Everyone knows that there are two ways to truly embody the spirit of Christmas. First, spend tons of money on expensive electronic gifts so that everyone knows you’re the cool uncle in the family. Second, erect a glorious light display that shoots your electric bill into the stratosphere, threatens to burn down your entire block, and prevents your next-door neighbors from sleeping for the entire month of December (that’s what curtains are for, Steve!).
Unfortunately, we know that most people can’t take three weeks off to construct a scale replica of the nativity scene covered in so many flashing bulbs that it looks like baby Jesus is breathing technicolor flames. Luckily, we traveled far and wide (on the internet) to find some of the world’s most extravagant Christmas light displays, for your entertainment. These courageous souls braved icy weather, annoyed in-laws, and potential alien attacks to create enormous works of art that are likely to blind Santa’s reindeer and send him straight into a snowdrift.
Barnsley Resort, tucked away in northwestern Georgia, features one of the most tasteful holiday light displays around, with more than a million bulbs scattered across the grounds. The Resort — whose construction was apparently ordained by a ghost in the mid-1800s — runs an annual promotion called “Light up the Holidays,” where guests receive a themed bauble and an additional $50 credit to spend at any of Barnsley’s many amenities and programs. If, for some reason, you don’t want to book a room at a potentially haunted resort in rural Georgia, you can always just drive several hundred miles to walk around and look at the lights.
- When: November 24, 2016 – January 8, 2017
- Price: $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and students, free for children under 12 and guests
Los Angeles’ Descanso Gardens is a year-round botanical extravaganza, where Southern Californians can ditch their brown lawns and escape into a fantasy world where everyone has enough water all the time, even though it never rains.
From late November through early January, however, the Gardens are transformed into a colorful, mile-long light show that’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Visitors must purchase tickets in advance — tours are guided and scheduled rather strictly — but if you live in the greater L.A. area, this is a display you legitimately won’t want to miss.
- When: November 25, 2016 – January 8, 2017
- Price: $28 for adults, $24 for seniors and children ages 3 to 17, free for children under 2
If you ever happen to find yourself in Clifton, Ohio, in the middle of the winter, immediately drive to the nearest airport and fly somewhere warmer. If that’s not an option, your next best bet is to check out the Legendary Lights of Clifton Mill, a crazy display that runs from Thanksgiving through the end of the calendar year.
It takes six men nearly three months to decorate the area (it operates as a water-powered grist mill by day), which consists of more than 3.5 million lights. The $10 admission fee also grants you access to a miniature village and an extremely creepy Santa museum, one that features more than 3,000 different Santa-related knickknacks to fuel the worst nightmares you’ve had since seeing Krampus.
- When: November 25, 2016 – December 31, 2016
- Price: $10 for adults, free for children under 6
If you prefer classy Christmas decor over cheesy, colorful light displays, you’ll love the Nights of Lights festival in St. Augustine, Florida. Located near Jacksonville, the picturesque town is bathed in warm golden lights each December, with nearly the entire city center awash. Visitors can sign up for several different tours and activities during the festival — which is smack dab in the middle of its 23rd birthday — or simply take it upon themselves to explore the only town left in Florida with any dignity (just kidding).
- When: November 19, 2016 – January 31, 2017
- Price: free
Copenhagen is one of the most scenic cities in the world, replete with parks and beautiful waterfront vistas. Tivoli Gardens, one of the world’s most popular theme parks (and pleasure gardens, which doesn’t mean what you think it means) is home to a spectacular Christmas gala that’s more than worth the price of admission.
The park offers holiday-themed rides during the months of November and December, as well as seasonal additions to the park’s gift shops and restaurants. Oh, and by the way, the lights are incredible too.
- When: November 19, 2016 – December 31, 2016
- Price: 99.00 DKK
In the unlikely event that you’re visiting Missouri and thinking to yourself “this place is just too futuristic and progressive,” Silver Dollar City is the place for you. During the first 10 months of the year, the massive 1880s-themed amusement park offers more than 40 rides and shows, plus craftsmen, food, and shops that fit the park’s antiquated motif.
When the weather turns sour, the Christmas spirit comes out in a big way, as more than five-million lights adorn the park’s many rides and buildings. Patrons can enjoy the usual holiday stuff — feasts, Christmas-themed plays, train rides — plus a parade featuring some well-lit floats and costumed characters.
- When: November 5, 2016 – December 30, 2016
- Price: $61 for adults, $59 for seniors, $50 for children ages 4 to 11
Korea’s Garden of Morning Calm, which celebrated its 20th birthday in May, features more than 30,000 square meters of diverse flora curated to represent Korea’s natural beauty within curves, spaces, and natural elegance. As Christmas approaches, all that fancy stuff is thrown out the window in favor of bright, gaudy lights packed closely together. Few light installations are as eye-catching, and barely any look this cool from above. The Lighting Festival lasts from early December through March, so don’t worry about planning your visit too specifically.
- When: December 2, 2016 – March 26, 2017
British Columbia is one of the most beautiful spots on Earth, and Vancouver Island’s Butchart Gardens are no exception. The Gardens, first established in the pit of a limestone quarry in 1904, receive close to a million visitors each year, and have been designated a National Historic Site of Canada.
When many of the plants and flowers disappear for the winter, the Magic of Christmas event arrives, bringing with it musical entertainment, ice skating, and truckloads of hot cocoa. If you find yourself in the Pacific Northwest during the holidays, make sure you check out the gorgeous light display at the Gardens.
- When: December 1, 2016 – January 6, 2017
- Price: $26.60 for adults, $13.30 for youth, $3.00 for children
Christmas in Medellín is a spectacular, citywide light show without equal. Since the 1950s, Empresas Públicas de Medellín (the Medellín public business bureau) has led the city in decorating its buildings, parks, and waterways in glorious fashion, with a style unlike any other on this list. Giant sculptures are dressed in colorful lights, and each year a different theme is selected.
In terms of sheer scale and total number of lights, El Alumbrado (“The Lighting”) easily tops our list. From glowing lilypads along the Rio Medellín — where the tradition began — to a host of illuminated animals and flowers, the city is full of unique art that attracts millions of tourists annually.
If you’d prefer to spend your holidays in a lavish Southern resort instead of slogging through snowy gardens, you might want to consider booking a room at Nashville’s Opryland Hotel. The Christmas decorations — which are so ridiculous that employees begin setting up in July — include ginormous strings of bulbs that hang from the ceiling of the equally ginormous atrium, and there are literally hot air balloons floating around that are decked out with lights. The hotel’s Country Christmas event schedule also includes snow tubing, stage performances of holiday classics, and even an ice luge — what’s not to love?
- When: November 11, 2016 – January 1, 2017
- Price: varies
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