Roanoke Island’s Elizabethan Gardens

Holiday light displays come in all shapes and styles – from the quaint-village style in Dillsboro to the enormous electrified drive-through at Tanglewood, near Clemmons. Cut from an entirely different (antique) cloth is what Elizabethan Gardens stages on Roanoke Island.

The island is famous as the site of The Lost Colony, where Sir Walter Raleigh tried to found North America’s first English-speaking colony in the 1580s. Its Fort Raleigh National Historic Site and the “Lost Colony” outdoor drama are popular warm-weather attractions.

Nearby, Elizabethan Gardens ( is prime for holiday visiting.

The 10.5-acre tract, which dates to the 1950s, holds a number of gardens, each set off by brick walls or thickets. Enter through the Tudor-replica Gate House (built to resemble a 16th-century orangery), and you’ll see plantings Queen Elizabeth I would’ve enjoyed. The Shakespearean Herb Garden has Old World plantings both common (basil, rosemary) and rare (horsetail reed); the Queen’s Rose Garden is emblematic of her dynasty (the rose was a Tudor badge). There’s the Sunken Garden, too.

The site will be fully decorated for the holidays via its Winter Lights display, which involves more than 1 million glowing bulbs. That will be offered 6-9 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, Dec. 3-Jan. 4 (closed Dec. 24-25 and Dec. 31-Jan. 1).

The light show is previewed at the Grand Illumination, 6-9 p.m. Nov. 30, with holiday food and drinks in the Embellished Hall; fire pits will be lit on the Great Lawn. (Slightly higher admission this evening).

December daytime hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s).

Regular admission: $9; $6 for ages 6-17; 5 and younger, free. Winter Lights admission: $9; $6 for ages 6-17; $4 for 5 and younger.