10 Places to Find Spectacular Holiday Displays
Photo By: Branson CVB
Photo By: San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau
Photo By: Las Vegas News Bureau
Photo By: Visit Baltimore
Photo By: Julienne Schaer 2009, NYC & Company
Photo By: City of Chicago/GRC
Photo By: Mall of America
Photo By: Gaylord Opryland Hotel & Convention Center
Nestled in the Ozark Mountains about 250 miles from St. Louis, this Missouri town explodes with Christmas cheer during its six-week Branson Area Festival of Lights. While the entire town is illuminated, one of the brightest places to be is Silver Dollar City, a theme park within Branson that embraces 1880s Ozark culture. A five-story, special-effects Christmas tree towers over the park, lighting up in sync with favorite Christmas songs. And every night during the Gifts of Christmas Holiday Parade, eight musical floats adorned with 100,000 lights roll through the streets of the "city." About 1.5 million people visit Branson each year to admire the town's amazing holiday displays.
More than 21 miles of lights bathe this Bavarian-themed town each holiday season, creating a scene straight out of a vintage postcard. During the town's Christmas Lighting Ceremony, trees and storefronts are lit one by one as the crowd sings "Silent Night" and other holiday tunes. Since Leavenworth receives so many visitors each the holiday season, the lighting ceremony is held during the first three weekends of December to give everyone a chance to see this one-of-a-kind Christmas spectacle.
San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio's famous River Walk is beautiful year round, but during the holidays it shines with a canopy of twinkling lights. Almost 125,000 lights cover every branch and bridge, and nearly 150 trees are illuminated along the riverbanks. The river's famous barges, which make hour-long trips down the channels, offer one of the best ways to admire the lights.
Las Vegas, Nev.
This always-glitzy city takes it up a notch during the holiday season. One must-see spot is the city's posh Bellagio resort and casino. The hotel's 13,000-square-foot conservatory and botanical gardens are transformed into a Christmas wonderland with 30 to 40 evergreen trees, about 10,000 poinsettias, animated penguins and reindeer crafted out of pecans. Outside, the hotel's famous fountains are choreographed to "dance" to Christmas carols.
Since 1947, residents of 34th Street in Baltimore's Hampden community have come together to create a Christmas wonderland that's quirky, creative and over the top. Decorations range from traditional – lights, nativity scenes and inflatable snowmen – to one-of-a-kind, like a Christmas tree made of hubcaps and ornaments made of Old Bay spice mix. About 50,000 people turn out to see the unique decorations each year.
While the entire city becomes an incredible winter wonderland, the spectacular department store window displays alone are worth a holiday trip to the Big Apple. A few of the most popular are Saks Fifth Avenue's storybook-inspired spectacles, Barney's hip installations and Lord and Taylor's classic scenes. The buildings themselves are also embellished with lighted snowflakes, toy soldiers, even wrapped up in an enormous ribbon and bow, like the Cartier building.
The Chicago Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony brings people of all ages to Daley Plaza in Chicago's downtown "Loop." Musical performances lead up to the main event: the illumination of a 50-foot tree decorated with thousands of multicolored lights and hundreds of ornaments. Nearby, the city's annual Christkindlmarket offers handmade gifts, unique ornaments and German delicacies.
Spread over 4.2 million square feet with more than 520 stores, the Mall of America is the country's largest shopping center. And every holiday season, it houses some of the biggest decorations you'll ever see. The mall is decked out with two dozen wreaths measuring 10 feet in diameter, 20 enormous bulbs weighing in at 450 pounds each, and two 40-foot trees that take four days to decorate. Mall of America is also home to Santa Sid, the most popular mall Santa in the country drawing more than 17,000 visitors each year.
Preparation for the holiday season begins in July at Nashville's Gaylord Opryland Hotel, when employees begin stringing more than two million lights throughout the 50-acre property. The resort's three massive atriums are adorned with hundreds of poinsettias, cascading lights and larger-than-life Christmas scenes. The resort also boasts a spectacular nativity scene, featuring figures that are eight to 10 feet high.
The lighting of a National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C., has been a tradition since 1923, when President Calvin Coolidge lit a 48-foot Balsam fir donated by the President of Middlebury College in Vermont. Today, thousands gather to watch the tree lighting ceremony in President's Park, just south of the White House. Surrounding the National Christmas Tree is the "Pathway of Peace" – 56 smaller decorated trees representing the 50 states, five territories and the District of Columbia.