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Holiday Light Displays That Downright Dazzle


How would we survive winter without the magical weeks when holiday lights festoon seemingly every park, street and building? The following are a few treasured bright spots.

Blue Christmas Lights at Longwood GardensA Longwood Christmas; Photo courtesy of Longwood Gardens by Becca Mathias

A LONGWOOD CHRISTMAS (November 17 to January 7, 2024) brightens the splendors of Longwood Gardens—those trees! those fountains!—with 50 miles of twinkling lights and many an unexpected treat (firepits, an illuminated treehouse and a model railway) along the way. No wonder this massive display in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, has been voted Best Botanical Garden Lights by USA Today for the last five years.

Hersheypark Christmas CandylaneHersheypark Christmas Candylane; Photo courtesy of Hersheypark

This year, the 40th annual HERSHEYPARK CHRISTMAS CANDYLANE in Hershey, Pennsylvania, is unveiled on November 10 and promises to be the biggest one yet with some 5 million lights adorning amusement rides, the boardwalk and 2 miles of wooded trails. But who’s counting?

Meanwhile, KOZIAR’S CHRISTMAS VILLAGE in Bernville has been lighting up the Pennsylvania countryside for more than 75 years. This year’s opening date is November 4, and the festivities include the opportunity to check out tableaus that run the gamut from Christmas Beneath the Sea to Christmas in Other Lands.

Christmas Lights at Winter WonderLightsWinter WonderLights; Photo courtesy of Winter WonderLights

Grab a thermos of hot cider and pass the popcorn as you drive along a half-mile path that meanders through sparkling tunnels and past myriad themed displays in East Brunswick, New Jersey’s WINTER WONDERLIGHTS. More than 1.5 million lights flicker in sync to a roster of holiday music that you can tune into via your car radio. The event has its roots in a family display that has grown into a five-week (November 24 to December 31) extravaganza that celebrates many winter holidays, including Diwali and Kwanzaa. 

Home decorated in Christmas lists in Lewes, DelawarePhoto courtesy of Lewes Lights

There’s something magical about the beach in the offseason when the air is chilly and the surf pounds with just a bit more intensity. LEWES LIGHTS in Delaware, conjured during the height of the pandemic to provide a safe way to experience the joy of the holidays, has blossomed into a town-wide spectacular. A self-driving tour (available December 3 to 24) that spans from the ocean to downtown includes more than 100 private homes and businesses decked out for the season. There’s even a narrated history tour that visitors can cue up in their cars.

Castle in holiday lights from Lights on the BayPhoto courtesy of Lights on the Bay

Crank up the carols as you drive through 2 miles of illuminated displays along the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis, Maryland’s LIGHTS ON THE BAY at Sandy Point State Park (November 19 to January 1, 2024). There are more than 70 installations, many of them animated. Nods to life on the Chesapeake Bay intermingle with illuminated festive scenes in this holiday homage. Kids can do a scavenger hunt with clues to help them find hidden gems along the route. Splurge on the 3D glasses (an extra $5 for two pairs) to level up the magic.

Panda Bear Christmas Lights at National ZooZoolights; Photo courtesy of National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute

Wandering the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, DC, after hours during the holidays is to see the space in a whole new light, literally. ZOOLIGHTS (select nights November 24 to December 30) has more than 500,000 environmentally friendly LED lights. Along lantern-lit paths, you’ll also discover live music and hot chocolate stops, and, weather permitting, you’ll be able to take a ride on the zoo’s Conservation Carousel atop animals like giant pandas, komodo dragons and cheetahs.

Lewis Ginter GardenFest of Lights (2021)Lewis Ginter GardenFest of Lights (2021); Photo courtesy of LewisGinter by Caroline Martin Photography

Everyone in the family—even the dog (on November 20 and 27 and December 4)—can explore the 50-acre grounds of Richmond, Virginia’s Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden as they sparkle with millions of lights during the annual DOMINION ENERGY GARDENFEST OF LIGHTS (November 20 to January 7, 2024). This year’s theme is Rhythms of Nature, which prompts visitors to take in the sounds as well as the sights of the garden. There’s also an extensive model train display, plus a warming fire tucked within the Children’s Garden where families can roast s’mores under the stars.

South Jersey Holiday Light Show in Swedesboro, New JerseySouth Jersey Holiday Light Show in Swedesboro, New Jersey; Photo courtesy of Holiday Light Show

The SOUTH JERSEY HOLIDAY LIGHT SHOW in Swedesboro is a relatively new drive-through offering. For its fourth season, it promises hundreds of holiday-themed displays over a 1-mile route.

Get in last-minute holiday shopping at some of the local businesses featured in the upcoming Hallmark movie Mystic Christmas. It’s all part of the Holiday Lights Spectacular in OLDE MISTICK VILLAGE in Mystic, Connecticut, which gets underway every mid-November and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season. Wander walkways brilliantly lit by thousands of luminaries, and then pop into the Meeting House to enjoy live entertainment and complimentary treats.

The Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford comes alive with a million twinkling lights during GLOW (November 18 to December 23), a festival that includes a yuletide scavenger hunt to find the six presents that Santa has lost in the cavernous building, a meet-and-greet with the Jolly Old Elf himself, interactive lighting displays and the Glow-comotive train ride.