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6 Spectacular Displays of Holiday Season Lights

Missouri, Texas, Washington, D.C., Kentucky, Florida

6 Spectacular Displays of Holiday Season Lights

By: Rebecca Strauss

Jeff Krause / Flickr
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  • States:
    Washington, D.C.

When it comes to Christmas and holiday lights, communities across the United States put on amazing displays, both public and private.

From friendly neighborhood competitions to see whose house shines most brightly to enormous public displays featuring millions of tiny twinkly lights, there are extraordinary sights to see. Here are six dazzling places around the USA to experience holiday lights.

Kansas City, Missouri

The KCP&L Plaza Lights

Inspired by the architecture of Seville, Spain, Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri, opened in 1923 to much success. It’s a year-round destination, with wide boulevards and Spanish-style buildings hosting high-end shops and gourmet restaurants, but it really shines during the holiday season. Every year, on the last Thursday in November (Thanksgiving in the U.S.), all 15 blocks of the plaza are simultaneously lit up with thousands of multicolored lights, outlining every dome, tower and window. The lights stay on until mid-January. One of the best ways to take them in is via horse-drawn-carriage ride.

Fireworks kick off festivities at the KCP&L Plaza.

Fireworks kick off festivities at the KCP&L Plaza.
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Brent Flanders / Flickr

Austin, Texas

Austin Trail of Lights

In the heart of south Austin, Texas, the state’s capital, is the 1.5-square-kilometer Zilker Park, home to walking trails, a botanical garden, a theater, picnic areas and more. During the holiday season, the park hosts the Austin Trail of Lights, a 2-kilometer walk through dozens of brightly lit displays, including a rainbow tunnel, Arctic holiday, the Little Mermaid, Pooh Corner and, of course, the North Pole. Musical performances, food vendors and rides abound. Don’t miss the Zilker holiday tree, which shines with 3,309 lights. At 47 meters, it’s is the world’s tallest man-made freestanding holiday tree.

Washington, D.C.

ZooLights at Smithsonian's National Zoo

Many of the nation’s biggest zoos feature holiday light displays. One of the best is in the nation’s capital of Washington, D.C. From late November through early January, more than 500,000 multicolored LED lights decorate the Smithsonian National Zoo. New for this year is a light show set to music. Visitors can ride the park’s carousel, try out one (or all) of three 46-meter-long snow-tubing tracks, or hop aboard the National Zoo Choo-Choo, a trackless train that carries riders to see the holiday displays. Drinks are available, and admission is free.

Every year you can enjoy the Smithsonian National Zoo at night while the whole park is decked out in colorful lights.

Every year you can enjoy the Smithsonian National Zoo at night while the whole park is decked out in colorful lights.
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Louisville, Kentucky

Lights Under Louisville

Created by a massive limestone quarry, the 372,000-square-meter Mega Cavern in Louisville, Kentucky, qualifies as the state’s largest building, despite being underground. Each year during the winter holidays, 27 kilometers of its underground passageways are transformed into a drive-through light show, featuring 2 million-plus multicolored lights and more than 850 lit characters, some of which are more than 7 meters tall. Visitors drive their own vehicles through the display, which takes about 30 minutes.

Branson, Missouri

Ozark Mountain Christmas

Branson — country music’s second capital, after Nashville, Tennessee — comes in first place during the holiday season with light displays throughout the town. Nestled in the Ozark Mountains, the Ozark Mountain Christmas celebrations feature three drive-through light shows, including the new LED-lit Branson’s Gift of Lights, with more than 300 displays. But the must-see lights are at theme park Silver Dollar City, where An Old Time Christmas features more than 5 million multicolored lights, a nightly Christmas parade, more than 1,000 decorated trees and a five-story Christmas tree.

Enjoy the warm atmosphere and bright lights at the Ozark Mountain Christmas celebrations.

Enjoy the warm atmosphere and bright lights at the Ozark Mountain Christmas celebrations.
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Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau

St. Augustine, Florida

Nights of Lights

Founded in 1565, St. Augustine, Florida, is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States. People visit the Spanish-style historic district, which has a rich pirating history, year-round, but during the holiday season it shines with 3 million white lights, decorating each of the buildings and winding up the trunks of the palm trees that line the streets. There are a number of ways to see the light show, which has origins in the Spanish tradition of placing a white candle in the window during the Christmas holidays. One of the most enjoyable is aboard the Holly Jolly Holiday Trolley, which features its own lights and shuttles riders throughout the town before finishing the tour with caroling, hot cider and cookies.