We may be a month out, but if you ask me, it’s beginning to feel a lot like the holiday season these days. Thanksgiving is at the end of the week, holiday decorations are adorning my Long Island town, and people are planning to get in the spirit with family and friends. Even the temperature has turned, and what was a mild fall quickly seems to be morphing into a colder winter. So, now that it is unofficially the holiday season, what’s everyone got on their agenda? How about heading to Old Westbury Gardens to tour the second annual Shimmering Solstice, an immersive outdoor walkable light show?
I recently visited the impressive grounds at Old Westbury Gardens after dark to experience the Shimmering Solstice for myself and got quite a different view seeing the historic mansion and formal gardens dressed in lights. From illuminated walking paths of all kinds, a kaleidoscope of colors accompanied by seasonal music greet you at every turn on the approximate one-mile path that winds through 13 acres of the grounds.
But before we get into how unique this experience is, let’s chat about Old Westbury Gardens itself, for those who may be unfamiliar. Long before Old Westbury Gardens was a beloved attraction on Long Island for locals and visitors alike, it was the former estate of John Shaffer Phipps, an heir to the Phipps family fortune.
In its later life, the grounds have appeared in movies including North By Northwest, Cruel Intentions, and many others and made several debuts in scenes for television series like Gossip Girls. In 1959, the property was converted into a museum home that has now welcomed an average of 80,000 visitors a year for tours and educational programs. Today, the Westbury House, the early 20th-century estate that sits on the property, is one of about 200 remaining Gold Coast mansions on Long Island, thanks to the meticulous preservation of its architecture and landscape.
While Old Westbury Gardens is a great place to visit any time of year, touring Shimmering Solstice allowed me to appreciate the grounds in a whole new light (pun intended). Rather than focusing on the luscious landscape like I normally do during my yearly visits, my senses were dulled by the darkness and I was immediately drawn in by the shadows and illuminations of sculptures, architecture, ponds, and pathways, as I made my way passed notable stops like the world-famous Walled Garden, Rose Garden, and South Lawn. One of my favorite spots at Old Westbury Gardens is the Walled Garden. I was impressed with how the Shimmering Solstice tour illuminated this enchanted oasis in a way that was even more spectacular to see under the colorful lights that reflected off the pond and created the most magical mirror effect.
As I walked around the grounds under the stars, I also learned how this winter wonderland came together. Designed exclusively for Old Westbury Gardens by Lightswitch, an internationally-recognized team of lighting, media, and virtual designers, and with the help of 25 technicians and crew, the Shimmering Solstice installation was completed in just three weeks (although planning for it took about a year). This outdoor exhibit will run on select dates for a total of 22 nights from November 25, 2022 to January 1, 2023.
If you’re thinking, this all sounds cool, but what makes Shimmering Solstice special? Let me tell you. As someone who has toured Old Westbury Gardens numerous times as a native Long Islander, getting to preview this installation was something I have never seen before. Every detail was meticulously timed and executed, and I was able to see the gardens through a renewed lens and focus. The true piece-de-resistance for me was the grand finale show that was designed to be viewed over the entire South facade of the Westbury House. Sip on your hot cocoa from the concession stand in The Garden of Appreciation as you watch the exterior of the house transform during a specially commissioned 10-minute score featuring many festive scenes (and original photos from locals).
Aside from what you’ll see during the hour-long walking tour, there are plenty of interactive stops for children and adults en route. From more lights than in previous years to newly designed illuminated water features on the West Pond and a finale show that will not disappoint, this is one attraction that should be high up on your holiday agenda.
Here are a few things to keep in mind ahead of your visit:
- Buy your tickets in advance online (and take advantage of pre-sale prices when you purchase tickets before 11/24 and use code: BOGO50)
- Be mindful of the terrain (this is outdoors, at night, on paths that may be uneven)
- Wear appropriate footwear (flat boots or sneakers would be best)
- Dress in layers (we’re heading into winter, so wear something warm!)
I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to preview Shimmering Solstice this year and learn more about the grounds and the property during my tour. I’m excited for you to see in person how brilliant Old Westbury Gardens looks at night through the different perspectives this installation offers.
* I recapped one of my previous visits to Old Westbury Gardens in this post if you are interested in seeing what the grounds look like during daylight hours. And, check out my Instagram for a behind-the-scenes reel from the Shimmering Solstice tour!
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