And unique to this festival, there are holiday sand sculptures, too. Advance tickets start at $15 or tickets can be purchased at the gate for $20 per vehicle, for use from 5:30 p.m. until 10 p.m.

Read more: BBQ legend Rodney Scott on what to see, do and eat in Charleston

Christmas Village in Baltimore

Don't worry if you can’t make it to one of Germany’s famous Christmas markets, as the aptly named Christmas Village in Baltimore is the next best thing, and is modeled after the famous Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg. After postponing the market in 2020, it's back this year in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, with vendors selling authentic European food, ornaments and arts and crafts from all over the world. It runs daily Nov. 20-Dec. 24, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

Garden Lights, Holiday Nights in Atlanta

At Garden Lights, Holiday Nights, you’ll find thousands of lights spread out across 30 acres of the Atlanta Botanical Garden, which is even more magical than you’re imagining. It’s all part of the Nature’s Wonders exhibit, the largest curtain of synchronized light and sound in the world. You can also visit the Skylights Lounge where you’ll find several larger-than-life plants from imaginary worlds like Alice’s Wonderland. With a restaurant on-site, this is truly a great way to spend a date night or family outing.

The exhibition runs nightly Nov. 13 through Jan. 15, from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Non-member tickets start at $24.95 for adults and $21.95 for children.

Christmas Boat Parade in Newport Beach, California

While Southern California may not exactly be the first place that comes to mind when thinking about a white Christmas, that doesn’t mean it's not getting in the holiday spirit. From Dec. 15-19, catch a glimpse of the 113th Christmas Boat Parade, which will start at the top of Lido Isle at approximately 6:30 p.m. each night. Watch as the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade moves its way through the Newport Harbor, for free, from almost any place on the shore. Over a million people come out to watch as many as 100 decorated boats, yachts, kayaks and canoes. Do plan for extra time to find parking and note that all city parking lots will be open throughout the parade to accommodate viewers.

Additional reporting by Caroline Tanner.

Featured photo by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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