How to Best Enjoy the Cincinnati Zoo’s Festival of Lights


The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden will once again twinkle with holiday lights and displays starting Nov. 16 for its 37th annual Festival of Lights. Whether you’re a first-time festival goer or a seasoned pro, we have the tips and tricks for how to make the most of your frigid holiday-themed zoo experience.

  • Zoo events manager Kim Denzler’s number one tip? Show up early—ideally before 3 p.m, two hours prior to when the lights are switched on. Not only will you avoid parking lot mayhem, but you’ll also be first in line for Visits with Santa, which start at 4 p.m.
  • Take in the lights. More than 120,000 glowing strings decorate the zoo for the holidays. This includes light strands, displays, and shows, such as the 20-minute lake show, which features more than 60,000 lights itself.
  • Cincinnati’s beloved Fiona will star in another new feature at the festival. A brand new path, sparkling with lights, leads through Fiona’s Fairyland, where five hippo fairies glimmer. At the path’s end is the Hippo Hut holiday photo booth.
  • Look for 27 Giant Lanterns, six of which will be brand new this year. “They’re bigger-than-life-sized animals that are lit up in their specific [habitats],” Denzler says. “They’re so colorful and vibrant and cool to see.”
  • New visitors should take advantage of the scavenger hunt offered on the zoo’s website. Denzler says it takes a while to walk through every exhibit and this fun activity will make sure you don’t miss anything.
  • When the chills hit and your hand (and feet?) warmers are no longer warm enough, visit The Grove. Gas fireplaces, s’mores stations, and food trucks offer the perfect combination of heat and comfort food, making you forget for just a few minutes that you’re still standing out in the wintry weather.
  • Plan your route through the zoo strategically, with stops at indoor attractions interspersed with the brisk outdoor light scenes and exhibits. Manatee Springs and Night Hunters are the best buildings to warm up in, while also allowing little ones to ogle exotic animals.
  • If you don’t show up early enough to 
beat the line, remember there’s an additional entrance this year off Erkenbrecher Avenue.

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