Kicking off the season with the Bronx Zoo at Holiday Lights + special promo code

Photo credit: Julie Larsen

It’s hard to believe it’s already that time of year again! Holiday season is upon us and that means we are excited for all things festive in the Bronx! And one must-see once again this holiday season is Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo. Opening on November 14 for Members and November 17 to the general public, Holiday Lights is returning with new lanterns and interactive light experiences. To celebrate, we asked some of our friends at the Bronx Zoo some questions about the history and preparing for holiday lights, staff’s favorite parts of the experience, and some tips on photographing those amazing light displays! And of course, we have a special promo code for Bronx readers to save 15% off tickets- so keep reading!

Photo credit: Julie Larsen

How long has Holiday Lights been around? How has it changed over the years?

Holiday Lights was a family favorite from the mid 90’s through 2007, before it was sunset. It re-debuted in 2019, with an expanded footprint and all LED lighting technology to provide the community with a ‘green’ holiday experience, in line with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s mission. Each year is bigger and brighter than ever, with new custom-designed animal lanterns and light experiences to explore.

Photo credit: Julie Larsen

How long does it take to set up for Holiday Lights?

Holiday Lights is spread across 12 acres of the Bronx Zoo, so setting up for the event is an all hands on deck project! Our incredible team begins set-up in late August/early September with mini-lights and power distribution, display set-up in early October, and lantern, trees and tunnels set-up in late October. The team works nonstop leading up to Opening Night in mid-November. It takes thousands of hours to transform the zoo into a winter wonderland.

Photo credit: Julie Larsen

How do you decide which animals are represented at Holiday Lights?

We currently have 6 incredible lantern trails that invite families to transport themselves to far away lands and seas, including: Africa, Asia, Latin America, North America, Ocean and the Forest of Color. On each trail you’ll encounter custom-designed animal lanterns featuring species that we have on exhibit at all of our parks (Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo and the New York Aquarium), and that the Wildlife Conservation Society works to protect through our field programs around the world and at our zoos and aquarium in New York. This year you’ll see 64 new lanterns, bringing our total to nearly 400 lanterns, representing almost 100 animal and plant species.

Photo credit: Julie Larsen

What are some staff’s favorite parts of Holiday Lights?

Most importantly, we love being a part of New York holiday traditions and the memories that we make for our guests. Other favorite elements include:

  • The beauty of Astor Court and the dazzling walk-through light tunnel (although it’s not our favorite to install!)
  • Ice carving demonstrations – Be prepared to be amazed as expert artists create wildlife art from giant ice blocks
  • Roasting marshmallows at the fire pits – Warm up at the crackling fire pit as you roast marshmallows to your desired level of perfection before sandwiching them between two graham crackers and a chocolate bar
  • Kid’s favorite holiday train – Designed for our littlest guests, the holiday train is sure to bring a smile to kids’ (of all ages) face
Photo credit: Julie Larsen

What are the most photographed parts of Holiday Lights in past years?

Astor Court is the epitome of holiday magic, making the ideal backdrop for family photos and holiday cards. Here you’ll find amazing animal-themed illuminated performers, alongside a towering holiday tree that features synchronized musical light performances. Not to mention, it’s located within a historical courtyard of the park, featuring a series of Beaux-Arts buildings.

The walk-through light tunnel is another iconic photo opp. Guests love to position themselves in the center of the tunnel or close to the tunnel wall to pick up on the dazzling animal-themed light show that encircles you.

Photo credit: Julie Larsen

Any tips for photographing the lights at night?

To capture memories, our staff photographer, Julie Larsen, has a few tips to share. Our event happens from early evening to after dark, so illuminating your subjects with extra light helps to create the most appealing photos:

  • Turn your group toward the holiday lights to add fill light to faces. Then try taking photos from a side angle.
  • For cell phone photos, use the flashlight feature from a second phone (or more) and direct the light toward your subjects.
  • If using a camera, boost the ISO (increasing the light gathering ability of the camera’s sensor), and use a large aperture to let in more light. Try a slow shutter speed and turn on vibration reduction or image stabilization functions making sure to hold steady to avoid blurry photos.
  • Experiment and have fun!
Photo credit: Julie Larsen

How did the zoo decide which parts of the zoo were best?

In designing all of our events and experiences, our animals are always top-of-mind! We have to be careful that there are no disruptions to animal exhibits that are open during the winter months. Other considerations include:

  • Choosing iconic locations, like Astor Court, that guests will most enjoy
  • Selecting paths that are in close proximities to our entrances, restaurants, and bathroom facilities to ease navigation for guests
  • Ensuring spaces are large enough for the various lantern and light displays, and access to power resources (very crucial!)

Now that you have a little history and some helpful tips on capturing those childhood memories, we hope you add Holiday Lights to your family’s holiday traditions. Those who have been before can look forward to the return of mesmerizing light shows, illuminated performers and seasonal treats. And you can look forward to seeing the brand NEW Enchanted Sea interactive experience celebrating bioluminescent creatures and see NEW lantern displays showcasing the wildlife of New York’s ocean waters and wetlands.

Not to mention we are happy to share that this year, you can book Any-Night tickets, giving your family the option to attend on the evening of your choice. Of course, we can’t leave you hanging without a way to save on this year’s Holiday Lights. BronxMama followers received 15% on tickets with promo code BRONXMAMAHL, including the new Any-Night ticket. Reserve your tickets here.


  1. Thanks so much for the discount code!


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