The 35 Best Small Towns for Christmas Lights
Some of America’s quaintest towns take the holiday spirit to a whole other level, going to great lengths to transform the ordinary into extraordinary. From coast-to-coast, here are some of the best Christmas lights small towns in America have to offer.
For a truly merry and bright Christmas
We can essentially thank Thomas Edison for the holiday lighting bonanza that we enjoy today. In 1880, he was determined to make Manhattan shine, and in order to promote that idea, he put his incandescent light bulbs on full display in Menlo Park, New Jersey, for passengers traveling from New York and Philadelphia to see. Eight miles of underground wire connected strings of lights, and observers described this pre-Christmas spectacle as a “fairyland of lights.” By today’s standards, of course, that feat would seem modest. Need proof? Visit these small towns across America to see the most magnificent fairylands of all. If you’re traveling overseas for the holidays, check out these amazing cities to experience Christmas.
Courtesy Chicago Botanic Garden
Every year, the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois, transforms itself into a shower of holiday lights. They always do it a little differently, and this year, they’ll be debuting Lightscape, an illuminated trail set along a mile-long path. Arrive in the evening, and you’ll be greeted with a choir of singing trees as you walk under the tunnel of lights. “Lightscape will transform the garden into a festive, magical world of light, art, and sound, offering a whole new way to celebrate the holiday season,” says Harriet Resnick, the Botanic Garden’s vice president of visitor experiences and business development. Doing your own holiday lights? Here’s how to have the best display in the neighborhood.
In Ouray, they do holiday lights differently. Instead of lighting up the town, they light up the mountains. And it’s magnificent. This quaint Colorado town is known for ice climbing, so they’ve got some incredible rock-climbing routes. Warm up in the sulfur-free hot springs that have views of those holiday lights that cover the mountains you just hiked. Ouray County is also infamous for having quite possibly the most craft brewers per capita in Colorado. They have three breweries, two distilleries, and three coffee roasters—but just 4,500 locals. During WinterFest, they hold a light parade circling the town park. For something a little closer to home (depending on where you live, of course), check out the best Christmas town in your state.
Also known as Christmas City, USA, the little town of Bethlehem offers evening tours so people can wander through this small city of lights. The tours are given by certified guides wearing 1700s-era costumes, and they will take you to the famous star on top of South Mountain. Historic buildings have candles in each window, and the city decorates the trees and stores with lights. Just 30 minutes northwest of downtown Bethlehem, the Lehigh Valley Zoo also has a light festival featuring more than a million lights and many holiday-themed scenes within the zoo. Here are some more old-fashioned Christmas towns you should put on your bucket list.
This is such a classic holiday town, with the large trees, the piles of snow, and the elegant lights dotting the area. Arrive here in time for Woodstock Wassail Weekend and you’ll think you’re starring in a Hallmark movie: There are carolers who gather for the Yule log and the tree-lighting ceremony. No matter where you are for the holidays, you can try these old-fashioned Christmas traditions.
New Orleans, Louisiana
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New Orleans goes over-the-top for just about every event, and the holidays are no different. At the Celebration in the Oaks, more than 165,000 visitors arrive at the park to see this magical winter spectacle, where trees are covered in more than a million twinkling lights throughout the 25 acres of the park. And along the quaint side streets in New Orleans, you’ll see an abundance of historical homes that are shining for the holidays—and also adorned with garlands, nativity scenes, and Santa decor. Holiday lights are amazing, but they aren’t that fantastic for the environment. Here’s how you can be more eco-friendly this holiday season.
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville gets super creative with its holiday festivities. Watch Santa rappel down Chimney Rock, and visit the Biltmore Estate, which is as elegant as they come, all dressed up in ribbons and sparkly lights. And you can wander through more than 500,000 lights covering the North Carolina Arboretum. Not enough lights? On Main Street in Forest City, 60 miles from Asheville, there are 1 million lights draping all the trees starting on Thanksgiving. If you don’t want to make the drive, downtown Asheville doesn’t do a bad job with the lighting itself. For a trip at any time of the year, check out 15 of the most underrated American cities worth a visit.
You’ll feel as if you’re in Bavaria if you visit this charming mountain town. They receive more than 2 million visitors annually, but the best time to visit is during the holiday season (and, of course, also during Oktoberfest). The Lighting of the Village is a huge tradition here, and the entire town comes out to see the transformation. Also decked out is the Hardman Farm Historic State Site, which gets dressed up in period holiday decor for its Victorian Christmas. If you love the mountain vibe, don’t miss these other stunning mountain towns in America.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Every Christmas, this historic city is aglow with holiday lights and electric farolitos (small paper lanterns). The Santa Fe Plaza is home to the city’s Christmas trees: Within the park, the evergreens and a menorah are covered in lights. Also check out the Santa Fe Botanical Garden on Museum Hill, which hosts a spectacular annual winter-lights event called Glow. You’ll see thousands of twinkling lights and large-scale light installations throughout the garden. Christmas isn’t the only festival of lights, of course. Check out these amazing Hanukkah decorations and festivities around the country.
The residents of Montgomery appear to be competing with one another to be the holiday-light crowd favorite. Each house seems to have a bigger, brighter display than the last. One family even created a National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation theme, and it was totally extra. If you want to stick with the classics, go to the Montgomery Zoo’s Christmas Lights Festival, which is essentially a winter wonderland filled with thousands of lights. What to do after you’ve cruised around town to see the lights? Settle in for the evening with one of the best Hallmark Christmas movies, of course!