It's almost Christmas and you've probably admired the holiday lights all around town. But there are more holiday thrills a couple hours from Altoona.
For a unique festive lights experience, a drive to Pittsburgh might be in order. The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens offers an outdoor winter lights garden exhibit which runs until Jan. 12.
Liz Fetchin, director of marking and communications for the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, said the Winter Light Garden and Flower Show attracts people from the greater regional Pittsburgh area, including Blair County.
Photo courtesy of Paul g. Wiegman
Lighted orbs and shapes decorate the outside of Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh. Below, lights, trees and flowers make a display.
"It's really beautiful. It's a nice holiday tradition," she said.
This is the second year Phipps converted 1 acre of outside gardens into a holiday wonderland. Trees are wrapped in thousands of lights and glowing orbs and cone-shaped sculptures are scattered throughout the path lit by small candles. The winter garden is full of an eclectic mix of plants, as well as evergreens wrapped in lights.
"People just love to wander through the outdoor gardens," Fetchin said. "It's really magical for children for sure, but it can also be romantic."
If you go
What: Winter Light Garden and Flower Show
When: 5 to 11 p.m. every night through Jan. 12 except Dec. 24 and 25
Where: Phipps Conservatory, One Schenley Park, Pittsburgh: GPS Locator Address, 700 Frank Curto Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Admission: $15 for adults, $14 for seniors, $11 for children ages 2 to 18; free for children younger than 2
Details: For information, log onto phipps.conservatory.org
On weekends, an outdoor snack shack is open with hot chocolate and mulled wine.
Last year 4,000 more people visited the conservatory in the winter because of the light garden.
"We will absolutely outdo last year," said Jane Fahringer, director of guest service for Phipps. "People just think it's fantastic."
The idea for the light garden came about after Phipps officials learned about other conservatories across the nation creating lighted exhibits during the holidays.
"We thought it would be well-received in Pittsburgh," Fetchin said.
From Nov. 11 to 27 horticultural specialists, electricians from Hanlon Electric and volunteers worked to put together the light display.
Last year a lot of time was spent designing and planning how to implement the display, Jordyn Melino, exhibit coordinator, said.
"Our first year was really understanding how we're going to pull this all together. ... Creating a light experience was really different," said Melino. "We wanted to highlight the beauty of the outdoor gardens in the winter and give people a reason to appreciate the outdoor gardens."
This year the exhibit was expanded to include a "tunnel of light" using an overhead archway wrapped with lights and glowing orbs hung overhead, flanked by trees wrapped with more lights.
While the lights are the attraction, the indoor winter gardens are also impressive, Melino said. Festive garden scenes have been created from poinsettias, amaryllis and paper whites, as well as a dinosaur-themed garden railroad. There are also lighted glass botanicals created by glass artists.
"This really is a blockbuster project for us," said Melino.