ZooLights—powered by Pepco—at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo is wilder than ever and a perfect holiday event for everyone in the family. Now in its 11th year, the annual free lights festival twinkles for 36 nights—from Nov. 24 through Jan. 1, 2018 (except Dec. 24, 25 and 31) from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thousands of environmentally friendly LED lights will illuminate the Zoo’s trees, walkways and buildings as visitors enjoy one-of-a-kind holiday fun, including late-night animal viewing, snowless tubing, make-your-own s’mores and life-sized lit animal silhouettes. The Small Mammal House, Reptile Discovery Center and Think Tank will be open every night of ZooLights, offering visitors an opportunity to view the animals at night.
ZooLights includes 35 live music performances and family-friendly rides and attractions. At the Speedwell Foundation Conservation Carousel, visitors sit atop hand-carved animals and spin through scenes from forest, grassland, savannah and aquatic ecosystems. For a special view of the holiday light displays, visitors can board the Smithsonian’s National Zoo Choo-Choo and go for a tour on a trackless train ride around Great Cats Circle. Those looking for a thrill can take a 150-foot-long snowless tubing ride down Lion/Tiger Hill. Tickets are $3 per person for each attraction, $1 for Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) members. At the Great Meadow, a free glow-in-the-dark play zone for children will feature light-up LED games and activities.
During ZooLights, visitors will have the opportunity to experience Washington, D.C.’s first mobile art gallery. The CulturalDC’s SPACE4: Arts initiative presents cutting-edge artwork by emerging local artists in a portable shipping container that is traveling across the city to activate unconventional venues and connect diverse communities to groundbreaking works. At the Zoo, artist Maggie Gourlay has created an immersive art experience across from the Cheetah Conservation Station.
This year, ZooLights visitors will have the opportunity to support local artisans as they do their holiday shopping. GRUMP, a European-style outdoor market, will be located at the Zoo’s Connecticut Avenue entrance Dec. 15, 16 and 17 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. This alternative art and crafts holiday show features gifts for all ages, from handmade clothing, jewelry and books to home accessories, including prints, upcycled decorative pillows, glass art and more.
Food and beverages, including gingerbread, hot chocolate, coffee, eggnog, mulled cider and more will be available for purchase throughout the park. Visitors can roast s’mores over a fire pit at the Mane Grill or feast on ‘glowing’ cotton candy served atop an illuminated stick. A bar serving adult beverages will be open in the Visitor Center. All proceeds from ZooLights concessions and parking sales will benefit animal care and conservation science at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.
Admission to ZooLights is free. It is hosted by the FONZ. A flat-rate parking fee of $11 for FONZ members and $22 for nonmembers will apply. From Dec. 3 through Dec. 10, FONZ members will receive a full week of free parking at ZooLights and a coupon book to enjoy free snowless tubing, carousel and train rides when they present their membership card and photo ID. The festival will feature a ticketed microbrew and craft beer event, BrewLights, Nov. 30.
Parking is available on a first come, first served basis; the Zoo recommends visitors arrive early or take public transportation. Both Metro Bus and Metro Rail have stops within walking distance of the Zoo. Metro Rail riders can look for the larger-than-life-sized ZooLights giant pandas located at stations throughout the Washington area. While equidistant from both Metro Rail stops, the walk is uphill from the Woodley Park stop and flat from the Cleveland Park stop. Big Bus Tours will provide free shuttle service every 20 minutes from the Woodley Park-Adams Morgan/Zoo Metro stop to the Zoo on Saturday evenings during ZooLights. For more information about ZooLights, visit the Zoo’s website.
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Photo credit: Jim Jenkins, Smithsonian’s National Zoo