Whether it’s the chilly mountains of Pennsylvania or the warm desert of Palm Springs, Americans get in the holiday spirit with lights, lights and more lights – Rudolph’s nose is just the beginning. Here’s where to sample the wide array of festive installations this December.
37th Street, Austin, Texas
From praying mantises to your classic reindeer: this residential block in the Texas capital started its lighting tradition in the 1980s with strings of lights looped across the road. Now it may be one of the most creative festive displays in the US, what with the nativity scenes and even artistically illuminated toilets (not for public use, fortunately).
Rockefeller Center, New York City
You’ve seen in it a thousand movies: the plaza at NYC's Rockefeller Center, with the ice rink below and the huge Christmas spruce towering above. The tree’s lights are lit in a ceremony on the first Wednesday in December, inaugurating the holiday season. Bonus: The Rockettes dance group are around the corner at Radio City Music Hall, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see one or two of the live camels used in their show out for a stroll.
Ditmas Park, Brooklyn
An alternative to the glitz and crowds of the Rockerfeller, Ditmas Park in Brooklyn is a family-friendly, old-New-York neighbourhood and with the houses covered in Santas, nutcrackers and more, it’s worth the subway ride out of Manhattan.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
The atmosphere in Albuquerque's Old Town district is decidedly low-tech, with paper-bag lanterns edging the adobe walls, but magical all the same. Nearby, the BioPark botanical gardens are strung with lights shaped like whales, pick-up trucks and giant creepy-crawlies.
34th Street, Baltimore, Maryland
If you’re in Baltimore, you’ve got to see the lights in Hampden, Maryland. This homey, grassroots light show – known as the Miracle on 34th Street, of course – covers several blocks of old row homes and draws families from all over the east coast to “ooh” and “ahh” over the sparkling display.
Koziar’s Christmas Village, Bernville, Pennsylvania
Out in rural Pennsylvania, this installation grew from one man’s house in 1948 to what it is today: the illuminated definition of the proverbial winter wonderland with model trains, elaborate dioramas, Santa’s Post Office and an old-fashioned bakery.
Disney World, Orlando, Florida
No surprises here: The Mouse spares no expense on holiday decoration at Christmas time. The park installs more than five million choreographed lights on New York Street. You can explore festive traditions around the world at Epcot, and hear the nativity story during a candlelit procession with a fifty-piece orchestra and a choir. All sprinkled, of course, with artificial snow.
Silver Dollar City, Branson, Missouri
A major destination in the Midwest, this theme park almost rivals Disney for lighting bling. The whole park lights up for its “Old Time Christmas” celebrations – best seen from the top of its massive wooden rollercoaster – and there’s a nightly parade with illuminated floats. Nibble on a hot apple dumpling and seasonal cinnamon ice cream when you get peckish.
Robolights, Palm Springs, California
File under W for Weird and Wonderful. For most of his life, Kenny Irwin Jr. has been building sculptures with found objects in his dad’s yard. Come wintertime (such as it is in desert California), he sets his bizarre creations – including Santas, robots, and vampires – all aglow.
Holiday Trail of Lights, Louisiana
Why limit your holiday-light-seeing to one town, when you could visit five? A cluster of towns in northern Louisiana put out their finest and brightest in December. In Natchitoches, you can admire the lights from a festive boat on the lake, and in Shreveport you can tour historic homes.
If you want to escape Christmas this year, check out our top places to go in December. Explore more of America with the Rough Guide to the USA, book hostels for your trip and don't forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.