Photography Cameron Flaisch

The holidays serve as a time to focus on family and, together, observe the beauty that makes this season special. The city of Atlanta, Ga., teems with excitement during the holiday hustle and bustle as families make preparations for Christmas Day. Between visits from the in-laws, last-minute mall runs and selecting the perfect tie your dad may never wear, it can be difficult to find a peaceful place to get away with loved ones. However, right in the heart of the city, the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s annual Garden Lights, Holiday Nights event offers a beautiful escape for the whole family. 

Since 2011, the Atlanta Botanical Garden has illuminated the city with a symphony of celestial lights, opening the eyes of visitors to sights and sounds that have become a true holiday tradition. Inside the gates of the garden, families find themselves surrounded by over 2 million lights, easily making Garden Lights, Christmas Lights one of the most-anticipated holiday attractions inside the city limits. Last year alone, Garden Lights, Holiday Nights brought over 168,000 guests to the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

"It’s like a winter wonderland in the middle of Atlanta. They really make this place magical year round, but the lights just make it all more special.”

Each year, new attractions are added and displays enhanced throughout the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s 30 acres. This year, guests will notice a larger display of giant stars suspended throughout the treetops of the Southern Seasons Garden, forming a galaxy of red and green above their path. Also new this year, the garden debuts its Walk of Flames pathway. Illuminating the Camellia Walk, it features 21 flames flickering in three different sizes and varying colors to form a candle-lit pathway. At the end, guests find themselves standing at the Tunnel of Light, a 100-foot-long, picture-perfect tunnel blanketed in an array of red, orange and white light.

In addition to the new exhibits, many old favorites have returned. The Orchestral Orbs, which decorate the Great Lawn, once again dance to holiday music and display over 1 million color variations, depending on the song’s rhythm. Also returning is the Ice Goddess, with over 25,000 lights cascading down her hair into a small reflective pond. For those in search of a spot for the perfect family photo, the vibrant red Poinsettia Tree in Orchid Center will more than suffice. Plus, children of all ages can enjoy the Holiday Model Trains as they travel through a specially created train garden. 

Among the spectators, Amy Bailey and little Charlie are amazed as they tour the event for the first time.

“It’s like a winter wonderland in the middle of Atlanta,” she explains as Charlie points at one of the overhanging stars. “They really make this place magical year round, but the lights just make it all more special.”

One of the many unique features of Garden Lights, Holiday Nights is the interaction between guests and the exhibits. As opposed to the drive-through light show found most frequently, this event allows guests to walk at their leisure, experiencing the show instead of simply observing it.

For visitors seeking refreshments along the way, the route features several cash bars, hot chocolate stands and s’mores pits. However, those looking for a full dining experience can make a reservation at Linton’s. This new, on-site restaurant offers a unique, farm-to-table-style dining experience, even using certain ingredients from the garden itself. 

“It all started when our CEO, Mary Pat Mershon, who moved to Atlanta from Utah, began her first Christmas here in the city,” explains Daniel Flanders, public relations manager, who has been with Atlanta Botanical Garden since the first Garden Lights, Holiday Nights show in 2011. “She was surprised that there wasn’t more going on for Christmas, and though there were some light shows going on at that time, none of them gave Atlanta a true holiday tradition. So, she had the idea to start a light show at the gardens, but not a traditional light show with Santa Clauses, snowmen, and elves – a more contemporary and unique show. The project took eight years of planning and raising funds to bring about the show we see today.”

To put on such a spectacle of lights is no small feat. In fact, it takes almost five months to fully decorate the garden for this unique event. The show features over 362,000 feet (69 miles) of light strands, which put into perspective is about the same distance between Atlanta and Athens, Ga. Simply storing these lights between shows requires 4,000 square feet of space. During the preparation months, it takes 30 workers to handle stringing lights alone, and outside contractors are often hired.

“It’s hard to believe, but we start putting up the lights in late July,” says Flanders. “It can be 100 degrees outside and we have people hanging up Christmas lights in the trees; it really takes that long to put together a show like this.”

The mission of the Atlanta Botanical Garden is to develop and maintain plant collections for display, education, research, conservation, and enjoyment, and in accordance with its goal of sustainability, the show uses low energy-consuming LED lights powered by renewable energy sources.

Garden Member Nancy Collop, a yearly visitor of the Garden Lights show, appreciates the attention to detail. “The meticulous effort needed to construct the brilliant lights never ceases to amaze me,” she says. “Marveling the lights with my family has become a tradition that will continue for years.”

Whether this is your first time experiencing Garden Lights, Holiday Nights or it has become one of your family’s Christmas traditions, this year’s light show is not to be overlooked. The show will be open though Jan. 7.    

For more information, call the Atlanta Botanical Garden at 404-876-5859 or visit online at