Tips for Taking the Kids to See Christmas Lights Displays

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Celebrate this holiday season by seeing the very best holiday lights. We share tips for the best experience. #holidaylights #christmas #winterwonderland
Celebrate this holiday season by seeing the very best holiday lights. We share tips for the best experience. Photo credit: Pixabay

Take your holiday cheer to the next level by adding holiday celebrations, dazzling light displays and lighting ceremonies to your calendar. Holiday magic starts in mid- to late November when the big cities and small towns roll out their Christmas lights to welcome visitors.

Don’t put off the planning! The kickoff to the holiday season is no longer the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. In reality many holiday light displays open before Turkey Day. Many holiday experiences require reservations or dated tickets so you’ll want to plan early. To make sure the experience is fun for the whole family (and as stress-free as possible) we’ve got tips for visiting Christmas lights displays.

Planning the Perfect Holiday Lights Family Outing

Few things can warm up a winter night and raise the level of holiday cheer quite like a brilliant Christmas lights display. From New York to Hawaii, South Dakota to Texas, London to Sydney, towns around the world create extravagant Christmas light shows each year.

But getting the most out of these annual holiday events means prepping the kids, keeping them warm and choosing the right Christmas lights displays. Little ones may be completely enchanted watching Santa light up a Christmas tree in the town square. But if you want more, read on for the tips you need to get the most out of your holiday experience.

1. Choose the Right Winter Light Display for Your Family

With so many different types of Christmas light displays, selecting the right type of event for your family is key to the success of your trip.

For toddlers and preschoolers with short attention spans, events like zoo lights, a Christmas tree lighting ceremony or a Christmas-themed attraction with activities will minimize meltdowns. Elementary-aged kids usually veer towards activities like ice skating rinks, holiday train rides or amusement park-type Christmas villages.  Adults and older teens love photo opportunity heavy events like  illuminated boat parades and trails that wind through numerous towns.

If it’s super cold or you want to see the lights with a multigenerational group that includes seniors with mobility challenges, consider one of the drive through Christmas lights displays. Gorgeous light tunnels will please everyone and no one wants to feel left out of holiday fun. Holiday markets can also offer some members of your party to sit and watch carolers while others get some holiday shopping done.

Let Everyone Vote for Their Favorite Winter Wonderland Extravaganza

The best way to make sure everyone is in a good mood and invested is to involve them! There are several ways to do this. You can do the research up front and present several options to choose from or you can let everyone give input on what types of activities they’d like to do. People can then voice if they want to see live music, larger-than-life light displays, or stuff their faces with s’mores and hot cocoa.

A child wearing a fluffy white hat and scarf and an aqua winter jacket is dipping a candle into a vat of hot wax at a European Christmas market.
Bundle up for candle making. It’s cold at the Christmas markets! Photo credit: Elizabeth Heath

2. Dress and Pack Appropriately for Outdoor Winter Fun

Nothing kills a happy outing like a toddler who decides she’s freezing two minutes into viewing the magical twinkling lights. Dress the family in layers. Even in the warmest climates, temperatures can dip in the evening when the lights come on. Being prepared is key.

Other things to throw in a bag? Snacks, phone chargers, a blanket for hayrides and a thermos of hot chocolate if you’re feeling festive. A wagon can make a big difference when visiting walk-through Christmas light displays.

Read More:  How to Keep Your Toddler Warm for Winter Travel

holiday lights displays at Santa's Wonderland - this one features christmas polar bears and fountains made out of white lights with blue lights as the back drop
With millions of twinkling LED lights, a giant snowman mascot, carolers and of course Santa Claus, Santa’s Wonderland is a popular destination for Texas families. It’s even open on Christmas Day! Photo credit: Nasreen Stump

3. Review Safety Procedures for Festival of Lights Visits

No, we don’t mean how to make the quickest exit to the car. Light displays tend to happen at night. Add in crowds and darkness and it becomes easy for a little one to dart away quickly.

On the way to the holiday light festival, review safety pointers. Remind preschoolers what to do if they get lost and go over who they should ask for help. With older kids, set a meeting spot. Line the kids up for a quick photo before heading into the event. If they do disappear, you’ll know what they were wearing.

In all likelihood, your visit will go off without a hitch but being prepared is always good!

Read More: Christmas Traditions Around the World and Unusual New Year’s Eve Traditions 

Denver building lit up in the the winter
So many holiday lights in the Mile High City make it worthwhile to visit Denver. Which light festival will you pick? Photo credit: VISIT DENVER

4. It’s the time of the year to try something new.

Are your holiday traditions in a bit of a rut? It’s fantastic to have some staples that you always do. But surprise everyone by shaking things up a bit. If you always visit same living Nativity or drive the same one-mile stretch of the 100-mile holiday lights fest, look for something new to add. With so many unique light experiences out there, you can choose something that will wow everyone.

From underground caverns of lights to giant ice sculptures, there are so many choices to get in the holiday spirit. Involve the kids in planning. Present them with a few options and let them pick.

You don’t have to spend loads of money. Some of the best holiday lights displays are free or charge a small fee to support the community.

Read More: Kid-Friendly Christmas Events Near Los Angeles 

a large oak tree is covered in sparkling green and red christmas lights at night against a dark background of Lincoln Park Zoo lights
Strings of red and green light up a different kind of holiday tree. Lincoln Park’s ZooLights runs from November all the way through the new year. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

5. Plan, Plan, Plan. Start research ahead of the holiday season.

We love to be spontaneous but winging it on Christmas light displays can be tricky. Many Christmas extravaganzas involve advance purchase tickets, reservations or arriving at a set time. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment. Start researching Christmas lights in your area now. We’ve helped you out below with regional lists of Christmas Lights displays. Our writers often share tips on the best ways to maximize your time, avoid crowds, where to park and what to pack. 

When you’re researching your area, look for events and pages on Facebook. A lot of smaller community-level Christmas lights don’t maintain websites. Look for tips from folks who have been there. Check your local zoos, arboretums, botanic garden and amusement parks. Many do special holiday activities and events that your family will love. 

Read More: 10 Best Places to Visit in December to Fill You with Holiday Cheer

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Nasreen Stump Avatar
Nasreen’s adventures started out as business travel. Working as a territory sales manager she covered 21 states during her tenure, traveling 3-5 nights a week. As she visited new cities and states, she always worked in a quick stop at a unique or iconic site. A travel writing career was born. When her father-in-law’s cancer came back she started writing and consulting full-time around his chemotherapy schedule. Traveling with her firefighter/paramedic husband, kids, friends and solo allows her to cover a variety of situations and topics. Her four kids (19 year old boy, 13 year old girl, 11 year old girl and 7 year old boy) are professionals at the cross country road trip. After 10 years in Texas, their family is back in the Northeast exploring both familiar and new destinations. There she runs her own business providing go-to-market, sales strategy, podcast, and content marketing consulting for websites and B2B businesses. Whenever possible she writes for a variety of publications in the podcast, travel, and business space. Connect with her on LinkedIn to chat about travel, content, sales, and podcasts!
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7 responses


  1. My southeast families follow this good advice—-and when one wing says “been there enough years, time for a new tradition,” another part of the family declares, “We’re going this year!”
    Holiday lights and family stories go hand-in-hand.

  2. Canadian here:(

  3. 5

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