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! New this year: enjoy dozens of large, glowing animal lanterns and stroll through thousands of reflecting lights as part of the interactive — and highly Instagrammable — art exhibit called "Entre Les Rangs." 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.
- Event Details
- Food and Drink
- Live Performances
- FONZ Member Week
- Military Night
- Parking & Transportation
This season, ZooLights is bigger and better than ever. Take a peek at this year’s attractions:
New | Entre Les Rangs, A Luminous Field of Lights
This award-winning exhibit, featuring a field of lights that call to mind wheat swaying in the breeze, will be a permanent installation at ZooLights this year. Take a relaxing stroll through the field as the reflecting lights shimmer and sway.
New | Animal Lanterns
This year, dozens of large animal lanterns will put the "Zoo" (and "Lights") in ZooLights. Pandas, monkeys, zebras, elephants and more — all crafted in China and beautifully lit from within — will be stationed around the park.
New | Pandamonium: A Virtual Experience
Put on a virtual reality headset and get up close to giant pandas Bei Bei, Bao Bao and their parents in this immersive film. Screening on select dates. See showtimes and get more details here.
They're Back: ZooTubes, sponsored by GEICO
The winter favorite returns! Guests can approach mach speed (more or less) when they hop into a tube and slide down the hill near the lion and tiger exhibits.
Laser Light Shows, sponsored by Pepco
Watch animals come to life in laser lights on the outdoor wall of the Elephant Community Center.
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. 6, 7 and 8.
In addition to the return of ZooTubes, sponsored by GEICO, take a merry tour on the Smithsonian's National Zoo Choo-Choo, which whisks guests around 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.
Individual rides during ZooLights are $3.50 each. Guests can purchase a 10-ride punch card (a $35 value) for $25, or $20 for FONZ members.
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.
This year, ZooLights visitors can enjoy:
- Bootheel BBQ
- Funnel cake
- Kettle corn
- Holiday cookies
- Holiday Dippin' Dots (weather permitting)
- Holiday gelato
- Soft pretzels
- Soft serve ice cream
- Hot chocolate
- Hot spiced cider
- Mulled wine
- Winter lagers
- And more
Don't miss these opening weekend specials:
- Big Cheese food truck
- Firehouse Subs food truck
- Sausage and Brats food truck
- Fresh apple cider donuts
It wouldn't be ZooLights without festive holiday music — and this year is no different, with local community or school groups performing live music almost every night.
- Nov. 29: Joyous Voices Quartet
- Nov. 30: Powerhouse Brass
- Dec. 1: Boyle School of Irish Dance
- Dec. 2: Creighton’s Corner Elementary Chorus
- Dec. 3: Fantasy Players
- Dec. 4: Lost & Sound
- Dec. 5: Benjamin Banneker Middle School
- Dec. 6: Columbia Elementary
- Dec. 7: Pritchard Music
- Dec. 8: American University Jazz Combo
- Dec. 9: Arlington Children’s Chorus
- Dec. 10: Pyle Middle School and Whitman High School
- Dec. 11: Nerds in Harmony
- Dec. 12: Impitched
- Dec. 13: Glen Forest Elementary Chorus
- Dec. 14; Lee Pyramid High School
- Dec. 15: Supreme Chord
- Dec. 16: Gaithersburg High School
- Dec. 17: Park View High School Persuasion Show Choir
- Dec. 19: Capital Blend
- Dec. 20: Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School Chamber Singers
- Dec. 21: Pritchard Music
- Dec. 22: World View
- Dec. 26: Joyous Voices Quartet
- Dec. 28: District Irish Dance Academy
- Dec. 30: Southern Academy of Irish Dance
- Jan. 1: Joyous Voices Quartet
Member week takes place Dec. 1 through Dec. 8. During Member Week, FONZ members receive:
- FREE event parking all week during ZooLights hours*
- A FREE punch card valid for 10 free ZooTubes, National Zoo Choo Choo or Speedwell Foundation Conservation Carousel rides — a $35 value
- An exclusive, light-up snowflake necklace
- An additional 10% discount in gift shops (on top of regular member discount)
- BOGO animal crackers in gift shops
*During all other weeks of ZooLights, members pay the full event parking rate. There is no discounted event parking rate for ZooLights. Ride punch cards and light-up necklaces are available for pickup at the Visitor Center and the information booths at Panda Plaza and Lion-Tiger Hill. Member Week items are available while supplies last.
Not a member?
Mark your calendars for Military Night, presented by Bank of America, on Tuesday, Dec. 17. Visitors with a valid military ID (active or retired) receive the following special offers:
- A 15% discount at Zoo gift shop
- $15 parking on Military Night during ZooLights hours (a $10 savings)
- 30% off food and drink (food trucks and alcoholic beverages not included)
- A discount on stroller rentals — $7 for a single stroller or $10 for a double stroller
- 10% off a Friends of the National Zoo Premier Membership or 15% off a Premier Plus Membership (available every night of ZooLights at any information station or gift shop)
Head to the Zoo’s Conservation Pavilion for:
- One FREE punch card per military ID, courtesy of Bank of America, valid for 10 free ZooTubes, National Zoo Choo Choo or Speedwell Foundation Conservation Carousel rides – a $35 value
- Complimentary hot chocolate for military members and their families, courtesy of USO-Metro
- Holiday card decorating for the troops (open to all Zoo guests)
- A photo booth, courtesy of Bank of America (open to all Zoo guests)
A flat-rate parking fee of $25 applies to all ZooLights attendees. During Member Week, Dec. 1 through Dec. 8, FONZ members 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. A nonstop DC Circulator Bus will operate between Woodley Park Metro Station and the Zoo’s entrance Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Rides are $1; transferring from Metro Rail is .50 cents and from Metro Bus is free.
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.
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 (Dec. 12), FONZ Member Week (Dec. 1-8) and Military Night (Dec. 17).
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.
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 inside the Visitor Center and at the Information Stations at Panda Plaza (parking lots A and B) and Lion-Tiger Hill (parking lot D).
Electronic convenience vehicles are available for rent inside the Visitor Center and at the Information Stations 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.
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
Sensory friendly kits are available free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. Guests can check out kits at any Information Station. Guests must provide a valid ID, which will be held until the kit is returned. Each kit includes noise-reducing headphones, earplugs, small fidget items, a weighted comfort item and a ZooLights sensory tip sheet.