People and Places with Pierce: WinterLights

MANTEO, N.C. (WNCT) – The Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo are magnificent.

The garden itself is 10 acres,” said Nikki Conley, artistic director of WinterLights, the Christmas light display at the Elizabethan Gardens.

“It was created to create a style of garden that was similar to what you would find in the gardens around the palaces in Queen Elizabeth’s castle and grounds,” said Taylor Marrs, associate artistic director of WinterLights.

But this time of year, the gardens take on a new light.

“WinterLights has been running for 6 years now,” said Conley.

“It’s 10 acres of beautiful beautiful lights,” added Marrs.

“I couldn’t even tell you the beginning of how many lights we have here,” said Conley. “Our first year, we did it on a string and a prayer with any outlet that we could find around this place.”

“Over the years, we’ve had to add electricity to the gardens,” recalled Marrs. “We’ve had to buy new lights. We had to really amp up our game so that the community would keep coming and keep enjoying it and really create something special.”

The main attraction at WinterLights is, of course, the beautiful light displays, but there are other activities to enjoy including warming up next to an open fire or toasting the perfect marshmallow.

“There’s some really cool touches that you just wouldn’t expect to see at your normal Christmas display,” added Conley. “But, we like to give it that little extra flair of the 16th century.”

(Taylor Marrs – associate artistic director – WinterLights)

“We try to keep a lot of our stuff to the Elizabethan time period,” said Marrs. “You’ll see things like the Queen’s court. You’ll see gingerbread houses. Some of the lights in the gardens are choreographed to music, which is an exciting new feature that we added this year.”

“It’s evolved every year,” said Conley. “I’d say that this year, finally, we feel like we got it right. Everyone keeps reusing the word magical. So, I would say it’s a magical spot. We actually saw one lady down near the Virginia Dare statue and she literally just stopped and looked up, she had her kids with her, running rampant, and she said kids, just look. It’s so pretty!”

Pretty and fit for a queen.

“It’s really an experience for people to come through and see the million lights that we have up on our gardens here,” said Marrs.

An experience that has quickly become an Outer Banks tradition.

If you can’t make it to WinterLights before Christmas don’t worry! The display runs on a limited basis through the month of January. Click here for a list of dates and times.


Pierce is always looking for interesting and unique people and places to visit. If you have an idea, send him an email or a message on Facebook or Twitter.


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