Each city in the country has its own traditions and celebrations for the holidays, but for some, it’s a yearlong wait for their shining moment on the calendar.
In this year’s America’s Favorite Places survey, Travel + Leader readers cast their votes on which destinations they love the most for Christmas light madness. Unlike Travel + Leisure's World's Best Awards, which encourages readers to weigh in on travel experiences across the globe, the America's Favorite Places survey is a way for locals to share what their hometowns do best.
And whether it’s extravagantly kitschy home decorations or beautiful spreads rooted in hundred-year traditions, these cities draw visitors purely for their holiday trimmings and luminous charms.
As everyone can appreciate big city displays, the expected heavy-hitters showed up in the rankings. New York City (ever heard of it?) in addition to the standard abundance of LEDs, has the 94-foot-tall Rockefeller Center Christmas tree decked in 50,000 lights and a Swarovski star. Meanwhile, Midwesterners flock to Chi-town for its windswept Christkindlmarket, where Christmas lights are perhaps exceeded only by the number of sausages for sale.
On a more niche level, Virginia’s famed “100 Miles of Lights” helped three of its cities make the list. Richmond has private homes with more lights than anywhere else in the country. Norfolk’s historic waterfront beams with Christmas charm, and Virginia Beach’s boardwalk and casual whale appearances make it a perfect stop on an East Coast lights tour.
Snowy-weather cities like Detroit and Indianapolis made the cut, as did warm-weather destinations like Orlando (ahem, Disney World) and Albuquerque with its botanical “River of Lights.”
The list toppers? Kansas City comes in second, where you can take a helicopter tour just to get a stellar birds-eye view of the lights downtown. And the winner is the passionately adorned San Antonio, which boasts enough holiday traditions to fill an entire calendar year. If you’re still making plans for the holidays, consider checking out some of the country’s most dazzling lights.