There’s nothing like a good holiday lights display to kick off the festive season.
A steaming hot drink cupped in your gloved hands, a woollen cap on your head, a fluffy scarf wrapping you up tight as you soak up the seasonal spirit in a city sparkling with the glow of lights.
The tradition of hanging lights began in 18th-century Germany where upper-class families would use candles to decorate their Christmas trees. Thanks to the introduction of electric lights, public displays grew and the custom spread across the globe with people lighting their homes, streets and public buildings, and the displays becoming more and more intricate.
In recent years, the magic of Christmas lights has spread even further afield to countries throughout Asia.
Every evening during the Christmas season, Orchard Road and Marina Bay in Singapore are lit up in full-on seasonal splendor with its Christmas in the Tropics light display.
Singapore’s famous shopping district celebrates with twinkling street lights, dressed-up shop windows, concerts, musicals and exhibitions.
In Toronto, the annual Cavalcade of Lights marks the official start of the holiday season with music, skating, dancing and a whole heap of Christmas lights!
Now in its 47th year, the Cavalcade was created in 1967 to showcase Toronto’s newly constructed City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square.
The festival usually falls on the final weekend of November when the Square and a giant Christmas tree are illuminated by more than 300,000 energy-efficient LED lights that shine from dusk until 11 p.m.
With a name like the City of Lights you’d expect Paris to shine at Christmas and it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
During the day you’ll come across the usual bustle of tourists at the iconic sites, but night time is when the magic really happens. With the sparkling Eiffel Tower, glitzy Champs-Élysées and starry streets, the city feels like a real-life fairy tale after dark.
Christmas in Medellin, Colombia, is a time when families come together to celebrate and enjoy the simple pleasure of looking at amazing decorations.
In December, the city’s thoroughfares, roads and parks are covered in thousands of fairy lights, with the most impressive displays found in Avenue la Playa and the Medellín River.
Every year thousands flock to the Medellin River to gaze at the million dollar displays, sample delicious food and enjoy street performances.
Seasonal illuminations around Christmas time have become a popular attraction in cities across Japan and none is more beautiful than the Kobe Luminarie.
After the Kobe earthquake of 1995, Italy donated thousands of hand-painted bulbs to the city and these were transformed into an intricate, gothic-style luminarie designed by Valerio Festi and Hirokazu Imaoka.
The tradition continues, and every year around four million locals and tourists alike come to celebrate Japan’s enduring resilience near Higashi-Yuenchi Park.
Baltimore, Maryland, United States
For 11 months out of the year, 34th Street in Baltimore is like any other street in North America, but in the month of December something truly magical takes place.
Now in its 63nd year, the “Christmas Street” light display sees thousands of visitors descend on this unassuming neighborhood to view some of the most fantastic, and quirky, lights in North America.
Each house on the block is decorated in the owner’s unique style and some homes include toy trains on rooftops and hubcap Christmas trees.
For the Christmas season, Lithuania’s capital city Vilnius gets covered in colorful garlands of electric lights and the country’s largest ‘Christmas tree’ (the Vilnius television tower under a vale of lights) is lit up.
In the Old Town Christmas Markets, taste festive treats and mulled wine, and then see if you can spot Santa or listen to carols in one of the city’s many churches.
For a dazzling performance like no other, check out the popular Magic Christmas display. This state of the art production sees the city’s cathedral transformed into a colorful storyboard with a “4D” projection of light, sound and even scent.
If experiencing a traditional European Christmas is on your list, it doesn’t get more perfect than celebrating Weihnachten in Vienna, Austria.
From mid-November 10 of Vienna’s city squares are transformed into beautiful Christmas Markets decorated with bushy trees and strings of twinkling fairy lights hanging from every available surface.
Top this off with stalls selling crafts, gifts, local produce, season foods and festive drinks and you’ve got enough Christmas spirit to cheer even the biggest Grinch.
Germany is the home of Christmas Lights so it’s no wonder the country’s capital really shines during the holiday season.
When the sun goes down on Berlin, the city’s historic buildings, streets and every available tree branch is lit up with colorful projections and row upon row of fairy lights.
Berlin’s illuminations are such a drawcard that visitors with a passion for photography can sign up for special guided tours of the lights.
Within the city squares and boulevards nearly 60 different Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Markets) provide even more glistening sights along with all the shopping, food and Glühwein (mulled wine) you’d expect from a Christmas market.
You’ll find some of the best illuminations at the 368m Fernsehtur (TV Tower), Alexanderplatz Market, Opera Palace, National Opera and the famous Brandenburg Gate and Charlottenburg Palace.
Disneyland, Los Angeles, United States
The happiest place on earth gets even merrier over the holiday season as Disneyland is transformed into an extravagant winter wonderland right in the heart of California.
Classic rides such as It’s A Small World and the Haunted Mansion are given luminous festive makeovers, while Main Street is decked out in the all the best Christmas trimmings.
Heralded by trumpeting toy soldiers, prancing reindeer, joyful gingerbread men and skating snowflakes, the Main Street Christmas Fantasy Parade sees all of Disney’s most popular characters dressed up in their holiday best.
The center piece of this magical display sees Sleeping Beauty’s Castle covered with snow-capped turrets, shimmering icicles and twinkling lights. Finally, everything is topped off by a dazzling pyrotechnics and fireworks spectacular.
Main image by David Blackwell