Arts + Entertainment

The Best Holiday Light Displays in Boston and Beyond

Whether you're looking for a drive-through display or a sparkling stroll steps from downtown, here's where you'll find the best holiday lights.


Photo by Jonathan McElvery

Whether you actually love Love Actually or you’re Ebenezer Scrooge himself, there’s one part of the holidays that everyone can collectively agree on: Those twinkling lights are just so pretty. And this time of year, Boston and the towns beyond it start to glow in the dark with elaborate displays. From a trolley tour through the nighttime streets of Somerville, to a theme park ablaze with 17 million bulbs, stick to the city or venture out to the suburbs to delight in these indisputably lovely lights.

So, fill your thermos up with hot cocoa and tuck your mittens into your coat: Festive, romantic, and photogenic all at the same time, here are the best places around to ooh and aah at pretty holiday lights.

In and around Boston

Photo via Getty Images

Holiday Lights on Boston Common

Home to the city’s “official” Christmas tree, the Boston Common is the definitive headquarters of holiday cheer. After Santa Claus and Mayor Marty Walsh kick things off with a widely-attended tree lighting ceremony on December 5, you can take in the sparkling scene all December long. Take a quick detour through the Common as you’re checking off your Christmas shopping list or making your way to holiday brunch, or make a day of it by tacking on an ice-skating session at the Frog Pond. If you’re a truly ambitious holiday light seeker (or if you’re trying to burn off some Christmas cookie calories), make your way through the Common and Public Garden and take a stroll down Comm. Ave., too—the trees and shrubs of the one-mile mall are illuminated each year.

Free, nightly starting December 5, Boston Common, 139 Tremont St., Boston, boston.gov.

Blink Light and Sound Show

Photo courtesy of Faneuil Hall Marketplace

Blink! At Faneuil Hall Marketplace

It’s just not Christmas in Boston until Santa Claus flips the switch and kicks off the first Blink! Light show in the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Strands of LEDs adorn not only the 85-foot tall Faneuil Hall Christmas tree, but the marketplace itself, and they twinkle in time with a selection of seven Christmas melodies. The light show happens multiple times nightly, so if you’re getting your holiday shopping in, you’re bound to witness the spectacle.

Free, 4:30-10 p.m., Dec. 4-Jan. 1, Faneuil Hall Marketplace, 4 South Market Building, Boston, faneuilhallmarketplace.org

Image via Getty

Christopher Columbus Park

Headed to the North End for a holiday feast? Follow it up with a seasonal stroll. Every year, hundreds of lights transform the Christopher Columbus Park into a waterfront winter wonderland. The park’s crown jewel is its 260-foot trellis, festooned with wreaths and blue-and-white lights. As you wander your way through the twinkling tunnel, you’ll see why this spot is often named one of the most romantic in Boston.

Free, nightly starting November 25, 110 Atlantic Ave., Boston, foccp.org.

Somerville lights photo by D MW on Flickr/Creative Commons

Somerville Illuminations Tour

On the streets of Somerville, it’s not Christmas until you’ve blown a fuse trying to outdo your neighbors’ holiday light displays. The houses along Somerville’s yearly Illuminations Tour, a one-night-only trolley ride through neighborhood streets, are unapologetically gaudy, from the tips of their neon snowflakes to the toes of their giant inflatable Grinches. On the 45 minute tour, you’ll pass rows and rows of glimmering houses, some of which have been faithfully decorated for each Illuminations Tour for years. While tickets can be hard to come by since the trolley experience is only available one evening of the year, the map of the tour is always available for a small fee at Porter Square Books, so you can recreate the magic for yourself from the comfort of the family van.

$8-$15 per person, timed tickets from 4:30-9:15 p.m., Dec. 14, starting place TBD, somervilleartscouncil.org

Outside the Metro Boston Area and around Massachusetts

Photo by Jonathan McElvery

Night Lights at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

While it might seem like a garden has little to offer in the wintertime, Boylston’s Tower Hill Botanic Garden puts that notion to bed with its twinkle-lit terraces. Starting in the high heat of summer, volunteers begin stringing the shrubs and walkways with lights to create distinct themes throughout the park, such as a “firefly forest” where laser dots light up the trees. Plan to spend an hour and a half to stroll through the 15 acres of glowing gardens, plus some extra time to make s’mores by the fire pits, then head inside to check out the indoor plantings and model train village.

$7-$17 per person, 4-9 p.m., Nov. 29-Dec. 30, Tower Hill Botanic Garden, 11 French Drive, Boylston, towerhillbg.org

Photo via the Trustees

Trustees’ Winterlights

If you’ve ever hoped to step into the particular coziness of a Jan Brett storybook, the Trustees have decided to grant your wish. After a successful premiere last year, they have again decked the halls of a few of their historical properties: Naumkeag in Stockbridge, Stevens-Coolidge Place in North Andover, and, for the first time this year, Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate in Canton. Each site will be ablaze with tens of thousands of LEDs, but the lights will cater to the unique delights of each site. Stevens-Coolidge will feature a woodland children’s area inspired by Jan Brett’s The Mitten; at Naumkeag only, festivities will extend through New Year’s Eve, and the glorious Blue Steps will be draped with ropes of lights; and the Bradley Estate will be the first Winterlights site to include a wooded path aglow with carefully hung bulbs. Of course, refreshments, family-friendly activities, and holiday cheer abound at all three installations, each of which lasts for a month.

$12-$17 per person, Nov. 21-Dec. 29, multiple locations, thetrustees.org.

Photo by Glenn Montapert

Middleborough Festival of Lights

Load up your van and fork over a mere $5 to wind through this woodsy wonderland. More than 500,000 individual bulbs illume the KOA campgrounds, transforming 25 acres of rustic cabins into gingerbread houses and Santa’s workshops during two weekends in December. Zip up your parka to venture out of your vehicle and into the Christmas village at the end of the trail. There, you can purchase cocoa, cookies, and a photo with the Grinch himself, all while jamming out to holiday classics, voting on the best-dressed cabin, and even petting alpacas.

$5 per carload, 4-9 p.m., Dec. 7-8 and Dec. 14-15, Boston/Cape Cod KOA, 438 Plymouth St., Middleborough, discovermiddleborough.com.

Photo via Spirit of Springfield

Bright Nights at Forest Park

Crank up the radio for this one: Hosted by DJ Santa Claus, WELF Radio is Bright Night’s very own station. Let Christmas classics and nostalgia fill the car as you make the three-mile drive through a series of luminous scenes. Carefully designed using the contours of the park, each sight will slowly reveal itself as you weave through—from giant poinsettia candles to the less traditional triceratops of the Jurassic World display. For a pre-Thanksgiving treat, make your way to Springfield for the opening night, when entrance costs just $6 in honor of the original Bright Nights prices 25 years ago. Sprinkled throughout the month are additional festivities, including horse-drawn carriage rides, “Supper with Santa,” and a 5k road race (which sold out in a few hours).

$20-$25 per carload, Nov. 27-Jan. 5, Forest Park, 300 Sumner Ave., Springfield, brightnights.org.

Photo via ZooLights

ZooLights at Stone Zoo

Being at the zoo after dark may be business as usual for its nocturnal creatures, but for the rest of us, this wintry extravaganza is worth staying up late for. Not only can visitors say hello to black bears, arctic foxes, snow leopards, and yes, even reindeer, but they can do so while skipping through paths sparkling with thousands of tiny lights. In addition to the living, breathing animals, you can spot more than 40 life-size lions, tigers, and elephants (see if you can count all 270,000 pieces that make up this one) made of LEGOs on a Brick Safari around the zoo. Kids should make their way over to Santa’s Castle, where they can pose for a photo with Saint Nick, while adults can take a 21+ break at the Lord Hobo Holiday Beer Garden, available on Thursday nights for the first time this year.

$8-$15 per person, 5-9 p.m., Nov. 22-Jan. 4, 149 Pond St., Stone Zoo, Stoneham, zoonewengland.org.

Photo via Edaville Family Theme Park

Christmas Festival of Lights

What do 17 million holiday lights look like? See for yourself starting next week at Edaville, where each winter, the theme park gets an incandescent makeover. General admission grants access to the park’s typical rides, as well as a Polar Express-like tour on the Christmas Train, a 20-minute loop through the sparkling attractions, ranging from moving pirate ships to festive animatronics. Parents can also upgrade their kiddos to the Edaville Express or the Santa VIP experiences, which feature chocolate milk, dancing elves, and wrapped presents.

$30-$35 per person, Nov. 18-Jan. 1, Edaville Family Theme Park, 5 Pine St., Carver, edaville.com