There’s something about light shows that has captured the imagination of mankind for centuries. From candlelit masses to the eye-dazzling electric light shows of today, we’ve always had a thing for a bit of dazzle. This is especially true around the holidays, when the nights get longer and we need a little something to lift our spirits in the winter darkness.
If you’d like to do more than just visit your hometown’s Christmas display, though, then there are plenty of great destinations all around the world where you’ll be able to take in a light show that will really blow you away. Below, we’ve listed our four top destinations for a truly unforgettable experience.
Kobe Luminaire, Japan
Back in 1995, the Japanese city of Kobe was hit by a devastating earthquake which left over 6,000 dead and caused over $100 billion in damages. Many people were left without power and water, and had to live in darkness while the recovery efforts took place. In response, the Italian government decided to help rally the city together by donating over 200,000 hand-painted lights to not only light the city at night, but also to symbolize recovery and hope for the future.
It was only meant to be a one-off event, but it was so popular that the Luminaire now takes place for two weeks every December. In keeping with the original spirit of the event, the lights are all lit using energy generated by biomass, so that the Luminaire is fully environmentally-friendly. The lights are switched on for about two hours, and major streets are closed off to traffic so that pedestrians can fully enjoy the displays. If you decide to make the trip over to Japan to see it for yourself, then you’ll be in good company- between 3 and 5 million people come to see the Kobe Luminaire every year!
Rockefeller Center, New York
Possibly the most famous set of Christmas lights in the whole world, Rockefeller Center attracts millions upon millions of visitors every year. The tree lighting ceremony is broadcast live on TV to millions of viewers, and from then until well into the New Year, tons of people flock to the square to soak up that unique New York festive atmosphere. The star of the show is the Christmas tree, which last year measured in at a whopping 94 feet. The tree is covered in thousands of lights, and each year the decorations around it are based on a different theme. The other big reason why people come to the Rockefeller Center around the holidays is to try out the legendary ice rink- although be warned, you might be in for a long wait, since there’s no way of booking in advance.
The great thing about Rockefeller Center is that it’s right in the heart of New York, so a visit here is a great excuse to explore the rest of the city, too. You’ll find that many of the surrounding streets are decked out in Christmas lights, and you can really feel the holiday spirit everywhere you turn. There’s a reason why so many Christmas movies are set in New York- there’s something truly special about the city at this time of year, and a Christmas trip to see the lights is something that everyone should aim to do at least once in their lives.
Miracle on 34th Street, Baltimore
Back in 1935, Miracle on 34th Street, one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time, was released to theatres. While the film in set in New York, you’ll find a 34th Street in plenty of cities around America- including Baltimore, where the street’s residents wanted to do something to get in the festive spirit themselves. They decided that they would go all-out in decorating their homes with an enormous array of Christmas lights, and the tradition has carried on to the present day, over 70 years later. Unlike the Rockefeller Center display, this one is organized entirely by volunteers who live on the street itself, and it therefore has a much more personal feel about it. Every house shows its owner’s personality in their choice of decorations, and each one is therefore something unique.
People from all over the world come to view this single jaw-dropping street, and it’s not unheard of for more than a million visitors to stop by in a single evening. There are all sorts of different Christmas trees and lights on display, ranging from Disney characters to a whole heap of Santas. The most famous house, though, is the one belonging to Jim Pollock, who carefully crafts Christmas trees and other decorations out of discarded hubcaps, which are then decked out with stunning light displays. He’s also known for his snowmen made out of bike wheels, and occasionally he has invited visitors inside his home to view more of his outsider artwork.
However, there’s a thing to keep in mind. When the light shows are man-made, there’s a price to pay. Check out this interesting infographic on the cost of lighting some of the most famous landmarks in the world!
While the other light shows on this list are man-made, the Aurora Borealis goes to show that nature can provide some awe-inspiring sights that we can only dream of imitating. While they are only fully visible in a relatively thin strip of the world- latitudes 65 to 72- there are still plenty of places where you can get a great view of this incredible natural phenomenon. If you live in America, then Alaska is probably your best bet, since you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a glimpse of the Northern Lights here. Make your way out of the cities and into the tundra after dark, and you’ll be treated to a fantastic view of the Aurora Borealis.
Of course, North America isn’t the only place where you can see the Northern Lights. In Europe, parts of northern Scotland are the ideal location for Brits who don’t want to leave their home turf to take a look for themselves. While the Northern Islands are the best place to go, since there’s less light pollution and they are within the Aurora Borealis sweet spot, you might still be able to catch a glimpse from the northern highlands on a clear night, too.
Elsewhere in Europe, Finland is another great destination for sky-watchers who want to go on their own icy adventure. Our top pick here is the town of Nellim, which is right by Lake Inari, the third-largest lake in the country. That way, you’ll get to enjoy some gorgeous landscapes too, all lit by spectacular green light.
Disclaimer: Some of the information was provided from a press release by Festive Lights