Join the thousands of visitors who make ZooLights, powered by Pepco, a part of their annual holiday tradition. A free event, ZooLights includes live music performances, tasty winter treats and plenty of opportunities for holiday shopping. More than 500,000 environmentally friendly LED lights transform the Zoo into a winter wonderland complete with two dazzling laser light shows set to music. And don't forget to share your #DCZooLights experience on social media!
Please note: ZooLights remains free and open to the public even during special event nights! Parking is limited. Visitors are encouraged to take public transportation. More information regarding free and discounted Metro shuttle service can be found in the Parking & Transportation tab below.
- Event Details
- Food and Drink
- Live Performances
- FONZ Member Information
- Military Night
- Parking & Transportation
This season, ZooLights is bigger and better than ever. Take a peek at this year’s attractions:
New: Gingerbread Village
Follow the twinkling lights to the Gingerbread Village at Elephant Outpost. This magical land is complete with frosted cookies, lollipops and a gingerbread throne that’s perfect for a photo opp. Enjoy food, holiday shopping and live music, too!
New: Reindeer Games Fun Zone, sponsored by GEICO
Head to Lion-Tiger Hill to try a holiday-themed obstacle course and twirl on illuminated rides.
New: Interactive Light Display
Explore an interactive light canopy that responds to music, creating a unique sound and light show as you listen to the festive sounds of holiday performers on the Great Meadow.
Laser Light Shows, sponsored by Pepco
Watch animals come to life in laser lights on the outdoor wall of the Elephant Community Center. Now with two shows!
GRUMP holiday market
Shop at a European-style outdoor market that will double in size this year, featuring more local artisans offering unique gifts for all ages. GRUMP visits the Zoo on Dec. 7, 8 and 9.
Take a merry tour on the Smithsonian's National Zoo Choo-Choo, sponsored by Metro by T-Mobile, which whisks guests around the Kids’ Farm and features gorgeous views of the holiday light displays. Hop on to your choice of 50 animal figurines at the Speedwell Foundation Conservation Carousel, which highlights the Zoo's incredible research and success stories.
Please note that ZooLights does not feature the Zoo’s animals. All indoor animal exhibits will be closed to allow animals to get a full night’s rest. Visitors will be able to warm up indoors in the Zoo’s Visitor Center, Panda Plaza Gift Shop, Mane Grill and Great Cats Gift Shop.
Some ZooLights attractions are weather permitting and may not be open when temperatures are 35 degrees or below.
Seasonal treats include:
- "glowing" cotton candy on an illuminated stick
- kettle corn
- fresh donuts
- holiday cookies
- candy canes
- soft pretzels
- holiday gelato
- hot chocolate
- spiced cider
- mulled wine
It wouldn't be ZooLights without festive holiday music — and this year is no different. Every night, local community or school groups will perform live music or dance beneath an interactive light display.
The Elephant Outpost will also host live music by local school groups on select nights.
- Nov. 25: Boyle School of Irish Dance
- Nov. 27: Lost & Sound
- Nov. 28: Capital Blend
- Nov. 29: Sendy Browns TJMS
- Nov. 30: Island Creek Elementary Chorus
- Dec. 1: GWChorus
- Dec. 2: Pritchard Music
- Dec. 3: Nerds in Harmony
- Dec. 4: Gaithersburg High School Chorus
- Dec. 5: Vox Pop
- Dec. 6: Mosby Woods Elementary School Chorus
- Dec. 7: Lancer Singers
- Dec. 8: American University Jazz
- Dec. 9: Melodious Majors
- Dec. 10: Columbia Elementary's Cougar Choir
- Dec. 11: Tucker Choral Ambassadors
- Dec. 12: Arcola Elementary School Chorus
- Dec. 13: Benjamin Banneker Bobcats
- Dec. 14; Earle B. Wood Middle School Advanced Orchestra
- Dec. 15: Franklin Sherman Elementary Chorus
- Dec. 16: Supreme Chord
- Dec. 17: Columbia Elementary's Cougar Choir
- Dec. 18: Thomas W. Pyle Middle School: Pyle Voices
- Dec. 19: Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School Chamber Singers
- Dec. 20: Persuasion Show Choir
- Dec. 21: World View
- Dec. 22: Pritchard Music
- Dec. 27: Fantasy Players
- Dec. 28: Southern Academy of Irish Dance
- Dec. 29: Sydney Franklin
- Dec. 30: Painted Trillium
- $15 event parking ($10 off the regular rate)
- Additional 10 percent discount on Zoo gift shop purchases when you present your ZooLights program
- $15 ride punch cards — that's $5 (25 percent) off!
Members must present their active membership card or membership verification email with a matching photo ID to receive discounts. Offers are only applicable during ZooLights event hours.
Sunday, Dec. 2, through Sunday, Dec. 9, is Friends of the National Zoo Member Week!
FONZ members will receive:
- FREE event parking all week during ZooLights hours
- FREE gift*
- Punch card redeemable for eight free rides/attractions — a $26 value
- BOGO popcorn
Members must present their membership card or membership verification email with a matching photo ID for their Member Week benefits. Member Week offers are only applicable Dec. 2 through Dec. 9.
*Available while supplies last
Friends of the National Zoo members have exclusive access to Cyber Safari: Passport to Africa, a scavenger hunt that will take you all around the Zoo. During ZooLights, the scavenger hunt will guide you to some fun, new attractions and help you gain more points toward winning that grand prize. Members can show their member ID cards or membership verification email at any membership or information booth in the park to receive the password.
Military Night, presented by Bank of America, will take place on Thursday, Dec. 13. At the Conservation Pavilion, visitors can decorate holiday cards for the troops and snap a special photo at a photo booth.
The following special offers are available to all active duty and retired military on Military Night:
- FREE ride punch card redeemable for eight free rides/attractions (a $26 value!)*
- $15 event parking ($10 off the regular rate)
- Discounts on stroller and electric convenience vehicle rentals
- $4 for single stroller
- $7 for double stroller
- $25 for electric convenience vehicle
- 30 percent discount on food and beverages, including s'mores pits (not valid at food trucks or for alcoholic beverages)
- 15 percent off gift shop purchases
- 10 percent off a Friends of the National Zoo membership at the Premier level or 15 percent off at the Premier Plus level
Visitors must present a valid military ID to receive discounts. Offers are only applicable during ZooLights event hours. Memberships must be purchased at the Zoo.
*Ride punch cards are available for the first 500 visitors to show a valid military ID (one punch card per ID) and are redeemable at the Conservation Pavilion.
A flat-rate parking fee of $15 for Friends of the National Zoo members and $25 for nonmembers will apply. During Member Week, Dec. 2 through Dec. 9, FONZ members will receive free parking at ZooLights.
The Zoo is accessible via the Red Line to the Woodley Park-Zoo or Cleveland Park metro station. The Zoo entrance lies halfway between these stops, and both are a short walk from the Zoo.
Big Bus Tours Shuttle (Saturdays Only)
Throughout the evening on Saturdays, Big Bus Tours will provide a FREE shuttle for guests from the Woodley Park Metro Station to the Zoo's Panda Plaza Bus Lot on a continuous loop from 5-10 p.m.
D.C. Circulator (Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays)
Throughout the evening on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, D.C. Circulator will provide a shuttle for guests from the Woodley Park Metro Station to the Zoo's Panda Plaza Bus Lot on a continuous loop from 5-10 p.m. The shuttle fee is $1 per ride each way.
All ZooLights pathways are wheelchair accessible. Please note that the Zoo’s main pathway is located on a hill with a significant decline from top to bottom. A wheelchair-accessible shuttle runs on a continuous loop throughout the event, from the lower entrance of the Zoo to the Panda Plaza Bus Lot/Accessible Drop-off.
For more information on access services at the Zoo, please contact Guest Services at 202-633-4480.
Best Time to Visit
ZooLights is busiest on weekends, in the days leading up to the Christmas holiday, and in the week between Christmas and New Years’. ZooLights tends to be less crowded earlier in the season, as well as early in the week (Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays).
There are three special events occurring within ZooLights, where higher visitation is expected: BrewLights (Nov. 29), FONZ Member Week (Dec. 2-9), and Military Appreciation Night (Dec. 13).
Parking, Drop-off and Shuttles
Designated accessible parking spaces are located in Parking Lots A, B, D and E on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, see the parking and transportation tab.
Accessible Drop-off and Pick-up Areas
The Zoo’s Panda Plaza Bus Lot (#3 on the map) serves as an accessible drop-off and pick-up area during ZooLights.
Shuttles provided by Big Bus Tours and the D.C. Circulator will operate on weekends between Woodley Park Metro Station and the Zoo’s Panda Plaza Bus Lot. D.C. Circulator buses are wheelchair accessible. For more information, including schedules and fees, see the parking and transportation tab.
From 5-9 p.m., the Zoo operates a wheelchair accessible guest shuttle that runs on a continuous loop from the Panda Plaza Bus Lot/Accessible Drop-off to the lower entrance of the Zoo and back. The shuttle takes 15- 20 minutes to complete the loop and does not stop at Parking Lot C.
Wheelchair and Electronic Vehicle Rental
Wheelchairs and electronic vehicles are available on a first-come, first-served basis during ZooLights hours (5-9 p.m.).
Manual wheelchairs are available from the stroller kiosk outside the Visitor Center and the information booths at Panda Plaza (parking lots A and B) and Lion-Tiger Hill (parking lot D).
Please note: The stroller kiosk outside the Visitor Center is weather dependent. If closed, please inquire at the Visitor Center Information Desk for assistance.
Electronic convenience vehicles are available for rent at the stroller kiosk outside the Visitor Center and the information booths at Panda Plaza (parking lots A and B) and Lion-Tiger Hill (parking lot D). Please note: A state-issued driver's license is required to rent and operate an electronic convenience vehicle. Additionally, the stroller kiosk outside the Visitor Center is weather dependent. If closed, please inquire at the Visitor Center Information Desk for assistance.
Cost: $25 for members, $30 for non-members
Restrooms are located at the Visitor Center, Panda Plaza, Elephant Outpost and Conservation Pavilion. All restrooms throughout the Zoo are accessible. The Visitor Center’s restrooms, water fountains and Asia Trail gift shop are accessible via wheelchair lift.
Family restrooms are located in the Visitor Center, Elephant Outpost and Conservation Pavilion. All restrooms at the Zoo have automatic flushing mechanisms.
Prepare for your visit by downloading the sensory-friendly tip sheet with information on different sensory experiences at ZooLights.
Sensory-friendly kits are available free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. Guests can check out kits at the information booth at Panda Plaza. Guests must provide a valid ID, which will be held until the kit is returned. Each kit includes noise reducing headphones, earplugs, small fidget toys, a weighted comfort item and a ZooLights sensory tip sheet.