ZooLights—powered by Pepco—is bigger, brighter and better than ever this season. Visitors can join the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in celebrating the holidays with its annual free lights festival. The Zoo will be illuminated for 31 nights—from Nov. 29 through Jan. 1, 2020 (except Dec. 24, 25 and 31) from 5 to 9 p.m. Over half-a-million brightly colored environmentally friendly LED lights and animal-shaped displays will transform the Zoo’s trees, walkways and buildings into a dynamic and colorful winter wonderland.
The immersive outdoor art installation, “Entre Les Rangs,” will transform the hill adjacent to the Zoo’s lion and tiger exhibit into a walkable wheat-like field of light. Visitors can stroll through hundreds of crystalline reflectors as they sway and respond to wind, movement and light. First presented as part of Luminotherapie in the Quartier des Spectacles in Montreal, Canada, Entre Les Rangs was created by Kanva Architecture in collaboration with Udo Design, Côté Jardin, Boris Dempsey and Pierre Fournier.
New this year, 25 life-like and light-filled animal lanterns will dazzle Zoo visitors. The 3-D glowing sculptures include elephants, zebras, cheetahs, alligators, flamingos, tigers, lions and more.
Visitors can warm up indoors at Pandamonium: A Virtual Experience every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the Visitor Center Theater. This new, ticketed, virtual-reality experience produced by the Smithsonian Channel takes viewers up-close and behind-the-scenes with 1-year-old Bei Bei, 3-year-old Bao Bao and their parents. On top of reliving these giant panda cubs’ stories, viewers will also discover what it is like to work with, train and solve the secrets of these beloved animals. Tickets are $9 per person, or $7.50 for members. Recommended for ages 5 and above.
Families can pause outside the Elephant Community Center to see a free dazzling laser-light show and delight in a range of ticketed ZooLights attractions. Returning this year, visitors can enjoy ZooTubes, sponsored by GEICO, and slide down the hill near the lion and tiger exhibits. ZooLights revelers can also board the Smithsonian’s National Zoo Choo-Choo for a journey around the Kids’ Farm or ride a favorite zoo animal on the Speedwell Foundation Conservation Carousel, weather permitting. Tickets for all rides are $3.50 per person. Ten-ride punch cards valid for all rides/attractions are $25 each (a $35 value); $20 for members.
ZooLights is hosting its third-annual GRUMP holiday market—a European-style outdoor market featuring the work of local artisans Dec. 6, 7 and 8 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. near the Zoo’s Connecticut Avenue entrance. GRUMP features vendors with unique gifts for all ages, from handmade clothing and accessories to artwork, handcrafted toys and sweet treats. Holiday shoppers can also support the Zoo’s mission to save species by purchasing the perfect animal-themed gift at any of the Zoo’s gift shops.
Each night of ZooLights will feature a live music or dance performance in the Great Meadow by local community or school groups beneath an interactive illuminated canopy that responds to music creating a unique sound and light show.
Visitors will be able to munch special winter treats, including popcorn, gingerbread, kettle corn, fresh donuts, holiday cookies, candy canes, soft pretzels and special holiday gelato. Kids can stay warm by sipping hot chocolate or spiced cider while adults enjoy holiday beverages, including eggnog, mulled wine and coffee.
Admission to ZooLights is free. There is a flat-rate parking fee of $25. During FONZ Member Week, Dec. 1 through Dec. 8, members receive free parking at ZooLights, an exclusive free gift, a punch card to enjoy 10 free rides/attractions, an additional 10% discount in gift shops on top of the regular member discount and BOGO animal crackers when they present their membership card and photo ID at gift shops or information booths. All proceeds from ZooLights concessions and parking sales benefit animal care and conservation science at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. ZooLights also features a ticketed microbrew and craft beer event, BrewLights, Dec. 12.
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.
Parking is available on a first-come, first-served basis; the Zoo recommends visitors arrive early or take public transportation. Metro Bus and Metro Rail have stops within walking distance of 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. 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-Adams Morgan/Zoo stop and flat from the Cleveland Park stop.
For more information about ZooLights, including a complete list of nightly performances, tickets for BrewLights and a list of GRUMP holiday market vendors, visit the Zoo’s website.
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Photo 1 credit: Cindy Boyce
Photo 2 credit: Hanart Culture, LLC