Visiting these spectacularly illuminated botanical gardens will make your season merrier and brighter.

By Lindsay Tigar
Updated December 20, 2019

Full of happy gatherings, plenty of food, and twinkling decorations, the holiday season is the brightest of them all. If one of your traditions is visiting light displays in neighborhoods within your ZIP code or maybe even farther afield, you'll want to make sure to add to a new spot to your route: your nearest public garden.

While these green spaces are fabulous summer destinations for filling your Instagram feed with colorful flowers and other eye-catching plants, they are often forgotten after the leaves change. But they shouldn’t be! Many have dazzling holiday light displays that make both young and old ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ in wonder. Best of all, most include hot cocoa or other festive activities, making it an exciting after-dark experience for all. Here are 10 of the most spectacular botanical garden light displays to check out around the country (some are even award winners!).

Credit: Courtesy of Atlanta Botanical Garden

1. Atlanta Botanical Garden, Atlanta, GA

Known as the peach of the southern United States, Georgia's reputation shines that much brighter during Garden Lights, Holiday Nights right in its capital city. The Atlanta Botanical Garden promotes the event as an "electrical extravaganza," with a variety of experiences designed to delight all ages. Highlights include its music-and-motion show, Nature’s Wonder, which is said to be the largest curtain of synchronized light and sound in the world. And fairy tale fans will want to stop by the Skylights Lounge filled with glowing oversize plants from Alice’s Wonderland. No matter what captivates your attention, a stroll through the Tunnel of Light and a stop by the Ice Goddess display is a must. 

Dates: Now through January 11

Price: $20 to $35, depending on date and time; Children under 3, free

Credit: Courtesy of Bellingrath Gardens

2. Bellingrath Gardens, Mobile, AL

It’s a Gulf Coast tradition that lights up the spirits and eyes of children, teens, and adults alike. For the 24th year, Bellingrath will host Magic Christmas in Lights, with 1,100 set pieces, 15 scenes and—wait for it—3 million lights spread throughout its 65-acre property. To make all this magic happen, the garden hires three full-time employees to work on it year-round. You can take a guided tour through various outdoor displays to admire their incredible attention to detail.

Dates: Now through December 31

Price: Adults, $16; Children 5-12, $8; under 5, free

Credit: Courtesy of Botanica

3. Botanica, Wichita, KS

Two million lights bring life and color to Wichita each year during Illuminations Botanica—and in 2019, it was voted one of the 10 best botanical light displays in the country by USA Today readers. Families and friends can roam through countless paths running through this garden to see various larger-than-life bugs, flowers, fish and sea creatures, floating trees, and other colorful wonders. Kids and the young-at-heart will be especially delighted by Candy Cane Lane and Candy Land, featuring huge treats, monster trees, a musical maze, and lit-up holiday scenes. Santa will be in residence every night, and carolers will add to the festive ambiance, too. As the perfect way to decompress from the adventure, adults can enjoy a hot toddy while children can sip on cocoa. And psst: there’s even a carousel!

Dates: Now through January 4

Price: Adults, $12; Children, $8

Credit: Courtesy of Brookgreen Gardens

4. Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, SC

Some people get lost in the twinkle of lights, while others prefer to get cozy with candles. If you’re part of the latter group, you’ll love this experience, voted "Best Christmas Lights in South Carolina" by Travel & Leisure, and one of the top 10 garden light displays as part of USA Today's 2019 readers' choice awards. More than 2,700 hand-lit candles and endless white electrical lights bring this garden to life. As you experience the magic that is Nights of a Thousand Candles, you can grab a cider, cocoa, or a glass of wine to enjoy with those you hold near and dear.

Dates: Select dates in December

Price: Adults, $25; Children 4-12, $15; under 4, free

Credit: Courtesy of Chicago Botanic Garden

5. Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, IL

For more than a decade, the Windy City’s botanic garden ran a train-themed Wonderland Express as part of its creative light displays. This year though, they’re switching up the design with a new holiday-themed exhibition, Lightscape. You can walk arm-in-arm with your friends and fam on a mile-long path through it. With each step, you’ll see breathtaking sights like a waterfall of light, illuminated tulips, and a fire garden. Seasonal aromas like frankincense will also accompany you while music guides the way. And don’t miss out on roasting marshmallows or enjoying a cup of cider or hot cocoa. 

Dates: Now through January 5

Price: Adults, $21; Children 3-12, $10; under 3, free

Credit: Courtesy of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

6. Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay, ME

One of New England's finest public gardens becomes even more stunning during the holiday season when it sparkles with more than 650,000 colorful lights. Another USA Today's readers' choice winner this year, Gardens Aglow turns trees and other outdoor structures around this garden into enchanting works of art that you can stroll past. And this year, the display will also include several large-scale, contemporary root sculptures that are part of the garden's exhibition, Unearthed.

Dates: Now through December 31

Price: Adults, $16; Children, $9; under 3, free

Credit: Courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens

7. Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver, CO

Blossoms of Light is an annual holiday lights extravaganza that is never the same from year to year. The 2019 display is sure to be the best yet with a 360-degree immersive light experience, in addition to all the fan favorites from the last three decades. You can make a full evening of it, complete with dinner, holiday treats, and a souvenir mug to take home.

Dates: Now through January 3

Price: $16 to $19, dependent on date; Children under 2, free

Credit: Courtesy of Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

8. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Richmond, VA

This garden hosts a huge holiday display each year that has become a tradition that no local—or traveler—can miss, so of course it is among USA Today's 10 best botanical garden light displays for 2019. In addition to endless lights of many shades and hues, you can also check out a few model trains, participate in holiday craft activities, and admire creative botanical decorations. The theme of this year’s Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights is "Magic in the Air," so you can expect to see illuminated fireflies, spaceships, and even flying pigs. And in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing this year, there's also a glowing astronaut to admire. It's already been recognized as one of  this year, so make sure to see it if you can!

Dates: Now through January 6

Price: Adults, $13; Children 3-12, $8; under 3, free

Credit: Courtesy of Longwood Gardens

9. Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA

Part of what makes the holidays so special are the times we take to celebrate and savor traditions. That's what A Longwood Christmas is all about, and a big reason why it's another USA Today readers' choice for a top garden light display. Shimmering crystals, shiny snowflakes, illuminated trees, glowing orbs, and even a spectacular tunnel of light make for a magical experience, and kids especially love the choreographed show that pairs flashing, twinkling lights with festive holiday jams. Toast to the year of blessings behind you—and all that’s to come with a mug of cocoa before you go.

Dates: Now through January 5

Price: Adults, $30; Children 5-18, $16; under 5, free

Credit: Courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden

10. Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO

What’s better than one million lights? Imagine all of that sparkle with flowers to match! At the Garden Glow at the Missouri Botanical Garden, visitors can explore colorful, floral-inspired installations as part of this radiant winter wonderland. As you and your loved ones get lost in all the splendor, you will also be offered many interactive photo opportunities ideal for your holiday greeting cards. Then, warm up with s’mores, hot chocolate, and other seasonal refreshments.

Dates: Now through January 4

Price: Adults, $20; Children, $10

Enjoying light displays is one of our favorite ways to get in the holiday spirit, right up there with decorating a Christmas tree or baking sugar cookies. If a trip to one of these gorgeous gardens doesn’t quite mesh with your plans, try checking with your local public garden—many often feature festive decorations, even if it’s not a light display. Some towns go all out for Christmas too, so it’s worth checking what celebrations are happening in your area!


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