Gardens Aglow on Cape Cod is New England’s Best Holiday Lights (5 stars PLUS)
Gardens Aglow is annual holiday lights event in Sandwich, the part of Cape Cod closest to Boston. It takes places at nighttime at Heritage Museums and Gardens, my favorite Cape Cod destination, and I last gave it 5 stars in 2018.
You’ll find plenty of holiday lights displays in New England where the lights are themselves the showcase. Standing alone in a field you’ll see a display of Frosty the Snowman made of lights.
At Gardens Aglow, instead the gardens are the focus. The “landscape lighting” has no function except to show off the trees, bushes, and pathways. It makes what is already a beautiful daytime destination even more magical (my 5-star summertime review). This integrated design also makes the place feel more arty than other holiday light locations.
Across the extensive grounds, you’ll find a Cape Cod windmill whose paths are lined with tulips, laser effects like fireflies darting around forest trees, a tunnel of lights, and a labyrinth. It took us two hours to walk the whole thing, and we could easily have stayed for longer.
Keep your eyes open and you’ll see little alcoves off the main path where you can have an intimate moment. You’ll find a performance stage, a waterfall, and a grotto to have all to yourself for a while. Wooden Santa’s reindeer are placed all around and you can try to spot them all.
The gardens have paved pathways that make it easy for strollers. One area with uneven bricks was too slippery for my friend on crutches, and the stairs down into the grotto with blue lined paths and wedding arch need better lighting.
A unique feature of Gardens Aglow is how easy it is to find seating. Benches are everywhere in the park, and for those who find the walking too much, they have a courtesy shuttle.
The attraction is surprisingly warm, too. I forgot my coat in the car and I was fine. With the forest so close around you, unlike for example Edaville Railroad, it blocks the wind. And you’ll find fire pits all over, including one with free marshmallows to roast.
Gardens Aglow is also perhaps the only true indoor / outdoor holiday lights attraction in New England. They have a cafe and a store where you can buy a necklace of blinking holiday lights, and indoor carousel and an automobile museum!
The auto museum has two levels of old timey cars, and even on a Saturday the line to greet Santa was short. We saw a son of cute kids and the event was far from crowded. (I personally think that Gardens Aglow could accept 2 or 3 times as many guests before declaring the event ‘sold out’.)
You’ll also find a stand selling donuts and hot and cold apple cider, and cornhole games, and other treats. Their daytime art museum is closed for the event.
As someone who is not actually a Christian, I appreciated the secular theming for the event. You won’t find a creche with baby Jesus, just some Christmas trees and Santa. The holiday music played throughout the attraction was mainly of the “Baby it’s cold outside” variety, although a couple of “Holy night” Jesus songs did sneak in.
As the owner of Events INSIDER for 17 years, I’ve been to winter light attractions all over New England. I love living history destinations like Old Sturbridge Village and Candlelight Stroll at Strawbery Banke, but they are more theme parks than winter light events.
I used to name Edaville Railroad as the best winter lights event in New England, but as its grown it’s become more just for kids, not for adults too, and more about the theme park rides than the natural forest. Six Flags is great but as a completely manmade, paved attraction it’s sort of the opposite of natural beauty.
Other favorites are Night Lights: Winter Reimagined at Tower Hill Botanical Gardens and Stone Zoo’s ZooLights, but Heritage Museums and Gardens is just larger and better with its carousel, auto museum, and landscape lighting design.
So this year, Gardens Aglow is the best winter lights in New England! I’ll give it our rate 5 stars PLUS. The event is sold out for this year, so mark your calendar to get in early for next year!
See more at heritagemuseumsandgardens.org.