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Countdown to 2020: 7 of the World’s Best New Year’s Light Shows

This New Year’s Eve, wrap up warm and head to one of the world’s best light shows for some festive entertainment

In the deep midwinter, magical light shows go a long way to brightening the long nights that follow short, dreary days. And even in the southern hemisphere where sunlight is plentiful, the turn of the year is marked in many places with a brilliant display of fireworks reflecting hopes and dreams for 2020. Some of the most beloved illuminations the world over are already on show, others last only days—and in the case of New Year’s Eve fireworks, barely an hour—but all are worth booking ahead to ensure a ringside view.

The Fête des Lumières is a vast event that takes place every December in Lyon, France. Banner image: Sydney's New Year's fireworks display. Images: Alamy

1. Lyon, France 

The Fête des Lumières in Lyon, France, is considered the king of light festivals, with squares, bridges, monuments, and whole streets transformed by projections and illumination for three glorious nights. This year’s iteration also features an architectural installation at the Grand Hôtel-Dieu that blends ballet, robotics, and electronic music by the Parisian collective TETRO+A. December 5–8, 2019.

2. London, United Kingdom 

The Palm House at Kew Gardens in West London is lit up by an incredible show during the festive period. Image: Jeff Eden

Christmas at Kew, the vast botanical garden in West London, is now an annual sellout, although tickets are often available in the few days leading up to New Year. While hundreds of trees wrapped in lights and the spectacularly illuminated Palm House conservatory are a staple, this year’s highlights include a new waterfall of lights cascading from an 59-foot-high (18 m) treetop walk and laser projections animating the cathedral-like Temperate House, the world’s largest Victorian greenhouse which has only recently been renovated. Advance booking only. Ends January 5, 2020.

3. Tokyo, Japan 

Roppongi Hills's winter illumination festival takes place in Tokyo, Japan every December. Image: Alamy

Recreating chocolate-box Germany in Japan may sound a tall order, but they manage to evoke Stuttgart, home of the world’s largest Christmas market, pretty faithfully in Roppongi Hills’s Oyane Plaza. The stars of the show, apart from the glühwein and traditional German nibbles, are the famous Keyakizaka Illuminations, this year enlivened with free concerts on December 24 and 25, marking the end of the extravaganza.

4. Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom 

During the festive period, the National Trust’s Waddesdon Manor in England is lit up to spectacular effect. Photo Stuart Bebb

Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, England offers world-class light projections that change the face of the house, built for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the style of a French Renaissance-style château. Revel in the animated outdoor tableaux, then visit the beautifully decorated interior before following an expanded light trail through grounds transformed by lit trees, shrubs, and outbuildings. Until January 5, 2020.

5. Amsterdam, Netherlands 

The annual Amsterdam Light Festival sees the city lit up with incredible installations, such as Butterfly Effect by Masamichi Shimada which can be seen until January 19 2020. Image: Janus van den Eijnden.

With its bridges and canals swathed in lights, Amsterdam looks like a diamond necklace from the air, but this year’s Disrupt! theme adds 16 provocative new installations that make this year’s festival of international light art political as well as poetic. Check out Danish artist Martin Ersted’s The Ice Is Melting at the Pøules, illuminated buildings that recall war memories and other stories of the city at five different locations, and the section of canal transformed into a flooded street, complete with sunken cars, by British artists Tom Biddulph and Barbara Ryan. Explore the lit-up streets by bike, boat, or on foot until January 19, 2020.

6. Sydney, Australia 

The stunning New Year's Eve fireworks display in Sydney, Australia. Image: Alamy

Always the most spectacular of city New Year’s Eve displays, Sydney‘s firework show is known throughout the world and can be viewed on land or water. Sydney Harbour Boat Tours offers a VIP cruiser charter option for both the 9pm and midnight shows, or there are exclusive viewing areas aboard one of the historic tall ships that have been a feature of the event for more than 20 years. Private catering on a VIP “sky-deck” is also available in Sydney’s Victoria Park for those wanting to share the view in comfort with a group of friends while being served cocktails, finger food, and champagne at midnight.

7. Épernay, France 

Habits de Lumières includes light shows and fireworks, and some of the region's champagne maisons open their doors for tastings during the event.

This show brings another opportunity to view innovative light installations at Habits de Lumières in Épernay, Champagne, from December 13–15. Now in its 20th year, this year’s three-day show will include interactive video-mapping experiences, firework displays, and edible delights, as the great champagne houses throw open their doors to allow tastings of their finest vintages.