Special to 1812Blockhouse
‘Tis the season … for millions of holiday lights, enchanting holiday displays, themed train rides, charming towns decked out in festive décor and special adventures in Ohio’s state parks. Whatever you’re looking for to make the holiday season festive and fun, you can find it here, in Ohio.
Ohio. Find It Here., the state’s tourism division, is kicking off its annual Holidays in Ohio campaign, designed to guide Ohioans and out-of-state visitors to some of the holiday season’s best events, attractions and activities.
“Ohio is a wonderful place to explore any time of year, but it’s especially beautiful during the holiday season,” said Gov. Mike DeWine. “There are so many ways to experience magical moments all across the state with friends and family.”
Ohio boasts top holiday zoo lights in the U.S.
Ohio’s five zoos each display over 1 million lights that make them must-see attractions during the holidays. In fact, three of the zoo displays — Cincinnati, Toledo and Columbus — consistently rank among the best in the U.S.
- The Cincinnati Zoo’s PNC Festival of Lights, now in its 40th year, features more than 4 million LED lights, an all-new Santa’s village and a North Pole Express train ride. It has been voted the best zoo lights in the country for four consecutive years in USA TODAY’s Readers’ Choice poll.
- The Toledo Zoo’s Lights Before Christmas, presented by KeyBank, features more than 1 million lights and 200 illuminated animal images. It was voted the second-best zoo lights in the country in USA TODAY’s Readers’ Choice poll last year.
- The Columbus Zoo’s Wildlights, efficiently powered by AEP, was voted the second-best zoo lights in the country by the Travel Channel. Visitors of all ages will enjoy the animated musical light shows as well as displays featuring more than 3 million LED lights.
- Wild Winter Lights, presented by NOPEC, transforms the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo into a winter wonderland with hundreds of displays and more than 1 million individual lights. Guests can enjoy the displays on foot or by car, depending on the date.
- Wild Lights at the Akron Zoo, presented by Akron Children’s Hospital, features more than 1 million lights in a variety of stunning displays, including the Holly Jolly Hillside and a wall of animated lights set to music.
“PNC Festival of Lights draws people from all over the tri-state area,” said Joelle Gilbert, Cincinnati Zoo events manager. “The Cincinnati Zoo is minutes away from Kentucky and Indiana and well worth the drive for visitors from other states that want to make a trip to the city this holiday season.”
Ohio Holiday Lights Trail includes more displays than ever before
With 55 stops, including the five zoos, this year’s Ohio Holiday Lights Trail is the largest since its inception six years ago. Nearly all the attractions have at least 100,000 lights or more. Here are just a few of the displays on the trail:
- Butch Bando’s Fantasy of Lights in Delaware is a family-operated drive-thru light show that is celebrating its 23rd anniversary. Named after the patriarch of the Bando family, the Fantasy of Lights each year supports several local nonprofit organizations.
- The Kings Island Winterfest captures the spirit of the season with dazzling light displays, carriage rides, ice skating, parades and more. USA TODAY readers voted it one of the top theme park holiday events in 2021.
- Akron’s Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens presents “Deck the Hall: Gracious Gathering.” Outside, more than 1 million holiday lights illuminate the estate’s gardens and grounds. Inside, the decorated rooms of the Manor House are inspired by the theme of “gracious gatherings.”
- The historic Clifton Mill will present “Legendary Lights,” voted one of the 10 best public holiday lights displays in USA TODAY’s 2020 and 2021 Readers’ Choice Awards. More than 4 million twinkling bulbs light up the mill, gorge, riverbanks, bridges and trees. The Instagram-worthy 100-foot “waterfall” of twinkling lights is particularly breathtaking.
- The new Sandusky County “Rock and Awe” holiday light show, located at the Sandusky County Courthouse in Fremont, is a fully immersive light show that synchronizes lights and props to favorite holiday songs.
Can’t miss holiday events and attractions in Ohio
Looking to find special ways in addition to light displays to celebrate the holidays? Check out the “Can’t Miss Holiday Events” blog on Ohio.org for a comprehensive list of holiday happenings across the state, including craft shows, live performances, and Kwanzaa and Hanukkah celebrations, among other things. Here’s a sample:
- At the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad’s North Pole Adventure, guests enjoy caroling, refreshments and interacting with elves as they hand-deliver their letters for Santa to the North Pole postmaster.
- The world’s largest collection of life-size nutcrackers will be on display in historic downtown Steubenville throughout the holiday season. The Steubenville Nutcracker Village, which is free and open to the public, features 200 nutcrackers, each one handcrafted at Nelson’s, a small, family-owned company in Steubenville.
- Celebrate the Festival of Lights at the Menorah Lighting Ceremony on Cleveland’s Public Square Dec. 21 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
- Now in its 37th year, WinterLand, which kicks off the Saturday after Thanksgiving with a holiday lighting ceremony on downtown Cleveland’s Public Square, features ice skating, visits from Santa, musical performances and more.
- The Ohio History Connection in Columbus will celebrate the seven days of Kwanzaa Dec. 26-31 with a series of events featuring music, dance, storytelling and hands-on art activities.
- Considered America’s largest indoor Christmas entertainment attraction, Castle Noel in Medina features costumes from classic holiday movies, animated window displays from New York City department stores, a big red slide and visits with Santa Claus himself.
- Sawmill Creek Resort’s “Season of Joy” will help guests get in the holiday spirit with all the sights, sounds, and tastes of the North Coast. The newly renovated resort will feature live music, comedy shows, holiday movies, and special libations all through the holiday season.
- Since its release in 1983, A Christmas Story remains a classic holiday movie, and visiting the Cleveland house where it was filmed is a special holiday tradition for many. With the release this year of the sequel, A Christmas Story Christmas, fans will be even more interested in visiting the house where it all began.
Charming towns and state parks capture the spirit of the season
Ohio is home to dozens of charming towns that go all out for the holidays, with parades, festivals, light displays, carriage rides, and made in Ohio gifts for everyone on your list, plus other fun festivities.
“While you’re out and about this holiday season, we encourage you to support Ohio’s small business community,” said Lydia Mihalik, director of the Ohio Department of Development. “Whether you’re shopping on main street or downtown, you’re sure to find the perfect gifts for your loved ones at a locally owned Ohio small business.”
If you want to feel like you’re in your own holiday Hallmark movie, consider visiting one or more of Ohio’s charming towns. The historic town of Lebanon celebrates all season long with beautiful light displays, the LM&M Railroad’s North Pole Express train rides and visits with Santa Claus. Meanwhile, Findlay gets into the holiday spirit with a holiday window decorating contest among downtown businesses, festive light displays, and a miniature train ride through a winter wonderland of sparkling lights and festive decorations.
Ohio’s state parks also go all out for the holidays, offering affordable, close-to-home getaways that promise plenty of holiday cheer. Ohio’s 10 state park lodges, including the new Hocking Hills State Park Lodge, will be decked out with trees, lights and other décor, and most offer activities like craft shows, campfires, cookie decorating, story time and breakfast with Santa. You’ll feel like you’re in a winter wonderland when you visit an Ohio state park!
Share your holiday adventures on social media using #HolidaysinOhio and #OhioFindItHere. For more holiday ideas and inspiration, follow @OhioFindItHere on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, or visit Ohio.org.