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Gorgeous year-round, Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square transforms into a truly magical place at Christmas. From just before Thanksgiving to just after New Year’s, the grounds are decked out in over 550,000 lights that glow, dance, shimmer, and even move in time to music. Christmas trees, light orbs, and remarkable seasonal creations decorate the indoor and outdoor spaces in the grand spectacle that is A Longwood Christmas.
For over 60 years, Longwood has pulled out all the stops for the holidays, and, yet, it seems to get brighter and more creative every year. From the Garden Railway landscape to the decorations made from plants to the unique uses of water and reflections, every winter brings something new and fantastic. This year, the event runs from November 17, 2023 through January 7, 2024. Here’s a look at why visiting Longwood Gardens at Christmas is a must.
The historic house is decorated for the holidays
Built in 1730, the Peirce-du Pont House is the oldest remaining building on the estate and is always a popular spot to see. Not only is it an ideal place to warm up for a few minutes, but the house features information about the history of the du Pont family, the property, and the gardens along with artifacts and a film.
There are always several trees inside and out. The interior tree shimmers with hundreds of lights, and its sheer size makes it the focal point of the house. Wreaths, topiaries, and poinsettias decorate the windows and spaces within the glass conservatory. There is no shortage of garlands, poinsettias, and greenery here.
Visitors of all ages love the Garden Railway
Around the garden, there are lots of spots designed to appeal to younger visitors, but it’s the Garden Railway that tops the list for most. For over 20 years, the miniature train has been a huge draw for kids and other lovers of locomotives. You can’t help but be drawn by watching it circle through the illuminated landscape.
Every season, designers create a multi-level miniature world for the dozens of engines and train cars to pass through. You’ll even find Thomas the Tank Engine chugging along. Altogether, they make their way along 500 feet of elevated track winding past flowering plants, woodland elements, and miniature buildings that are specially constructed every season. It’s a sight to behold.
The Conservatory is a work of art
There are so many stunning elements to Christmas at Longwood Gardens that I start to run out of superlatives in describing them. But, for me, the East Conservatory and its adjoining rooms are where the brilliance of Longwood is the clearest.
The Christmas trees and other plants almost seem to be made from light. Every year, they also incorporate several water features and fountains that result in ethereal reflections and pools that make the plants seem to float.
As you walk through the Orangery and along the indoor garden path, plants are shaped into remarkable decorations. Whether it’s multi-colored succulents that become wreaths or flowers and vines trained into arches or orbs, the horticultural artistry is a level of insane creativity. When you add illuminated presents, thousands of ornaments, and gleaming icicles, the whole effect is mesmerizing. It’s what makes seeing the Longwood Gardens Christmas lights one of the best things to do near Philadelphia at Christmas.
You can warm up by the fire pits
The weather can sometimes be a bit brisk during the nearly two months that the lights are up from mid-November through early January. The three fire pits around the property provide the perfect opportunity to get some relief from the cold.
Fountain shows are festive
Fountain shows in the historic Open Air Theatre are one of the can’t miss experiences at Christmas. The water emerges from the floors of the theater lit in brilliant and ever-changing colors as everything moves in time with holiday music.
The fountain light shows run every day throughout the day and evening. While I like the show during the day, the colors and water synchronization at night is something special.
There are plenty of food options
Whether you’re looking for lunch, dinner, a snack, or a hot drink to warm up, there’s an option here that will fit the bill.
Longwood’s fine dining restaurant 1906 features a pre-fixe menu with dishes that change seasonally ranging from mushroom risotto to filet mignon (reservations are recommended). For more informal meals, the Café is a cafeteria-style option with soups, salads, sandwiches, and hot entrees. The Beer Garden right beside the Garden Railway offers barbecue, pizza, and beers from local favorite Victory Brewing Company.
Other food stands will keep you fueled with hot chocolate, spiked eggnog, warm cookies, and even donuts straight from the fryer.
Photo opportunities are all around
The stunning holiday scenery provides great backdrops for photos just about everywhere around the property. During the day, you’ll be spoiled for choice with all the decorations. If you’re visiting at night, look for places that have a little bit more ambient light so that people’s faces will be visible in the photos.
The light tunnel is always a popular spot for photos. It’s 200 feet long, so, if you’re patient, it’s not too hard to get a nice shot without lots of people. The Peirce-du Pont House provides several good spots, especially by the Christmas trees. Almost everywhere in the Conservatory is also a good bet for a photo day or night—whether by the gorgeous trees in the main area or with the classical decorations in the Music Room, there are lots of options here.
There is lots of live music
Many nights throughout the holiday season, singers and musicians lend their talents to make the Longwood experience even more joyful.
The Galena Brass band is frequently outside the Peirce-du Pont House entertaining visitors with traditional and contemporary music. The Olde Towne Carolers, who look like they just stepped out of a Victorian storybook, stroll through the outdoor gardens about four days a week, too.
Organ sing-alongs are also a huge part of the celebration at Longwood. The grand organ in the Ballroom provides the music as visitors sing carols.