ZooLights: Holiday Lights at the National Zoo

I really enjoy the concept of the walk-through holiday light display. No one has to worry about driving and you can move through the displays at your own pace. Plus, there’s nothing like frolicking through a light display arm in arm with a loved one to set the mood for holiday warm fuzzy feelings. And what better place to do this than our city’s beloved National Zoo? The National Zoo is already one of my go to spots for an inexpensive outing.  Admission is free and the long stroll allows time for good conversation, especially when you have family in town!

Beautifully decorated trees and animal outlines decorate many of the walkways throughout the zoo. There are also two mini light shows that run regularly.  My favorite is the lazer light show projected onto the Elephant House because it’s something different from the stand alone light displays in the grass. The show is set to jazzy Christmas music as you “ride” (watch) a one horse open sleigh and see zoo animals along the way.

If it is a cold night, you can warm up in many of the animal exhibit buildings. Be sure to stop in the Small Mammal House, Reptile Discovery Center, and Think Tank.  I am a big fan of the Reptile Discovery Center where I can see the cute turtles and mini gators.   Not everyone thinks these scaly guys are cute but I love them.  And when the zoo is dressed up for the holidays, it’s even better! 

If you have little ones with you, you can treat them to a train ride, snowless tubing, or carousel ride.  Tickets can be purchased for $3 each – one ticket per ride. Family packages are also available. 

When to go: ZooLights is almost always crowded with kids especially since the zoo is walking distance from several residential areas in the city. The zoo is pretty big and there are so many lights to see, so I don’t mind braving the crowds on weekends.  However, if you are looking for a thinner crowd, head to the zoo Monday – Thursday and stick to the last 2 hours (7 to 9 PM) after the younger kids have returned home for bedtime.

Where to eat: The zoo has many snack stands open so you can grab popcorn, nuts, cookies, and hot drinks as you wander through the lights.  However, if you want to eat before you go, my favorite inexpensive option in Woodley Park is Open City. They are known for their all day breakfast and variety of hot beverages accompanied by little cookies. This menu is available all year but the warm drinks feel especially festive around the holidays. 

How to get there: Two words guys: public transportation.  The crowds mean the usual $22 parking at the zoo is packed. Take the red line to Woodley Park and walk about 5 minutes to the zoo.  On Saturdays, shuttle rides are provided for free by Big Bus Tours. Plus, public transportation will help you reduce your carbon footprint for our animal friends.


Good For
Holiday fun, families, date night 

Free, rides and food are an additional cost. 

3001 Connecticut Ave NW 

Closest Metro
Woodley Park (red) 

November 25 to January 1. Open nightly 5 to 9 PM

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About Kelley Smith 59 Articles
I'm Kelley Smith and I love sharing tips on how to best explore Washington, DC. I love pretty much anything I can eat plus really good beer and whiskey served by story telling bartenders. I also like sassy museum guides, photogenic architecture, and colorful urban gardens.

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