Zoo Lights: A Washington D.C. Holiday Tradition

I love living in Washington D.C. around the holidays. The city has so much to offer, including the National Christmas Tree lighting, shopping in Georgetown, and, of course, ZooLights.

ZooLights is one of D.C.’s better known holiday attractions. For a month, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo drips with festive lights (over 500,000 of them!) and music to celebrate the season. Families from around the region make it a tradition to travel in to see the lights each year.

I’ve gone to ZooLights with friends for the last three years, and it is one of my favorite holiday traditions. We always make sure to bring some “adult hot chocolate” and take our time walking down the pathway admiring all the bright colors.

Zoo Lights: A Washington D.C. Holiday Tradition

If you find yourself in D.C. around the holidays, here’s what you need to know if you plan to visit ZooLights.

  • It’s free! The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is always free to enter, and ZooLights is no exception. Special theme nights occur throughout the season – check out the National Zoo’s website for more details.
Zoo Lights: A Washington D.C. Holiday Tradition

The main public entrance to the National Zoo.

  • ZooLights is open to the public from 5:00 until 9:00 from November 25 to January 1 (except for December 24 and 25). Expect it to be crowded – it is a popular attraction!
Zoo Lights: A Washington D.C. Holiday Tradition

Crowds entering the zoo.

  • The animals are not actually out during ZooLights – the zoo exhibits officially close at 5:00 p.m. The main attraction is the lights themselves, and they line the main walking path. It’s about a mile-long walk from end to end. (Some indoor animal exhibits do remain open, however: the Small Mammal House, Reptile Discovery Center, and Think Tank.)
Zoo Lights: A Washington D.C. Holiday Tradition

Animals are present in the form of lights!

  • ZooLights is very family friendly. Attractions for kids include a train display and lego play area inside the Visitor Center, live music performances, a laser light show, a carousel, and a 150-foot slide. There’s also a bar inside the Visitor Center for adults who need an extra boost of “cheer” for the evening.
Zoo Lights: A Washington D.C. Holiday Tradition

My nieces couldn’t get enough of this color-changing flower display.

  • Parking can be a challenge. There are a couple of lots on the east and north sides of the zoo ($11 for members, $22 for non-members), but if you’re coming in through the main gate there’s only street parking (free for two hours). Spots go quickly, so you might have to circle for a while to find a place to park.

Zoo Lights: A Washington D.C. Holiday Tradition

  • An easier transportation option is to take the Metro. To get to the zoo, exit at the Woodley Park-Zoo stop on the Red Line and walk north on Connecticut Avenue. The entrance will be on your right. A free shuttle bus also operates from the Woodley Park-Zoo metro stop every 20 minutes to take visitors to and from ZooLights.
Zoo Lights: A Washington D.C. Holiday Tradition

A romantic tunnel of lights.

  • All of the zoo’s restaurants are open during ZooLights, and there are plenty of food and beverage stands along the walk to keep your appetite at bay. If you’re looking for a wider variety of food options, nearby Woodley Park and Cleveland Park have dozens of restaurant offerings along Connecticut Avenue. There are also ample restroom facilities, so you won’t have anything to worry about as you guzzle hot chocolate to stay warm!

Zoo Lights: A Washington D.C. Holiday Tradition

I’ve been to ZooLights twice this year, and it’s put me fully in the holiday spirit. I’m already looking forward to going back next year!

Have you been to ZooLights, or think it’s something you might want to check out on a future visit to D.C.? Let me know in the comments!

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