En español | Lights, camera, action! No, it’s not a movie, but there’s plenty of all three involved. A range of destinations, from Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden to the Detroit Zoo, offer sparkling holiday light shows and displays from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. Here are 10 beautiful ones around the country.
- 1 of
PHOTO BY: Rock City
Rock City Enchanted Garden of Lights
Lookout Mountain (Chattanooga, Tennessee)
Nov. 19, 2021, through Jan. 2, 2022
There’s plenty to see at this outdoor wonderland perched atop Lookout Mountain, only a short drive from downtown Chattanooga. Stroll along the winding trail to gaze at the flickering icy blue, aquamarine, purple and white borealis lights of the Arctic Kingdom, where you may get a peek at Jack Frost or the Ice Queen. Wander into the Magic Forest’s twinkling dancing trees and stand beneath the glowing 43-foot Christmas tree. The little ones will love seeing Santa’s sleigh inside his workshop and can even visit Mrs. Claus to help her decorate gingerbread cookies. Due to the pandemic, face coverings need to be worn in indoor areas, and social distancing is encouraged. Buy tickets online, starting at $24.95 for adults, $13.95 for children; open from 5 p.m. to 9 or 10 p.m.; closed Dec. 24.
- 2 of
PHOTO BY: B. David Cathell / Alamy Stock Photo
Las Noches de las Luminarias
Desert Botanical Garden (Phoenix, Arizona)
Dec. 3 through Dec. 31, 2021 (closed Dec. 24 and 25)
Throughout Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and other areas of the Southwest, you’ll find luminarias — paper bags filled with sand and lighted candles — lining many walkways and streets at Christmastime. Since 1978, the Desert Botanical Garden has celebrated with “Las Noches de las Luminarias”: Light from 8,000 luminaria bags — hand-lit and extinguished each night by a team of volunteers — bounces off the beautiful desert flora while visitors meander along the paths listening to live music. The “Chihuly in the Desert” exhibition, featuring artist Dale Chihuly’s gorgeous glass installations, is included with admission. Face coverings need to be worn in indoor areas, and social distancing is encouraged. Buy tickets online, $49.95 for adults, $18.95 for children; open from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. (open to members only Dec. 3 through Dec. 6).
- 3 of
PHOTO BY: Silver Dollar City
An Old-Time Christmas
Silver Dollar City (Branson, Missouri)
Now through Dec. 30, 2021
A visit to this Branson theme park, known for preserving and featuring 1880s Ozark culture, is extra special during its holiday extravaganza, when revelers can take in the more than 6.5 million colored lights, 1,000 decorated trees, live shows, train rides and more. New this year is a stunning 80-foot Christmas tree. Visitors vaccinated for COVID-19 do not need to wear a mask; unvaccinated visitors 12 and up are required to wear a mask in indoor areas. Purchase tickets online and at park entrance; one-day admission starts at $74 for ages 12–64, $72 for adults 65 and up, free for children 3 and under; open at 1:00 p.m. most days, Saturdays at 11:00 a.m.
- 4 of
PHOTO BY: Davis Harold Hank Photographer
A Longwood Christmas Celebrates Fire and Ice
Longwood Gardens (Kennett Square, Pennsylvania)
Nov. 19, 2021, through Jan. 9, 2022
Longwood amps up the volume of color and sparkle adorning the garden’s wide array of blooms and greens this season with a new theme, celebrating the contrast of fire and ice. Inside the Exhibition Hall, you’ll find a frozen world, including a clear blue alpine stream with delicately flocked trees, a 21-foot Fraser fir, cascading waterfall and gleaming icicles suspended above. Outside explore Small Lake, where flame-like lights adorn the trees. Warm up with a hot beverage around the firepits if it gets chilly. Longwood is asking visitors to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19, including wearing masks in indoor spaces. Buy timed tickets online, $30 for adults, $27 for college students and adults 62 and older, $16 for children 5 to 18; open daily from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
- 5 of
PHOTO BY: Ken Stanek Photography
Miracle on 34th Street
34th Street in Baltimore, Maryland
Nov. 26, 2021, through Jan. 1, 2022
You can’t help but brim with holiday cheer when cruising slowly along the legendary “Miracle on 34th Street” display route. In a local tradition since 1947, the 700 block of 34th Street in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood is transformed every holiday season to sparkle with thousands of lights and festive decor, including colorful window displays and seasonal character inflatables. Favorites include regionally themed decorations such as a giant crab. Free; nightly after sunset.
- 6 of
PHOTO BY: Austin Bond Photography
Nights of a Thousand Candles
Brookgreen Gardens (Murrells Inlet, South Carolina)
Nov. 26, 2021, through Jan. 2, 2022
A holiday tradition for 22 years, “Nights of a Thousand Candles” features live holiday music (carolers, and — depending on the night — a harpist, handbell ensemble, strolling bagpipers or Celtic rock duo) and gardens beautifully brightened with sparkling lights, including 2,800 hand-lit candles. You can purchase hot chocolate, hot cider, beer, wine and other drinks to sip as you stroll. Be sure to catch the 6:30 p.m. Lighting of the Trees each evening in the Leonard Pavilion. Buy tickets online, $30 for adults, $15 for children ages 4-12; open select nights from 4 to 9 p.m.
- 7 of
PHOTO BY: Detroit Zoological Society
Detroit Zoo (Detroit, Michigan)
Nov. 20, 2021, through Jan. 9, 2022
There are plenty of wild attractions to captivate visitors at the Detroit Zoo this holiday season. Not only will there be giant LED-illuminated sculptures of whales, lions, long-necked giraffes and other creatures blazing brightly throughout the outdoor walking venue, but included in the admission is the North American premiere of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, showcasing award-winning photography. Visitors can’t enter animal habitats; the focus is on the outdoors and more than 280 sculptures, buildings and trees, all aglow. Buy tickets online, $17–$24 ($30–$38 for the all-you-can-eat dining option at the Polar Patio); open select weeknights and weekends starting at 5 p.m.
- 8 of
PHOTO BY: Denver Botanic Gardens. © Scott Dressel-Martin
Blossoms of Light
Denver Botanic Gardens (Denver, Colorado)
Nov. 19, 2021, through Jan. 8, 2022
For three decades, Denver locals have flocked to the gardens for the annual “Blossoms of Light,” where a vibrant spectrum of colored lights transforms the landscape into a sparkling, festive wonderland. Walk a rectangular-ish pathway (one-way) around most of the gardens’ 24 acres, past beautiful, wildly colorful displays, New this year: a 200-foot-long, 17-foot-tall choreographed lights tunnel on the O’Fallon Perennial Walk. Hot drinks and treats are available in the Hive Garden Bistro. Buy timed tickets online, $18–$21 for all ages, free for children 2 and under; open nightly, 4:30 to 9 p.m.; closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
- 9 of
PHOTO BY: Bethel Woods Center
Peace Love & Lights
Bethel Woods Center for the Arts (Bethel, New York)
Nov. 19, 2021, through Jan. 2, 2022
If you’re looking for something really groovy to do this holiday season, head to Bethel Woods, site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival, for its second annual “Peace, Love & Lights” holiday event. Rubberneckers drive a 1.7-mile route past brilliantly lighted displays like Snowflake Alley, Candy Cane Lane, Groovy Way and the Enchanted Forest. (Mondays will be reserved for walk-through-only guests.) Refreshments are available at the Holiday Hub. On four weekends you can find regional craft and food vendors at the Holiday Market. Purchase tickets in advance online or when you arrive, $25–$30 per car; 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
- 10 of
PHOTO BY: Bentleyville USA
Bentleyville Tour of Lights
Nov. 20th through Dec. 27, 2021
Well-insulated visitors brave the bone-chilling cold near the shores of Lake Superior for the Bentleyville Tour of Lights at Duluth’s Bayfront Park. Nathan Bentley, the originator of the event, began festively decorating his home during the holidays in 2001. Then, at the invitation of the mayor, the lights tour moved and morphed into a much larger holiday extravaganza held annually at the park, where more people could enjoy the magical holiday displays throughout the season. Walking through the trail of lights is free — as are hot cocoa and coffee, cookies, popped popcorn, and marshmallows that you can roast. And Santa and Mrs. Claus are there for photo-seekers, naughty or nice. 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Gigi Ragland is a Colorado-based travel and food writer whose work has appeared in National Geographic Travel, Hemispheres, Sierra, AFAR, American Cowgirl and many others.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on December 1 , 2020. It's been updated to reflect new information and destinations.
More on Travel
AARP Travel Center Powered by Expedia: Car Rentals
Members save on car rentals and morelearn moreSee more Car Rentals offers >
Members save up to 30% on base rates and morelearn moreSee more Car Rentals offers >
Country Inn & Suites® by Radisson
Members save 10% off the best available ratelearn moreSee more Travel offers >
Gas & Auto Services
Valvoline Instant Oil Change
Members save 15% on drive-thru, stay-in-your-car oil changeslearn moreSee more Gas & Auto Services offers >