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With the flip of a switch on Thanksgiving evening, the Seville-inspired Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri, is suddenly illuminated with hundreds of thousands of colorful lights that burn brightly each night through mid January. These publicly accessible spots are the best places to photograph the Country Club Plaza lights.
Across the nation, Thanksgiving is often the official start of the Christmas season. After enjoying a hearty feast of savory turkey, scrumptious sides, and pumpkin pie, many Americans will trim the Christmas tree and otherwise transition from one family-and-friends-filled holiday to the next.
In the middle of America, tens of thousands of Kansas Citians push back from their Thanksgiving tables and head to the Country Club Plaza to enjoy one of Kansas City’s oldest traditions. With the streets closed to traffic, pedestrians fill 15 blocks of the upscale, Seville-inspired outdoor shopping district to kick off Christmas with the Country Club Plaza Lighting Ceremony.
With a backdrop of live holiday music and ornate horse-drawn carriages reminiscent of a Disney movie, a special guest and a child helper chosen randomly from the crowd flip the switch at precisely 6:54 pm on Thanksgiving evening, transforming the dark (often cold and sometimes dreary) night into a spectacular scene full of bright bulbs and holiday cheer.
This colorful tradition began in 1925 with a single strand of 16 rainbow-colored lights strung above a doorway. Today when you visit the Country Club Plaza between Thanksgiving and mid January, you’ll see more than 80 miles of lights with 280,000 multi-colored bulbs outlining every window and tower.
Here are the 10 best places to photograph the Country Club Plaza lights in Kansas City when you visit daily from 5:00 pm to 3:00 am between Thanksgiving evening and mid January.
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1 – From the Rooftop of the Giralda Parking Garage
Located at 4745 Wyandotte St. near the Cheesecake Factory, the rooftop of the Giralda Parking Garage is not only a convenient place to park to tour the Country Club Plaza lights; it’s also a great place to photograph them. And, if you haven’t been to the Country Club Plaza before, there’s more good news! Garage and street parking is always free on the Country Club Plaza. In fact, the only time you have to pay for parking is if you use one of the valet services offered by Plaza restaurants.
This location allows you to get up close and personal with the beautiful Giralda Tower, illuminated in soft white lights. This Kansas City landmark is a half-scale replica of the original 12th-century Giralda Tower in Seville, Spain.
2 – By the Fountain of Bacchus in Chandler Court
(Or, as the locals say, the fountain outside of The Cheesecake Factory. It’s located at 4701 Wyandotte)
In addition to being known as the Barbeque Capital of the World, Kansas City is also called the City of Fountains. In fact, the red, white, and blue triband flag of the city features a fountain shooting water in the shape of a heart at its center. So this recommendation for the best place to photograph the Country Club Plaza lights is one of several that features a fountain.
Back to Bacchus…
Installed and dedicated in 1967, this five-ton fountain was originally the centerpiece of the Moreton Estate in Warwickshire, England, before it immigrated to Kansas City.
Pro Tip: Explore more of the Country Club Plaza and her amazing fountains with this interactive scavenger hunt.
3 – At the Mermaid Fountain
With two alabaster mermaids blowing water out of conch shells, the Mermaid Fountain located at 4747 Broadway Boulevard is a great place to photograph the Country Club Plaza lights. Between the twin, 300-year-old Italian mermaids is a small bronze sculpture of a child kneeling in prayer. As you photograph the Country Club Plaza lights from this spot, be sure to follow tradition and do as directed on the small plaque: toss in a coin and say a prayer for the children at Mercy Hospital.
4 – At the Pomona Fountain
Just a few steps south of the Mermaid Fountain, the Pomona Fountain sits at the intersection of Ward Parkway and Broadway Boulevard. With both hands full of plump grapes, it should be no surprise that the life-size bronze beauty featured in this fountain is the Roman goddess of vineyards and orchards. As she gazes across Ward Parkway toward Brush Creek, she provides a creative place to photograph the Country Club Plaza lights.
5 – From the South Bank of Brush Creek
A small tributary of the Blue River, Brush Creek marks the southern border of the Country Club Plaza. By crossing Brush Creek via the pedestrian Sister City Bridge or the red-lantern-lined Wornall Road Bridge, you’ll get a different perspective of the Country Club Plaza lights.
To capture different parts of the Plaza, including the light reflected in Brush Creek, explore locations along Ward Parkway as well as right along the water. You’ll also capture different views traveling both east and west of Wornall Road on Ward Parkway.
6 – By the Married Love Statue of Sir Winston and Lady Clementine Churchill
Installed at the intersection of Ward Parkway and Wornall Road, just across from the Intercontinental Kansas City at the Plaza, is a bronze, larger-than-life statue of the Churchills. World leaders Winston Churchill and Missouri-farm-boy-turned-president Harry Truman worked closely to bring an end to World War II and remained close friends after leaving office.
Fun Fact: Although this sculpture was specially commissioned for this location, a small-scale version of Married Love is on display at the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, where Churchill delivered his famed “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College in 1946.
7 – From One of the Bridges Spanning Brush Creek
As you walk back toward the Country Club Plaza lights across one of the two bridges spanning Brush Creek, you’ll see several prime photo opportunities. Because I love the ornate lanterns on the Wornall Road Bridge, and because it takes me to the heart of the Country Club Plaza, it’s my preferred return path.
8 – At the Neptune Fountain
Installed in 1953, this cherished Country Club Plaza fountain was pulled from the top of a train car full of scrap metal and purchased based on its 8,000-pound weight. With a trident in his right hand and clad in a cape and loincloth, the ripped Roman god drives his trio of water-spewing steeds through the shallow waters of his namesake fountain toward the Shake Shack just across 47th Street. After all, even Roman gods gotta eat.
9 – From the Center of the Street
I’m not suggesting that you walk out into traffic, set up your tripod, and expect the world to revolve around you. However, several of the roads on the Country Club Plaza have medians where it is possible to get a unique perspective on the lights without putting yourself, your camera equipment, or anyone else in harm’s way.
Running east and west through the heart of the Country Club Plaza, 47th Street is one of the best options to photograph the Country Club Plaza lights from the center of the street. But there are surely others, so keep an eye out as you explore the Country Club Plaza during the holidays.
10 – Above the Country Club Plaza on the Balcony Parking Garage Rooftop
Just above the Neptune Fountain and Made in KC Marketplace, with a bird’s-eye view of the urban island that contains the Fogo de Chão Brazilian Steakhouse, the rooftop of the Balcony Parking Garage at 4619 Broadway Blvd. is another fantastic place to photograph the Country Club Plaza lights.
Peer over the edge facing Wornall Road for a view of the Fogo de Chão tower with the Giralda Tower and Commerce Bank Building in the background. Or look west across 47th Street toward The Classic Cup Cafe for an entirely different view.
The other thing I love about this spot is the opportunity it provides to frame the lights in a unique way using the intricate brickwork of the parking structure.
Tips for Photographing the Plaza Lights
I’m by no means a professional photographer, and it took me a few visits to the Country Club Plaza to capture this collection of images. Here are a few tricks I learned along the way about how to photograph the Country Club Plaza lights.
- Try photographing the Country Club Plaza lights at different times. I originally thought the best photographs would be late at night when it was very dark and there wasn’t much traffic. But by taking photographs earlier in the evening, right as the lights were illuminated at 5:00 pm, the sky looked totally different. And, it was often better to have more traffic (in order to create white and red lines) than a single car.
- If you’re shooting the Country Club Plaza lights with a DSLR camera (or another device with this option), adjust your white balance to tungsten. This setting will help ensure that the Plaza lights have a more natural (and less yellow) glow.
- In order to get crystal clear shots with starburst lights and lines of color from traffic, you’ll need a tripod.
- Start with an ISO setting of 400 and experiment as needed. You’ll probably not want to go above an ISO of 800, and you’re likely to see a reduction in quality for each increment above 400.
- Take your photos using manual mode. This skill can be intimidating and overwhelming to master. In fact, it took me three trips to the Country Club Plaza before it clicked in my brain. Here’s what worked for me. First, I set the shutter speed. If the scene had a lot of traffic, I chose a longer shutter speed, usually between 3.2 and 8 seconds. (On my Canon, those settings look like 3”2 and 8”.) With the shutter speed determined, I set my aperture for whatever value got me to the center of the light meter in my viewfinder.
- To minimize shake, use your camera’s timer function. I set mine for two seconds so I could push the button and then move away from the camera and tripod before the photo was taken. Of course, you can also use a wireless or remote shutter release.
To Visit the Country Club Plaza Lights
Location: Visit the Country Club Plaza by entering 4706 Broadway Boulevard into your preferred navigation device. It spans several city blocks between Jefferson Street and Baltimore Avenue just north of Ward Parkway and Brush Creek.
Hours: The Country Club Plaza lights are on between 5:00 pm and 3:00 am daily from Thanksgiving evening through mid January.
Best Country Club Plaza Hotels for Viewing the Plaza Christmas Lights
There are many great places to stay on or near the Country Club Plaza. These hotels offer some of the best views of the Plaza Lights Ceremony on Thanksgiving evening and of the Country Club Plaza lights throughout the holiday season:
- Courtyard by Marriott Kansas City Country Club Plaza – Originally the Park Lane Apartments built in 1925, this historic hotel is located at 4600 J C Nichols Parkway.
- Hampton Inn & Suites Kansas City Country Club Plaza – This hotel is located in the northwest corner of the Country Club Plaza.
- Residence Inn by Marriott Kansas City Country Club Plaza – Located just north of the Balcony Parking Garage spot recommended for great photos of the Country Club Plaza lights, this hotel was recently renovated.
- Sheraton Suites Country Club Plaza – This all-suites boutique hotel on the Country Club Plaza is dog-friendly.
- The Fontaine – This luxury hotel with 132 guestrooms and suites is located on the southwest corner of the Country Club Plaza.
- The Raphael – Part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, The Raphael Hotel is a luxury boutique hotel in Kansas City
Have You Visited the Country Club Plaza Lights?
What was your favorite spot to take in the colorful Country Club Plaza lights? Do you have any other tips or advice to pass along? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
More Information and Inspiration for a Visit to Kansas City
- If you need a break from Kansas City’s world-famous barbeque — sounds strange, but I’ve heard it sometimes happens — try some of the best fried chicken in the Midwest or these additional places to eat in Kansas City.
- Top off your meal with dessert at one of the best ice cream shops in Kansas City.
- Share some of the best flavors from America’s Heartland with one of these food gifts from Kansas City.
- Need more motivation to visit the Paris of the Plains? These quotes about Kansas City will make you want to visit right now!
- From its art scene to its many fountains, these scavenger hunts are a fun way to explore Kansas City.
- Are you a fan of Netflix’s Queer Eye? Here’s how to experience Kansas City like the Fab Five did in Season 3.
- Stretch your travel budget to the max with these free things to do in Kansas City.
- Identify the colorful flowers that accent the Kansas City landscape with this seasonal guide to Kansas City wildflowers.
- Experience life on the prairie back in the 1860s with a visit to the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop in Olathe, Kansas. This living history museum is the last operating stop on the Santa Fe Trail.
- Explore Kansas beyond Kansas City with this Kansas bucket list.