The Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden is one of my favorite annual holiday events in Cincinnati.
Each holiday season the Cincinnati Zoo is transformed into a beautiful winter wonderland filled with 4 million lights!
USA Today readers have voted PNC Festival of Lights #1 in the Best Zoo Lights category for the last 5 years and it’s easy to see why.
This article contains affiliate links, which means we may receive a small commission if you click a link and purchase something we have recommended at no additional cost.
Generations of families look forward to the Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo each year.
When is the PNC Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo?
Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo will take place November 17, 2023 – January 7, 2024
The zoo will be closed all day on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.
Save With Discounted Tickets to the Festival of Lights at The Cincinnati Zoo
You can save on your visit to the Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo by purchasing discount tickets ahead of time.Purchase Discounted Tickets to the Festival of Lights Here
Save Money and Time When You Purchase Your Tickets in Advance Online
You can avoid waiting in line to purchase tickets and save on admission to the Festival of Lights when you purchase your tickets ahead of time.
The Cincinnati Zoo uses “Plan Ahead Pricing” which means that ticket prices may change daily based on expected attendance.
You won’t find a lower price on the Cincinnati Zoo website for your desired date closer to the actual date.
In fact, the price could increase as your desired date approaches so try to purchase your discounted tickets online as soon as you know when you want to go.
Save on Multiple Cincinnati Attractions with a POGO Pass
Use discount code “ADVMOM” for 50% off a pass!
Cincinnati Zoo Hours During Festival of Lights
Cincinnati Zoo Hours November 17 – January 7, 2024:
- Sunday- Thursday -10am – 9pm
- Friday- Saturday 10am – 10pm
As a reminder, the Cincinnati Zoo will be closed all day on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.
What time Does the Festival of Lights Begin at the Cincinnati Zoo?
Festival of Lights activities begin at 4 PM.
Festival of Lights admission is included with your zoo admission at no additional charge.
For the best value, visit the Zoo early and stay for the lights!
North Polar Express train ride begins at 2:30 PM.
Santa Claus visits begin at 4 PM through December 23.
Make sure that you download the Cincinnati Zoo’s interactive app so that you are up to date on everything going on at the zoo during your visit.
What to Expect at the Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo This Year
- 4 million LED lights throughout the Zoo
- Families will enjoy searching for 5 Fiona fairy statues in Fiona’s Fairyland
- Guests will feel like they’re blanketed by stars in the immersive “Northern Lights” light experience.
- Larger than life Animal Lanterns located throughout the Zoo
- Wild Lights Show on Swan Lake
- Blacklight puppet show -Nightly performances by Madcap Puppets at 6:30 PM, 7:30 PM, and 8:30 PM at the Amphitheater
- North Polar Express train & Conservation Carousel rides begin at 2:30 PM
- Roast Smore’s at the Smore’s Stations
- Enjoy freshly roasted nuts and other holiday treats
- See animals inside multiple indoor heated buildings
- Holiday Highlights Hunt
New This Year for 2023 at The Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo
Visitors can participate in the Wild Lights show on Swan Lake by downloading an app that syncs their phone’s flashlight to the music.
*Please note that the light show could be disruptive to those with sensitivity to light or those who have epilepsy.
There are also 20 new, lifelike animal lanterns placed around the Zoo and more photo ops than ever.
More additions to the Festival of Lights this year:
- New lanterns in Under the Sea Display
- Light up Cotton Candy (found at cotton candy machines in Vine Street Village near the main entrance)
- New 5ft star for the Vine Street Village tree
Food and Drinks at the Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo
There are plenty of options for a meal, snack, or drink during your visit to the zoo.
Here are the following food and drink vendors at the zoo:
- Sweet Retreat
- The Coop
- S’mores N’ More
- Taco Caja
- Wild Burger
- Canopy Canteen
- Cup + Cone
- Base Camp Cafe
- Candy Cane Cottage
- Refill and Refresh
- Outpost Cafe
You can share your scavenger hunt pictures on social media using #cincyzoopic for a chance to be featured in future Zoo marketing material.
Strike a Pose at one of the Elfie Selfie Stations
Selfie stations are set up throughout the zoo. Find them on the Cincinnati Zoo’s interactive map app.
Santa will be in a sleigh in Santa’s Village near the picnic shelters at The Grove.
Don’t forget to look for the mouse in each Gingerbread house while you are there.
Send a Letter to Santa
You can visit Santa’s Village nightly starting at 4PM through December 23rd.
Kids can write a letter to Santa and bring it to the Zoo to drop in their mailbox.
There is a Sensory Santa available for guests seeking a sensory-friendly Santa meet & greet, where the following accommodations will be made for visitors with sensory sensitivities and/or developmental disabilities and their families.
Sensory-Friendly Santa 2023 Dates, 1-3pm:
- November 29 – December 1
- December 3
- December 7-10
- December 14 – 17
- December 21 – 23
You need to make a reservation in advance for Sensory Santa because these time slots fill up quickly.
What to Expect During Sensory Santa at The Cincinnati Zoo
- Reservation times to avoid standing in a traditional line
- Admission fees to the Cincinnati Zoo are separate
- Meet & greets happen before crowds arrive for the Festival of Lights
- Lights and music will be lowered
- A separate chair next to Santa
- 10-minute reservations to allow time for visitors to adjust to the setting and meet Santa
- Santa has received training on developmental disabilities from Dr. Jen Smith of the Children’s Hospital LEND program
The Best Time to See the Animals is Before 5PM
You’ll want to plan on arriving earlier in the afternoon if you want to see more of the animals. The best time to see animals is earlier in the afternoon, before 5 PM.
You will want to plan accordingly if you want to see them.
I highly recommend getting there early enough to see the kangaroos in the walkabout at Roo Valley. Zoo guests walk along the path and the kangaroos roam around wherever they please within the exhibit.
We got there around 3 PM and went to see them first because their exhibit closes at 5 PM during the Festival of Lights.
Warm Up Inside And See More Animals
If you start to get too cold you can warm up inside at one of the indoor animal buildings.
One of my personal favorites is Manatee Springs. I love watching the manatees swim in front of the large viewing area.
Buildings that will be OPEN during the PNC Festival of Lights:
- Reptile House
- Gorilla World
- Night Hunters
- World of the Insects
- Manatee Springs
- Jungle Trails West
- Discovery Forest
Animal Exhibits That Are Closed During Festival of Lights
You’ll want to visit the following buildings/ areas before the Festival of Lights begins at the Cincinnati Zoo.
The following buildings will CLOSE during the PNC Festival of Lights:
- Wings of the World
- Indoor elephant habitat
- Jungle Trails East
Dress in Layers for the Cincinnati Zoo Festival of Lights
It can get REALLY cold while you are walking around the Cincinnati Zoo during the Festival of Lights. It’s important to remember that you can always take off layers if you get too warm.
Make sure that you wear shoes that keep your feet warm and wool socks.
Hats and gloves are also a MUST during your visit. You can also pack hand warmers if you tend to get really cold.
There is a good chance that you will be taking LOTS of pictures and videos during your visit.
Make sure that you bring a portable battery charger to keep your cell phone charged throughout the night.
The following locations are great spots for a selfie during your visit to the Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo:
- Snowflakes at Eagle Overlook
- Ornament People across from the black rhino habitat
- Ornaments in Santa’s Village
- Sleigh in Santa’s Village
Where is the Cincinnati Zoo Located?
The Cincinnati Zoo is located at 3400 Vine Street Cincinnati, OH.
Parking for the Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo
The parking fee for the Cincinnati Zoo is $10.
The Main Zoo Lot for Cincinnati Zoo guests is located at 3427 Vine Street.
Overflow Parking for The Cincinnati Zoo During Peak Attendance
- Vine Lot 3427 Vine St
- Erkenbrecher Lot 3301 Euclid Ave and for
- Dury Lot 3292 Dury Ave