Washington D.C.’s beloved free, family-friendly winter wonderland, ZooLights, powered by Pepco, returns to brighten the season at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. The Zoo will be illuminated for 22 select nights—from Nov. 25 through Dec. 30 from 5 to 9 p.m.—with brightly colored environmentally friendly LED lights and various 3D glowing animal lanterns. An immersive and dynamic experience, ZooLights is one of the only free holiday light festivals in the region.
While admission to ZooLights is free, event entry-pass reservations are required and are separate from daytime Zoo entry passes. ZooLights free-entry passes and paid parking passes will be released on a rolling basis, starting two weeks prior to the event night. For example, entry passes for Friday, Dec. 2, can be reserved starting Friday, Nov. 18, along with $30 parking passes. Everyone attending ZooLights, including Smithsonian National Zoo Members, must have ZooLights-specific entry and parking passes. 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 visitors can get further into the holiday spirit with live music performances by local artists and school groups. Performances will take place at the Great Meadow at 6 and 7 p.m. on select evenings. A comprehensive list of performers is available on the Zoo’s website.
Families can enjoy special winter treats, including popcorn, kettle corn, holiday cookies, soft pretzels, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream smores and seasonal gelato. Hungry visitors can dine indoors at Elevation Burger at the Mane Grill or enjoy ZooLights specials at Bootheel BBQ including brisket chili and jambalaya. Children can stay warm by sipping hot chocolate or spiced cider while adults enjoy holiday beverages, including warm bourbon-spiked cider and a hot cocoa cocktail at Vintage Views, mulled wine and coffee.
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. The Speedwell Conservation Carousel is the only paid ticketed attraction open at ZooLights pending weather (it will close if the outside temperature is below 35 degrees Fahrenheit).
Visitors will be able to warm up indoors while dining at the Mane Grill or shopping for holiday gifts inside the Visitor Center, Panda Plaza and Great Cats retail shops. Visitors can also warm up in the Conservation Pavilion Dec. 2, 9, 16 and 30 where they can learn important tips and information from Pepco about ways to save energy in their home and how to access critical energy assistance to keep the season warm and bright.
During an exclusive Smithsonian National Zoo Member Night Dec. 15, members will receive free carousel rides, an increased discount up to 20% off in-park food and retail, and complimentary refreshments, and they can take part in a special giveaway. A limited number of free ZooLights parking passes are available for this members-only night by advance reservation only. Members can use their standard 15% discount on in-park food and retail during any night of ZooLights when they present their membership card and photo ID at checkout. Reservations for Member Night are required and will open to members Dec. 1.
The Zoo recommends visitors purchase a vehicle parking pass online or take public transportation. Pedestrians can enter the Zoo from its main entrance on Connecticut Avenue or via the Harvard Street Bridge. Metro Bus and Metro Rail have stops within walking distance of the Zoo. 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. Rideshare vehicles will be directed to drop guests off and pick them up at the Harvard Street pedestrian entrance or at the designated rideshare drop-off point near the Zoo’s pedestrian entrance on Connecticut Avenue. For more information about ZooLights, visit the Zoo’s website.
This event will be held rain or shine; however, plans may be altered based on changing CDC COVID-19 Community Levels. The Smithsonian is adhering to the CDC’s current Low Community Level category for Washington, D.C.
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