Philly's 18 Most Brilliant Lights & Light Shows — Visit Philadelphia
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Philly's 18 Most Brilliant Lights & Light Shows — Visit Philadelphia

Jul 30, 2023

Let there be light!

The holiday season isn't the only time of year that Greater Philadelphia illuminates with neon, LED and color-changing light (though those holiday light shows are pretty spectacular). Year-round luminescent displays add charm and whimsy to tiny alleys and massive structures alike, dazzling spectators up close and from afar.

One of this year's marquee light-centric exhibits: Light: Installations by Bruce Munro at Longwood Gardens, which boasts 18,000 illuminated bulbs, 1,000 flamingoes, 1,820 bottles filled with a single fiber optic cable and more.

For indoor mood lighting, the Neon Museum of Philadelphia, Wonderspaces and Museum of Illusions have exhibits that immerse you in the glow.

Plus, public art and lighting displays at Boathouse Row and Franklin Square make light gazing an accessible experience regardless of your budget or timeframe.

Here's where to bask in the glow of light in Greater Philadelphia. (And for the record, we agree: Sunset can't come soon enough.)

Through Sunday, August 14, 2022

The Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival — returning for the first time in three years — illuminates Franklin Square with dozens of massive, intricate, handcrafted lanterns constructed by artisans from China. Each night during the festival, the square comes alive with thousands of LED lights strewn across different displays. All 30-plus lantern designs are brand new for 2022. Expect a walk-through bamboo forest, a giant whale (that swims!), plenty of mythological creatures and interactive installations like a kaleidoscope selfie spot. Also on the docket at this uber-popular ticketed event: live cultural performances, shopping, dining, the Dragon Beer Garden and more.

Where: Franklin Square, 200 N. 6th Street

Through Sunday, October 30, 2022

A decade after British artist Bruce Munro first exhibited at Longwood Gardens, the artist returns with Light: Installations by Bruce Munro, comprising eight installations situated both indoors and outdoors. Don't miss works like Field of Light, featuring 18,000 illuminated stemmed orbs lit by fiber optics along Longwood's Large Lake, and a giant sphere made of 1,820 recyclable bottles in the East Conservatory.

Where: Longwood Gardens, 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square

Through December 2022

Proof that art really is a force for good, this neon billboard on Kensington Avenue is a collaborative poem written by East and West Kensington residents, elementary school students and individuals impacted by substance use and housing insecurity. Born out of poetry workshops led by former Philadelphia poet laureate, Trapeta Mayson, the artwork, called Kensington Healing Verse, serves as a beacon of hope for the community.

Where: 2400 Kensington Ave, 2400 Kensington Avenue

Note: As of March 20, 2023, Boathouse Row's iconic lights are undergoing maintenance, and will remain dark through the end of 2023. Read more here.

The 19th-century boat houses that make up Boathouse Row are quaint during the day, but at night, they resemble little cottages awash in lights. One of the most iconic views in the city, Boathouse Row is best seen from either Fairmount Water Works or the platform above the Fairmount Fish Ladder just off Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Don't miss them during the holidays, when the lights change color multiple times to honor Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and the New Year.

Where: Best viewed from Fairmount Water Works, 640 Waterworks Drive


Best viewed from the Fairmount Fish Ladder, Schuylkill River Trail

The centerpiece of this urban oasis in Old City is a 180-year-old fountain that gets totally dreamy at night. Every 30 minutes from noon until 9 p.m., the fountain's jets propel water into the air, accented with colorful lights in the evenings and a musical soundtrack. Bring a date to play a round of Philly Mini Golf too.

Where: Franklin Square, 200 N. 6th Street

Tucked away on a small street right off of East Passyunk — smack dab in the middle of cheesesteak heaven, between Pat's and Geno's — is a delightful neon mural dubbed The Electric Street. Mural artist David Guinn and lighting designer Drew Billiau teamed up to accent the block with punches of rainbow LED lights replicating the feel of neon and a geometric mural that stands in stark contrast with the rest of the street. Since its debut in 2016, it's become a hot spot for photogs of the professional and amateur variety.

Where: The Electric Street, 1300-1398 S. Percy Street

Neon-like LED lights illuminate the I-676 underpass on North Sixth Street connecting Old City with neighborhoods to the north in Electric Philadelphia, which was completed in late 2020. Artists David Guinn and Drew Billiau created the work, supported by Mural Arts Philadelphia, Historic Philadelphia, Inc. and Visit Philadelphia. When the lights aren't on, passersby can see an image of Philadelphia's past for an overall feel of the city's evolution throughout modern history.

Where: 6th Street near the northeast corner of Franklin Square under the I-676 overpass

At night, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge is a sight to behold with its spotlights and bulbs. Visible only from afar (meaning the lights won't distract drivers crossing the bridge at night), the suspension cables and towers are highlighted in dreamy beams of light. Even cooler? The bulbs are programmed to illuminate in a wave when PATCO trains cross the bridge and have themed colors to align with holidays. Your best vantage points are Race Street Pier, Cherry Street Pier, Penn Treaty Park and Blue Cross RiverRink.

Where: Visible from various locations including Blue Cross RiverRink, 101 S. Christopher Columbus Boulevard

The historic Lit Brothers Building's Victorian architecture — specifically the classical arch windows — is highlighted by artful, color-changing LED lighting. With lights placed below each windowsill, the Market East building comes to life at night, with colors changing for holidays and special causes.

Where: Lit Brothers Building, 701 Market Street

In addition to the fountains, roller rink, beer garden and entertainment at Dilworth Park, Pulse, an interactive public art experience, brings light and color to the space. Every time the trolley passes on the route below City Hall, four-foot-tall plumes of colored mist embedded within the fountain blow across the park, marking the train's passage.

Where: Dilworth Park, 1 S. 15th Street

Year-round, trees on this narrow Rittenhouse street are covered in string lights, making it one of the most romantic alcoves in the city. Pro tip: Go after it rains to see the lights reflected in puddles on the street for extra luminance (and extra pretty pictures).

Where: 1700 Addison St

Neon designer and collector Len Davidson found a home for all the pieces of neon he's restored and collected over the decades: the Neon Museum of Philadelphia, which opened in 2021. Inside you’ll find more than 150 pieces, including historical signs from McGillin's Olde Ale House, Buster Brown, an animated Hair Replacement Center sign, neon clocks and much more.

Where: Neon Museum of Philadelphia, 1800 N. American Street

Philly's newest museum boasts a ton of trippy exhibits meant to trick your eye, but two in particular — the Vortex Tunnel and Infinity Tunnel — use lights to create illusions. In the Vortex Tunnel, galactic lights will make you feel like you’re defying gravity. In the Infinity Tunnel, rows of light mimic the view of a bottomless pit. Wild.

Where: Museum of Illusions Philadelphia, 401 Market Street

Designed to immerse visitors in the exhibits themselves, Wonderspaces is an all-encompassing affair. One of its 16 installations, Submergence features 8,064 lights suspended from the ceiling that change color in response to music

Where: Wonderspaces Philadelphia, Fashion District Philadelphia, 27 N. 11th Street

Latin for "medical arts," Ars Medendi (cylinder) takes historical medicinal texts — decidedly not translated into English — and engraves them into a cylindrical column with a light in the center. The result is projected text onto the sides of buildings on Thomas Jefferson University's downtown campus.

Where: Scott Memorial Library at Thomas Jefferson University, 1020 Walnut Street

Few people would visit a SEPTA station if they weren't taking public transportation, but we promise this one is worth it. Thanks to a 2016 facelift, the I-95 and Market-Frankford El underpass on Spring Garden between 2nd and Front Streets features rainbow lights, metal hanging fixtures that reflect light and colorful LED blocks with foliage designs at the entrances to the El stop. Here's to your most illuminating commute ever!

Where: Spring Garden Street between 2nd and Front Streets

The Schuylkill River Trail is super active during the day with bikers, runners, walkers and skaters. At night, the active set gets a special treat as the bridges crossing the Schuylkill pop on with LED string lighting and pier lights. The serene reflections in the river can be seen under the Walnut Street Bridge, Market Street Bridge, JFK Bridge and SEPTA Regional Rail Bridge.

Where: Schuylkill River Trail underneath the John F. Kennedy Boulevard Bridge


Schuylkill River Trail underneath the Market Street Bridge

Schuylkill River Trail underneath the Walnut Street Bridge

Deck the halls — and the walls and, obviously, the trees too. Greater Philadelphia goes all out for the holiday season with extravagant, festive light shows. While you’re shopping downtown, pop into Macy's to enjoy the time-honored tradition of the Macy's Christmas Light Show (with a soundtrack by the Wanamaker Organ and narration by Julie Andrews!). Bundle up and head to Franklin Square to see the park awash in lights and for the Electrical Spectacle Light Show. Neighborhoods get in on the festive action, too, with collective block-wide displays at the Miracle on South 13th Street and the Smedley Street Christmas Light Spectacular. Our guide to holiday lights and light shows, updated annually in late October or early November, has more.

Where: Various locations including Miracle on 13th Street, 1700 S. 13th Street

The Visit Philly Overnight Package — booked more than 190,000 times since 2001 — comes with free hotel parking (worth up to $100 in Center City Philadelphia), overnight hotel accommodations and choose-your-own-adventure perks.

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