Enjoy ZooLights at the National Zoo

Held at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, ZooLights runs during the holiday season and is such a fun way to see the zoo. The zoo goes all out with lights, covering trees to the tops of their branches along the main path through the zoo. Plus there are many displays of zoo animals created with lights. The weather in Washington, D.C. can be fairly mild in December, so an evening walk through the zoo is actually very nice.

Food in the Zoo
ZooLights is free, yes free, so purchasing snacks in the zoo is a great way to support the zoo. You can find the usual type of fare here, but a special offering during ZooLights is the S’mores Shop. For $6.60, you can purchase a s’mores kit, which includes two s’mores. The cashier hands you your skewers and you can then find a spot at the fire to roast marshmallows. Just a little further down the path, you’ll find the Popcorn Wagon. Popcorn, s’mores and hot chocolate; I think that’s the perfect food for a December walk.

Animal Exhibits
ZooLights is an evening event, of course, and therefore, not every animal exhibit is open. However, several of the buildings are open, which will let you warm up a bit if it’s cold outside. The Small Mammal House, Reptile Discovery Center, and Think Tank are open in the evening during the event. I love the Reptile Discovery Center with the snakes and the tortoises among other animals. We were lucky enough to get a behind the scenes tour once, and these are some amazing animals.

Rides and Extras
The zoo offers a few special rides during ZooLights, including a train through the Great Cats exhibit and a snow-less tubing track, since we can’t count on snow during December in Washington, D.C. Year-round as well as during ZooLights, you can also ride a very beautiful carousel.

While entrance to the zoo is free, these extra attractions have a fee of $3 per ride. You’ll need to purchase tickets, with a discount if you purchase a pack of 8 ($3 for 1 ticket or $20 for 8). The carousel, train and snow-less tubing are all located at the bottom of the zoo, near the Great Cats exhibit.

Getting to ZooLights
If you’ve traveled by metro or walked to the zoo from the nearby Washington Hilton, you’ll arrive at the top of the zoo at the Connecticut Avenue entrance. The zoo is built on a hill, so you’ll make your way down the zoo as you walk through ZooLights. Fortunately, if the thought of climbing back up the hill is a bit much at the end of your night, the zoo provides shuttles to run you back up to the top.

Parking at the zoo during the ZooLights event is limited, and the cost is $11 for FONZ (Friends of the National Zoo) members and $22 for non-members.

ZooLights is open every evening from 5 to 9 pm, except Christmas Eve and Christmas and is absolutely free. ZooLights will be open until January 1.

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Know Before You Go

  • Many of the monuments and memorials surrounding the National Mall are open 24 hours a day!
  • Driving through the city isn’t recommended – walking or taking the Washington Metro are great ways to navigate the city.
  • Be prepared for numerous security checks if you are visiting any government buildings!

This post was written by Hilton Suggests Team Member, Andrea L. Are you interested in traveling to Washington DC? Let us know if we can help you with any other recommendations. Tweet us for more great local travel tips!

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