The zoo lights offer an immersive experience to visitors of all ages. The stunning displays bring a touch of magic, fun, and excitement to every corner, with fairy lights, animal silhouettes, rope lights, and light tunnels. The zoo’s iconic landmarks, such as the Lion/Tiger Hill and the Elephant Outpost, are often transformed into magnificent illuminated spectacles.
In addition to mesmerizing zoo lights, attendees can enjoy live performances, warm up with seasonal treats and beverages, and meet costumed characters.
Whether you want to witness the spectacular light exhibition and live performances alone or with your loved ones, there is no way for you not to have a memorable and fun Christmas celebration. This holiday event should be part of your bucket list this year.
Zoo Lights DC Dates (2023)
Zoo Lights DC usually runs from late November to December. This year, the enchanting event will run from November 24 to December 30, 2023.
Last year, the event took place on November 25 to December 30, 2022.
Where It’s Located and How to Get There
The annual Zoo Lights DC happens in Smithsonian’s National Zoo at 3001 Connecticut Avenue NW, Rock Creek Park, Washington D.C., US. This iconic zoo has captivated visitors for over a century with its dedication to wildlife conversation and diverse collection of animals.
But during the holiday season, millions of blinking Christmas lights, curtain lights, and twinkle lights trees illuminate the zoo grounds. Visitors also enjoy watching the led curtain lights, icicle lights, net lights, and meteor shower lights. This turns the entire venue into a magical place to spend the holiday.
As you plan to be part of this year’s Zoo Lights DC, you should be familiar with the different transportation options to reach the venue.
The Washington Metro is an efficient and convenient mode of transportation to reach the Zoo Lights venue. The closest station is the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan station, which is served by the Red Line. After you exit the station, take a short walk (around 10 minutes) uphill to the zoo’s main entrance.
Several bus routes connect to the National Zoo, so you can access the venue more easily. The Metrobus routes D1, D2, and D6, including the Circulator’s Woodley Park-Adams Morgan-McPherson Square route, all have stops near the zoo.
If you prefer to drive to the Zoo Lights venue, be sure to plan your parking in advance because parking spaces are limited. The National Zoo’s parking lot is off Connecticut Avenue, just south of the main entrance. But availability is not guaranteed, particularly during peak hours and weekends.
The flat rate parking fee is $30. Also, note that parking tickets for daytime use are not valid for Zoo Lights DC parking.
For an eco-friendly mode of transportation, you can use bicycles to get to the light festival venue. The zoo provides bike racks near the main entrance for visitors to park their bikes securely.
There are also Capital Bikeshare stations available throughout the city. This allows you to rent a bike for the day and return it at a different location, including near the National Zoo.
For visitors with disabilities, the zoo offers accessible parking spaces near the main entrance. Wheelchairs are available for rent on a first-come, first-served basis at the Visitor Center.
The exhibits, walkways, and facilities at the zoo are designed to accommodate individuals with mobility challenges, and accessible restrooms are available throughout the park.
If you liked Zoo Lights DC, you might want to check out these other fantastic zoo lights:
Zoo Lights DC Festival Hours
Zoo Lights DC Festival Hours Zoo Lights DC is a magical event that combines the beauty of holiday lights with the fascinating world of wildlife. As you prepare for your enchanting journey, determine the exact festival hours to make the most of your visit. The Zoo Lights hours are open from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM on Thursday through Saturday, and from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM on Sunday. It is essential to arrive at the venue before the operating hours to ensure you will experience all the fun moments.
Remember that weekends and holidays tend to be busier, so planning your visit on weekdays is advisable for a more relaxed experience.
Cost to Visit the Festival
While Zoo Lights DC was free in the previous years, this 2023 the zoo decided to have tickets. The cost for the 2023 Zoo Lights DC is $6 per individual. Tickets will be on sale on October 26, 2023.
Weather and What to Wear
You might be excited and smiling by imagining the holiday music filling the air and the breathtaking light installations throughout the National Zoo. But you must be weather-wise and dress appropriately for a comfortable and enjoyable light festival experience.
As mentioned earlier, the festival dates are often from late November to December.
Traveling to Washington D.C. in November lets you experience mid-10s C (high 50s F) daytime temperatures. If you travel by December, expect single digits below 0 C (high 20s F) average overnight temperatures.
It’s recommended to pack the following when visiting the city and joining the zoo lights:
- Warm jeans or pants
- Heavy jacket
- Heavy socks
- Waterproof jacket
- Cold weather footwear
- Lip balm
- A windproof umbrella
Where to Sleep
Whether you prefer luxury hotels, budget-friendly options, or alternative accommodations, here are some recommended places to sleep near Zoo Lights DC venue:
- The Churchill Hotel
This hotel is situated within a short distance from the National Zoo. This historic hotel offers a charming and elegant atmosphere. This historic hotel features spacious rooms, modern amenities, and a restaurant.
- Washington Marriott Wardman Park
This upscale hotel is located just across the street from the zoo. It provides offers comfortable rooms and excellent amenities. The hotel also offers dining options and a fitness center.
- Woodley Park Guest House
The Woodley Park Guest House is a cozy bed and breakfast near the zoo for a budget-friendly option. With comfortable rooms and a welcoming atmosphere, this guest house provides a more homely experience while being conveniently close to the Zoo Lights.
- Omni Shoreham Hotel
The Omni Shoreham Hotel is located near Rock Creek Park. It offers a luxurious stay close to the Zoo Lights venue. This grand hotel features well-appointed rooms, multiple dining options, a fitness center, and an outdoor pool. It is perfect for those who want a high-end experience.
Where to Eat
Before enjoying the beautiful light displays, you can hunt for eateries serving delicious meals. Plenty of food destinations are waiting to satisfy your cravings. And here are the top recommendations:
- Mintwood Place
This French-inspired bistro serves creative dishes made with locally sourced ingredients. It is also known for its cozy ambiance.
- Amsterdam Falafelshop
This eatery is a popular spot for falafel lovers. It offers build-your-own falafel sandwiches and bowls with an array of toppings.
- District Kitchen
This farm-to-table restaurant emphasizes locally sourced ingredients in its seasonal menus.
- Medium Rare
This popular steakhouse is famous for its affordable prix fixe menu. It features a mouthwatering steak and delicious sides.
More Things to Do in the Area
Do not limit the fun while you are in Washington D.C. to experience the Zoo Lights DC. There are plenty of other attractions and activities to enjoy, such as:
- National Mall
The National Mall is just a short distance from the zoo and is home to several iconic landmarks and museums. Stroll along the mall to see the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and the U.S. Capitol building.
- Kennedy Center
If you’re interested in the performing arts, head to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It hosts a wide range of musicals, plays, ballets, and concerts throughout the year.
- The United States Botanic Garden
The United States Botanic Garden is located near the U.S. Capitol. It is a living plant museum featuring a vast collection of plant species from around the world. You can explore the conservatory’s different rooms, such as the tropical rainforest, desert oasis, and orchid display.
- National Gallery of Art
For art enthusiasts, the National Gallery of Art is a must-visit. It is located on the National Mall. The museum houses an extensive collection of artwork, including masterpieces by renowned artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, and Claude Monet.
- Is there designated parking?
Yes, there is designated parking available at the Smithsonian National Zoo. However, it’s limited and tends to fill up quickly, especially during Zoo Lights. We recommend arriving early or considering public transport as an alternative.
- Is smoking permitted at the zoo?
No, the Smithsonian National Zoo is a smoke-free facility. This includes all forms of smoking and vaping. Please respect this policy for the comfort and health of all guests and animals.
- Can I bring my pet to Zoo Lights?
Pets are not permitted at the Smithsonian National Zoo, including during the Zoo Lights event, for the safety and well-being of the animals at the zoo as well as the comfort of other visitors. Service animals are, of course, an exception.
- Is there food and drink available?
Absolutely, there are food and beverage stations throughout the zoo where you can purchase snacks, hot drinks, and more to keep you fueled as you enjoy the light displays.
- Are the zoo’s animal exhibits open during Zoo Lights?
Most animal exhibits are closed during the evening to let the animals rest. However, some indoor exhibits may remain open; check the event schedule for details.
- Is the event wheelchair and stroller accessible?
Yes, the Smithsonian National Zoo and the Zoo Lights event are accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. However, please note that the zoo is located on hilly terrain, so some areas may be more challenging to navigate.
- Do I need a ticket to enter Zoo Lights?
Yes, ticket price is $6 per individual.
- Can I take photos or videos during the event?
Photography for personal use is permitted and encouraged! However, any commercial photography or filming requires prior approval from the zoo’s media relations office.