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St. Augustine Nights of Lights

Experience one of the top 10 places to see holiday lights in the world without leaving the South. 

Glittering displays of Christmas decor are in no short supply this time of year. All across the nation and around the world, cities small and large take on a new persona during the holiday season with festive decor and sparkling lights.

In 2011, National Geographic named the Top Ten Places to See Holiday Lights in the world and one of those places was my hometown. It was a proud moment for the nation’s oldest city and one that my (very biased) heart felt was well-earned and deserved. A worthy destination any time of year, St. Augustine, Florida, takes the romanticism inherent in its European heritage to another level from mid-November through January during the city’s Nights of Lights celebration.

Millions of tiny white bulbs stitch together every seam of the city’s Spanish architecture, from the towers of Flagler College to the rotunda of Memorial Presbyterian. Up and down the cobblestone streets, pedestrians will find that every balcony and courtyard yields another glowing landscape.

For an especially cozy evening, a horsedrawn carriage is the perfect vessel for a slow cruise past the city’s best sights – the 300 year-old Castillo de San Marcos, the Oldest House, the City Gates and Henry Flagler’s three immaculate 1920s-era hotels. No tour of the city can beat it, especially if it’s followed up with a nightcap at the Tini Martini Bar or Meehan’s Irish Pub, both of which look out over Matanzas Bay and its white-lit span, the Bridge of Lions.

My favorite activity of the season is a hit with every kid I know — the Holly Jolly Trolley. Passengers can board one of the festive Christmas trains at multiple locations around town and zip through the streets singing Christmas carols. The city’s light display takes on new shapes through the lenses of special 3-D glasses included with every ticket. Ride around the loop until you’re all Holly Jollied-Out (a very legitimate condition), or hop off and grab a steaming cup of complimentary apple cider.

Dinner every night in the oldest city is a world-class adventure, from the Cuban cuisine of The Columbia Restaurant to the bayou favorites at A1A Ale Works (with a stunning view of the city) or bohemian organic delicacies at The Floridian. Walk off your meal and browse the shops of St. George Street or the stunning galleries of Aviles Street.

After nearly 30 years living in this beautiful city, I’m obviously biased by the strings tied between my heart and the top of the city’s famous lighthouse, but National Geographic tells no lies. Add St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights to your bucket list and experience one of the Top 10 best holiday light displays in the world without ever leaving the South.

Shannon O’Neil is a native of St. Augustine and author of novels highlighting some of the colorful characters and cities tucked away in the Sunshine State. Enter to win a copy of her book, “I’ll be Home for Peacemas,” in our Giveaways section today, and read her essay in defense of Florida’s place in the Deep South here

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