Elizabethan Gardens, Roanoke Island
1441 National Park Drive, Manteo. 252-473-3234 www.elizabethangardens.org
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 Elizabeth Gardens stages on Roanoke Island.
The island is famous as the site of The Lost Colony, where Sir Walter Raleigh attempted 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.
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The Elizabethan Gardens nearby 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 is fully decorated for the holidays - 18 evenings of the Winter Lights display, Dec. 6-10, 13-17, 20-23 and 27-30. In additional to traditional (Tudor-appropriate) decorations, lights are strung on the hedges, among the plantings, and worked into displays that depict peacocks, deer and butterflies. The gatehouse, hall and trees on the Great Lawn are decorated, too. "Winter Lights" hours are 6-9 p.m.
Festivities are previewed at the Grand Illumination, 6-9 p.m. Dec. 3, with holiday food and drinks in the Embellished Hall; fire pits will be lit on the Great Lawn. (Note: slightly higher admission on this evening).
December daytime hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and New Year's). Special daytime holiday programs are offered.
Regular admission: $8; $5 for ages 6-17; 5 and younger, free.
"Winter Lights" admission: $9; $7 for ages 6-17; $4 for 5 and younger.
Target audience: Families.
Travel time from Charlotte: Six hours. From the Raleigh area, take U.S. 64 East to Roanoke Island; watch for signs.