Tis the season to overdecorate with sparkly holiday lights. Luckily, the Northern Virginia and Washington DC region offer dazzling professional holiday light displays, plus several neighborhood extravaganzas to maximize your holiday spirit. The Griswolds got nothing on us!
Bookmark this guide to professional and neighborhood holiday lights in the DC area, and check back for new additions. Things are different in 2020, and we continue to update the list as changes are announced. Below we also list popular holiday light shows that are canceled this year.
Professional Holiday Lights in and near Northern Virginia
Professional holiday light displays in the Northern Virginia area are some of our favorite holiday destinations. Holiday light events are listed below in order of start date, with links to purchase tickets and plan your visit.
Bull Run Festival of Lights, Bull Run Regional Park, Nov 6 – Jan 10
A perennial favorite, the Bull Run Festival of Lights dazzles with a 2.5 mile drive-through display of holiday and fairytale vignettes. New displays join old favorites every year. This is a fun way to see lights as a family staying warm and cozy as you slowly drive through the animated displays. Weekdays and early season are the least crowded times to visit. In December, the drive ends at a Holiday Village with rides, merchandise and activities. Weekday/weekend admission is $20 – $30 per car. 5:30 – 9:30 weekdays, 5:30 – 10:00 weekends.
Meadowlark Winter Walk of Lights, Vienna, Nov 11 – Jan 3
Every year Meadowlark Botanical Gardens lights up for the holidays with over 500,000 lights and displays on a .6 mile outdoor walking trail. Purchase timed entry tickets in advance to ensure you get parking and avoid lines. Some tickets are available at the door on non-peak nights. Pick up a hot chocolate before your walk, then shop at the Snowflake Shoppe for holiday ornaments, flashing jewelry and other goodies. Tickets $9 – $18 depending on age, time, and advance purchase. Open nightly, including holidays, 5:30 – 10:00; last admission at 9:30.
Lighting of the Lawn, UVA, Charlottesville, Nov 19 Virtual
This beautiful Charlottesville tradition began after the September 11 attacks. In 2020, Lighting of the Lawn is a virtual gathering to celebrate friendship and community. Follow the link to watch the free virtual event via livestream. 7:00 – 9:00 PM.
The village closes but the ice rink is open weekend days January 9 – February 28.
Lights on the Bay, Sandy Point State Park, Nov 20 – Jan 2
Sandy Point State Park hosts the annual Lights on the Bay. Enjoy a two-mile scenic drive along the Chesapeake Bay with animated and stationary displays illuminating the roadway. Popular displays include a colonial village inspired by historic Annapolis and one of the USNA midshipmen tossing their hats in the air. Purchase 3D glasses to make the displays come alive. $20/30/50 per car/van/bus; 5:00 – 10:00 nightly.
U. S. Botanic Garden, DC, Nov 23 – Jan 10
Only the outdoor gardens are open so the U.S. Botanic Garden holiday festivities are scaled back in 2020.
The Botanic Garden is one of our favorite holiday stops in DC. The holiday fun usually includes an elaborate model train display; a large display of DC memorials and monuments made from natural materials; and holiday topiaries and plants. The theme in the model train display changes every year. In 2019, the theme was “America’s Gardens.,” featuring iconic gardens from across the United States.
In 2020, the Terrace Gardens and Bartholdi Park will be decorated with festive lights and adornments. Free holiday concerts will be live streamed. The train display is canceled and the conservatory and gated gardens are closed. You can visit the outdoor decorations at The US Botanic Garden every day, including Christmas.
GardenFest of Lights, Lewis Ginter Botanic Garden, Richmond, Nov 23 – Jan 10
Lewis Ginter Botanic Garden sparkles with one million twinkling lights at the annual Gardenfest of Lights display in Richmond Virginia. See hand-crafted botanical decorations, model trains, a warming fire pit with s’mores and hot chocolate, nightly family activities, and plenty of holiday fun. Tickets must be purchase in advance $5 – $18 depending on date and whether you are a member. 5:00 – 10:00 nightly except Thanksgiving, Dec 24 + 25.
Extend your holiday fun with a Weekend Getaway to Richmond Virginia.
Holiday Lights at Northern Virginia Towns and Businesses
While big Christmas tree lighting events are canceled in 2020, we still expect to see beautiful and festive decorations at these locations. These are fun, free spots for holiday photos whether you visit by day or night.
Village at Leesburg Christmas Tree, The big rainbow-colored tree is up and ready for holiday photos.
Old Town Alexandria, You’ll find some of the prettiest holiday decorations in the DC region on the shops and streets of Old Town Alexandria. The Black Friday experience kicks off the holiday shopping season with a whole season of great local deals. Watch a virtual holiday tree lighting on Nov 21.
Mosaic District Christmas, We love the quirky holiday decorations at Mosaic District and they’re perfect for a unique Christmas photo. Check out cool reindeer, giant stars, and a walk-through tree while you shop for the perfect holiday gift.
U.S. Capital Christmas Tree, Visit the lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building to see the 2020 tree which came all the way from Colorado. The tree is lit from dusk to 11:00 PM nightly and makes a great photo with the U.S. Capitol building in the background.
Old Town Fairfax Festival of Lights and Carols, Enjoy holiday music and carols and the lighting of the Christmas tree at Old Town Square on Dec 5 noon – 6:00.
The Wharf DC, The annual boat parade is canceled but you can still watch the lighting of the 45 foot Christmas tree on District Pier, Nov 27. The Wharf also hosts the Lighting of the Menorah for each night of Hanukkah at 5:00 pm, beginning Dec 10.
Holiday Tree Lighting, One Loudoun, TBA. In 2019, the 7th annual Holiday Tree Lighting at One Loudoun included live entertainment, Santa photos, ice sculpture carving, and more.
Del Ray Holiday Season, Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood is festooned with pretty “Home for the Holidays” window decorations. Stay tuned for details of a fun holiday scavenger hunt of all the decorated windows.
Business and Neighborhood Holiday Lights in Northern VA
A holiday lights drive is one of our favorite December activities, and we’re always on the lookout for new and favorite light displays.. The Holly’s Tacky Christmas Lights web site updates yearly and is an excellent resource for finding holiday lights in the NoVA area.
Bluemont Vineyard will illuminate over 10,000 vines at special Light up the Vines events. The lights will be illuminated throughout the holiday season. Follow the link to reserve your visit and enjoy holiday lights as you sip Virginia wine.
East Juniper Street, Sterling
Nicknamed Candy Cane Lane, we’ve been visiting East Juniper Street in Sterling since our children were small. Participating houses and decorations vary year to year, but there are usually several houses decked out with kitschy, traditional or modern holiday decor. In some years, a house offers the chance to visit with Santa or enjoy a cup of hot chocolate. Parking can be tight when crowds are heavy, so use extreme caution when driving on or near Juniper Street around Christmas.
In recent years, there were fewer houses decorated and they were more spread out through the neighborhood. The display in the photo above was still there along with several others, including one house with lights synced to music.
Millwood Square, Sterling
One of our fabulous readers tipped us off about a great Christmas lights display at the corner of Algonkian Parkway and Millwood Square in Sterling. Check out the number of lights this owner fit into his townhouse yard!
Stones Throw Drive, Reston
Sadly, the holiday decorations at Stones Throw Drive did not return after the house was sold in 2018. We sure miss this beautiful holiday lights display.
Canceled 2020 Holiday Lights
Unfortunately, these popular annual holiday lights displays are canceled in 2020. We look forward to their return in 2021.
Christmas on the Potomac with ICE!, National Harbor, CLOSED
The Gaylord National Harbor Christmas events are currently closed for the 2020 season. We’ll update with new details if this changes.
Marvel at more than 2 million twinkling lights, amazing nightly snowfall, and beautiful dancing fountains at Gaylord National’s Christmas on the Potomac. ICE! returns is 2019. Walk through the Grinch-themed ICE tent filled with 2 million pounds of colorful ice sculptures and 4 ice slides. A 25-minute Cirque Dreams Unwrapped show returns to the atrium. New in 2019, go ice skating in the outdoor tent at Winter Village, and whiz down a two-story indoor tubing hill. You can also enjoy a cup of hot cocoa and more family-friendly activities. Follow the link for ticket prices and hours, and read our full review of ICE! 2019 for more photos and details. Thrill the family, and extend your visit with a National Harbor weekend getaway.
Garden of Lights, Brookside Gardens, Wheaton, CLOSED
The Garden of Lights will not open in 2020.
Brookside Gardens walk-through display includes more than one million colorful holiday lights shaped into hand-crafted, original art forms of flowers, animals and other natural elements. Stroll from garden to garden enjoying twinkling tree forms, fountains, sparkling snowflakes, and more. After you visit the garden, stop in the Conservatory to see the seasonal model train display. Warm up in the Visitors Center with hot cocoa and nightly musical performances. $25 per car Sunday to Thursday, 5:30-9:30. $30 and open to 10:00 on Friday and Saturday.
Enchant Christmas, Nationals Park, DC, CLOSED
Enchant Christmas will not hold in person events in 2020.
Nationals Park is transformed into a winter wonderland complete with the world’s largest Christmas light maze and market. Join The Great Search, where giant light sculptures take guests on a journey to find Santa’s missing reindeer. Glide along the ice skating trail surrounded by lights as snow gently falls. Explore a Christmas Market with over 60 local and international artisans plus seasonal food and drink. Relax to live entertainment and seasonal films. And bring the kids to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus and play in the Kid Zone. General admission tickets start at $14.99/$16.99/$19.99 for child 4 – 13/youth and seniors/adults with special and group discounts available. 4:30 – 10:30 weekdays, to 11:30 weekends and Dec 13 – 30.
WinterFest at King’s Dominion, Doswell, CLOSED
King’s Dominion will not open WinterFest in 2020.
WinterFest transforms the park into a winter wonderland adorned with millions of holiday lights, multitudes of Christmas trees and festive décor displayed throughout the park. Plus, the iconic Eiffel Tower will be transformed into a 300-foot tall Christmas tree. WinterFest activities include a nightly lighting ceremony, live holiday shows and strolling performers, ice skating, family rides, a special holiday menu and falling snow. The park is open on select evenings and ticket prices vary; follow the link for details.
Zoo Lights at the National Zoo, DC, CANCELED
Holiday lights, animals at night, tubing runs, and chop-choo fun. More than 500,000 environmentally-friendly LED lights transform the Zoo into a winter wonderland. A free event, ZooLights includes live musical performances, tasty winter treats, and plenty of opportunities for holiday shopping. The National Zoo packs a lot of activities and a little education into its holiday light show. Admission and shuttle buses from Woodley Park metro are free, but parking and some activities have a fee. Open daily except Dec 24, 25, and 31. 5:00 – 9:00 nightly.
DC Temple Festival of Lights, Kensington Maryland, CLOSED
The DC Temple is closed and the Festival of Lights is canceled for 2020.
650,000 lights illuminate the Temple grounds while nightly musical performances are offered inside the Visitors Center (pick up a free ticket 90 minutes prior to the performance). Visitors can also view a live nativity display, creches from around the world, and internationally themed Christmas Trees. Admission and parking are free. Open until 10:00 nightly.
Georgetown Glow, Washington DC, Postponed to Spring/Summer 2021
The 7th annual Georgetown Glow is a free exhibition of lighted public art installations. 11 curated lighted art pieces are spread among the historic buildings and shops of Georgetown, offering a unique holiday night out. Free.
Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights, Alexandria, CANCELED
The annual Alexandria Boat Parade of Lights is held on the first Saturday of December, at sundown on the day of the annual Scottish Christmas Walk Parade. Alexandria’s harbor lights up as dozens of illuminated boats cruise the Potomac River at the historic waterfront. The boats are always dressed to impress a panel of judges who will award prizes in a dozen categories including Best in Show, Thinking Outside the Christmas Box, and Hardiest Souls. Free, 5:30.
District’s Holiday Boat Parade of Lights, The Wharf, CANCELED
On the same night, The Wharf joins the tradition with it’s own boat parade. Arrive early for the tree lighting, decorate gingerbread cookies, make s’mores at the fire pit, and get a photo with Santa. The boat parade begins at 7:00 with finale fireworks at 8:00. Admission is free; follow the link for details on boat registration and cash prizes. 6:00 – 9:00.
Chanukah Celebration and Menorah Lighting, Mosaic District, TBD
Head to Mosaic District’s Strawberry Park to celebrate Chanukah with the annual Menorah lighting. Join JCC of Northern Virginia to light the candles, sing songs, enjoy entertainment, feast on sufganiyot (donuts), spin the dreidel, and more. Free; 4:30 – 6:00.
We love the holidays and we love to drive around looking at lights, tacky or not. It’s sad that many of our holiday favorites are closed in 2020. What did we miss? What’s your favorite holiday display in the Northern Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC area?
If you like holiday lights, you’ll find more fun in these guides (2020 updates coming soon):
- 12 Holiday Favorites from Northern Virginia Experts
- Favorite Holiday Markets in Northern Virginia and the DC Region
- Santa Photos and Holidays at the Mall in Northern Virginia
- Day Trip to Enjoy DC Holiday Fun
Please share your feedback in the comments below or join us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram for more places to visit, things to do, and travel in and from Northern Virginia and the Washington DC region.
This article was published in 2018 and updated in 2019 and 2020.