Driving through a winter wonderland: Where to see holiday lights in DC area


Light festivals are an opportunity for families throughout the DMV to enjoy some Christmas spirit together.

Light festivals and displays are an opportunity for families throughout the DMV to enjoy some Christmas spirit together.

Here is a list of where you can see holiday lights in the D.C. area:


Winter Light Festival in Gaithersburg

The Winter Light Festival in Gaithersburg is welcoming visitors for another holiday season. The lights at Seneca Creek State Park will open at night from Nov. 25 to Dec. 31, but will be closed on Christmas Day. The last entry for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve is 8:30 p.m.

When you drive through Seneca Creek State Park, you will see over 450 bright displays and trees that light up the night. Visitors can purchase one ticket for each vehicle — $15 Monday to Thursday; $25 Friday to Sunday; and $30 for vehicles with 15 or more passengers.

Festival of Lights at the Washington D.C. Temple

The Festival of Lights at the Washington D.C. Temple and Visitors’ Center in Kensington will be returning this year after not hosting the event in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There will be lights that illuminate the grounds from sunset to 9 p.m. every night from Dec. 1 through Jan. 2.

Visitors can see creche nativity scenes from around the world, as well as more than 400,000 lights, decorated Christmas trees and a number of performances.

The performances are free but tickets are required.

“Lights on the Bay” at Sandy Point State Park

The Lights on the Bay holiday light show at Sandy Point State Park along the shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Anne Arundel County has over 60 animated and stationary displays illuminating the roadway, according to its website. The event is from Nov. 20 to Jan. 1 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and is sponsored by the SPCA animal society of Anne Arundel County.

Attendees can buy tickets online for $20 per car, $5 for 3D glasses and $30 for large passenger vans, mini buses and trolleys.

Watkins Regional Park Festival of Lights

The Festival of Lights at Watkins Regional Park in Upper Marlboro welcomes visitors to its drive-through holiday light show with over two million twinkling lights. It has a lot of new displays this year such as a 54-foot LED musical tree.

This event is from Nov. 25 to Jan. 1 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets for cars are $10 if purchased online and $15 at the gate. Tickets are $20 for a van or limo and $30 for bus.


ZooLights at National Zoo

The annual ZooLights at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo will take place from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. most dates between Nov. 25 to Dec. 30. For this year’s event, attendees will be required to have a special entry pass.

Passes open for reservations on a rolling basis two weeks in advance, and allow entry from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. There’s a $30 flat-rate parking fee, and daytime parking tickets won’t be valid.

The National Zoo said attendees will see LED lights and a number of glowing animal lanterns that “transform the Zoo into a winter wonderland.” There will also be warm winter treats, live musical performances and opportunities for holiday shopping.

The District’s Holiday Boat Parade

The Wharf in downtown D.C. is hosting its 30th anniversary of the District’s Holiday Boat Parade presented on Dec. 3 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. You can celebrate the holidays with this iconic event that features over 60 beautifully decorated boats parading along the Washington Channel.

Last year’s parade caused significant backups and event organizers recommend using alternatives like ride-share and taxis, the free Southwest Shuttle, Water Taxi, and Metro to access the event.


Bull Run Festival of Lights

The Bull Run Festival of Lights in Centreville is open from Nov. 11 through Jan. 8. It’s an opportunity for families and friends alike to see over two miles of holiday light displays.

Visitors can drive through the festival in their cars, shut off the headlights and follow the magical glow. The festival advises those who want to stay away from crowds should come on the weekends. You can purchase tickets on Eventbrite, ranging from $30 to $75.

You can listen to WTOP’s Jason Fraley who previewed the event in 2020 here.


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