Best Christmas lights displays in Virginia

WASHINGTON — When friends and family gather for the holidays, it can be hard to find activities that will please the crowd. This year, fill your to-go mugs with hot chocolate, make a playlist and take a guided tour of the best, tackiest and most extravagant Christmas displays in Northern Virginia.

Fairfax resident Holly Zell began curating a list of the most over-the-top Christmas displays in 2001 as part of a web development class she took after returning to school. The list of lights was initially just a single page on Zell’s personal site, but eventually it grew into the tacky lights website seen today.

“I am just enamored with Christmas lights. They’ve always excited me, from when I was little to now — I’m 61 years old. And I still get the same thrill and joy when I see them,” Zell told WTOP.

Here are some of the most impressive houses, worth checking out in person or just online.

You can see the glow of the lights through the trees approaching this house in Fairfax County. (Courtesy Holly Zell)
You can see the glow of the lights through the trees approaching this house in Alexandria, Virginia. (Courtesy Holly Zell) (Courtesy Holly Zell)
This glittering home is in Ashburn, Virginia. (Courtesy Holly Zell) (Courtesy Holly Zell)
Santa and his crew fly over the driveway of this Alexandria home. (Courtesy Holly Zell)
Santa and his crew fly over the driveway of this Alexandria home. (Courtesy Holly Zell) (Courtesy Holly Zell)
This house in Lorton, Virginia, features a life-size Taz and Grinch. (Courtesy Holly Zell) (Courtesy Holly Zell)
This Annandale, Virginia, home is one of Zell's favorites. (Courtesy Holly Zell)
This Annandale, Virginia, home is one of Zell’s favorites. (Courtesy Holly Zell) (Courtesy Holly Zell)
This Lorton, Virginia, home has a large display of lighted wire-frames. (Courtesy Holly Zell)
This Lorton, Virginia, home has a large display of lighted-wire frames. (Courtesy Holly Zell) (Courtesy Holly Zell)
This Sterling, Virginia, home has an animated light show. (Courtesy Holly Zell)
This Sterling, Virginia, home has an animated light show. (Courtesy Holly Zell) (Courtesy Holly Zell)
This home in Centreville, Virginia, plays a realistic Santa film on a loop in a side window. (Courtesy Holly Zell)
This home in Centreville, Virginia, plays a realistic Santa film on a loop in a side window. (Courtesy Holly Zell) (Courtesy Holly Zell)
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You can see the glow of the lights through the trees approaching this house in Fairfax County. (Courtesy Holly Zell)
Santa and his crew fly over the driveway of this Alexandria home. (Courtesy Holly Zell)
This Annandale, Virginia, home is one of Zell's favorites. (Courtesy Holly Zell)
This Lorton, Virginia, home has a large display of lighted wire-frames. (Courtesy Holly Zell)
This Sterling, Virginia, home has an animated light show. (Courtesy Holly Zell)
This home in Centreville, Virginia, plays a realistic Santa film on a loop in a side window. (Courtesy Holly Zell)

After she made a separate site in 2007, the popularity of Zell’s site continued to grow until it made her something of a local celebrity. Although her site gains a lot of attention — at least every December — Zell depends on the public to keep her site up to date with the latest information.

Visitors to her site can vote on their favorite displays or send her tips if they know of a house that goes overboard on Christmas decorations.

“I have to feel something the moment I pull up to one of these homes for it to get on the list; I mean, it’s got to just blow me away,” Zell said.

Zell’s website also contains her comments about each house, viewing tips and basic etiquette for keeping the experience pleasant for everyone. She also created a Facebook group to better communicate with fans of her site and homeowners who put up the displays.

As some of these homes build reputations for their extravagant displays, many people come back every year to visit. Zell has viewing tips for each specific house on her site, but this general list of rules and recommendations will keep the experience fun for everyone.

  • Stay out of the yard. You can trip and hurt yourself or break the display, and some of these displays use high electrical currents. Plus, these are private residences.
  • Park and get out of the car. Don’t coast down the road slowly, holding up everyone behind you. Park safely, get out and walk around to enjoy the views.
  • Consider the weather. Most displays are off during inclement weather, so be sure to check conditions before heading out.
  • Be considerate to the neighbors. Don’t block their driveways or walk in their yards, and stay quiet to avoid disturbing the neighborhood.
  • Time your tour right. According to Zell, the best general times to see displays are 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., but more specific information for each house can be found on her Facebook group.
  • Don’t overdo it. After about two hours of driving around to look at lights, it may be time to call it a night. Zell says even she can get grumpy if she tries to look at too many houses.

Zell offers more than just a list on her site. Check out this map of Zell’s favorite tacky lights, in red, and honorable mentions, in green, throughout the region.


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