It’s almost impossible not to get in the holiday spirit at the sight of twinkling lights. Across the world, communities come together to celebrate the season, but in recent years, holiday light displays around the world have gotten even more creative, elaborate, and high-tech. Check out seven epic holiday light displays around the world and the history behind these dazzling installations.
Tivoli Gardens – Copenhagen, Denmark
This historic theme park first opened its doors in 1843, and its decorative lights have become a beloved winter tradition in Copenhagen. Tivoli is especially magical during December, and once you’ve experienced it, it’s hard to imagine the holiday season without it. The scent of pine hangs in the air as a million LEDs glitter throughout the park. At Tivoli’s Christmas market, charming wooden huts sell handmade ornaments, trinkets, toys, cocoa, delicious Danish pastries, and other treats. Over a thousand Christmas trees with twinkling lights and baubles line the snowy park pathways. Sip a glass of gløgg — what Danes call mulled wine — as you take in the spectacular scene.
Rockefeller Center – New York, New York
The sight of white angels framing the view of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in New York is as iconic as the adjacent ice rink. But how much do you really know about the Big Apple’s world-famous holiday nexus? It all began in 1931, when the very first tree, a small balsam fir decorated with garlands of dried cranberries, paper chains, and a few tin cans, stood in front of what was once a construction site. Since then, a 75-foot-tall Norway spruce typically from upstate New York or other nearby states has been unveiled — although the 1966 tree came from Canada and the 1999 tree measured a whopping 100 feet tall.
Once the lights on the tree go dark, the Rockefeller tree is salvaged. In 1971, it was recycled for the first time — mulched and spread across nature trails in upper Manhattan. Since 2007, the tree has even featured energy-efficient LED lights, and has been cut into lumber, which is donated to Habitat for Humanity to build homes.
Fête des Lumières – Lyon, France
The tradition of the Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights) in Lyon has roots that trace to the winter of 1852. It had been a turbulent year with social unrest, so when rain threatened the unveiling of a statue of the Virgin Mary at a church on Fourvière Hill, determined locals marked the occasion by placing candles in their windows instead.
That tradition has continued ever since but has evolved into an extraordinary festival that takes place each December. The event embraces creativity and encourages originality with an array of mesmerizing light shows that use the city’s many historic buildings and traboules (hidden covered passageways) as a stage.
Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Each December, residents of Rio de Janeiro eagerly await the lighting of the city’s iconic Christmas tree, which floats on Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. The tradition began in 1996, and was the brainchild of Roberto Medina, a Brazilian entrepreneur best known for staging the Rock in Rio concert. In 2007, the tree earned a Guinness World Record as the world’s largest floating Christmas tree, measuring an impressive 278 feet tall and covered in almost 3 million individual lights.
Trafalgar Square and Regent Street – London, England
London’s famous Christmas tree, a gift from Norway, is the star attraction in Trafalgar Square each December. A tree has been felled and shipped across the North Sea since 1947, as a present that expresses Norwegian gratitude for Britain’s help during World War II. Impressive though this is, the most stylish and sophisticated lights in the British capital can be found a mile away on Regent Street.
This street was the first place in central London to put on such a display — the first lights were installed back in 1954. In 2021, nearly 300,000 individual bulbs light up 45 angels as part of the street’s largest ever display, entitled “The Spirit of Christmas.” If that’s not enough, the dazzling gold stars of Oxford Street and the kaleidoscopic neon butterflies of Carnaby Street are only a short stroll away.
Christmas Wonderland – Singapore
As night falls year-round, colored lights accentuate the dramatic beauty of the Supertrees at Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay. These artificial, tree-shaped structures act as vertical gardens and host thousands of succulents and bromeliads. Unveiled in 2012 as part of Marina Bay’s redevelopment, the trees quickly became one of Singapore’s most recognizable and most photographed landmarks. So, it’s only fitting that the display becomes the backdrop for an additional nine magical light displays that comprise “Christmas Wonderland.”
The centerpiece is the Spalliera. Standing almost 70 feet tall, the structure was inspired by the Gothic-style cathedrals of Europe. A spectacular light tunnel called the Walk of Stars and the dazzling Enchanted Bridge further enhance these beautiful gardens. While you’re there, take a ride on a Venetian carousel, shop for gifts at Mistletoe Alley Market, and grab a selfie with Santa.
Amsterdam Light Festival – Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Artists from around the world are invited to submit ideas for Amsterdam’s annual Light Festival. For nearly a decade, the festival has incorporated the selected designs into light displays that often use water to produce exquisite reflections and illuminate the city’s historic canalside buildings. While it’s possible to walk or bike along the art trail to view these illuminated pieces, the displays are best appreciated via boat tour, which allows you to listen to commentary about the artists’ objectives.