The Most Famous Holiday Decorations in the World
Meet the cities that take "tree lighting" to the next level.
The holiday season is many things, but first and foremost, it's a time of dazzling decorations. And it's not just your living room—entire communities get in on the action. Some cities take it seriously, and strew town squares with dazzling string lights and the like. Some cities go all out, and throw festivals and parades and tree lightings. And a select few cities go so far to make those cities look like half-effort chumps.
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The result: tree lightings with A-lister guest lists, Christmas markets that seem like they're out of a literal fairytale (like the one above, in Dresden, Germany), and interactive light displays so ethereal that walking through them feels like you've temporarily ascended to the next plane. If you thought your town square's gigantic tree was a sight to behold, you'll want to scroll on, because we've rounded up the most magical, stunning, renowned holiday decorations on the planet. Happy holidays.
Luminarie Lights Festival; Kobe, Japan
This festival of lights is held every year in the first two weeks of December to commemorate the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995, where nearly 4,600 citizens of Kobe lost their lives. The bulbs used to create this masterpiece were donated by the Italian government, as the illumination symbolizes hope for the future of Kobe, Japan. The opening ceremony is kicked off by a silent prayer for the victims, while a memorial naming those who were killed is posted during the nighttime activities. In total, more than four million people visit this festival every year.
Madrid Christmas display; Madrid, Spain
Beginning on the last Friday of November, the streets of Madrid come alive with millions of lights strewn up in the downtown area. These eco-friendly lights are created by Spanish designers, architects, and graphic designers who are known for paying homage to Madrid's fashion-conscious streets. Tall Christmas trees and dazzling light displays cover nearly every inch of the city, including popular tourist destinations like Puerta del Sol, Plaza San Juan de la Cruz and Plaza España, Red de San Luis (Gran Vía-Montera), Calle Fuencarral, Plaza de Callao and Plaza de Colón (Calle Génova).
Tivoli Gardens; Copenhagen, Denmark
The Tivoli Gardens amusement park in Copenhagen becomes an oasis of Christmas decor and lights throughout the holiday season. Thanks to a collection of charming attractions—from train rides to shopping to holiday parades—this winter wonderland attracts thousands of visitors every year.
Winter Illuminations; Tokyo, Japan
In Tokyo, Japan, two festive winter lights displays take place in the city—one in the Caretta Shiodome, and the other in Tokyo's Midtown. The Caretta Shiodome (pictured) hosts an annual illumination event featuring an astonishing array of LED lights, often creating impressive patterns in tune with the holiday season, resulting in a transcendentally lit space unlike anything else on the planet. Located behind the main tower of Tokyo's Midtown is the "Starlight Garden," where different LED displays are crafted by artists and engineers every year. This year, the illumination will be called "The Universe," and will feature approximately 190,000 LED lights and more than 100 balloon lights to capture the essence of the vastness of space.
Luci d'Artista; Salerno, Italy
The city of Salerno, Italy rings in the holiday season each year with a unique display of lights and installations around the downtown area called Luci d'Artista. This year's theme is marine life, with light shows (like the one displayed above) featuring waves with fish, shells, and other creatures from the ocean. Along with these impressive displays, visitors can also expect nativity scenes sculpted out of sand, rides on the Ferris Wheel, and traditional Christmas markets lining every public square.
Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade; Newport Beach, California
This year, the 110th-annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade will move through the Newport Harbor every night from December 19th through the 23rd. Everyone is invited to either participate or watch as a parade of decorated yachts, boats, kayaks, and even canoes sail past. For those who would like to watch from more solid ground, you can do so in designated "Dine & Watch" areas along the waterfront.
Village de Noël; Nice, France
To truly find the spirit of Christmas outside of your local shopping mall Santa, head to Nice's Christmas Village, where handmade gifts, rides on the towering Ferris Wheel, and incredibly unique light displays fill the air with a special kind of cheer. Even better, tourist destinations like the Fontaine du Soleil, which is turned into a giant snow globe, become beacons of Christmas wonder during this magical time in France.
Champs-Élysées; Paris, France
This year, the 400 trees alongside the Champs-Élysées, in Paris, are lit bright red, lending the legendary street unparalleled holiday cheer. To make the occasion even more glamorous, a local celebrity is often the one designated to turn on the lights in late November. This year, this honor went to fashion legend Karl Lagerfeld.
Dyker Heights; Brooklyn, New York
If you're visiting New York City this year, after the requisite trek to Rockefeller Center, be sure to head to Dyker Heights in Brooklyn for an equally dazzling lights display. From 83rd Street to 86th Street in this Brooklyn neighborhood, visitors strolling by can view the unique displays put up by various homeowners until New Year's Day, when they are typically taken down. You can eveb schedule guided tours through the area that allow you to explore the lights display both on foot and by bus.
Somerset House; London, United Kingdom
Even outside of the holiday season, the Somerset House in London is an impressive display of architectural prowess and historical significance. Visitors to this historical monument can look forward to ice skating, Christmas parties, and an enchanting tree that towers high above the festivities. For those who are truly compelled to host the most extravagant holiday parties, you now have the opportunity to party the night away in one of the many designated spaces in the Somerset House.
Liberty Monument; Tbilisi, Georgia
This European capital city's celebrations center around the iconic statue of Saint George slaying the dragon. For the month of December, the monument is decked out with hundreds of lights hung to resemble magical spiderwebs—a truly enchanting vision for anyone lucky enough to visit this Georgian city during the holiday season.
Christmas Market; Dresden, Germany
Known as Germany's first Striezelmarkt, or Christmas Market, this collection of shops, cuisine, and Christmas tidings brings visitors from all over the world to explore its hidden treasures. And, true to the German Christmas Market tradition, this one in Dresden features a bold collection of holiday lights and decor, along with mulled wine and traditional Sax treats to last throughout December.
Rockefeller Center; New York, New York
Perhaps the most famous Christmas display in America, if not the world, Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan practically comes to life during the holiday season. There's ice skating, an impressive Christmas tree and accompanying lighting ceremony, Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular, and many other events taking place during the month of December. Not only that, but every surrounding bar and restaurant often works to capture this same Christmas cheer, with places like The Tavern on the Green decorating every inch of the establishment to keep the festive feelings coming strong.
Cathedral Square; Vilnius, Lithuania
Quickly becoming one of the world's most impressive Christmas tree displays, this one in Lithuania's Cathedral Square encompasses thousands of lights and plenty of unique shopping opportunities. In fact, visitors are even encouraged to venture outside of Cathedral Square and into different corners of the city where Christmas markets dominate the landscape during the winter season. Locals encourage this branching out because tourists will then get a sense of the art scene and culture in Vilnius, which will be on display in Christmas markets like the Etmony Christmas Market, where local designers and creatives craft unique items for an engaging shopping experience.
Christmas Lights Fiesta; Medellin, Colombia
Known as the Alumbrados Navideños or El Alumbrado, Medellin, Colombia's annual lights display transforms the city into one full of holiday cheer. This year, however, the lights display will not be along the Medellin River as it normally is—instead, the majority of the impressive display will be inside of the Parque Norte amusement park. In a dynamic feat of ingenuity, the city of Medellin gathers around 26 million LED lights, 35,000 hand-woven figures, and 11 tons of metallized paper to create one-of-kind Christmas art installations.
Orchard Road; Singapore
Called Christmas on a Great Street, this Singapore Christmas tradition brings thousands of lights, holiday decorations, shopping, and festivities to the city's famous Orchard Street. This year, this magical street captures the essence of Disney with various characters like Mickey Mouse and the Disney princesses making an appearance along the crowded street. While you're walking the impressive line of shops and holiday experiences, be sure to look up, as the light displays are hand-crafted every year to fill the space with a special Christmas ambiance.
Niagara Parkway; Niagara Falls, Ontario
When they're not taking in the natural beauty of one of the seven wonders of the world, visitors to the Ontario, Canada, side of Niagara Falls can expect breathtaking displays of Christmas grandeur along the Niagara Parkway. During the holiday season, nearly five miles along the center of Niagara Falls is lit up with over three million sparkling lights. Along with multiple Santa parades, walking tours, and ice skating events, let's just say Ontario knows how to make the most of the holiday season.
Christmas Markets Galore; Vienna, Austria
It's no wonder that Vienna experiences the biggest rush of tourists during the holiday season, as nearly every inch of the city is decorated in an abundance of lights and cheer. To truly experience the spirit of Christmas in Vienna, be sure to head to the lake in front of the Upper Belvedere Palace, where the lights from the decorations cast mesmerizing reflections on to the water—making for the perfect Instagram moment. After that walk along the water, head to one of Vienna's many Christmas markets to purchase seasonal gifts for those special people on your shopping list.
Natal Luz; Gramado, Brazil
Translating to "Christmas of Lights," Natal Luz, the Christmas tradition in Brazil, is only for the truly die-hard fans of the holiday, as the events light up every of this cozy mountain as early as October. To get a sense of what the season feels like in Gramado, simply imagine a Hallmark card Christmas that lasts for a total of 81 days—with the festivities lasting for nearly three months never seeming to bother the locals, who all cheerfully chip in to make every visitor feel welcome in their Christmas oasis. Whether you're attending a show, admiring the dazzling lights displays, or participating in one of the many parades or ceremonies, Natal Luz can make even the worst case of Bah Humbug disappear into a large vat of hot chocolate and tinsel.
Liseberg Amusement Park's Christmas Market; Gothenburg, Sweden
Considered to be the creme de la creme of Scandinavian Christmas experiences, the Liseberg Amusement Park's Christmas Market brings a certain amount of holiday warmth to the town of Gothenburg, Sweden. Using more than 5 million twinkling lights, carousels, ice ballet, and numerous other magical displays to entrance visitors upon entry. The treasure hunting fun proves to be the perfect Christmas expedition for children, as people of all ages wander through the medieval village to find their Christmas gifts. In short: in Gothenburg, magic is waiting around every corner.
Plaisirs d'Hiver; Brussels, Belgium
This end-of-year celebration has become one of the most popular in the world, with more than 2 million visitors streaming in during the month of December to take part in the various lights shows, Christmas markets stocked full of unique gifts, Christmas cuisine, and festivities that last for 5 weeks in the winter. For the 18th edition of the festival taking place this year, visitors can look forward to the high-tech dome designed for spectacular holiday festivals, shows, and new technologies.
Callaway Gardens; Pine Mountain, Georgia
The Fantasy in Lights show at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia, has become a staple celebration in the southern United States, with 2,500 acres of stunning landscape decorated with holiday lights and decorations. To truly experience the resort in all of its holiday glory, be sure to reserve a room, as the stay overnight will allow you to feast on the delicious southern cuisine and fully revel in the other resort experiences like the spa and on-site golf course.
The Whole City; Hong Kong, China
Hong Kong, China, is unique in the way that its sprawling perimeters seem to be brimming full of Christmas cheer during the holiday season. In fact, nearly every town square and park in the city is full of decoration and sporting a large Christmas tree—with all of the national ballets, orchestras, restaurants, and shops in between exhibiting a separate but equal amount of holiday cheer. And for more ways to help those who won't have the chance to get away this year, check out these 23 Ways to Help Someone Who's Alone for the Holidays.
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