Cincinnati Zoo Festival of Lights

The local zoo is always a fun place to be with the animals and events going on. When you consider that the festival of lights is a popular holiday that started in the Hindu faith and has come across the ocean to the US, you’re sure to appreciate the Cincinnati Zoo Festival of Lights.

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Cincinnati Zoo Festival of Lights
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It has been going strong for 38 years and always has a different theme. Typically, it focuses on the wildlife, and the last one was no different. Its Wild Wonderland made the entire park shine bright. With over 4 million LEDs, visitors saw various spectacles all lit up. There’s a train ride, appropriately named the North Polar Express, and you’ve got tons of wild lighting features to see on Swan Lake. If that weren’t enough, there are various S’mores-n-More stands, where you can get hot chocolate and other winter favorites.

You can also visit Santa’s Village, where you can find mice in the gingerbread houses and meet the bearded man himself. There’s also Roo Valley, which is a new addition to the lights festival. Here, there’s a Wintery Walkabout, and you can hop, walk, or run to see kangaroo lanterns and much more. Stop in at Hops to get a cold-weather treat, too!

The Cincinnati Zoo is always adding new habitats, so you can’t miss the African Penguin exhibit. There are tons of LED lights that shine bright to create beautiful, majestic scenes.

Still, that isn’t all. The Cincinnati Zoo Festival of Lights also included a scavenger hunt in 2020, which was highly popular. Look for it next year to read festive riddles and figure out clues that are hidden throughout the zoo.

Search for fairies in Fiona’s Fairyland, experience the Northern Lights right in Ohio, and see 27 different animal lanterns throughout the park. There are also costume characters, and you can see the animals that reside at the zoo in their indoor heated buildings.

Festival Dates

Last year, the dates for the Cincinnati Zoo Festival of Lights ran from November 21 through January 3. There were also bonus nights in the new year from the 8th to the 10th, and then from the 15th through the 17th.

Where’s It At/How to Get There

The Cincinnati Zoo is located at 3400 Vine Street in Cincinnati, Ohio. You may take the Metro bus on routes 1, 38X, 46, or 78. It’s also possible to use a Red Bike.

 

If you’re driving, you can take the I-71, which is now open. Use this road from Exit 3 off I-71. Those coming from the I-75 should exit at Hopple Street.

 

Once you’re there, pay attention to the signage. Parking lots are sure to fill up quickly. You’ve got to enter the zoo at the Pavilion Entry Building, which is off the main parking lot. There’s an alternate walk-in location at Erkenbrecher Entrance, which is open during the Cincinnati Zoo Festival of Lights.

 

Festival Hours

Since the lights festival is within the Cincinnati Zoo, the hours were from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. each night. It required reservations. Though you could walk around the zoo, the FOL festivities didn’t start until 4 p.m. Still, it gave you plenty of time to get used to the park and figure out where everything was.

 

Pricing

The Cincinnati Zoo Festival of Lights didn’t have any charges associated with it. However, you are required to buy a ticket to get into the zoo. For adults, it ranges from $7.50 to $19.50, and for children aged 2 to 12, it is $7.00 to $13.50. Parking is $10 per vehicle.

There are also now VIP animal experiences that you can buy. Paint with goats, pet the tortoise, and see the only alpine parrot in the world. Prices range for these activities, and they aren’t part of the Cincinnati Zoo Festival of Lights experience. However, you may choose to order a ticket and attend before the festivities start.

 

Weather and What to Wear

Ohio is located in the Midwest, which is well-known for its changing weather patterns. In November, temperatures reach 53 degrees and go as low as 37 on average. In December, the temps drop by about 10 degrees and continue to stay cold through January. Therefore, it’s best to dress in warm clothing.

Choose a base layer and a few extra layers on top of that. This way, you can shed them if you get hot. Ultimately, you’re going to want comfortable shoes and socks because you’re going to walk through the entire zoo to see the full lights festival. Consider wearing a coat and bringing gloves and a hat. Bring along a blanket to sit on while you enjoy treats or watch various events.

 

Where to Sleep

You’ve got two hotels quite close to the zoo. The Graduate Cincinnati features spacious rooms with a college-dorm-like feel. Depending on the type you choose, you can get a lounge/dining space, wet bar, and much more. Each room comes with a refrigerator, HDTV, free Wi-Fi, and various toiletries.

There’s also the Gaslight Bed and Breakfast, which is quite expensive but provides you with an excellent ambiance and feeling. It’s on top of a hill in the historic Clifton gaslight district. Therefore, you have fast access to downtown Cincinnati and the University. The four-story home features a waterfall and luxury at every turn. Each room has a different appearance and style to make it more charming and interesting.

It might be best to travel farther into Cincinnati to the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza. It’s about three miles away from the zoo, but the prices are a little cheaper. Consider that it is going to be nighttime when you leave the lights festival. Still, the Hilton is a comfortable and luxury option. There’s an indoor pool, nightclub, health club, and free Wi-Fi services. Some rooms even have a hot tub!

Where to Eat

Though there are many restaurants in the zoo, and you can dine at them while you’re enjoying the Cincinnati Zoo Festival of Lights, you probably don’t want to pay for a ticket to then pay for your meal.

Therefore, the Cactus Pear is close by, and it has a variety of meal options. It’s primarily a Mexican restaurant, but it offers salads, fish, and many other fan favorites. You’re going to like the many margaritas it provides, but you can also get a glass of wine and draft beer.

Biagio’s Bistro offers fine Italian cuisine. There are vegan/vegetarian options available, and it’s only half a mile from the zoo. You’ve got plenty of appetizers available, as well as salads and soup. Sandwiches and pasta dishes make up most of the entrees, and the desserts are amazing, too.

Sleepy Bee on the Fly is a happy little café, which is open for breakfast and lunch through 2 p.m. Though it has a California and Mexican flair, the meals are exciting, bright, and delicious. There are plenty of sandwiches to enjoy, and the prices are affordable. This family-friendly choice is sure to have you buzzing for joy!

More Things to Do near by the fest

Consider visiting the Cincinnati Zoo Festival of Lights early so that you can enjoy what it has to offer before the light show. However, when you’ve had your fill of flowers and animals, it’s time to get a little culture.

The Cincinnati Art Museum is quite old and was founded in 1881. It has a collection of more than 67,000 works throughout 6,000 years of human history. Therefore, it’s a comprehensive collection for the Midwest. Though the building itself looks plain, the amazements inside can’t be missed.

Krohn Conservatory is another great place to go if you like plants. There are over 3,500 plant species from everywhere in the world. It changes each year with different programs and exhibits, so you’re always sure to find something new to enjoy. Permanent exhibits can include the exotic plants in the Orchid, Desert, Tropical, and Palm houses, as well as the Rainforest Waterfall.

You can’t attend the lights festival and be in the area without touring Cincinnati Music Hall. This classical performance hall is the home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Ballet, May Festival Chorus, Cincinnati Opera, and more. Consider booking a show while you’re in town for the lights festival!

If you’re planning to attend a festival of lights, you can go almost anywhere in the US and throughout the world. However, the Cincinnati Zoo Festival of Lights is a true marvel that shouldn’t be missed. Make it your destination next year to experience animals and light together.

Arik Akunis
Arik Akunis

My name is Arik Akunis and I have been in the field of lighting for over the last 20 years, I started my journey in the world of lighting in the lighting niche for events where I first came across a festival of lights and immediately fell in love with it.

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