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About the Event

Washington, D.C.’s beloved Smithsonian’s National Zoo holiday tradition is back and brighter than ever!

Now in its 15th year, ZooLights takes thousands of visitors into a winter wonderland. Dozens of dazzling displays and half a million environmentally-friendly LED lights illuminate the Zoo's pathways. Visitors can stroll through immersive lantern displays showing rainforest, grassland, desert, ocean and polar habitats and the animals that call them home. Live musical performances, delicious treat offerings and plenty of opportunities for holiday shopping make this special event an unforgettable experience for families and nature aficionados.

WEEK 1 | Nov. 24, 25, 26 | Friday to Sunday

WEEK 2 | Dec. 1, 2, 3 | Friday to Sunday

WEEK 3 | Dec. 8, 9, 10 | Friday to Sunday

WEEK 4 | Dec. 15, 16, 17 | Friday to Sunday

WEEK 5 | Dec. 21, 22, 23 | Thursday to Saturday

WEEK 6 | Dec. 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 | Tuesday to Saturday

Please note: 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. Last admittance to ZooLights is at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays-Saturdays, and 7:30 p.m. on Sundays.

When

Nov. 24 - Dec. 30, 2023

Times

5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday - Saturday

5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays

Last entry 30 minutes before end of event.

Pricing

$6 tickets (general admission)

 $30 parking pass (per single-family vehicle)

Carousel at the Zoo lit up with glowing holiday string lights.
A lantern shaped like a male lion.
A picture of three glowing lanterns that are shaped to look like zebras
A lantern in the shape of a chameleon extending its tongue.

Event Details

New this year: This year, ZooLights will have a ticket price of $6 per individual. Each attendee, including children over the age of 2, will need a ticket. Parking is available for pre-purchase online at $30 per vehicle.

Paid tickets are a change from past years when this special event was free to attend. The ticket fee will offset the significant increase in costs associated with running this event. Proceeds from the event will directly benefit animal care and conservation science at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

All proceeds from ZooLights concessions and parking sales benefit animal care and conservation science at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

Parking

A flat-rate parking fee of $30 applies to all ZooLights attendees. Last admittance to ZooLights is at 8:30 p.m. on Thursdays-Saturdays, and 7:30 p.m. on Sundays. During Member Night, members receive free parking at ZooLights.

Walking

Zoo visitors traveling on foot may enter from the Connecticut Avenue pedestrian entrance or the Harvard Street bridge entrance.

Metro

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.  

DC Circulator

The Zoo has partnered with the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to have the DC Circulator bus provide transportation services from Woodley Park Metro Station to the National Zoo. The fare to ride the DC Circulator is $1.00. Discounted fares for transfers may be applied to riders using a SmarTrip®Card. The Circulator will run all ZooLights operating nights expect for Member Nights on November 30, December 7 and 14. DC Circulator buses will run every 15-20 minutes.

This year’s Member Nights are Nov. 30, Dec. 7, and Dec. 14, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m!

Members Night benefits include:

  • One free parking pass* (requires advance reservation)
  • Six free entry passes
  • Free rides on the Conservation Carousel (weather permitting)
  • 15% off in-park food and retail
  • After-hours access to popular indoor animal exhibits Small Mammal House and Reptile Discovery Center

Plus, 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.

*Free parking reservation does not count towards annual free parking pass benefit.

Families can enjoy special winter treats, including popcorn, kettle corn, holiday cookies, soft pretzels and seasonal gelato. Hungry visitors can dine indoors at Elevation Burger, outdoors at Sbarro or enjoy ZooLights specials at the Bootheel BBQ food truck including brisket chili, gumbo and jambalaya. Children can stay warm by sipping hot chocolate or spiced cider while adults enjoy holiday beverages, including a cinnamon vanilla bean latte, warm bourbon-spiked cider, a hot cocoa cocktail and mulled wine at Vintage Views.

Warm up your evening with nightly entertainment and live music!

Performances are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays-Saturdays, and 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays:

Nov. 24 | Joyous Voices Quartet

Nov. 25 | Amos Evans & Joyous Voices Quartet

Nov. 26 | American University Jazz Combo & Omar

 

Nov. 30 | Joyous Voices Quartet

Dec. 1 | Arcola Elementary School & World View

Dec. 2 | Joyous Voices Quartet

Dec. 3 | Impitched & UWEM

 

Dec. 7 | Joyous Voices Quartet

Dec. 8 | Joyous Voices Quartet & Nerds in Harmony

Dec. 9 | Joyous Voices Quartet & Boyle School of Irish Dance

Dec. 10 | HI DEF & Joyous Voices Quartet

 

Dec. 14 | Joyous Voices Quartet

Dec. 15 | Lost and Sound & Timber Lane Elementary School

Dec. 16 | Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School & Supreme Chord

Dec. 17 | Joyous Voices Quartet

 

Dec. 21 | Joyous Voices Quartet

Dec. 22 | Studio Bleu Vocal Groups & Painted Trillium

Dec. 23 | Carlos Jimenez Jazz Flutist & The Holly and the Harpists

 

Dec. 26 | Joyous Voices Quartet

Dec. 27 | Joyous Voices Quartet

Dec. 28 | Joyous Voices Quartet

Dec. 29 | Joyous Voices Quartet

Dec. 30 | Joyous Voices Quartet

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.

For more information on access services at the Zoo, please contact Guest Services at 202-633-2614.

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 Station at Lion-Tiger Hill (parking lot D).

Cost: Free

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

Accessible Restrooms

Restrooms are located at the Visitor Center, Panda Plaza 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.

To contact our Events team, click here.

Event Schedule

Talks and demonstrations will be held on a rolling time frame throughout the day (check the Zoo Map for details.)

Bird House

Watch a wild bird banding demonstration, learn about wildlife tracking technology, sample bird-friendly coffee and discover how to seek out birds in your backyard. 

Elephant Community Center

Kids can play educational games while adults find out how population management, conservation ecology and genetic science are being used by Zoo researchers to save animal species all over the world.

Auditorium (inside the Visitor Center)

Join Smithsonian scientists for live demonstrations of cryopreservation techniques! Watch as scientists freeze and rethaw genetic samples, a critically important technique used to bolster populations of threatened species.

Also, a rotating list of short films highlighting Smithsonian scientists’ conservation work will be screened throughout the day.

Great Meadow (located near the Great Ape House)

Discover how Smithsonian scientists are using cutting-edge conservation science to save wildlife in their native habitats and promote animal health at the Zoo.

Pollinator Garden (behind the Reptile Discovery Center)

Learn how experts from Virginia Working Landscapes use modern conservation practices to reshape the farming industry and save local wildlife.

A rotating list of short films highlight Smithsonian scientists’ conservation work around the world.

All films will be shown in the auditorium of the Visitors Center (check the Zoo Map for details.)

10:00 a.m. - 10:10 a.m.

  • How the black-footed ferret is making a comeback from the brink of extinction | PBS Newshour

10:15 a.m. - 10:31 a.m.

  • Frogs Are Going Extinct – Here's How We Can Save Them | WILD HOPE

10:36 a.m. - 10:46 a.m.

  • Spawning Hope

10:51 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

  • LIVE - Cryopreservation Demonstration (not a movie)

11:35 a.m. - noon

  • Reconnecta

12:05 p.m. - 12:20 p.m.

  •  Café Y Aves

12:25 p.m. - 12:41 p.m.

  • The Return of Swift Fox

12:46 p.m. - 12:52 p.m.

  • Tracking Elephants

12:57 p.m. - 1:10 p.m.

  • Grass Roots | Virginia Working Landscapes

1:15 p.m. - 1:25 p.m. 

  • How the black-footed ferret is making a comeback from the brink of extinction | PBS Newshour

1:30 p.m. - 1:46 p.m.

  • Frogs Are Going Extinct – Here's How We Can Save Them | WILD HOPE

1:51 p.m. - 2:01 p.m.

  • Spawning Hope

2:01 p.m. - 2:40 p.m.

  • LIVE - Cryopreservation Demonstration (not a movie)

2:45 p.m. - 3:10 p.m. 

  • Reconnecta

3:15 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.

  • Café Y Aves

3:35 p.m. - 3:51 p.m.

  • The Return of Swift Fox

3:56 p.m. - 4:02 p.m.

  • Tracking Elephants