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.
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.
New Orleans, Louisiana
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!
Just because the weather here is gorgeous in December, it doesn’t mean that Christmas should be any less festive. Honolulu residents love their holiday lights, and it shows. Honolulu’s massive 50-foot tree is the highlight, but the city also celebrates with block parties, Keiki rides, and a parade. Next, head to East Honolulu to find Mariners Village 2‘s Candy Cane Lane—a path of twinkling lights that lead to Santa, his reindeer, a penguin, and more. While you’re in paradise, don’t miss the best beaches in Hawaii to visit in your lifetime.
Never heard of this tiny mountain town? Its holiday-lights display ought to put it on the map. Gatlinburg hosts a Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade and a Trolley Ride of Lights, in which you take a trolley through downtown and East Parkway to view all the wonderful lighting displays while sipping hot cocoa. During the parade, floats are decorated with LED lights, balloons, and holiday characters. This year, actress Alyvia Alyn Lind, who portrayed Dolly Parton in the 2015 special Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors, will be the Grand Marshal. The holidays are all fun and games, of course, until your neighbors won’t take down their Christmas decorations.
It may not feel like Christmas in Florida due to the heat, but the town of Naples goes all out when it comes to holiday decorations. Some neighborhoods do themes (snowflakes, candy canes, snowmen, etc.), while others go for gold with the entire kitchen sink. The most famous street in the area is Windsor Way, which is definitely worth a visit. Residents coat their roofs with holiday displays, display scenes from Christmas movies, hand-carve Grinch characters, and more. Christmas is a full-time job in Naples. Here are some more of the best destinations to visit for a warm Christmas.
Raleigh, North Carolina
They do lights so well here, they have multiple tours to show them off. We love the Griswold Lights & Sights trolley tour, which takes you through downtown Raleigh and then out of town to see the brightest lights in Wake County. If you don’t have time for this two-hour tour, grab the Santa Express for a trolley ride through downtown with Santa. You’ll get to see the area’s holiday highlights and pose with the big guy himself. If you’re doing your own lights this year, make sure you follow these holiday safety rules.
Cape May, New Jersey
If you’ve ever wanted to visit a Victorian seaside town that looks like it’s straight out of a Dickens novel, then Cape May is the place to go. Under the twinkling lights, people tell Victorian ghost stories that are actually quite scary, the town hosts multiple tree-lighting ceremonies, and you can take holiday-themed trolley rides to really soak it all in and embrace the season.
Prescott describes itself as “Arizona’s Christmas city.” That’s because they go all out for the holiday, with a holiday light parade, a separate Christmas parade, a lighting ceremony, a holiday music night, and more. There’s even a gingerbread village display. Essentially, anything that can be covered in fairy lights is decorated in fairy lights in Prescott. BYO sunglasses. Thinking about traveling to see the lights? These are the best and worst airports for holiday travel.
Located in Santa Barbara’s wine country, Solvang is a beautiful Danish town that sparkles during the holiday season. The main road in downtown, called Copenhagen Drive, turns its shops into Christmas displays, with lit-up trees decorated in a representation of each store’s offerings outside their front doors. At night, just strolling down the street will prove a pleasant experience, with every inch of building and tree lit up. The conjoining streets are sure not to disappoint with their displays and lights as well. Be sure to check out the annual Julefest (Yule-Fest) in December. From the Tree-Lighting Ceremony to the packed parade, you’ll have the opportunity to listen to live music, watch the arrival of Santa Claus, and eat delicious treats. Don’t miss these Christmas traditions from around the world.
Some towns can’t help but look like Christmas wonderlands all on their own, what with the constant flurries of snowflakes. Maine is one of those special places where winter is what you would expect. Boothbay, Maine, shines brightly during the holiday season with artistically displayed lights at the Boothbay Festival of Lights. The seaside town transforms with thousands of lights on shops, restaurants, and hotels. More than 500,000 LED lights decorate the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens’ central gardens and buildings. There’s also a silent auction of more than 60 decorated trees and related items, and even a lighted boat parade, in which local captains decorate their hulls with lights for a nautical holiday harbor cruise. Here are more towns that are even more special when covered in snow.
In small towns, driving at night is often void of streetlights when you need them most. But think of being on a dark countryside road when suddenly you come over a hill and find yourself amid a shining valley filled with more than one million Christmas lights. This is Bernville, Pennsylvania’s Kozier Christmas Village. For 70 years, the village has become bigger and more popular, attracting visitors from near and far. Christmas lights take over buildings, gift barns, and landscapes—the reflection in the nearby lake adding even more magic. Here are more of our favorite small towns across the United States.
The town of Leavenworth, Washington, is a small Bavarian town in the mountains where the Christmas spirit thrives. Millions upon millions of lights ignite during the Christmas lighting ceremonies that take place the first three weekends of the month. Called the Village of Lights, there are concerts, horse-drawn sleighs, shops filled with unique wares, and many restaurants and cafes decorated in the holiday spirit. Get into the holiday spirit with these hilarious Christmas cartoons.
McAdenville, North Carolina
With a nickname of “Christmas Town USA,” you’d better expect that McAdenville, North Carolina, goes all out for Christmas time. Now in its 62nd year, the tiny town of less than 700 people celebrate the season with an array of events, kicked off by a Christmas lighting ceremony that takes place on December 1st. Nearly 400 live trees ignite each night in decorations and lights through the 26th. Along with the tree lighting ceremony, there is a Yule log ceremony and an annual Christmas town festival. The Yule log is pulled through town on a sled by local children, with residents and visitors in tow. Once it reaches downtown, the log is set on fire as a commencement of the annual Christmas Town Festival. Here’s the history of 10 favorite Christmas traditions.
St. Augustine, Florida
Florida may not be known for its snow-covered landscape in the winter, but what it lacks in chilly temperatures it makes up for in spirit. The small, historic town of Saint Augustine, Florida, celebrates the season with a nightly lighting beginning November 19th through the end of January. Called the Night of Lights, about three million lights adorn every corner of the historic district. The downtown businesses keep their doors open on the late side, allowing visitors to enjoy the sweet sight of the lit-up buildings from inside, while tours via horse and carriage, trains and trolleys, and more all allow for spectacular views of the sparkly spectacle.
North Pole, Alaska
The town of North Pole, Alaska, located near the Fairbanks, is best known for its year-round Christmas decorations, including candy cane–striped streetlights. Come Christmas time, things get kicked up a notch with the Christmas in Ice. This event involves lighting up an impressive Christmas art display made of ice, which lasts for six weeks. The display is located next to the Santa Claus House—a Christmas store with walls covered in children’s letters to Santa and a huge Santa statue outside.
A tiny, isolated island situated off the coast of Cape Cod, Nantucket, Massachusetts, may best be known as a summer destination, but the winter season certainly doesn’t disappoint. Over 100 trees glisten with Christmas lights along the cobblestone streets during the Nantucket Noel Christmas Stroll, which begins the day after Thanksgiving with the Annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. Events continue to impress, with Santa and Mrs. Clause arriving aboard a Coast Guard vessel and escorted up Straight Wharf by the Town Crier.
Referred to as the Ozark Mountain Christmas, Branson, Missouri, goes all out during the holidays. Among the festive events includes the Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade, where, along with two holiday music productions, a five-story special effects Christmas tree stands tall within Silver Dollar City, an 1880’s style theme park. Along with six million Christmas lights in the park, Christmas in Midtown features 1.5 million more lights on buildings in the center of the theme park.
Santa Claus, Indiana
As if there weren’t enough towns on this list featuring Christmas-inspired names, Santa Claus, Indiana, is another one that lives up to its name come the Christmas season. There are plenty of places to take in the Christmas lights, including Land of Lights, known as the largest campground holiday light show in America. Another noteworthy event includes Christmas Lake Village, where, within a gated community that opens its gates for the public, there are more than 800 homes featuring over-the-top creative Christmas decorations and lights.
For a recreated Winter Wonderland, you can’t do better than the Christmas Festival of Lights at the Edaville Family Theme Park in Carver, Massachusetts. There are over 18 million lights strewn throughout the parks, including the recreated holiday village. Best of all, train lovers get unlimited Christmas train rides. Tickets are available for the Edaville Express: Where’s Santa?, a 45-minute train ride to Santa’s Workshop, complete with cookies, hot chocolate, and caroling. Festivities start on Thanksgiving Day.
Pine Mountain, Georgia
Callaway Resort & Gardens gets fully decked out for Christmas, earning the tiny town a spot in National Geographic’s top ten light displays in the world—not even New York or Chicago made the list. The Fantasy in Lights display lets visitors hop aboard the “Jolly Trolley” then journey through Christmas Tree Lane, the Enchanted Rainbow Forest, Snowflake Valley, and other magical sights. Check out these other small towns that beat any big-city vacation.
The town of Holland, Michigan, has the European charm its name suggests year-round, but things get extra cozy when Dutch WinterFest rolls by every year. Try planning a visit around Santa’s first appearance in the Parade of Lights in late November, or enjoy the open-air market any time during the holiday season.
What better place to get into the holiday spirit than the home of the world’s largest Christmas store? After getting your fill of Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, the rest of “Michigan’s Little Bavaria” has plenty to offer, from a candle-lit walk by the river to its Christkindlemarkt of small vendors.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
This ski town sure knows how to do Christmas. Not only does it have jaw-dropping lights displays, like its impressive lit-up arches of elk antlers, but the Glow Worm Parade marks the end of the year by inviting families to be part of the lights display, carrying glow sticks and torch lights down Eagles Rest Peak. You won’t want to miss these 32 things you never knew about the holiday season.
More than 300,000 Christmas lights and 100 lit-up displays illuminate the streets of Natchitoches, Louisiana, during the holiday season, but you’ll want to look up to the sky as well. Every Saturday from mid-November through December, the skies explode with color for a fireworks show, designed to go along with a Christmas music soundtrack.
Main Street, Fredericksburg lights up the night with its festive reds, greens, and more. But the must-see spectacle is the massive 26-foot-tall German Christmas Pyramid, complete with moving wooden figures and a spinning windmill. Don’t miss these warm, fuzzy holiday traditions you’ll want to start this year.
The main square of Bedford, Ohio, is filled with festive Christmas lights and music throughout the holidays. No surprise with a town that (almost) shares its name with the fictional Bedford Falls from It’s a Wonderful Life. For one day in December, the real Bedford goes in full-on holiday mode to pay homage to the classic film. Do you love holiday movies? These are the 40 best Christmas movies of all time.
Cape Neddick, Maine
During the winter, the Nubble Lighthouse is lit extra-bright, as it’s outlined with cozy white lights. Visiting New England’s must-see display, visitors can also sneak a peek of the holiday “tree” made of stacked lobster traps. If you can’t stand the cold temperatures, you’re in luck—the lighthouse also celebrates Christmas in July most years.
Traverse City, Michigan
Expansive skies and the occasional glimpse of the Northern Lights aren’t the only impressive lights you’ll see in Traverse City, Michigan. The holiday shopping hub transforms at night with strings of lights brightening up the downtown. In nearby Bear Lake, your family can view 50 stunning light displays at Sparkle in the Park. This is where to find the most charming small town in every state year-round.