Deck the Halls: The World’s Twinkliest Christmas Lights
Published 30 March 2016
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas as one by one the world’s cities crank up the glitter and sparkle factor and switch on their festive lights, brightening up the cold winter nights. So what are you waiting for? Get yourself a glass of warm mulled wine and a mince pie and head on down to one of these twinkly displays.
New York City, USA
There’s something about The Big Apple at Christmastime that gives it a magical feeling unlike any other city. Featured in a thousand festive romcoms, its icy sidewalks throng with Christmas shoppers bundled up in scarves and hats while its inviting department stores burst with toys and decorations, filling the city with festive cheer. Lights and garlands appear on every street at this time of year but perhaps the most famous are those adorning the Norway spruce Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center. Forming a glittering backdrop to the ice rink, the tree, which has stood every year since 1933, is usually around 25 metres tall and covered in over 45,000 coloured lights, including a 250kg LED star.
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Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, Vancouver, Canada
Between November 27th and January 3rd, the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park lights up for its annual Canyon Lights extravaganza in aid of local charities. In an enchanting spectacle sure to delight children and big kids alike, hundreds of thousands of coloured lights adorn the suspension bridge, Cliffwalk, canyon and rainforest, including the world’s tallest living Christmas tree (47 metres tall).
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Riverside, California, USA
The owners of Riverside’s Mission Inn Hotel & Spa started putting up extravagant Christmas lights up in 1992, a tradition which soon spread citywide. The event, entitled the Festival of Lights, now includes over four million lights and even Santa Claus himself pops in for a look. There’s plenty of family-friendly entertainment to go with it, such as horse-drawn carriage rides, ice rinks and ‘real’ snow, while for the adults the Inn creates a 12 Days of Christmas cocktail menu, with 12 festive themed tipples to try, not all at once mind you.
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Despite it not being a traditional Chinese holiday, Hong Kong goes a bundle on Christmas, with its annual WinterFest featuring performances of the Nutcracker ballet, carol singing and gourmet Christmas dinners with all the trimmings. The shopping centres fill with stockings, baubles and ribbons as each tries to outdo the other with over-the-top Christmassyness, and illuminated skyscrapers along the waterfront are draped with Christmas lights. It’s a great time of year to watch the Symphony of Lights display, a nightly performance of lasers and fireworks set to music. And for true Christmas kitsch, don’t forget Hong Kong Disneyland, which is decked out in red, gold and green and turns into even more of a fairy-tale fantasy land than usual.
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Every year Medellín is covered from head to toe in lights in a festival known as El Alumbrado, or ‘the lighting’. The event gets bigger and better every year with increasingly creative displays. In previous years we’ve seen bright green lily pads ‘floating’ on the illuminated Medellín River, a giant three-dimensional aquarium filled with tropical fish, and a life-sized LED castle to explore. Over 30 million LED lights are used to create the scenes, at a cost of about US$9million. But with over four million visitors coming to soak up the carnival atmosphere, it’s a unique and innovative way to attract tourists and breathe life into this once run-down city.
Quebec City, Canada
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year to visit the quaint and cobbled streets of Quebec City, a place that oozes that warm and cosy festive feeling even outside the holiday period. You’re practically guaranteed a white Christmas here, so grab your skates and practise your twirls on the outdoor ice rink, warm up with a mulled wine and gingerbread at the German market and savour the tempting smell of roasted chestnuts in the air. It’s all rather enchanting, made all the more delightful by the fairy lights and Christmas trees dotted around the city.
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Yes, we know this one’s a bit of a cheat, but London just looks so pretty when the Christmas lights are up that we had to include it. Up from the start of November, the Oxford Street and Regent Street illuminations form the centrepiece of Christmas cheer, lighting the way for present-shoppers. Not too far away, glowing evergreen trees tower over Somerset House’s ice rink and the jolly carol singers in Trafalgar Square.
Seoul, South Korea
It’s chilly in Seoul in wintertime, with temperatures hovering around the freezing mark, so the locals warm up by the glow of the Christmas lights that carpet the plazas, shopping centres, department stores and gardens. Seoul Plaza becomes an outdoor ice rink, overlooked by a 20-metre tall tree made entirely from lights and wire.
Every December Kobe hosts the Kobe Luminarie light festival to commemorate the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995. Over 200,000 individually hand-painted bulbs, donated from Italy, are arranged into gothic-style arches in memory of the 6,000 people who perished. Originally meant as a one-off ceremony, the lights soon became a symbol of hope and recovery, and before long the locals were campaigning to make it an annual event. They succeeded, and each year around four million people visit the displays, raising US$1.3million for the earthquake appeal.
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We couldn’t finish a list of the best Christmas lights without including Germany. After all, Christmas trees originated in Germany, and were brought to the rest of the world’s attention when Queen Victoria had one at Buckingham Palace following her marriage to (German) Prince Albert in 1840. In Frankfurt, one of Germany’s largest and most popular Christmas markets is decorated with copious fairy lights, illuminating St Paul’s Square and the Römerberg. Sure to get you in the Christmas spirit, the market is a wonderful place to wander in the evening, sampling mulled wine and bratwurst, or treating yourself to a souvenir advent candle.