5 Holiday Light Displays I’d LOVE to See

We’re big fans of the Holiday Light displays that pop up at this time of year, and two of our treasured traditions are Kennywood’s Holiday Lights in Pittsburgh, PA and driving over to visit the Lights on the Lake in Syracuse, NY.  I’ve done round-ups of Holiday Light displays in the past, and thought I’d take a different tack this year.  Below is a list of five illuminated destinations I haven’t visited, but would LOVE to see.  These starry lights stand out on reputation alone, so continue reading and let me know if you’ve been to these Holiday Light displays.  Need other ideas?  Our friends at Taking The Kids have compiled this list of 50+ different spots to take in the seasonal illuminations.  There’s sure to be something close to your home.

Albuquerque, NM Old Town

Albuquerque, NM Old Town, photo by Marble Street Studios

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Earlier this year, I visited Albuquerque, NM, and fell in love with this quirky and culturally rich destination.  The 300+ year old Old Town district fills their paths and walkways with luminarias – simple brown, paper bags filled with sand and a votive candle – that elicit a beautiful, welcoming ambiance.  Not far from Old Town, on the famed Rio Grande, the ABQ BioPark hosts “The River of Lights” with giant sculptures created by millions of lights and a synchronized music light show at New Mexico’s largest walk-through holiday production.  River of Lights runs November 28 – January 2 (closed Dec 24, 25, 31, and Jan 1).

Albuquerque River of Lights

Albuquerque River of Lights, photo by Krystle Jim.

Riverside, California

Over four million lights showcase the historic Mission Inn Hotel and Spa during their Festival of Lights.  In addition to the lights, the Spanish-style Mission Inn has appearances by Santa Claus, “snow” in California, horse drawn carriage rides, an elaborate Christmas tree, and the world’s largest man-made mistletoe.  Main Street, Riverside also gets in on the act with their own lights, holiday decorations, and outdoor ice-skating rink.  Riverside’s Festival of Lights takes place November 27 – January 2.

The Mission Inn

Festival of Lights, image courtesy The Mission Inn and Spa

Saint Augustine, Florida

This city, established in the 16th century by Spanish Conquistadors celebrates its unique heritage.  Before the era of electricity, colonists placed a single white candle in their windows.  During “Nights of Lights,” the historic district of Saint Augustine twinkles with over two million bulbs – all white, by city decree.  The lights “turn on” November 21 and run through January 31.

Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

In the heart of the Smoky Mountains, the three towns of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville gather their resources for Smoky Mountain Winterfest with over 5 million lights all ablaze through February.  In addition to lights, families can ride the Trolley Tour of Lights around Pigeon Forge; claim a spot on the sidewalk for Gatlinburg’s “Fantasy of Lights” Christmas Parade, featuring lighted floats, marching bands and giant helium balloons; check out Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas of Light at Smoky Mountain Palace; and take in Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland with its “walls of lights.”  Smoky Mountain Winterfest is in its 26th year running now through February 29.

Winterfest Lights

Sevierville, TN, Winterfest, photo byChad Branton

Wheeling, West Virginia

Growing up in Pittsburgh, I heard of a “new” holiday tradition started up just down the road in Wheeling, WV.  Now in its 30th year, the Oglebay Festival of Lights covers more than 300 acres over a six-mile drive throughout the Oglebay Resort and Conference Center.  Taking place now through January 5th, the entire display is made up of energy efficient LED bulbs, and is one of the largest Christmas light shows in the country.

Oglebay Festival of Lights

Oglebay Festival of Lights, image courtesy Oglebay Resort and Conference Center


The nights may be longer in the winter time, but that just gives more reason to light up the night with fantastic displays.  Have you been to any of these five Holiday Light displays, or are there others you aspire to see?  Let us know in the comments below.  For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on Twitter and “like” our Facebook page, too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.