The Ultimate DC Guide to Holiday Lights

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Feel the magic of the season come alive with the sparkle and glow of a holiday light display. From the festive lighting of the National Christmas Tree or National Menorah to an immersive holiday lights walking trail, these events are sure to warm your winter nights and leave your family belting out their favorite Christmas carols. Scroll down for the best places to spark the holiday spirit with a twinkling holiday light show in the DC metro area. Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!


Jodie Walton via Unsplash

Union Station Annual Tree Lighting

The iconic wreaths that hang from Union Station are a must-drive-by when going on night tour of the city. Head inside on Nov. 29th for the lighting of a 32-foot tree generously gifted by the Royal Norwegian Embassy. This festive celebration includes a tree lighting at 6 p.m., a pop up concert featuring Howard University’s gospel choir at 7 p.m. and a live-stream of Yo-Yo Ma from Washington National Cathedral at 8 p.m.

Cost: Free
When: Nov. 29 from 6-9 p.m.
Where: Union Station

christmas tree, lights, holiday lights
Connie Y. via Yelp

Enchant Christmas

If bigger is better, this football-field sized wonderland should be on your must-see holiday bucket list. Stroll through the Enchant Eatery for magical gifts and gourmet treats, take a whirl on the illuminated ice skating rink and get lost in a maze of lights that will spark wonder and the Christmas spirit. Hurry: these tickets sell out! 

Cost: $29+; free/2 & under
When: Nov. 26-Jan. 2 
Where: Nationals Park

The Wharf

Holidays at The Wharf

Make Christmas special by heading to the waterfront for this tree lighting ceremony and boat parade. This free event is packed with holiday fun, including a Santa photo op, miniature boat making, ornament decorating, live music, a boat procession that starts at 7 p.m. and a fireworks finale at 8 p.m. A little word to the wise: carpool (parking is hard-to-find) and come early if you can for a good viewing spot. 

Cost: Free
When: Dec. 4, 6-9 p.m.; Fireworks start at 8 p.m. 
Where: District Pier and District Square, 1100 Maine Ave. SW

The National Tree Lighting

The National Tree Lighting

Presented by the National Park Service and National Park Foundation, this tree lighting marks the 99th anniversary of the annual event and features one large tree along with 56 smaller trees representing all of the 50 states, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. Tickets to this event are distributed via a lottery system. A lottery date has not yet been announced; to stay up-to-date on this event, go here.  If you don’t score tickets to the actual lighting, you can still visit the tree every day after it is lit from 4:30-10 p.m. 

Editor’s Note: A date has not yet been set for the National Tree Lighting. The lottery for this event has not yet commenced. 

Cost: Free
When: To be announced 
WhereEllipse (National Mall)

National Menorah Lighting Ceremony

The lighting of the world’s largest menorah is a tradition that dates back to 1979. Presidents, Vice Presidents and members of the Cabinet and Congress attend this annual tradition. Music, food and entertainment are a part of this free event. Tickets are required, so go online to get yours (seating is limited). 

Cost: Free
When: Nov. 28
Where: Ellipse on the National Mall


Holiday Road

NEW THIS YEAR: Holiday Road

Get ready to fill your Insta feed; this holiday light experience’s epic theming, props and backdrops make its LA origins obvious. Spend an evening sipping adult cocktails, indulging in food truck eats and shopping at a Christmas market before you hit this immersive trail that brings Christmas scenes and holiday lights to life on the grounds of Morven Park in Northern VA. 

Cost; $34.99
When: Nov. 26-Jan. 2
Where: Morven Park, 17195 Southern Planter Ln., Leesburg, VA

City of Fairfax

Festival of Lights and Carols

Get ready to belt some Christmas classics (and a few new tunes) at this annual sing-along event. Head to Old Town Square to listen to live holiday music, eat s’mores and sip hot cider. Be sure to stay for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony at 5:30 p.m. 

Cost: Free
When: Dec. 4, 12-6 p.m.
Where: Old Town Square, 10415 North St., Fairfax, VA

Judy L. via Yelp

Winter Walk of Lights

This Vienna garden becomes a twinkling wonderland at dusk when a half-mile walk becomes illuminated with animated lights, expertly wrapped trees and holiday scenes. COVID safety measures are still in place, so be prepared to sit in you car until your group’s admission time. The walk is a one-way trail, so be sure to grab a pic of you favorite light displays before moving on; you won’t be able to back track. 

Cost: $20
Date: Nov. 11-Jan. 2 (including holidays)
Where: Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court, Vienna, VA

Strasburg Railroad

Santa Lights Manassas

Choo, choo! Santa coming through! Get hyped for the arrival of Santa by VRE train. Now a 27 year tradition, Santa arrives by rail to light the Manassas tree followed by a very special meet-and-greet.  There are plenty of holiday activities to make an evening out of this annual event. Go ice skating, take a wagon ride or get a jump on holiday shopping.  

Insider tip: Want more holiday fun via the rails? Check out these trains that feature visits from the Big Guy himself. 

Cost: Free
When: Dec. 3 at 6 p.m. 
Where: The Manassas Museum, 9101 Prince William St., Manassas, VA


Tim Mossholder via Pexels

Lights on the Bay

Grab your footed pajamas and a thermos of hot chocolate; this light display is a drive-thru attraction that features over two miles of lights along the Chesapeake Bay. Lights on the Bay boasts over 70 animated and stationery exhibits. For an additional fee, guests can purchase 3-D glasses for a truly unique experience.

Cost: $20 per car; $5/3-D glasses
Date:  Nov. 22-Jan. 2 
Where: Sandy Point State Park, 1100 E College Pkwy, Annapolis, MD


Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Zoolights & Zoolights Express

This year, the zoo will come to you! The National Zoo’s beloved Zoolights won’t take place on property this year. But you can catch the 24-foot Zoolights Express truck, outfitted with lights galore, to bring a little bit of the festivities to your hood. A special guest, Panda Claws, will be on board to wish you a very happy holiday season. For a route map for each ward, go here

Editor’s Note: The National Zoo’s Zoolights have been canceled this year due to COVID concerns. The ZooLights Express and Panda Claws mobile have also been canceled. 

Cost: Free
When & Where:  Nov. 27, Ward 1;  Nov. 28, Ward 2; Dec. 4, Ward 3; Dec. 5, Ward 4; Dec. 11, Ward 5; Dec. 12, Ward 6; Dec. 18, Ward 7; Dec. 19, Ward 8

—Meghan Yudes Meyers, Ayren Jackson-Cannady with Stephanie Kanowitz

featured photo: iStock


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