Jolly Holiday! 10 Spectacular Light Shows Around the World

Jolly Holiday! 10 Spectacular Light Shows Around the World

These cities' dazzling spectacles are worthy of passport stamps.

By Rachel McRady
It might seem like the sun sets just as you're finishing lunch lately. But despite short, dark days here at home, winter is a time for dazzling lights all around the world — and some global cities put on festive holiday shows that alone are worthy of the trips to visit. Here's our countdown of 10 special spectacles to check out around the world as you travel this holiday season (or start scheming for next year)!

10. Brussels, Belgium

The Plaisirs d’Hiver or "Winter Wonders" is an annual event that draws in more tourists than almost any other attraction in Brussels. And that should come as no surprise to those who have seen it. There's an ice skating rink, enormous Christmas tree, and a bold sound and light show, which takes place on the backdrop of the historic buildings on the rue Henri Maus and the Bourse-De Brouckère axis.

9. London, England

You’ll be hard pressed to find a spot in London that’s not covered in dazzling lights at this time of the year. But few wintry spectacles can compare to the bustling Oxford Street. This year there are 1,778 snowball decorations, comprised of 750,000 LED lightbulbs. Plus, new golden baubles contribute some additional sparkle this year. If that’s not enough, take a stroll through Covent Garden or down Bond Street for some more festive magic. 

8. Vienna, Austria

What more grand place to display lights than a 19th-century Neo-Gothic town hall building? The magnificent edifice serves as the annual centerpiece for the capital city. There's also a Viennese Christmas Market, which is open daily — even on Christmas. This year, Vienna lights its 92-foot Christmas tree red, white, and blue in honor of the victims of the Paris terrorist attacks. 

7. Newport Beach, California, U.S.A.

It may not been a Winter Wonderland that Frosty could survive, but Southern Californians still know how to celebrate the season in style. Newport Beach is home to the annual Christmas Boat Parade, which features some of the most tricked-out vessels you’ll ever see. See Santa aboard a variety of boats, from yachts to kayaks. Some owners spend $50,000 to decorate their ships for the annual event.

6. Paris, France

It’s been a tragic year for the City of Light. But Paris is defiant after the terror attacks, with a more brilliant display of holiday lights than ever. The avenue des Champ-Elysees, avenue Montaigne, Bercy Village, and many more places around the city are illuminated for the special season. The Paris Illuminations Tour by bus offers views of all the pageantry.

5. Kobe, Japan

That noise you just heard was your jaw dropping to the ground. A masterpiece of light art can be found in Kobe's Higashi Yuenchi Park. It's a tradition that dates back to the late '90s when Italy loaned Japan thousands of custom bulbs following the devastating earthquake of 1995. The park is a monument to the temblor and the display is known as the "Light of Hope." 

4. Frankfurt, Germany

The famed Christmas market in Frankfurt features a giant tree — bien sur — plenty of well-lit vendors, and a carousel covered in white lights. Nestled in the beautifully constructed St. Paul’s Square, the scene couldn’t be more magical. 

3. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

You’ve never seen a Christmas tree like this! Brazil boasts the world’s largest floating tree in the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. Fireworks amp up the impact in true splashy Brazilian style. Three million lights comprise the tree alone, and it changes colors and patterns several times a minute. 

2. New York City, New York, U.S.A.

New York, of course, offers the annual televised Christmas tree lighting in Rockefeller Center — but retailers' beautiful displays make Fifth Avenue an ogling destination as well (as well as a fine place to swipe that credit card). Each designer store is lit up with and instillation of its own, and while Bergdorf Goodman's window displays inspired their own documentary, Saks Fifth Avenue, too, draws in endless eyeballs every year with its creative light shows. This year it's a Disney-esque winter palace that lights up every 10 minutes with accompaniment by "Carol of the Bells."

1. Rome, Italy

Few cities take Christmas as seriously as Rome; it is right next to the Pope in Vatican City, after all. The historic capital comes to life at the holidays with icicle light-lined streets, and giant trees all over from the Piazza Venezia to the Colosseum. Look for dazzling holiday displays in the city's famed haute couture boutiques too; the Fendi store on Via del Corso always goes all out. 
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