Last winter my family planned a fun trip to check out the Longwood Gardens Christmas displays! Here’s a little guide based on our day there.
Anyone who’s grown up in southeastern PA knows the name “Longwood Gardens.” It’s one of those places that’s so familiar, I was sure I’d been there before as a kid! I mean, maybe I did go once upon a time on an elementary school field trip, but last year when I was putting together my Pennsylvania bucket list, I realized that if I had been, I had no concrete memory of it!
Sooooo many people come here to visit, especially for engagements or engagement photos. Like I can count at least five couples off the top of my head that have come here. I don’t blame them either — no matter the season, Longwood Gardens is over a thousand acres of pure beauty.
I knew while I was home I wanted to visit for its famous Christmas decorations. Luckily, we managed to schedule a day my cousins could join us, so it was a whole outing! If you want to plan a trip as well, here’s all you need to know.
A Little History to Longwood Gardens
Before I dive into the Longwood Gardens at Christmas (which runs from around end of November through mid-January), here’s a little history on why this place exists to begin with.
Really, the land belonged to the Lenni Lenape tribe for thousands of years. Of course, as with most of the United States, this pretty much ended with colonization. The history of Longwood thus starts with George Peirce, a Quaker farmer who bought 402 acres in 1700 to turn into a farm.
After his death, his twin sons, Samuel and Joshua, began creating an arboretum around 1798 and in a short fifty years it boasted one of the best collections of trees in the country. Peirce Park, as it was known then, was a popular spot for picnics!
Unfortunately, after Samuel and Joshua, the Peirce family didn’t see it too important to keep up the park and in 1906 the gardens were almost destroyed when a lumber mill wanted the land.
Instead Pierre du Pont purchased it and began shaping Peirce Park into what we see today. Pierre grew up with an appreciation of natural beauty, so I can just imagine his horror knowing a lumber mill was about to replace over 40 acres of carefully cultivated trees. Luckily he was pretty rich. Even if you don’t know who he is exactly, you’ve definitely heard of the name “du Pont” before.
Before purchasing Peirce Park, Pierre traveled quite a bit and was inspired by what he saw abroad, especially the gardens he saw in Europe and the nature he saw south of the border. This is probably why many of the gardens he created follow French and Italian designs.
Under Pierre is when Peirce Park became Longwood Gardens. The name probably comes from The Long Woods, a nickname for a nearby forest area. It also expanded a bunch — by the 1930s he had purchased 25 surrounding properties and the gardens grew to 926 acres. It became a public garden in 1946 to be run by the Longwood Foundation.
And that pretty much brings us up to today! Throughout the remainder of the 20th century, Longwood Gardens grew and adapted to the times, including adding more sustainable measures, hosting various events, and offering different education programs.
The Longwood Gardens Christmas Displays & Lights
Okay, and now onto Longwood Gardens’ famous Christmas display! While you can visit any time of the year, this is a truly special time. It’s so beautifully decorated, it’s hard not to get into the spirit!
My family went earlier in the day, so we didn’t get to see all the lights at night, but there’s still plenty to see during the day and it’s probably a little less crowded. We did a sort of circle starting with the Conservatory so I’ll walk you through our path. Here’s a map so you can get a visual. When you go, you can use a mobile map or get one of the brochures at the entrance.
For daytime visitors, the Conservatory is probably the place to visit for Christmas decorations. The whole building was constructed between 1919 and 1921 and covers about 4 acres with 20 rooms — most of which are full of festive decorations. Heck even the hall with the bathrooms is pretty as there’s a big green wall right at the entrance.
I’m going to be honest, I’m not 100% sure which pictures came from which part of the Conservatory, but I added my best guesses from memory. If you’ve been to Longwood Gardens before, feel free to correct!
Also note, for this year there will be a one-way walking route instead of a free for all.
I mean, I wasn’t kidding when I said every part of the Conservatory is decked out for Christmas.
I’m pretty sure this is the East Conservatory since we came in through the entrance on its left side. With in this part is the Camellia House, Garden Path, and an Indoor Children’s Garden. It was built in 1973 to replaced the Azalea House.
Originally built in 1929, what you see today comes after major renovations finishing in 2005. Fun fact: the ceiling is made up of over a thousand panes of rose-colored etched glass! There’s also the Pipe Organ & Gallery attached.
When we went the Music Room was transformed into an old school confectionary shop! Super fun, baby blue decor with two huge trees and a bunch of treats from Shane Confectionery in Philly, which is the oldest continually operating candy shop in the US. Sadly, you couldn’t eat the candy lol.
Exhibition Hall & Orangery
In the center is this huge area with sunken marble floors that look a bit like they’re a little flooded to reflect the displays. They usually just drain it for when they hold performances. Back in the day the du Ponts held many dinner parties and dances here, and the bougainvillea that wraps around the pillars and along the walls is all from the original planting from a century ago. Definitely my favorite exhibit in the Consevatory.
If you exit through here, you’ll walk through the Orangery, which is named so because it used to house citrus fruit trees.
Western Side to the Conservatory
I can’t remember how much of the western side we saw, but there are a ton of smaller rooms: the waterlily display (which only goes from May – October), Acacia Passage, Silver Garden, Orchid House, Banana House, Tropical Terrace, Palm House, Fern Passage, Rose House, Estate Fruit House, Growing House, and Cascade Garden. Super lush!
Main Fountain Gardens
In front of the conservatory are the Main Fountain Gardens and further out, Chimes Tower. We walked along the side to go back towards the Visitor Center and over to the east end of Longwood. I don’t think we even went into the area with Chimes Tower. This whole area is probably a lot prettier in the other seasons — in the winter it’s pretty dead!
Near Visitor’s Center
If you head back towards the Visitor Center, there’s this huge Christmas tree to see.
Flower Garden Drive
We continued along towards what I think is Flower Garden Drive. It’s really quite pretty as both sides of the road are lined with bald cypress trees, something that originally came from the Peirces. Parallel is the Flower Garden Walk which, if I remember correctly, is also a place to you’ll more likely want to visit in the spring and summer months, not the dead of winter when everything is…well, dead.
Large & Small Lakes
If you continue on this path, you’ll eventually get to the lake area. We stayed on the path next to the Small Lake, but you’ll probably also see the Large Lake at some point. They once were the setting of many Peirce family picnics and during Longwood Christmas, they’re especially pretty at night when you can see the lights reflected.
Canopy Cathedral Treehouse
The reason I’d keep straight on the road next to the Small Lake is because you might miss this quirky little stop if you turn and use the roads near the Large Lake! There are actually three treehouses around Longwood but this is the coolest looking. The design is inspired by Norwegian churches and, like the others, was made in 2008 using mostly reclaimed materials.
Wouldn’t it be cool if one day they re-did it in a way that you could book it to stay overnight?
This area might be my favorite spot in Longwood! Probably because it reminds me so much of Suncheon Bay and that’s one of my favorite places in Korea. If you really wanted to go all around the Meadow Gardens, you’d probably need another hour as it’s around 3 miles of trails. If you do want to go through here, you’ll be able to find the Webb Farmhouse & Galleries.
Along the western side of the Meadow Gardens are the other two treahouses in Longwood — the Birdhouse and the Lookout Loft. I think we walked by the Birdhouse but exited before we saw the Lookout Loft.
Peirce-du Pont House
After you exit the Meadow Garden, you’ll hit the Peirce-du Pont House. This brick house with its mini-conservatory is the brick house that Joshua Peirce originally built back in 1730, making it the oldest building in Longwood. Of course, it’s been heavily renovated, notably by Pierre in 1906 and 1914 (which is when he added the conservatory).
Right outside the Peirce-du Pont House is the Garden Railway display. I kind of love the whimsical train displays that come out around Christmas! My dad used to set up a huge one when we were younger, and this one is like that but obviously much bigger. Longwood Gardens has had this fun display for twenty years now. They go into how it’s put together in this post. Make sure you watch long enough to spot Thomas the Tank Engine!
After you finish with the Garden Railway, you can continue walking towards the dining area and turn to head back to the Visitor Center! That sums up our day at Longwood Gardens. As you can see, it’s pretty huge. We were there for a few hours and still didn’t see everything.
Longwood Gardens Christmas Information for 2020-2021
Okay, now for all the nitty gritty info you may need for planning your trip this Christmas season!
Beyond the displays, here are some events you may want to time your visits around:
Christmas Light Show
Outdoor lights come on around 12:00 PM while the Large Lake and Main Fountain displays come on at 4:00 PM.
Open Air Theatre Fountain Show
These will run from 10:00 AM – 11:00 PM. This is the only fountain running through the winter season.
Rob Dickenson and the Brandywine Christmas Minstrels are holding some outdoor concerts near the Peirce-du Pont House. Check here for dates and times. Normally there are also Organ Sing-Alongs and choral performances but, of course, those are out this year.
Just a heads up, tickets are a little more expensive ($25 vs $30) when the Christmas displays are up. And they can sell out quite quickly, so buy as soon as you know your times. Prices are:
- Adults 19+: $30.00 USD
- Seniors 62+: $27.00 USD
- College Students: $27.00 USD
- Active Military & Veteran: $23.000 USD
- Youth 5-18: $16.00
- Youth 0-4: Free
You have to purchase a timed ticket in advance. There’s a 30 minutes buffer before and after the time on your tickets. Also be sure to have a copy or have it up on your phone for contactless admission.
Longwood Gardens is also open longer during the Christmas season!
- Hours: 10:00 AM – 11:00 PM
- Days: Everyday
Normally they’re only open until 6:00 PM and closed on Tuesdays. Also note that once you enter, you can’t exit and re-enter.
Food & Drinks
There are random drink and snack stands all throughout the park (I clearly remember getting kettle corn and hot chocolate near the Canopy Cathedral). The main dining area, though, is at The Terrace, which is east of the Conservatory.
For fancier dining, you can eat at 1906. During the Christmas season, you can reserve a special lunch or dinner here, and YUM the menus look so good. Lunch is $45/person and served 11:30 AM – 2:00 PM. Dinner is $95/person and served 4:00 PM – 8:00 PM.
If you want to dine here, you have to purchase Garden tickets, and both reserve and pay in advance. You can either use OpenTable or call 610-388-5290.
The Café and Beer Garden
For a more casual fair, you can had to the Café and Beer Garden to get food. It’s pretty open from 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM. We stopped in for a bathroom break and I remember it being pretty packed. The hours during the Christmas season differ, so here’s the breakdown:
Nov 20 – Dec 17 & Jan 4 -10
- Mon – Thurs: 4:00 PM – 1:00 PM
- Fri – Sun: 12:00 PM – 10:00 PM
Dec 18 – Jan 3
- Daily: 12:00 PM – 10:00 PM
We didn’t eat a proper meal at Longwood since my mom made a late lunch/early dinner for us all back at home, so I don’t know if the food is worth it or not.
Besides normal safety precautions (like…not climbing on anything or smoking), you must wear a mask if you’re over the age of 2 in all spaces unless you can maintain a distance of 6 feet from others outdoors. The gardens also have hand sanitizing stations all throughout the gardens now.
Info for Kids
Normally, I don’t really add in a kid section because, if you haven’t met me, I don’t travel with kids! However on this family outing, my cousin had two kiddos under the age of five, so now I can tell you if Longwood Gardens is kid-friendly or not.
I mean, in short, it is! Plenty of space for younger families to run around and there are specific childrens’ gardens as well. They also offer stroller rentals. Check their family section for more info.
Stay near Longwood Gardens?
If you’re from out of state, you’ll probably stay in Philly and just make a day trip out here. However, if you’re looking for a proper city escape, there are actually a lot of cute bed and breakfasts in the area. Some I saw:
- Wild Wisteria B&B – Less than 10 minutes; historic house older than our nation but with renovations are as new as 2019
- Faunbrook B&B – a Victorian inn, 20 minutes away in nearby West Chester
- Hamanassett B&B – English country house from the 1800s, dog-friendly, 25-minutes away in Media
- Stottsville Inn – newly renovated historic inn, 25-minutes away in Coatesville
While you can click those links to book, you might actually be better off contacting the inns directly either online or by phone. If you ask about Longwood Gardens, they usually have some kind of package.
Nearby Longwood Gardens
Longwood is located in Kennett Square, PA, which is a town I really haven’t been to! The main thing I can recommend is The Creamery of Kennett Square since I’ve been there for a random yoga event. As you might guess from the name, it was once used for a condensed milk company and is now a pop-up beer garden and community space. Depending on when you finish at the gardens, you could pop over here for food!
Kennet Square itself looks quite cute though and has its own Christmas events! Check their website if you need some more ideas of what to do.
And there you have it! A complete guide to help you plan for a Longwood Gardens visit — complete with tips and more. Have you been?