Travel Picks: Top 10 Christmas decoration spots

Fri Dec 14, 2012 9:28am EST

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec 14 - Just like each family has their own
holiday traditions, so does every city. Whether it's a special
event or seasonal decorations, if you're traveling this month,
you don't have to forgo the excitement of the holidays. For
those planning to travel over the holidays who want to visit a
place known for holiday excitement, the members and editors of
VirtualTourist have compiled a list of the "Top Ten Spots for
Holiday Lights and Decorations." Reuters has not endorsed this
list: 

1.  Vienna, Austria
    If you're considering visiting Europe this December,
VirtualTourist members recommend spending time in Vienna.
Advent, the period of preparation before Christmas, begins on
the Sunday four weeks before Christmas Eve, so Viennese
celebrations and decorations often begin in mid-November. On
some of the city's busiest streets, garlands of lights and
illuminated chandeliers glow above pedestrians. Rathausplatz,
the square in front of the town hall, is home to
Christkindlmarkt, a traditional Christmas market complete with
vendors selling apfel strudel, gluhwein (mulled wine), and
lebkuchen (gingerbread). There are many Christmas Markets
throughout the city, but another member favorite is at
Schonbrunn Palace, particularly because of the fantastic
decorations outside the ochre building. VirtualTourist members
said that perfectly dressed Christmas trees appear in most open
spaces, and even some of the trams are decorated with large,
golden bows.
2.  Copenhagen, Denmark
    Another European city with great architecture, Copenhagen is
a perfect spot to get into the holiday spirit. One of Europe's
longest pedestrian streets, Stroget is decorated with garlands,
illuminated stars, and glowing red hearts hanging overhead.
Tivoli Gardens is also located in the Inner City and is a
must-see for visitors looking for unique decorations. The
world's second oldest amusement park, Tivoli is always filled
with rides, food stalls, and well-kept gardens, but come
November, the entire park is sparkling with tiny lights and
glass ornaments. From November 16 to December 30, the park has
Russian Christmas and Nordic Christmas themes, side by side.
With six additional rides open during the Christmas season,
there is also a traditional Christmas market with over 50
stalls, selling pastries, gingerbread, pancakes, and
Scandinavian crafts.
3.  Hong Kong
    The skyscrapers, reflective harbor, and mix of Western and
Eastern traditions make Hong Kong a city uniquely built for
holiday spectacle. This year's annual WinterFest is partnered
with Tiffany & Co., so the brand will be taking over Statue
Square in the Central district of Hong Kong Island with its
signature Tiffany Blue hue, even including the 18-meter-tall (60
feet) Christmas tree. On Lantau Island, Hong Kong Disneyland has
Christmas illuminations all along its Main Street, U.S.A.
Further inland, New Town Plaza hosts the "Starlight Romance"
illumination show, with more than 100,000 flashing bulbs
synchronized to festive music. All three events, WinterFest,
Hong Kong Disneyland, and Starlight Romance, are available for
viewing now and run through January 1.  In addition to visiting
these spots, don't forget to take a harbor night cruise and
experience all the additional lights with the already stunning
Hong Kong skyline.
4.  Gothenburg, Sweden 
    By December, the days in Sweden are very short (some cities
only have five hours of daylight), so they have a great excuse
for extensive holiday lighting. Almost directly north of
Copenhagen, the city of Gothenburg on Sweden's western coast is
known throughout the country for its seasonal spirit. Starting
at the city's harbor, a three kilometer (1.86 mile) "Lane of
Light" guides you through the city to Liseberg, the largest
amusement park in the Nordic countries. From November 16 to
December 23, Liseberg is lit by about five million Christmas
lights, as well as host Sweden's largest traditional Christmas
market. Visitors can also experience the Lucia celebrations, one
of Sweden's most important cultural traditions. While historians
may debate the tradition's origins, it centers around Lucia
being a mythical figure who is the bearer of light in the dark
Swedish winters, with the holiday traditionally falling on the
longest night of the year. Dressed in white with an illuminated
wreath on her head, the role of Lucia is a prized position in
every town in Sweden, tasked with leading a progression through
the town. Gothenburg claims to have the world's longest Lucia
parade, which took place on December 12 this year.
5.  Newport, Rhode Island
    While much coverage of holiday decorations is focused on
lights, there are many other kinds of decorations, and few
buildings in the world are as ornately constructed and decorated
without holiday embellishments as the Mansions of Newport, Rhode
Island. Originally built for coal magnates and railroad barons,
the Mansions are a symbol of post-Industrial Revolution wealth,
but also an important moment in American history - seven of the
eleven historic properties are National Historic Landmarks. The
Breakers, The Elms, and Marble House are filled with thousands
of poinsettias, evergreens, and wreaths, as well as every window
in each mansion lit with individual white candles, keeping with
the colonial tradition. The Elms' ballroom features a 15 foot
tall poinsettia "tree" made up of approximately 150 individual
red poinsettia plants. All three houses are decorated and open
daily for tours from Saturday, November 17 through Tuesday,
January 1, 2013.  For those wanting to share their Christmas
wish list with Santa, each Sunday in December until Christmas,
he makes a public appearance at once of the Mansions.
6.  Medellin, Colombia
    While many focus on the Christmas markets and decorations in
Europe, multiple members mentioned the light displays in South
America as being among the best they've seen.  Medellín,
Colombia is famous for los alumbrados (the luminaries) that it
erects in early December. The lights are everywhere throughout
the city, even decorative design on each streetlight, but there
are two recommended spots to take in the spectacle. Many of the
larger displays are positioned along the Rio Medellin, which is
easily accessible to anyone visiting the city. One
VirtualTourist member suggested visiting the Pueblito Paisa, a
miniature replica of a traditional Antioquian town, which is
situated atop Cerro Nutibara. In addition to seeing the
colonial-style architecture illuminated, the pueblito has an
adjacent platform which provides fantastic panoramic views of
the city and alumbrados below. This year, los alumbrados will be
running from December 3- January 8.
7.  Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge, Vancouver, BC
    If you'd prefer to see your sparkling lights in a more
natural setting, few places offer opportunities like Vancouver,
British Columbia. At Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, guests can
explore the forest and treetops amidst Canyon Lights, the park's
holiday light display. The suspension bridge is lined with
thousands of twinkling lights, and the park's newest attraction,
Cliffwalk, a series of cantilevered and suspended walkways
jutting out from the granite cliff face above the Capilano
River, provide ample viewing opportunities for visitors to watch
a dancing light display on the cliff-face. In addition to the
light display, the park also provides a scavenger hunt for
children, gingerbread cookie decorating, glass blowing
demonstrations, and sing-a-longs with a live band. Canyon Lights
runs from December 1 to January 5 and is closed December 25.
8.  Kobe, Japan
    While many of the spots on this list are simply holiday
decorations, the Kobe Luminarie in Kobe, Japan reminds us to be
thankful during the holiday season. Instead of a holiday light
spectacle, the Kobe Luminarie is actually a constructed light
sculpture memorial dedicated to victims of the Great
Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995. An annual event since 1995,
the Luminarie runs for approximately 12 days during the holiday
season. Over 200,000 lights are used each year, with the aim of
giving hope to survivors of the earthquake.  Last year, the
Luminarie also held a special exhibition for the Tohoku/East
Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.  This year, drawings by children
from the Tohoku region were used to make lanterns that will be
put on display for Luminarie visitors. There are many street
stalls at the event site, offering both Western-style food (e.g.
hotdogs) and Japanese-style food (e.g. takoyaki, yakisoba,
etc.).  Nearby, Nankin-machi, the second largest Chinatown in
Japan, is also within walking distance. This year, the memorial
runs from December 6 - December 17.
9.  St. Augustine, Florida
    Commonly known as the oldest city in the United States, St.
Augustine's original claim to fame is being the first European
city in North America. Now, the city is also very well known for
its outstanding holiday light display, called the Nights of
Lights. The celebration, which runs two months long, includes
lighting three million white lights the Saturday before
Thanksgiving, as well as a variety of tours and events that run
through January 31. Tracing its origins to the Spanish tradition
of displaying a lighted white candle during the Christmas
holidays, the spectacular display reflects the city's 446-year
history and highlights the city's colonial architecture. A
unique opportunity is a candlelight tour of Villa Zorayda, a
museum whose building is credited with beginning the revival of
Moorish Spanish architecture seen throughout St. Augustine
today. These tours run on Fridays and Saturdays throughout
December. Strolling St. George Street, the pedestrian street in
the heart of the historic preservation district offers abundant
opportunities to pick up gifts for those left on your list, with
art galleries, jewelry artisans, and sweet shops.
10. Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
    Picturesque Old Québec is already beautiful, but a dusting
of snow and streets lined with Christmas trees make it a perfect
place to celebrate the holidays. The city's varied neighborhoods
are perfect for exploring on foot. At the Old Port Market, the
Marche de Noel Christmas Market runs from November 22 through
December 31, offering market-fresh foods and artisan products. A
stroll around the Place Royale will provide much eye candy, with
more than 20 art galleries and a range of artisans from
glass-blowers to violin-makers who call the neighborhood home.
Nearby, the Quartier Petit Champlain's neighborhood park will be
adorned with holiday lighting, and the bistros lining the street
will provide a chance to warm up. Christmas walking tours are
offered every Saturday and Sunday of December, as well as every
day from December 22 to January 2, with a licensed guide who
educates visitors of the Christmas tradition in Old Quebec. The
last two weeks of the year, the city hosts "QuebecAdabra!" a
light show inspired by the "light events" held in Lyon, France,
among other cities, but running during the prime holiday season.
 

 (Editing by Paul Casciato)
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