Traditions come in all shapes and sizes. Some families make cookies; others trim the tree. For almost a decade, my family has visited Longwood Gardens at Christmastime. When we lived in Seattle, this tradition happened every other year when we headed to Philly to visit relatives. Now that we live back on the East Coast, I drag my family, even on Christmas Eve, to one of the most spectacular botanical Christmas celebrations in America: A Longwood Christmas.
Don’t take my word for it though. USA Today/ 10best.com voted Longwood Gardens Christmas the 2019 Best Botanical Garden Holiday Lights.
When is A Longwood Christmas?
In 2019 Longwood Gardens, located in Kennett Square, PA, surprised everyone by launching its holiday display a week before its usual Thanksgiving opening date. This gave even more families the opportunity to see the lights, trees and ribbons that take over this historic Peirce-du Pont estate through the first week after the New Year.
Longwood Gardens Christmas Visit Itinerary
Although Longwood Gardens is best known for their Christmastime holiday light display, the Conservatory is equally beautiful. Most people pop in at night to see it all lit up. I say, go into the Conservatory during the day AND at night.
Buy your tickets for mid-afternoon. Visit the Christmas trains while sipping hot cocoa and eating freshly-out-of-the-fryer mini donuts. Next, go to the Conservatory to see it during the daytime. You’ll get better photos with natural light flooding through the glass panes. After you tour the greenhouses, you will still have a bit of daylight left, so go to the Café for an early dinner.
Once night falls, head out into the grounds to enjoy the holiday lights—there are at least 500,000 lights spread throughout the gardens. Visit the Christmas trains again to see them lit up. Watch the fountain shows at the Main Fountain and the Open-Air Theatre Fountain. End your evening back at the Conservatory to see it washed in a warm glow of holiday magic. You will get a totally different feeling at night than you did during the day.
Not visiting during the holidays?
Grab our Longwood Gardens Summer Guide
Getting Longwood Gardens Christmas tickets
Timed tickets are required for the Longwood Gardens Christmas celebration. This is for crowd control, as the holidays are the busiest time of the year at the botanical garden. Order your tickets as far in advance as possible to guarantee your preferred spot.
Grab Longwood Gardens tickets HERE
Print your tickets out at home to avoid waiting in line once you arrive at Longwood Gardens. You can also use your smartphone for paperless ticketing, our favorite option.
How to go to Longwood on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
Longwood Gardens gets more crowded the closer you get to Christmas. If you want to bring the whole gang on Christmas Eve and other peak days, grab your tickets early. If you forgot, here’s the trick to Longwood on Christmas Eve—buy timed tickets for earlier in the day. No one will kick you out if you arrive in the afternoon and stay through the evening. You can also get your hand stamped if you leave and then come back later in the evening to see the holiday lights.
Arriving early, especially before 2pm, will also get you a better spot in the parking lot. You will avoid the evening rush to get into the garden. Fewer crowds will be in the Conservatory to see the Christmas displays as well.
parking at longwood gardens during christmas
Parking is always free at Longwood Gardens, even during the holidays. Attendants are on hand to direct traffic when it gets busy. There is an overflow lot across Route 1, with shuttle service from the lot to the entrance of Longwood.
Accessible parking is also available in the first few parking lanes in front of Longwood Gardens. Make sure you have your permit prominently displayed.
What to wear during the holidays at Longwood Gardens
There is no dress code, but if you plan to be outside, warm layers are essential for Christmas at Longwood Gardens. Many parents dress their little ones up in cute holiday outfits to take photos inside the Conservatory. This is great for daytime visits, but please remember to bring a change of clothes so you don’t have miserable children while walking the gardens at night.
- Winter coat
- Warm socks and shoes
There are plenty of restrooms available throughout Longwood Gardens for little ones to quickly change into warm clothes. Head to the Visitor Center, the Terrace or the Conservatory for the largest, multi-stall bathroom facilities.
What if it rains or snows at Longwood Gardens?
Like most things in nature, the weather can change at any moment. Rain is great for plants, and the outdoor Christmas lights still work no matter the weather. In fact, a little snow and rainy mist can add to the magic of the holidays at Longwood. Do not cancel your tickets, especially if you reserved timed tickets in advance.
We have been to Christmas at Longwood Gardens on beautiful, unseasonably warm days and below-freezing nights. Foggy and rainy afternoons, as well as crisp and clear evenings. No matter the weather, it was always worth the trip.
The staff at Longwood is prepared to help you stay dry with tents around the food stands and heaters in The Café. You can always stay warm in the Conservatory too. Trust me, you will be peeling off layers—those tropical rooms get hot and humid, even in winter.
What to pack if it rains?
Break out your ski gear if it looks like it will be wet outside. Most ski gear is waterproof, so you will stay nice and dry should you run into any rain or flurries during your visit.
- Lined rain boots or waterproof snow boots
- Ski jackets (waterproof)
- Rain or ski pants
If you have kids, please remember that they can and will jump in every puddle they see. Even if you tell them not to, they will try to get wet. It’s OK. There are plenty of restrooms where kids can change if they get soaked.
warming up: fire pits at Longwood Gardens
Our family loves a massive fire pit and Longwood Gardens seems to cater to our every desire. There are three main fire pits where you can gather and get warm outside during the holidays.
- Above the Main Fountain, outside of the Conservatory
- In front of the Peirce-du Pont House
- Between the Italian Water Garden and Large Lake light displays
Best Holiday Photo Ops at Longwood Gardens
Where can you take the best Longwood Gardens Christmas pictures? Daytime is great for photos because of natural light, but you can get some fun family photos at night too.
Daytime photo spots at A Longwood Christmas
- Front Entrance
- Front tree in the East Conservatory
- Green Wall tree
- East Conservatory Tree (closest to the Ballroom)
- Any part of the Exhibition Hall
- Silver Garden Tree
- Gardener’s Tree
- Canopy Cathedral Treehouse
Nighttime photo spots at A Longwood Christmas
During your walk
- Canopy Cathedral Treehouse
- Above the Main Fountain, outside of the Conservatory
- Green Wall tree
- East Conservatory Tree (closest to the Ballroom)
Have a favorite photo spot at Longwood Gardens? Tell us in the comments!
Not to miss on the grounds of Longwood Gardens
Those who have been to Longwood know that the grounds can be endless, and you can and will get lost if you don’t stay on the path. This is especially true if you head into the Meadow Garden.
Not to worry. There are a lot of distractions to keep you on the straight and narrow path, including trains, treehouses, a historic house and museum, plus loads of Christmas trees. And of course all of the light displays and fountain shows! You can download the Longwood Gardens interactive map on your phone to help you navigate your way and plan out your trip too.
No one was more excited than my boys when the trains moved from their old location by the main fountain to over near the Terrace. The new home is close to concessions and has plenty of space for all to explore the train set.
Much like the trains at the U.S. Botanic Garden and the Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia, the Longwood Garden Railway showcases replicas made from natural materials that depict buildings on the property. You can check out a miniature Conservatory and DuPont house in the display as Thomas the Tank Engine, Percy and all of their friends rumble past.
If you have toddlers, make yourself comfortable; you won’t be leaving anytime soon. Don’t worry, there is food and drink close by. You can even get in line and keep an eye on your little one staring at trains. Once nighttime falls, the trains are well lit so everyone can still enjoy their favorite locomotives.
Christmas at the Peirce-du Pont House
You can dive into the history of the estate at the Peirce-du Pont House, east of the Conservatory and Visitor Center. Large trees of light are constructed outside of the house during Christmastime to accompany the decorated evergreens.
The home and greenhouse are tastefully decorated, giving you loads of ideas of what to do in your own home, if only you had that ceiling height and those windows. (As you can tell, I lament my tiny windows a lot when I’m at Longwood.) Step inside the greenhouse doors in the middle of the home to see the family Christmas tree, as well as the stairwell decorated for the holidays. There is a small museum inside that tells you the history of the family, the property and the gardens.
Finnish Christmas at the Canopy Cathedral Treehouse
The Canopy Cathedral Treehouse gets a Finnish Christmas makeover during the holidays. Check out the beautiful wreath that mimics the glasswork at the top of the house. Inside, garlands and wreaths are hung with care around mirrors, windows, banisters and sills.
My boys love the Nordic dragons that protect the staircases. You can get a good view of the Large Lake Light Display from the balcony. Best of all, snacks are just a few steps away.
Climb up to the very top of the Birdhouse Treehouse to get the lay of the land at Longwood. You can even see into the Meadow Tunnel Light Display from the balcony. Several Christmas trees adorn this house, with ornaments built from natural elements fit for a few bird friends. It’s a bit more whimsical than the more orderly and refined Finnish décor in the Canopy Cathedral.
When you exit the Visitor Center and go left, you will come across the Gardener’s Tree. Day or night it is beautiful to see how the staff has decorated this live tree each year. During the day it is the perfect spot for a photo with family and friends. At night, it leads the way down a corridor of lights to the Terrace and Conservatory as well.
You practically stumble across this trio of trees as you walk towards the Large Lake, especially during the daytime. Beautiful little birdhouses, wreaths and other constructions grace the branches of the tree. Your kids will be very tempted to touch this one. Don’t let them. The brown and red ornaments are fragile and the gardeners want everyone to have a chance to see them.
Longwood Gardens Christmas Fountain Shows
My favorite things at Longwood Gardens are always the fountain shows. While the Main Fountain Garden takes over summer, the Open Air Theatre Fountain has long been the showstopper in winter. Colors, lights and music come together to bring a festive display of holiday cheer and magic that only Longwood can ensure over the holidays.
Main Fountain Garden Light Display
The water in the Main Fountain Garden shuts off in the winter months, but that doesn’t turn off the magic this garden holds onto all year long. Lights are strung up at each of the fountains in the main garden. They pop on at just the right moment during a song, just as they do when the water is on in the summer. The garden and light designers have done such a magnificent job recreating water from light that sometimes you forget that no water is running.
The Main Garden Light Display runs every five minutes after 4pm. It’s easy to catch before or after dinner as you enter the Conservatory. Watch it several times from the top terrace just outside of the Conservatory or smack in the middle of the fountain. This is a unique experience you won’t want to miss. If your kids need a break from walking, now is your chance.
Open Air Theatre Fountain Shows
The historic Open Air Theatre fountain was one of the first features built by Peirce-du Pont, who was inspired by an outdoor theatre in Siena, Italy. He hid the fountains in the floors of the theater to surprise his nieces and nephews. Now those same fountains surprise and excite kids of all ages (and this mom in particular) today.
The fountain show runs every 5 minutes after 2pm, with shows on the hour from 10am-1pm earlier in the day. While I like this show during the day, at night is when you can really get the full impact and see the lights. The timing of the water with the music and lights is just as incredible, on a smaller scale, as the Main Fountain Garden show in the summer months.
christmas lights at longwood gardens
You may have thought you were coming to see a few lights when you grabbed tickets to Longwood Gardens. By now, I hope you know that A Longwood Christmas is so much more than twinkling lights in a botanical garden.
However, the gardeners never disappoint their visitors. If you haven’t had enough of Christmas trees, trains, fountain shows and lit up treehouses yet, these are the main light exhibits you can expect to see during your visit.
Walk through a canopy of hanging balls made of branches and lights. You will wish you had your Cinderella ballgown on by the time you make it through this hedge-lined lane. Just make sure you look ahead from time to time and stretch your neck. I’ve seen a lot of upward gazing as people marvel at the intricacies of these bobbles overhead.
Large Lake Light Display
Wait until it is fully nighttime before you see this light show, as even at dusk, it can be hard to tell what is happening. Once nighttime does descend, every five minutes you will be whisked away into a musical light display projected into the woods on the Large Lake. A concession stand is close by where you can warm up with hot cocoa (spiked or regular) and other tasty libations.
Italian Water Garden Light Display
Just past the Large Lake Light Display you will find the Italian Water Garden lit up for the holidays. A tree set up in the center rotates through colors and patterns as you sip your hot cocoa and enjoy a little breather before heading into the Meadow.
Meadow Boardwalk Light Display
The Meadow Boardwalk is a field of orbs that change color as you walk along the path. A brilliant blue skeleton of a tree juts out of the ground as you wander by, creating an air of mystery and a bit of fairy fantasy too. You will want to step off the path to take photos with these balls of light. Resist! Let everyone enjoy the display and keep the selfies to a minimum.
Meadow Tunnel Light Display
Literally a tunnel of lights, this is one of the most special features in the garden. It is also a great photo spot at night since there are enough lights to brighten up your face. You are encircled by warm white string lights as you walk through a cage of them. It’s kind of like one of those shark tank tunnels at an aquarium, without all of the teeth.
Longwood Holiday Musical Events
It’s not just strolling through garden lights and flowers. Nope, A Longwood Christmas has several musical events you can participate in as well. From Sing-Alongs to carolers roaming around the grounds, music lovers flock to Longwood Gardens each season to take in the merriment of the season.
One of the most beloved traditions at A Longwood Christmas is the Organ Sing-along. My husband’s family, who grew up close to Longwood Gardens, remembers this seasonal event with great excitement. Join strangers in the Ballroom, who will soon become friends as you all sing classic Christmas tunes together in harmony with the Longwood Organ.
Seating is first come, first serve, so get there early. Some performances are standing room only. If your kids love to sing, you don’t want to miss this!
Olde Towne Carolers
The Olde Town Carolers wander the outdoor gardens surprising guests with carols as they stroll. They are not out every night though. You may have to hum a few tunes on your own if there are no carolers strolling by during your visit.
Brandywine Christmas Minstrels
The Brandywine Christmas Minstrels can be found at The Terrace, playing live music on select dates throughout the holiday season.
On select dates, the Galena Brass will be set up outside of the Peirce-du Pont House. This fun and lively band plays holiday tunes, including “Winter Wonderland”, “All I want for Christmas is You”, “Jingle Bells” and “Carol of the Bells.”
Conservatory Holiday Garden Highlights
If you skip the outdoor lights, mini donuts and gift shop at Longwood Gardens, don’t skip the Conservatory. Please! This is my favorite part of Longwood any time of the year.
During the holidays there are 14 decorated Christmas trees scattered throughout multiple rooms in the Conservatory, not including the Children’s Tree Display in the Estate Fruit House. Evergreens, air plants, cacti, poinsettias and sometimes even orchids make up these trees.
And that’s not all there is to see and do.
Check out the seasonal displays on the Fern Floor in the Exhibition Hall and Music Room. Sing along with your fellow holiday lovers at an organ concert or simply inhale the glorious fragrance of blooming white Casa Blanca Lilies along the Garden Path.
East Conservatory Trees
As soon as you walk into the Longwood Conservatory, you are overpowered by the first tree you see. You think “this is it! How could it ever get any better?” Well, it gets better. A lot better. This is the “small” tree in the room. Head to the other side of the pool for the really big tree.
Take your time getting there to take in the smell of lilies, and check out all of the colors of the poinsettias that are available. Your world will open up well beyond the usual red and white you see in the grocery store. Here they are white, beige, pink, speckled and every shade of red you can imagine.
The back tree is epic with a capital “E.” This is why you go to A Longwood Christmas during the day. The light is perfect for family photos in front of the tree, especially in the morning.
The one spot you don’t want to miss at Longwood Gardens at Christmas is the Exhibition Hall. The hall (particularly the Fern Floor) and the music room are where the year’s theme will come alive. Some years are definitely better than others, but you never know until you show up.
Flowers are always a part of the exhibit, as well as at least one tree. After that, the sky’s the limit for the horticulturalists and designers. Past years have included Versailles-inspired designs, a fancy dinner party, Christmas turned upside down and even a little plot twist. From giant Christmas ornaments to a ribbon created out of entwined poplar and mahogany wood, the growers are always coming up with new ways to incorporate natural elements back into Longwood.
Music Room Décor
While the Fern Floor can go big, the Music Room is where designers bring it down to human level. This room is dressed to perfection, whether it has been transformed into an old-fashion candy shop, or a library straight out of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
This is one of my favorite rooms, as it never disappoints year after year. There is something new to see no matter where you look. Linger in here if there isn’t a crowd. There is no way to take it all in with a quick pass.
Green Wall Tree
To the left of the East Conservatory entrance and right near the restrooms, you will find the Green Wall Tree. If you aren’t sure where it is, just follow the crowds. Despite the number of trees throughout the greenhouses, you will always find people gathered in front of this tree. We think it is because the lighting is good even at night for family pictures.
Children’s Trees in the Estate Fruit House
I love to bring my boys through the Children’s Trees in the Estate Fruit House, one of the greenhouses connected to the Conservatory. Local school children create ornaments that adorn these trees.
Each tree has a theme, and it is so cute to see their creativity through various artistic mediums. I’ve seen paint, cotton balls, clothespins, string, glitter and googly eyeballs used in the paste, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Each year gives my boys a few more ideas of what they can do with our art bin when they get back home.
Living Wreath in the Orchid House
While there are wreaths all around the Conservatory (check out the one above the Music Room door), the one most people remember is the Living Wreath in the Orchid House. You don’t often see wreaths made out of orchids. These particular little flowers don’t seem to like living in my office. Any time I can see them thriving somewhere else, I’m in awe.
Take in the colors and marvel at the diversity in this species (there are somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000). Longwood Gardens has a lot, but nowhere close to all the types of orchids out there.
They certainly have more than the seven at my house though. Do you think they have an “adopt an orchid” program to rescue and rehabilitate my poor little plants?
Longwood Gardens Christmas Food
The Terrace has a number of food options, include the Café, 1906, the Beer Garden and easy-access concession stands for families with kids who just can’t be dragged inside.
There are two main food stands located around Longwood that can fuel you up as you wander around the property. Each has hot cocoa, wine and beer, spiked egg nog, cookies and sometimes fresh mini donuts to keep the kids (and grownups) moving on a cold winter’s night.
You’ll find the first concession stand up near the Terrance Restaurant next to the Garden Railway. The second is over by the Large Lake light display.
We love the Café for its cafeteria-style ordering, which allows everyone in the family to get something they like to eat. Unlike other attractions, the food at the Café is always fresh and there are loads of healthy options. Many entrées are created from seasonal produce.
Once you pay, you are free to bring your food wherever you like, even outside into the heated tents or over to the Garden Railway. And yes mom and dad, beer, wine, coffee, tea and other beverages are available for tired parents in need of a pick-me-up.
Longwood’s Beer Garden
Nothing says the holidays like a great beer garden. Grab pizza, burgers and sandwiches, along with a beer on tap. One of Longwood’s holiday seasonal brews on tap, the Cherry Oatmeal Stout, was developed in partnership with local Victory Brewing and uses Longwood’s own cherries straight from the garden.
Fine dining is available at Longwood Gardens in the form of restaurant 1906. We like to save this spot for just adults, as even the more adventurous child might have trouble with the menu. Make a reservation ahead of time during the holidays, as this is a highly sought-after spot and a lot of groups come in to dine.
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This post is part of a paid partnership with Visit Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley. As always, my opinions are my own. When they aren’t you will be the first to know.