One of my favorite traditions that started sometime as a kid was visiting Longwood Gardens in southeastern Pennsylvania during the holiday season. Walking through the grounds and the observatory as they are lit and decorated in reds and greens and golds is magical.
The history of Longwood Gardens begins with the native Lenni Lenape who lived and hunted on the land. During the 1700s, a Quaker purchased 400 acres of the land and in the 1730s, his son built a farmhouse that’s still on the property today. The property changed hands many times up until the 1906 when Pierre du Pont purchased the property in an effort to save the arboretum that was there from being cleared. Over the next 30 or so years, Pierre’s property grew from the 200 acres he purchased to over 900 with continued purchases, and during that time he installed a variety of gardens and buildings inspired by his trips abroad. During those years many came to visit the gardens and be entertained by the beautiful scenery and fountain shows. At age 84, Pierre Du Pont passed away, but not before ensuring that the Du Pont Family Legacy would live on by creating the Longwood Foundation which allowed for the gardens to be enjoyed by others in the future.
A Longwood Christmas
Each year at Longwood during the Christmas season, they put on a new themed display of lights and plants both outdoors and in the conservatory. There are various outdoor paths with beautifully decorated trees as well as fire pits and light displays, a garden railway, and an open air theatre with lighted fountains shows that go off throughout the day. Indoors, you can explore the conservatory with beautifully decorated halls and rooms including the music room. There’s also carolers as well as other musical shows that are put on during the holiday season.
Planning Your Visit
Getting Tickets: It’s best to buy your tickets ahead of time online as the time slots often sell out. They’re good for a half hour before or after your time slot.
Hours: Gardens are open 10 AM to 11 PM daily.
Getting There: Longwood Gardens is located about an hour west of Philadelphia, an hour and a half northeast of Baltimore, and two and a half hours southwest of New York City.
Dining: There is a cafe for dining with ready to eat meals, entrees, and desserts. There’s also a beer garden with food trucks and a find dining experience called 1906 that you need reservations for.
Parking: There’s a large parking lot on the premises so you shouldn’t have to park offsite since there is timed entry.
Attire: Bundle up as Decembers days in PA are sure to be cold.
Teddy and I made a visit to Longwood this year on a Sunday. We bought our tickets ahead of time for a 3 PM entry. This way we could walk through part of the gardens in the light but also see it light up after sunset.
Even with the timed entry, there was still quite a lot of people there. We waited in a 10 or so minute line to get into the Conservatory and then the line inside to see the various displays was pretty slow moving, but worth it.
This year’s theme is “Fire, Ice, and Everything Nice” so especially in the conservatory there’s one room with lots of reds and golds and and lanterns and light, and in the next room is the blue and silver decorated ice room. It was incredibly well done and one of my favorites from all the years.
We spent about 3 hours at Longwood in total. We decided to walk counter clockwise when we got there as that’s the opposite direction most people travel which meant we weren’t behind crowds of people while walking. We visited the bell tower and pond, the Conservatory, walked through the boardwalk of lights, watched the trains on the outdoor railroad, smelled the outdoor firepits, viewed the Italian Water Garden light display and then meandered on the path back to the entrance after stopping at the open air theatre for the fountain show.
While it was beautiful by day, after the sun is completely set is even better. A few of my favorites from this year were the spotlights on the woods in pastel colors that I heard someone else say reminded them of Frozen 2, the decorated very large green tea that’s in the meadow you can see from the luminaria lake, the hot chocolate with Baileys and holiday cookie we picked up near the treehouse and the ice display in the Conservatory where it looked like a frozen pond.
All said, booking tickets to explore Longwood during the holiday season is so worth it. It was $30 total for Teddy and I to visit which isn’t cheap, but we really enjoyed our evening here seeing the beautiful gardens and lights.
Other Places You May Like
- If you’re looking for a place for lunch, check out the Whip Tavern which is about 20 minutes from the gardens. They have traditional British food and is such a cool vibe. We made a reservation here about 1.5 hours before our tour at Longwood and it was perfect timing. As it can become very busy, I’d recommend a reservation online before going.
- The other place I’d recommend is Terrain about 25 minutes away that has a beautiful cafe and a garden and home store. I’ve eaten here for lunch before and after a trip to Longwood in the past and adore the vibe of this place, especially at the holidays.
- Herr’s has a free holiday display of lights about 25 minutes southwest of Longwood. It only takes about 10 minutes or so to drive through the grounds, but there’s a lot of lights to view and of very vibrant colors. If you want to see lights in a free and simple way without having to get out of the car, this is the place.