Any links in this post to a merchant may contain an affiliate link, which means that if you click on that link and then buy something, I may earn a commission from it. However, all opinions in this link are 100% mine and 100% honest. If I didn't believe in a particular product, I wouldn't recommend it to you.
Christmas lights always add an extra bit of fun to zoos. And the Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo is no exception. This is one of the best, and most unique, holiday displays in the city. Find out why your family will love the Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo.
What is the Festival of Lights?
For over 40 years, the Festival of Lights has been adding holiday flair to the Cincinnati Zoo. Throughout the zoo, you will find over 4 million lights and 30 extra large animal shaped lanterns.
Additionally, you will find hidden Fiona fairies, a blacklight puppet show, multiple s’mores stations, appearances by Santa, the Grinch, and Frosty, fun photo ops, and much more!
This is such a fun and unique holiday display. It is the perfect way for families to get in the holiday spirit, make some memories, and enjoy seeing the animals all at the same time!
The lights and animal lanterns have a way of making the zoo seem magical. Even if you have been to the Cincinnati Zoo many times before, you will see it in a whole new way when you visit during the Festival of Lights.
The animal lanterns are my favorite part of these decorations. I think they are so beautiful! They are interesting during the day, but at night, once they light up from within, they are just spectacular!
The logistics of visiting the Cincinnati Zoo during the holidays
In 2023, the Festival of Lights will run from November 17 until January 7, 2024. During this time, the zoo is open on Sundays through Thursdays from 10 am until 9 pm. On Fridays and Saturdays, it is open from 10 am until 10 pm. The zoo is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.
The Festival of Lights is included in your zoo admission. Admission to the zoo varies in price, depending on the day of your visit. Adult prices range from $16-24.50. The price for children, age 3-12, ranges from $10-18.50.
The last night to see Santa is December 23.
The train and carousel begin running at 2:30 pm each day. The Festival of Light activities begin daily at 4 pm.
The puppet show can be seen in the Amphitheater each night at 6:30, 7:30, and 8:30.
On New Year’s Eve, you can ring in the New Year at the zoo. They will even have a special early countdown for kids!
Throughout the zoo, you will find special holiday treats for sell. These include a new hot hippo drink, hot chocolate, roasted almonds, s’mores, funnel cakes, beignets, cinnamon sugar pretzels and more.
Please remember that most of the animals go inside for the night around 5 pm. So, it’s important to get there earlier in the day if you want to see the animals before all the lights come on.
Some of the indoor animal exhibits will be open during the Festival of Lights, allowing you to see those animals after the sun goes down. These buildings include the Reptile House, Manatee Springs, World of Insects, Jungle Trails West, Dragons, Night Hunters, and the Education building.
You can find the most up-to-date information about the Festival of Lights and buy your tickets on the zoo’s website.
Tips for experiencing the Festival of Lights
If you want to see the animals while visiting the Festival of Lights, you should arrive at the zoo during the afternoon hours. Head straight to the animal exhibits and save the lights and holiday activities for after 5 pm when the animals call it a night.
I highly recommend going to see the hippos as soon as you arrive at the zoo. Fiona, Fritz, and their family are, by far, the most popular residents at the Cincinnati Zoo. Their viewing area gets busy later in the day. So, go early and see them before the crowds arrive.
After you’ve seen all the animals you want, go on a scavenger hunt for the Fiona Fairies and take some photos before it gets super dark.
Be sure to bundle up so you won’t freeze before you get to experience all the holiday festivities. If you do start to get cold, head over to one of the heated animal buildings or take a break inside one of the indoor eateries to warm up a bit.
If you want to avoid the crowds, go early in the season. You can also experience smaller crowds by going on a weeknight instead of on a weekend.
This is a great place to let your kids visit Santa. He and Mrs. Claus are usually out beginning around 4 pm. Get in line early to avoid long waits.
The Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo is one of the best ways to celebrate the Christmas season in Cincinnati. It is a special place to see tons of lights in a fun environment. I highly recommend visiting this year with your family!
For information on another awesome Cincinnati holiday display, see my post on the Coney Island Night of Lights.
P.S. Need help finding the best places to go on your family vacations? My Ultimate USA Bucket List for Families will instantly give you 60 of the best vacation destinations for families in the United States! Get it for FREE in the box below and start planning your next trip today! Plus, as a bonus, you will receive my weekly email newsletter full of family trip tips and inspiration!