THESE FESTIVE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS SHOWS AND YULETIDE EVENTS ACROSS THE UNITED STATES ARE SURE TO GET FAMILIES IN THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT THIS YEAR
‘Tis the season for dazzling Christmas lights shows. Plenty of eye-catching holiday lights displays can be found at convenient drive-to destinations throughout the United States, bringing lots of Christmas cheer. These festive holiday experiences feature millions of twinkling lights, colorful holiday light displays, beautifully decorated Christmas trees, classic characters and fun activities for every member of the family.
Families can enjoy driving through Christmas lights shows as well as special holiday events at amusement parks and botanical gardens. Some theme parks turn into winter wonderlands complete with holiday markets, Christmas villages and visits with Santa. Most Christmas lights shows and holiday events take place from mid- November through December, with some stretching into early January.
Here are 21 of the best Christmas light shows in the United States:
Austin Trail of Lights, Texas
The 59th annual Austin Trail of Lights in Zilker Park is designed to be a drive- through Christmas lights show this year. The Austin Trail of Lights features more than 2 million holiday bulbs, 90 beautifully decorated Christmas trees and 70 other holiday lights displays of various kinds including Santa’s home and workshop. It takes approximately 20 minutes to drive through the Austin Trail of Lights holiday lights display. A variety of different ticket types are available and all can be purchased online.
Bright Nights at Forest Park, Massachusetts
Bright Nights has welcomed more than 6 million visitors since its inception in 1995. This drive-through holiday lights show has been named as one of the “Top 100 Attractions in North America” by the American Bus Association and “One of the Top Ten Holiday Happenings in America” by People.com. Christmas lights displays at Bright Nights at Forest Park cover a wide variety of themes. Guests can also enjoy horse-drawn wagon and carriage rides, Supper with Santa events and other activities.
Hershey Sweet Lights & Hersheypark Christmas Candylane, Pennsylvania
Get in the holiday spirit at Hersheypark this year. The park celebrates the holiday season with multiple festive events. Located just a short drive from Hersheypark, Hershey Sweet Lights is a popular drive-through Christmas lights show. Hershey Sweet Lights presented by T-Mobile features two miles of fields and wooded trails decorated with close to 600 illuminated holiday displays made up of about 2 million LED lights. This drive-through Christmas lights show has been nominated for a 2020 USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice travel award as one of the best holiday lights displays in America. Guests also enjoy visiting the Hersheypark Christmas Candylane, which features more than 5 million festive lights, thrilling rides, close-up looks at Rudolph and his friends, photos with Santa, Hershey character experiences, holiday entertainment and more. There’s also a festive trail of over a dozen beautifully decorated Christmas trees at TREEville at The Boardwalk. Visitors can enjoy hot chocolate, s’mores and other sweet treats, too. The Official Resorts of Hersheypark offer special accommodations packages that include these holiday season attractions.
Portland International Raceway’s Winter Wonderland, Oregon
Portland International Raceway’s Winter Wonderland claims to be the “Largest Holiday Light Show West of the Mississippi.” Guests can view over 250 colorful lighted displays and animated scenes while driving along the raceway. Over 2 million visitors have enjoyed Portland International Raceway’s Winter Wonderland since its inception. Tickets must be purchased online. Certain nights are designated for biking or walking only. All proceeds from this Christmas lights show benefit Sunshine Division’s hunger relief efforts.
Lights On The Lake, New York
Located in Onondaga Lake Park, Lights On The Lake is a 2-mile-long drive-through Christmas lights show featuring approximately 350 massive holiday displays including the Land of Oz, a twinkling fantasy forest, colorful arches, animated scenes and a magical finale. About 600,000 lights are featured in this holiday lights show, which has delighted families for over 30 years. Visitors can turn their car radios to a specific station and listen to the sounds of the holiday season as they drive along the winding outdoor route. Tickets are available online and must be purchased in advance.
Winter Fest OC’s Night of Lights OC, California
Families have fun driving through this 1-mile-long interactive winter wonderland of lights at OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa. The holiday event features over 1 million lights animated to music plus snow flurries, appearances by Santa, themed holiday scenery and more. Guests planning to visit Winter Fest OC’s Night of Lights OC can pre-order hot chocolate, donuts, and Mom’s Bake Shoppe cookie buckets and brownies when buying their tickets online.
Fantasy in Lights at Callaway Resort & Gardens, Georgia
This festive Christmas lights show was named as one of the Top 10 Light Displays in the World by National Geographic Traveler. Fantasy In Lights delivers 2,500 acres of holiday cheer for families. Guests can enjoy seeing 10 million Christmas lights and 17 scenes as well as an accompanying sound show as they drive through the seven-mile Fantasy in Lights Enchanted Forest route. Visitors can drive through the Fantasy in Lights at Callaway Resort & Gardens holiday lights show in their own car or take the Jolly Trolley. This year, guests can also enjoy strolling through the new Callaway Christmas Village and marveling at the decorated trees on Christmas Tree Lane. A variety of Callaway Resort & Gardens overnight stay packages include tickets to this memorable holiday event.
Let It Shine, Illinois
This fun event in Northbrook turns the Northbrook Court shopping mall parking lot into a festive drive-through holiday musical lights show. Let It Shine guests can turn their car radios to a specific station and watch the lights dance to the music as they drive along the winding outdoor path. Let It Shine holiday light displays include huge Christmas trees, lighted tunnels, candy canes and illuminated characters. Families enjoy letting their kids stand up in the car sunroof while driving through the lighted tunnels. Tickets for this Christmas lights show must be purchased online. Special discounts at Northbrook Court restaurants and stores are available to Let It Shine ticket holders as well.
BayPort Credit Union Holiday Lights at the Beach, Presented By Food Lion, Virginia
Virginia Beach’s BayPort Credit Union Holiday Lights at the Beach, presented by Food Lion event has been named as one of the American Bus Association’s “Top 100 Events in North America” and the Southeast Tourism Society’s “Top 20 November Events.” Guests can drive along the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, marveling at the holiday lights displays with Christmas, nautical and adventure themes. Fun holiday features in this drive-through Christmas lights show include color-changing lighted archways, jumping fish, a surfing Santa, musical crabs, a 40-foot dancing-light Christmas tree, and a new 600-foot LED tunnel. All tickets for BayPort Credit Union Holiday Lights at the Beach, presented by Food Lion must be purchased in advance online for a specific date and timed entry period this year.
Galaxy of Lights at Huntsville Botanical Garden, Alabama
Alabama’s Galaxy of Lights at Huntsville Botanical Garden has been held for more than 25 years. This festival of lights features a 2.5-mile-long route filled will magnificent holiday lights displays of all kinds, from classic characters to favorite Christmas themes. Both walking and drive-through holiday lights experiences are available. Tickets for this Christmas lights show can be purchased online or at the Huntsville Botanical Garden’s front desk.
Glittering Lights at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Nevada
This popular drive-through Christmas lights show is a Nevada holiday tradition for many families. More than 600 spectacular holiday lights displays decorate 2.5 miles of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, featuring over 5 million twinkling lights and ornaments. A portion of the revenues from all Glittering Lights at Las Vegas Motor Speedway ticket sales is donated to Speedway Children’s Charities.
Koziar’s Christmas Village, Pennsylvania
Celebrating its 76th season this year, award-winning Koziar’s Christmas Village has been named as one of the Best Outdoor Christmas Displays in the World by Display World magazine. This festive holiday winter wonderland in Bernville includes numerous colorfully lighted buildings and displays such as Santa’s Post Office, the Toy Maker & His Toy Shop, Christmas in Other Lands, Christmas Beneath The Sea and more. Guests at this mammoth Christmas lights show can enjoy freshly baked treats and browsing in Santa’s Toy Shoppe for special gifts, ornaments and toys.
Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas, Tennessee
Over 6 million holiday lights shine at Dollywood during Smoky Mountain Christmas, a spectacular yuletide event in Pigeon Forge featuring award-winning shows, dazzling fireworks, festively decorated Christmas trees and elaborate lights displays. The park is completely transformed into a winter wonderland, with area-based themes and special lighting designs adding to the fun. One of guests’ favorite holiday lights displays is Glacier Ridge, which features a 50-foot tall, animated Christmas tree and sparkling arctic blue and white lights. Families can enjoy theme park rides, visits with Santa, classic holiday shows, and sweet treats. Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas has received 15 consecutive Golden Ticket Awards for America’s Best Theme Park Christmas event. Special Smoky Mountain Christmas holiday packages are available at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa, one of the nation’s top theme park hotels, and at the newly-opened Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort.
Glow Holiday Festival, Minnesota
Stroll through this beautiful holiday lights show at CHS Field in Saint Paul, Minnesota. This popular festival of lights experience features over a million twinkling holiday lights, a 60-foot-tall Christmas tree with a synced music light show, an enchanted forest, s’mores campfires, a huge snowy slide tube ride and much more. Families and kids take great holiday photos at the festival’s sELFie Plaza. Timed entry tickets for the Glow Holiday Festival must be purchased in advance.
Lights Under Louisville, Kentucky
Every year, the MEGA Cavern in Louisville is transformed into what is said to be the only underground Christmas lights show in the world. Guests can drive their own vehicles through underground passageways featuring 6,500,000 points of light and over 900 lighted characters and displays. Visitors can choose to take the Christmas Express open-air tram through the holiday lights show or they can take their own self-drive tour. Driving through Lights Under Louisville takes approximately 30 minutes.
Fantasy Lights at Spanaway Park, Washington
This holiday lights display is the largest drive-through Christmas lights show in the Northwest. The two-mile-long drive along Spanaway Lake features thousands of colorful lights and almost 300 holiday lights displays for guests’ viewing pleasure. Fantasy Lights at Spanaway Park is a drive-through only event and tickets should be purchased in advance. For added special effects, special Holiday Spec 3D glasses can be purchased online or at the Spanaway Park entrance booth.
Busch Gardens Christmas Town, Virginia
Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Christmas Town lights up the holiday season with over 10,000 million twinkling lights on display. During this festive celebration, the theme park transforms into one of the largest Christmas lights displays in North America. Busch Gardens Christmas Town guests can marvel at the magical wonderland of lights, visit Santa’s Workshop, shop for special gifts, sample holiday food and hot chocolate, and enjoy more than 25 thrilling rides, yuletide shows and musical performances. Families have fun riding on the Christmas Town Express, a 1.5-mile train trip showcasing two million Christmas lights, holiday displays and festive carolers. Elaborately decorated Christmas trees are also on display at this event. New features for this year include two beautiful light experiences, an all-new holiday show, and rides on the park’s brand new DarKoaster – North America’s first all-indoor straddle coaster.
Holiday Festival of Lights, South Carolina
The drive-through Holiday Festival of Lights in Charleston’s James Island County Park has been named as one of the best Christmas lights shows in the Southeast. The festive event features millions of twinkling lights adorning more than 750 displays set along the three-mile-long route. Holiday Festival of Lights guests can stroll to Santa’s Village to visit with Santa Claus, ride the carousel, spend time at the Reindeer Workshop and purchase treats from Santa’s kitchen. The Winter Wonderland area features holiday sand sculptures, gift shops, Festival Express holiday train rides, Santa’s Sweet Shoppe and Frosty’s Treats.
Let There Be Lights & Silver Dollar City’s An Old Time Christmas, Missouri
Branson, Missouri knows how to get vacationers in the holiday spirit. The destination turns into a Christmas winter wonderland during the yuletide season with Christmas light shows, holiday parades and live events. Drive-through holiday lights displays can be found in the Branson area. Let There Be Lights at Branson’s Promise Land Zoo is a 2-mile drive through Christmas lights show, the longest in the Ozarks area. Guests can also pet baby reindeer, take a ride on Santa’s Safari Tram and enjoy other activities. An Old Time Christmas at Silver Dollar City in Branson is another popular holiday event. Silver Dollar City features a total of 6.5 million lights including 1.5 million dazzling bulbs in the park’s Christmas In Midtown Light Spectacular. Silver Dollar City’s Christmas attraction is the five-time winner of USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice poll for the country’s Best Theme Park Holiday Event.
Oglebay Winter Festival of Lights, West Virginia
Oglebay Resort’s Winter Festival of Lights began in 1985 and has grown into one of America’s largest Christmas lights shows, attracting over one million visitors yearly. The six-mile drive-through attraction in Wheeling features 300 acres of twinkling lights and over 100 holiday lights displays. Oglebay Winter Festival of Lights guests can also enjoy guided holiday lights show trolley tours, Snowflake Express Train rides, a life-sized nativity display and other attractions. Holiday overnight packages at Oglebay Resort are also available.
Celebration in the Oaks, Louisiana
New Orleans’ Celebration in the Oaks has been named one of the country’s top holiday light shows. The grounds of New Orleans City Park are transformed into 25 acres of winter wonderland and colorful displays. The drive-through Christmas lights show features 2.25 miles of holiday lights displays and over one million twinkling bulbs strategically placed along the route. Guests can also enjoy a walking tour complete with unlimited access to 18 rides at the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park for an additional fee as well as photo opportunities and other activities. Guests should allow approximately 90 minutes for the walking tour. A festively decorated outdoor bar is located in the Botanical Garden as well. Tickets for Celebration in the Oaks must be purchased in advance and are date-specific for a set time slot. The driving tour of the light show takes approximately 30-47 minutes to complete.
By Nancy Schretter, Contributing Editor
Header Photo Credit: Callaway Resort & Gardens