9 Holiday Light Displays Around the World Worth Traveling For
There’s no better antidote to long, dark nights than seasonal light displays, larger-than-life Christmas trees, and other glittering attractions. These cities know how to supply the festive cheer with their destination-worthy decorations. From Manhattan’s iconic Rockefeller Center ice rink to Amsterdam’s arty Light Festival, from Colmar’s fairy-tale beauty to Medellín’s enormous light sculptures and installations, here’s where to find the world’s best holiday light displays.
Manhattan, New York City
From skaters wheeling around its ice rink to the soaring Christmas tree that caps off the scenery (and whose annual lighting ceremony after Thanksgiving marks the unofficial start of the festive season), the Rockefeller Center is synonymous with the holidays in the Big Apple—little wonder that it’s starred in Christmas films from Elf to Home Alone 2. Bonus: It’s just steps from Fifth Avenue’s festive window displays, if you wish to continue your seasonal viewing.
Related: How to Spend 3 Days in New York City During the Holidays
Amsterdam Light Festival
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Amsterdam’s arty Light Festival sees the canal-laced city transformed by sculptural displays that go well beyond the typical festive iconography. Artists from around the world contribute works to the annual event, and previous installations have included everything from lit-up laundry lines to glowing butterflies. To get an even closer view, hop aboard a canal boat and discover the perspective from the water’s edge.
Oxford Street (and surrounding thoroughfares like Regent Street, Carnaby Street, and Bond Street) are a shopper’s paradise all year round, but they really come alive during the lead-up to Christmas. Enormous, luminous garlands in the shapes of angels, snowflakes, and other seasonal designs cast a brilliant glow over the crowds seeking last-minute presents. Explore on foot or by taxi, bike, or double-decker bus to take in the twinkling spectacle.
Each winter, festive illuminations pop up all over Tokyo, transforming the Japanese capital into a glittering expanse of seasonal magic. These free displays routinely appear across the city, from Roppongi Hills to Shibuya, Tokyo Dome to Omotesando, Tokyo Station to Marunouchi. And don’t miss the section of the Meguro River from Gotanda to Osaki: in a nod to springtime cherry blossom festivals, trees are strung with pink, flower-like lights.
Brooklyn, New York City
If the Rockefeller Center is Christmas in New York at its glitziest, Dyker Heights is Christmas in New York at its gaudiest. This residential neighborhood in southern Brooklyn has become a must-see destination for the over-the-top, gloriously kitschy light displays that locals bedeck their homes with every year. From inflatable reindeer and larger-than-life nutcrackers to millions of glowing bulbs, it’s a shock to the senses—in the most delightful way.
Related: Top 5 Tips for Visiting the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights
Luci d’Artista (Artists’ Lights)
As a base from which to explore the Amalfi Coast, Salerno is a summertime staple—but in the winter, its Luci d’Artista (Artists’ Lights) festival is a whole new draw. Among the largest such events of its kind in the country, the festival includes shimmering Christmas trees, light-strung streets, and lit-up sculptures—from unicorns and lions to eagles and other impressive creations—all across town.
Plaisirs d’Hiver (Winter Wonders)
The collective name for Brussels’ end-of-year festivities, the Plaisirs d’Hiver (Winter Wonders) event transforms the Belgian capital into a carnival of wintry enchantment. Annual highlights of this 5-week occasion include the unmissable Christmas tree and Sound and Light Show in the Grand-Place (Grote Markt), plus several Christmas markets, an ice rink, fairground rides, and other all-ages fun. To make navigating the festive cityscape simple, you can also explore with a local.
Strasbourg might be home to France’s largest Christmas market, but Colmar’s may be the prettiest. This fairy-tale Alsatian city, with its colorful, half-timbered buildings and cobblestoned streets, looks like a gingerbread village come to life. It’s also the ideal old-world backdrop to an array of festive displays, from multiple Christmas markets to shimmering trees and town squares spangled with fairy lights.
Alumbrados Navideños (Christmas Lights)
Medellín’s Alumbrados Navideños (Christmas Lights) event has been held for more than 50 years, and it’s guaranteed to supply a festive spectacle: each year, teams of artists, engineers, architects, and other professionals create enormous, handcrafted displays featuring millions upon millions of lightbulbs. Past installations have featured monumental hummingbirds, owls, and lights strung across the river, as well as traditional Christmas trees and Santa Claus figures.