Henry Vilas Zoo Lights – A Holiday Spectacle You Shouldn’t Miss


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Welcome to the Henry Vilas Zoo Lights – an ideal holiday event that celebrates the magic of lights and the spirit of Christmas. Join us in this captivating journey.

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Festival highlights

About the Henry Vilas Zoo Lights

With almost one million twinkling lights, Henry Vilas Zoo is a mesmerizing spectacle that graces the holiday season, perfectly capturing the essence of light and festive spirit. It’s an ideal setting for families and friends looking to forge lasting memories amidst a sea of lights and holiday cheer. 

A mesmerizing Christmas celebration, the zoo lights event also offers photo opportunities with Santa and merry carousel rides, ensuring it remains an unforgettable experience for all who attend.

Henry Vilas Zoo Lights not only dazzles with its vast array of lights but also engages visitors with a variety of themed displays. Each display is crafted to enhance the festive atmosphere and bring joy to every corner of the zoo. From the enchanting encounters with glowing representations of zoo animals to the joyful rides under the stars, every moment is designed to delight and surprise.

Featured Lighting Displays at Henry Vilas Zoo Lights:

  • Fairy Lights: Delicate and ethereal, these lights add a touch of whimsy to the pathways and bushes around the zoo.
  • Light Sculptures: These intricate sculptures depict various zoo animals, illuminated to highlight their majestic forms in the night.
  • Sparkling Trees: Trees wrapped in lights shimmer throughout the zoo, creating a magical forest effect.
  • Tunnel of Lights: A walk-through experience that envelops visitors in a bright, joyful glow as they move through a canopy of lights.
  • Christmas Lights: Traditional holiday lights that enhance the festive feel with their colorful, blinking patterns.
  • Glowing Christmas Trees: Full-sized Christmas trees decked out in glowing lights, serving as beacons of the holiday spirit.
  • Curtain Lights: These lights hang like curtains, casting a soft, radiant backdrop perfect for picturesque moments.

Festival Dates

The Henry Vilas Zoo Lights is a seasonal spectacle that traditionally illuminates the chilly Madison evenings from November through December. This period allows visitors to enjoy the festive glow throughout the holiday season, making it a perfect addition to winter celebrations. 

Specific dates for 2024, however, are yet to be announced so it’s recommended to stay tuned for the latest details. This ensures that no one misses the chance to experience the stunning light displays and various holiday activities.

You can also visit the  zoo’s official website or subscribe to their newsletter for the latest information. 

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An image inspired by the colorful lights displays at the Henry Vilas Zoo Lights

Where It’s Located and How to Get There

The Henry Vilas Zoo Lights event is held at the enchanting location of Henry Vilas Zoo, situated at 702 S Randall Ave, Madison, Wisconsin, in the United States. This venue is centrally located in Madison, making it easily accessible to both locals and visitors eager to enjoy the festival of lights. The address is not only simple to find but also well-connected, ensuring a hassle-free visit to this radiant holiday celebration.

The nearest airport to Henry Vilas Zoo is Dane County Regional Airport, located approximately 9 miles from the zoo. This proximity allows for quick and convenient travel options for those flying into Madison to experience the light festival. 

Below are the different transport options from the airport to the festival location:

  • Taxi: A direct taxi ride from the airport to the zoo, typically taking about 20 minutes depending on traffic.
  • Bus: Madison Metro Transit offers routes that connect the airport to the zoo with a transfer downtown; total travel time is about 45 minutes.
  • Ride-Sharing: Services like Uber and Lyft operate in the area, providing direct and flexible travel options to the zoo.

Visitors coming from other cities by train will find convenient routes to Madison, which is well-served by various intercity train services. Here’s how you can reach the Henry Vilas Zoo from nearby cities by train:

From Chicago:

  • Take an Amtrak train from Chicago Union Station to Madison. The journey typically lasts around 3 hours.
  • Upon arriving in Madison, you can take a taxi directly to the zoo or use local bus services which require a short ride downtown before transferring to a bus that goes to the zoo.

From Milwaukee:

  • Board an Amtrak train at Milwaukee Intermodal Station with direct routes to Madison.
  • Similar to Chicago, once in Madison, taxis and local buses are available to complete your journey to the zoo.

From Minneapolis:

  • Amtrak provides services from Minneapolis to Madison, which include a transfer at one of the intermediate stops for a total travel time of approximately 5 to 6 hours.
  • From Madison’s station, taxis and bus services are readily available to take you directly to Henry Vilas Zoo.

If you liked the Henry Vilas Zoo Lights, you might want to check out these other mesmerizing zoo lights as well:

Taronga Zoo Vivid

London Zoo Nights

Festival Hours

Guests can enter the zoo from 5:30 PM to 8:30 PM each evening, ensuring ample time to explore the enchanting light spectacles. It’s important to arrive within this window to enjoy all the festivities and attractions the event has to offer. 

The gates close promptly at 9:00 PM, so planning your visit accordingly will help maximize your experience. This schedule allows everyone to fully enjoy the evening’s splendor before the night ends.

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An image inspired from the light displays at Henry Vilas Zoo Lights

How Much Does It Cost to Attend the Henry Vilas Zoo Lights

Just like the dates, ticket details for the 2024 edition of the Henry Vilas Zoo Lights are yet to be announced. However, prospective visitors can reference the previous year’s pricing to plan their budget. In 2023, general admission tickets were priced at $10 per person, making it an affordable outing for individuals and families alike. Children aged three and under could enjoy the light-filled extravaganza for free, adding extra value for family visits.

To accommodate groups and families looking to experience the festival together, a special package was offered—a 4-Pack of General Admission Tickets for just $35. This deal allowed groups to save on entry costs, making it easier for more guests to partake in the festive fun. 

Keep an eye on official announcements to catch the latest ticket information for this year’s event, ensuring you don’t miss out on the luminous winter celebration.

Weather and What to Wear

During the months of November to December, Madison, Wisconsin experiences its transition into the cold winter season. Temperatures during this time typically range from highs of about 40°F (4°C) in early November to lows around 20°F (-6°C) by late December. 

Visitors should be prepared for chilly evenings as temperatures often drop further after sunset, which is especially relevant when planning to attend an outdoor event like the Henry Vilas Zoo Lights.

To ensure a comfortable experience at the lights festival, consider the following clothing recommendations:

  • Thermal Layers: Start with a moisture-wicking base layer to keep warm and dry.
  • Insulated Outerwear: A down jacket or a heavy winter coat will provide necessary insulation against the biting cold.
  • Hats and Gloves: Protect your head and hands from the cold with a warm hat and a pair of gloves.
  • Warm Footwear: Waterproof boots with thermal socks are ideal to keep your feet warm and dry, especially if snow is on the ground.
  • Scarf and Earmuffs: For added warmth, don’t forget a scarf to protect your neck and earmuffs to shield your ears from the cold wind.

Where to Sleep – Hotels Nearby

Finding a comfortable place to stay near the Henry Vilas Zoo Lights is crucial for maximizing your enjoyment of the festival. Here are some recommended hotels that provide great amenities and are conveniently located:

Hilton Garden Inn Madison Downtown

  • Location: 770 Regent St, Madison, WI 53715, United States
  • Description: This 3-star eco-certified hotel is located in the vibrant heart of downtown Madison, offering easy access to local attractions including the University of Wisconsin-Madison and State Street.
  • Amenities: Guests can enjoy modern conveniences such as free Wi-Fi, a pool, and air-conditioned rooms, ensuring a comfortable and relaxing stay.

Hampton Inn & Suites Madison / Downtown

  • Location: 440 W Johnson St, Madison, WI 53703, United States
  • Description: Positioned in the bustling downtown area, this 2-star eco-certified hotel is perfect for visitors looking to immerse themselves in Madison’s lively atmosphere.
  • Amenities: The hotel features free Wi-Fi, an indoor pool, and a hot tub, providing a soothing retreat after a day of festival fun.

Super 8 by Wyndham Madison South

  • Location: 1602 W Beltline Hwy, Madison, WI 53713, United States
  • Description: This 2-star hotel offers practical and comfortable accommodations with easy access to local attractions and the downtown area.
  • Amenities: Guests can enjoy free Wi-Fi, an indoor pool, complimentary breakfast each morning, and free parking during their stay.

Where to Eat – Restaurants Nearby

Exploring the local culinary scene is a must when visiting the Henry Vilas Zoo Lights, and Madison offers a plethora of dining options to suit any palate. Here are some top restaurant picks nearby where you can indulge in delicious meals:

Graze Restaurant

  • Location: 1 S Pinckney St, Madison, WI 53703, United States
  • Description: A lively gastropub that serves farm-to-table comfort fare in a modern glass venue with stunning views of the Capitol. This spot is great for those looking to enjoy the outdoors or those needing vegetarian options and a kids’ menu.
  • Foods Served: Notable dishes include pork belly tonkatsu, mac n cheese, and Korean fried chicken.

Heritage Tavern

  • Location: 131 E Mifflin St, Madison, WI 53703, United States
  • Description: This upscale New American restaurant offers a classy dining experience with old-world charm, serving dinner and weekend brunch.
  • Foods Served: The menu features refined dishes such as steak and eggs, smoked whitefish and crab cake, and eggplant terrine.


  • Location: 122 W Mifflin St, Madison, WI 53703, United States
  • Description: Cento combines a farm-to-fork philosophy with Italian cuisine, featuring housemade pastas and wood-fired pizzas in a chic setting with a comprehensive wine list.
  • Foods Served: Highlights include lobster cobb salad, smoked pork pizza, and fresh tagliatelle.

More Things to Do in the Area

While visiting the Henry Vilas Zoo Lights, take the opportunity to explore other nearby attractions that Madison has to offer. Each location provides unique activities and educational experiences that can enrich your visit:

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Henry Vilas Zoo

  • Location: 702 S Randall Ave, Madison, WI 53715, United States
  • Description: This 28-acre public zoo not only hosts the enchanting Zoo Lights but also offers a year-round opportunity to explore diverse habitats and a wide range of animal species. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, it’s a perfect day out for wildlife enthusiasts.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

  • Location: 3330 Atwood Ave, Madison, WI 53704, United States
  • Description: Spanning 16 acres, these outdoor botanical gardens and a large conservatory offer a lush escape with themed gardens and exotic plant species. Visitors can enjoy peaceful strolls, educational tours, and seasonal events.

Madison Children’s Museum

  • Location: 100 N Hamilton St, Madison, WI 53703, United States
  • Description: This museum is dedicated to engaging children with interactive exhibits on the arts, sciences, and history. It’s an ideal spot for young minds to learn through play, explore civic engagement, and discover new interests in a fun setting.

A Sparkling Conclusion: Final Thoughts on the Henry Vilas Zoo Lights

As the festive season approaches, the Henry Vilas Zoo Lights stands out as a beacon of joy and celebration in Madison, Wisconsin. This annual event dazzles with nearly a million lights, transforming the zoo into a luminescent paradise that captivates visitors of all ages. It’s a magical place where families can create lasting memories, enjoying the warm glow of holiday spirit against the crisp winter backdrop.

Whether you’re a local resident or a traveler looking for a unique holiday experience, the Henry Vilas Zoo Lights offers an enchanting evening filled with spectacular light displays, festive activities, and heartwarming encounters with Santa and his sleigh. 

Don’t miss the chance to immerse yourself in this radiant festival of lights, where every path and creature shines under the starlit sky. Make sure to stay updated on ticketing and scheduling information to fully enjoy this winter wonderland.


Is there parking available at the Henry Vilas Zoo Lights?

Yes, there is ample parking available at the zoo, including designated spots for disabled visitors.

Are pets allowed at the Henry Vilas Zoo Lights?

Pets are not allowed, with the exception of service animals.

Can I smoke at the Henry Vilas Zoo Lights?

Smoking, including e-cigarettes, is prohibited within the zoo grounds.

Are there food and drinks available at the event?

Yes, various food and beverage options are available throughout the zoo.

Is the Henry Vilas Zoo Lights wheelchair accessible?

Yes, the event and most pathways are wheelchair accessible.

Can I take photographs during the event?

Photography is encouraged, but commercial photography requires prior approval.

What should I wear to the Henry Vilas Zoo Lights?

Dress warmly in winter attire as the event is outdoors and temperatures can be very cold.

Are there restrooms available at the event?

Yes, there are several restroom facilities available throughout the zoo.

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An image inspired by the Henry Vilas Zoo Lights

Sources: https://www.henryvilaszoo.gov/home/lights/


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