Spectacular Holiday Lights

Take in dazzling displays, from New York to Germany.

By Nell McShane Wulfhart

Your day will be merry and bright at these seasonal celebrations that are sure to show up your neighborhood’s strands. Prepare to be overwhelmed.

Winter Festival of Lights

Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

If there’s one way to make the falls at Niagara more impressive, it’s to surround them with light sculptures and animated displays and to illuminate the mist that swirls up from below with enormous beams of color. Canada’s annual celebration stretches around five miles of the Niagara Parks, past the falls to the Dufferin Islands and outlying neighborhoods, and incorporates laser shows and fireworks, all of which can be seen during a drive. Keep an eye out for the Canadian-wildlife displays, which include a light-bedecked moose and woolly mammoth. wfol.comNov. 18–Jan. 31

Christmas Boat Parade

Newport Beach, California

A fleet of 100 boats, everything from canoes to multimillion-dollar yachts, stage elaborate and whimsical holiday scenes as they cruise a 14-mile route around Newport Harbor. Prizes are awarded for special effects, humor and originality. California-style 3-D displays of palm trees and surfboards, and reindeer appear to leap from a mast into the sky. The parade route takes in Lido Island and the Balboa Peninsula, where houses, yacht clubs and local businesses are also bedecked for the holidays as part of an annual contest. christmasboatparade.comDec. 13–17

Lights Under Louisville

Louisville, Kentucky

One of the most impressive seasonal tableaux in the United States happens underground, in a 100-acre man-made limestone cavern. Every year, more than two million bulbs light up the sprawling passageways of Louisville’s Mega Cavern. Visitors drive through the cavern, past elaborate scenes of the 12 Days of Christmas, a zoo and location-specific displays such as “Santa’s Mining Company” and Fort Knox, a Louisville icon. The drive takes 30 minutes; plan ahead and cue up a holiday playlist for the ride. louisvillemegacavern.comNov. 17–Dec. 31

Rockefeller Center Tree

New York City

The holidays don’t officially begin in New York until a 90-foot Norwegian spruce tree is lit with 50,000 lights at Rockefeller Center during a ceremony that dates back to the Great Depression. Tens of thousands of people come to watch the tree lighting, which includes live performances, and then the majestic sight remains on view into January. For the full New York experience, combine a visit to the tree with a spin around the adjacent ice-skating rink, tickets to the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular at Radio City or a stroll down Fifth Avenue to delight in the department stores’ resplendent seasonal window displays. rockefellercenter.com; Nov. 29–Jan. 7

Tivoli Gardens

Copenhagen, Denmark

Tivoli Gardens amusement park opened in 1843, and its annual “Jul” (Yuletide) celebration is really something to see. In preparation, a former design director at Tiffany & Co. maps out almost 25 miles of lights in artful patterns. Willows bordering the park’s peaceful lake are aglow with multiple strands of lights, and vendors sell traditional Danish æbleskiver (doughnuts with black-currant jam) and mugs of gløgg (a piping hot mulled wine flavored with raisins, cinnamon and cloves) to keep visitors warm as they gaze up at fireworks bursting overhead. tivoligardens.comNov. 19–Dec. 31


Nuremberg, Germany

Held in the city’s main square since the 1500s, Nuremberg’s Christmas market is surrounded by historic buildings strung with lights. Its 180 stalls are made from regional spruce, bordered by green branches and—if the weather’s right—topped with snow. Mulled wine, hand-painted nutcrackers and the city’s traditional bratwurst are draws, but the Lantern Procession, a parade of children holding homemade lanterns, is not to be missed. It’s led by the Christkind, a woman dressed in white with an enormous golden crown—she’s a gift giver of Nuremberg lore, dating all the way back to Martin Luther. christkindlesmarkt.de; Dec. 1–24

Boulevard Lights

Melbourne, Australia

At one of the world’s cheekiest holiday events, Santa wears flip-flops and visitors enjoy ice cream instead of roast chestnuts. Residents in Ivanhoe, a suburb of Melbourne, go all out each year at this lively, family-friendly festival of lights that incorporates particularly Aussie elements, such as LED kangaroos and street-side barbecues. The festival is centered along and around the Boulevard, where residents one-up one another with the way they decorate their houses. The lights don’t come on until after the sun sets at 8:30 p.m., but with temperatures reaching 100 degrees, there’s no need to bundle up. banyule.vic.gov.auDec. 16–24

Universal Studios Singapore’s Universal Journey


Last year this light extravaganza broke the Guinness world record for the largest light-bulb display in an indoor venue. Using more than 800,000 bulbs, the theme park created an immersive experience of eight different zones where visitors spent hours exploring and snapping photos. An enchanted pine forest, a replica of New York City’s Herald Square, a Christmas village and a light-ringed, almost psychedelic tunnel—it was quite the show, and is expected to dazzle again this year. It’s all part of the annual Santa’s All-Star Christmas event, which includes live performances by the Minions and the Snow Queen. rwsentosa.comdates not yet announced as of press time

  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: November 2017