The lights are bright on Broadway….and so many other places in the world. From neon-lit ice castles to public squares with glowing trees, the world’s illuminated landmarks are so bright that you may have to wear shades— even at night. A century ago, colorful, chromatic neon started crowding the night sky, creatively persuading passersby to stop at roadside motels along Route 66 or to try their luck at casinos on the Las Vegas Strip. In the 1990s, digital projectors cast crisper images, and now, lifelike LEDs are the standard for vivid visual presentations. If you’re a sucker for shiny lights, we’ve got you covered. From Beijing to Tokyo, these 11 places are the most lit.
Gardens by the Bay, an urban park in Marina Bay, features the OCBC Skyway: an aerial, 420-foot walkway 72 feet above the ground that is suspended by “supertrees.” These massive structures of steel, concrete, and live plants soar as high as 16 stories. The supertrees’ massive canopies provide shade by day, significant purple light at night, and the perfect perch for sweeping city views.
Stand along Tsim Sha Tsui’s promenade to watch the Symphony of Lights: a free nightly light show at 8 p.m. Some 39 iconic buildings star in the choreographed illuminated landmark light show, set to a score played by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.
Harbin, in the Northeastern Heilongjiang province, hosts the world’s best winter festival. You could easily spend days in the four separate theme parks admiring the towering ice sculptures, featuring everything from illuminated fairy-tale castles that you can explore, to gigantic ice slides, and recreations of famous statues around the world.
Renamed for The New York Times when the newspaper set up its headquarters at 1 Times Square in 1904, Times Square’s is an illuminated landmark that is recognizable worldwide. Home to Broadway theaters, restaurants, shops, and apartments, the public square is illuminated 24/7. Look up at 11:57 p.m. each night to watch Midnight Moment, a coordinated three-minute work of digital art that temporarily replaces the advertisements on 15 screens.
The elaborate signs and attractions that line Las Vegas Boulevard are attractions in their own right, from the curved 45- by 17-foot LED screen promoting the Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. at Treasure Island to the curved 18,000-square-foot LED screen at Harmon Retail Corner. Once aglow in millions of neon lights, the last neon signs on the Las Vegas Strip were replaced in 2020 with LEDs. Seeking a bit of nostalgia? No worries. Visitors looking to catch a glimps of the OH neon lights can admire them at The Neon Museum’s collection: home to more than 200 old school neon displays.
Walt Disney World’s sprawling themed attractions are illuminated nightly, but it’s the captivating firework displays that make Magic Kingdom 10x more magical. Pyrotechnics, lasers, and state-of-the-art projections come together in nightly shows like Happily Ever After, which celebrates Disney stories, and Once Upon a Time, which recounts classic Disney fairytales, showering the night sky in every color of the rainbow.
The perfect spot for watching Shanghai’s sunset and iconic skyline light up is along The Bund, a mile-long waterfront promenade is lined with beautiful Beaux Arts-style buildings that once housed global banks. Gazing across the Huangpu River, you can’t miss the famous 1,535-foot Oriental Pearl Tower, formerly the tallest structure in China, that boasts multiple observation decks and a colorful TV antenna in its spire.
You can’t miss the screens at Piccadilly Circus, a massive thoroughfare in London’s West End. What began with a Perrier ad assembled with light bulbs on a building façade in 1908 has evolved into a must-see illuminated landmark, lit in LED. In 2017, a new, curved 2,559-square-foot digital screen larger than a tennis court was installed, displaying tech savvy ad content that can react to the weather.
Shibuya Crossing—arguably the most famous intersection in the world—is as much an attraction for its seemingly choreographed street crossing as for its hip shops, art scene, and massive video screens. The giant displays play cartoons, show weather reports, and run ads that are perfectly timed to the traffic. As traffic lights turn red in every direction (about every two minutes), thousands of people perfectly pass through the intersection without bumping into one another or backing up traffic.
Near Beijing’s city center is Wangfujing, a mile-long pedestrian street flanked by massive, modern malls and luxury shops awash in bright lights. Open until late at night, Wangfujing includes the bustling Wangfujing Snack Street, a lane off the main street that is packed with stalls selling street snacks and souvenirs.
The “Vegas of the East” offers a dazzling display of lights and sounds similar to Sin City. Cotai, a stretch of reclaimed land in Macau, is populated with a dozen casinos, including the lavish The Parisian Macao complete with a replica of the Eiffel Tower. One of the best ways to catch a glimpse of another breathtaking icon (the Wynn Palace Cotai fountain) is to ride the Skycab: an aerial gondola that whisks passengers above the hotel’s dancing fountain that features elaborate water shows set to 22 different songs daily.
Akin to Harajuku in Japan, Taiwan’s first pedestrian zone is the place to stroll. Located in the oldest part of Taipei, Ximending is sleepy by day, but its neon-lit shops and lively restaurants are packed at night. Pop-up food and drink vendors, roving street performers, and Taiwanese dressed to impress are easy to spot in the glow of massive LED screens and a kaleidoscope of neon shop signs.