The 10 U.S. Cities with the Best Holiday Light Displays

It's time to get into the spirit!

Throughout the holiday season, one of the most treasured traditions for many is getting out to see the festive Christmas lights. From simple displays of icicle lights hanging off the eaves of a house to the most elaborate musical light shows and everything in between, people love to see the glitter and color of Christmas lights. While some events require tickets or admission fees, many are open to the public free of charge. To kick off your holidays, here are the 10 U.S. cities with the best Christmas light displays.

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The Best Christmas Light Displays in the U.S.

1. Grapevine, Texas

Grapevine Texas
Victoria Ditkovsky/Shutterstock

Of course you have to start with the Christmas Capital of Texas. This city has a 40-day celebration that kicks off with the annual Carol of Lights wherein historic downtown Grapevine shines in the glow of millions of Christmas lights, including those on the live, more than 40-foot-tall Christmas tree at Peace Plaza.

For more lights, head to the Gaylord Texas Resort for its Merry & Bright light show featuring more than two million lights. And on Dec. 1, catch the Parade of Lights, a parade filled with more than 100 lighted floats and marching bands. On Dec. 3 and Dec. 17, head to Peace Plaza for the Merry & Bright Christmas Drone Show, which features 160 drones showcasing their Christmas best.

2. Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Pigeon Forge Tennessee
Scott Heaney/Shutterstock

While known for amusement parks, themed entertainment, and lots of shopping, Pigeon Forge also celebrates the holiday season with quite the brilliant show. Each year, the city hosts Winterfest, a three-month-long event featuring more than six million lights as part of one of the largest free outdoor lights festivals in the country.

Along the Winterfest Driving Tour, visitors can take in sparking lighted displays of favorite holiday seasons and favorite fairytale scenes along with giant ornaments and tall trees, including a 60-foot-tall decorated tree. To truly become one with the lights, set out on the Winterfest Wonders of Light Walking Trail along the Riverwalk.

3. Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix Arizona
You Touch Pix of EuToch/Shutterstock

No matter where you live in the Phoenix area, you'll find plenty of Christmas lights. For instance, World of Illumination is hosting Candy Rush, the world's largest animated drive-through light show, at Diablo Stadium. The mile-long journey features millions of sparking lights synced to Christmas music that transforms into a holiday spectacle. World of Illumination also will have light shows at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor and Desert Diamond Casino in Glendale.

Another popular show takes place at the Phoenix Zoo, which features animal lanterns, light displays, and a music and light show you won't forget. Another drive-through light show is the Arizona Lights in the Night at the Thompson Event Center in Mesa. More than a million lights will dance along to synchronized holiday music. Check the Visit Phoenix website for even more light shows.

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4. Columbus, Ohio

Columbus Ohio

Start your Christmas light exploration in downtown Columbus, where you can see nearly 500,000 lights at the Columbus Commons. Then head over to the Scioto Mile, which will showcase more holiday lights along the riverfront. To continue the experience, you can purchase a Holiday Lights Pass that provides admission to Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, and Conservatory Aglow at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

Follow these up with Magic of Lights at Historic Crew Stadium, a drive-through experience featuring music and digital animations to showcase holiday scenes. If you want to leave the driving to someone else so you can take in all the lights, book a trip on the Holiday Lights Tour with Columbus City Adventures.

5. Gulfport, Mississippi

Gulfport Harbor Lightshow

With more than 1.2 million lights covering 40 acres of Jones Park, it's no wonder Gulfport is home to the state's largest Christmas lights show. The Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival features everything from giant ornaments to elaborate festive scenes to a "dancing trees" show. In addition to the lights, visitors can watch the elves work at Santa's Village, ride carnival rides, take a train ride, or visit with the big man himself.

You can even hop on the heated CTA Trolley along Jones Park Drive for a ride from one side of the park to the other, offering a different perspective on the glowing lights.

6. Santa Claus, Indiana

Holiday Train in Santa Claus Indiana

How could you not experience the Christmas lights in a town named after Santa Claus? Start exploring at the Santa Claus Land of Lights, a 1.2-mile journey that tells the story of Rudolph the Reindeer using LED lights. Next, head to the Christmas in Dale Light Show, where you can watch a 48-minute music and light display. Simply tune in to 100.3 FM on your radio dial, and watch from the comfort of your car.

Keep the lights going at Santa's Great Big LED Tree of Lights located outside of the Santa Claus Christmas Store in Kringle Place Shopping Center. Each night between 5 and 10 p.m. local time, a local radio station plays music to accompany the tree's light show.

7. Branson, Missouri

Christmas in the Ozarks
Corey Mathery/Shutterstock

Christmas in Branson is quite the spectacle, starting with the Lights of Joy drive-through experience that features animated displays in a variety of themes, such as Santa's Village, the 12 Days of Christmas, and Christmas Safari.

At Shepherd of the Hills, the Trail of Lights covers 2.5 miles illuminated by millions of lights on dozens of Christmas light displays. At Promised Land Zoo, visitors can travel a 2-mile drive-though Christmas display of LED lights among the animal habitats. For more holiday lights enjoyment, follow the Christmas Tree City Trail, with more than 700 colorfully lighted and decorated trees.

8. Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor, Maine

Boothbay Harbor Maine

Located an hour north of Portland, the towns of Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor go big on Christmas lights! At the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, visitors can walk through Gardens Aglow, which features more than 750,000 LED lights strategically placed throughout 14 acres of the gardens.

For lights beyond the gardens, check out the residents and businesses who entered to compete in the Gardens Aglow Community Lighting Contest. On Nov. 26, local fire departments decorate their trucks with lights and set out on the Lighted Fire Truck Parade through town. And on Dec. 3, boat owners decorate their vessels with hundreds of Christmas lights and cruise the inner harbor as part of the Lighted Boat Parade and Sparkle Fireworks.

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9. Leavenworth, Washington

Leavenworth Washington
Mark A Lee/Shutterstock

For a taste of Bavaria, head to Leavenworth for a magical Christmastime experience. During the holidays, the town transforms into the Village of Lights with a half a million LED lights strung throughout Christmastown.

As you take in the lights, stop by the gazebo for live entertainment by choirs, carolers, bands, and other groups. Also keep an eye out for special holiday characters around town so you can snap a photo with them for next year's Christmas card. It's a magical scene you won't forget.

10. Newport Beach, California

Newport Beach

Don't let the California sunshine fool you; Newport Beach knows how to celebrate the season.

The city's most notable event is the Christmas Boat Parade & Ring of Lights. Vessels range from canoes and kayaks to boats and yachts of all sizes, each decorated with sparkling Christmas lights. At Sherman Library & Gardens, visitors can stroll through the Nights of 1000 Lights, which features dazzling displays along with entertainment at "Moulin Rouge," on Sherman's miniature railway and at Santa's workshop.

At Newport Dune's Lighting of the Bay, you can stroll along the Back Bay, which is aglow with festive floating holiday lights.

Karon Warren
For more than 20 years, Karon Warren has covered travel for numerous outlets including AAA, Family Vacation Critic, Cruise Critic, Trivago, and many others. Read more
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