Travel & Outdoors

Dazzling Mid-Atlantic Holiday Light Shows You Need to See This Season

If you're a lover of the festive displays—especially those through which you can drive, walk, or even ice-skate—consider these doable day trips or wintry weekend getaways.
Holiday lights at Longwood Gardens in PA. —Courtesy of Longwood Gardens/Becca Mathias

It may not be visible from space, but hand it to Hampden’s Miracle on 34th Street for setting the high-wattage mark of holiday lights. Where else can you find a single block so devoted to such an unabashedly over-the-top and proudly tacky tribute to the most wonderful time of year?

But believe it or not, Baltimore, 34th Street has rivals throughout the Mid-Atlantic. There are neighborhoods, and one especially luminous family farm, that can brighten the night sky.

Brilliantly festooned botanical gardens and parks. High-tech light shows, as well as simple, ceremonial tree lightings. Boats that float and some that don’t, lit from bow to stern. There are displays through which you can drive, walk, or even ice-skate. Many include family-friendly extras: Santa and his elves, candy canes and model trains, cozy bonfires and hot cocoa. For the actively inclined, there’s also ice-tubing, ice-skating, and…axe-throwing?

If you love lights of the festive and decorative kind, consider these doable day trips or wintry weekend getaways. And let there be lights—lots of ’em.

News & Community

Baltimore-Area Lights in December

If you're looking for something a bit closer to home, here's your guide.


Nightly through Jan. 1: National Christmas Tree

President’s Park, Washington, D.C.
3 hours roundtrip. Free. 

A century ago, on Christmas Eve, 1923, President Calvin Coolidge walked from the White House to the Ellipse to inaugurate a cherished tradition. He switched on a 48-foot fir tree wrapped in 2,500 red, white, and green bulbs, turning “the national Christmas tree into a flashing vari-colored pyramid of radiance,” marveled the Washington Evening Star. Visitors can admire this year’s radiant conifer and its 60,000 lights following the National Christmas Tree Lighting on or about Nov. 30. The Pathway of Peace features smaller lit trees representing U.S. states, territories, and the District.

Through Dec. 31: Enchant Christmas

Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.
2 hours roundtrip. $24-89.60.

Two enterprising Canadian teenagers turned a neighborhood light-decorating business into a high-tech holiday extravaganza held at seven locations, including the Nation’s Capital. D.C.’s baseball stadium hosts their 2023 themed “Reindeer Games” show, whose signature attraction is an immersive light maze. Visitors are tasked with finding Rudolph and co.’s magic bells amid a blinking, pulsing, cascading landscape of more than one million lights. (Think Oz meets Times Square.) There’s also an illuminated ice-skating trail, a 100-foot-tall Christmas tree, and a village of artisan vendors.

The Enchant Christmas at the Nationals stadium in D.C. —Courtesy of Enchant Christmas
Through Jan. 1: Mormon Temple Festival of Lights

Washington D.C. Temple, Kensington, MD
2 hours roundtrip. Free.

From its hilltop perch above the Capital Beltway, the white marble, six-spired Mormon Temple is an imposing sight in any season. Come December, though, the starkly spotlighted temple goes technicolor during its beautiful Festival of Lights. Nearly one half million lights in shades of red, green, blue, gold, purple, and white festoon trees on the temple’s 57-acre grounds. In the Visitors’ Center, model crèches depict nativity scenes from around the world and the 540-seat auditorium hosts live holiday concerts.

Through February: Sailing Through the Winter Solstice

Carroll Creek Linear Park, Frederick, MD
2 hours roundtrip. Free, donations encouraged. 

Frederick’s downtown “linear park” follows gentle Carroll Creek, where a small fleet of unusual vessels steal the spotlight during the cold winter months. Beginning in November, an eclectic armada of downsized boats—gaff-rigged ketches, three-masted schooners, pirate ships, and even a boat designed to look like an aircraft carrier, all outlined in lights—battle Old Man Winter in the name of charity and cabin-fever relief. For a dollar a vote, pick your favorite among the floating fleet and a handful of on-land watercraft.

Through Dec. 30: Winter City Lights

Olney Boys & Girls Club Park, Olney, MD
2 hours roundtrip. Advance tickets only. Prices vary.

Everything about this attraction is gigantic: one million-plus lights, a lit canopy the size of a large Ferris wheel, a 52-foot-tall Christmas tree programmed into an ultra-sophisticated light show, 33 bonfires, eight lanes of snow-tubing, and a signature dessert (The Blizzard) made of multiple funnel cakes, deep-fried Twinkies, deep-fried Oreos, and tons of whipped topping. A 1.5-mile mulched trail leads through woods lit with supersized decorations and it “snows” (artificially) at regular intervals. Did we mention there’s axe-throwing,

Lights in Olney. —Courtesy of Winter City Lights
Through Dec. 30: Christmas Magic—A Festival of Lights

Rocky Ridge Park, York, PA
2 hours roundtrip. Reservation-only. Prices vary.

This annual spectacle owes its origins to the 1970s energy crisis, when York County stepped in to light the way for residents dissuaded from decorating. A half-mile, hilltop trail meanders through forest lit with 600,000 sparkling LED lights and animated scenes as holiday music plays. And warm snacks include a beloved local treat: Bricker’s Famous French Fries.

Dec. 7-15: National Menorah

The Ellipse, Washington, D.C.
2 hours roundtrip. Free

The ceremonial lighting of the world’s largest menorah—an over-30-foot-tall, electrified candelabra—begins the Hanukkah celebration in Washington and across the country. Jewish leaders and a VIP speaker preside at the event, attended by thousands and broadcast internationally. The lighting occurs Dec. 7 and the menorah remains on display throughout the holiday.

Dec. 9: Eastport Yacht Club Lights Parade

Annapolis Harbor, Annapolis
2 hours roundtrip. Free. 

A beloved Chesapeake Bay tradition, this enchanting procession of brightly lit boats through the Annapolis Harbor and along Spa Creek has been going strong for 40 years. Grab a viewing spot (very) early on Spa Creek Bridge, at City Dock, along Eastport’s and Spa Creek’s waterfronts, or book a cruise with a local tour company for the Dec. 9 parade.

The Eastport Yacht Club Boat Parade in Annapolis. —Courtesy of Eastport Yacht Club


Through Jan. 7: A Longwood Christmas

Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA
3 hours roundtrip. Reservations required. Free-$30.

The most coveted holiday ticket around, Longwood Gardens will celebrate “A Very Retro Christmas” this year, decorating its conservatory and nearly 200 acres of gardens with midcentury flair, including “a fab, festive holiday party scene.” As always, over half-a-million lights and the gardens’ famous dancing fountains synced to Christmas music will highlight the display, with hot cocoa available for both day and nighttime visitors.

Through December: Miracle on South 13th Street

1600 Block, South 13th St., Philadelphia, PA
4 hours roundtrip. Free.

Philadelphia’s answer to Charm City’s 34th Street ornamentation is this block of rowhouses in South Philly, where residents are just as festively gung ho. The entire stretch glows with white and colored lights strung over the street, around windows and doorways, under eaves and encircling trees, filling front yards, and spilling onto sidewalks. With a mixture of gaudy and imaginative yard art,  inflatables, and costumed figures, the spectacle traditionally draws thousands of holiday lovers who drive or walk by each year.

Through Jan. 1: Tinseltown Holiday Spectacular

FDR Park, Philadelphia, PA
4 hours roundtrip. $15.99-40.99.

Another South Philly attraction, Tinseltown is a soup-to-nuts celebration of the season featuring an immersive stroll through a crystalline wonderland of over two million lights—twinkle-lit trees, tunnels, snow globes, snowflakes, even a version of the Liberty Bell. There’s also an ice-skating trail, an ice slide, and guest appearances by Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, and Gritty Claus, the Philadelphia Flyers’ orange, google-eyed mascot dressed in holiday threads—with photo ops to boot. Warm up with hot beverages at Union Forge Lodge and in the gift shop at Mistletoe Marketplace.

Weekends through January: Shady Brook Farm’s Holiday Light Show

Shady Brook Farm, Yardley, PA
4 hours roundtrip. $30-150.

More than three million lights illuminate this century-old farm market and “agri-tainment” venue in Bucks County each December. Ho-ho-hoing all the way, drive a two-mile trail of festively lit displays or hitch a ride on a tractor-drawn wagon. While there, pick out your Christmas tree and pose with Santa to complete a jolly evening.

Through Jan. 1: Koziar’s Christmas Village

Bernville, PA
4 hours roundtrip. Free-$12.

If you’re traveling darkened country roads near Bernville this time of year, that glow in the distance is an ex-dairy farm turned fantasyland. William Koziar first decorated his farmhouse in 1948. Since then, the display has mushroomed, becoming one of Pennsylvania’s most popular seasonal attractions. Over one million lights adorn the farmhouse, barn, roofs, walkways, train tracks, holiday scenes, and a village of small buildings, casting their colorful reflections on a large pond. Don’t miss indoor and outdoor model trains.

Through Jan. 7: Winter Walk of Lights

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, Vienna, VA
3 hours roundtrip. $18.

Visitors to this Northern Virginia oasis wander a half-mile paved path through an enchanting forest of illuminated “flora” and “fauna,” including larger-than-life tulips, sunflowers, toadstools, butterflies, grasshoppers, herons, whittling woodpeckers, belching bullfrogs, and koi that appear to leap from a lake. The 95-acre garden’s living trees are also wrapped, twigs to trunk, in tiny, colored lights, as is the lake’s gazebo. Buy hot beverages and desserts in the glittering conservatory and enjoy s’mores over a fire pit.


Through Dec. 31: Richmond Tacky Lights Tours

Richmond, VA
5.5 hours roundtrip. Free

Take 34th Street’s miraculous lights, scatter them over a 20-mile radius, and you’ve got Richmond’s “tacky lights” tours. Every year, the Richmond Times-Dispatch offers driving maps of neighborhoods where over-the-top holiday decoration is the rule of thumb. We mean tens of thousands—even 100,000—lights per property. Yards obscured in inflatables, cutout figures, and animated displays. Windows where Santa dances and “leg lamps” shine. Suggested driving tours range from 30 minutes to an hour, but plan on more; you need to see many of these on foot.

Tacky Lights fanatics in Richmond. —Courtesy of Tacky Lights Tours
Through Jan. 7: GardenFest of Lights

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Henrico County, VA
5.5 hours roundtrip. Advanced purchase only. $8-27.

A perennial favorite and one of the nation’s most impressive botanical exhibits, GardenFest of Lights bathes the 50-acre Virginia garden in over one million lights, including on more than 100 trees. The most spectacular, Darlington Oak, is draped in a mile of miniature bulbs. This year’s decorating theme is “Rhythms of Nature,” reflected throughout the grounds and the 11,000-square-foot Conservatory, with its towering Christmas tree. Sip hot chocolate and toast s’mores in the Children’s Garden and don’t miss the Kelly Education Center’s model trains.

WinterFest at Kings Dominion in Virginia. —Courtesy of Town of Ocean City
Through Dec. 31: Kings Dominion WinterFest

Kings Dominion, Doswell, VA
5 hours roundtrip. Free-$49.99.

Thirty minutes north of Richmond, this theme park becomes a dazzling holiday experience. Aglow with millions of lights, WinterFest features strolling performers, horse-drawn carriage rides, sessions with Santa, holiday treats, iceskating, a petting zoo, and, of course, roller coasters and other rides. The park’s iconic 300-foot-tall Eiffel Tower becomes a spectacular Christmas tree.