Enchanted Airlie is when Wilmington NC’s Airlie Gardens’ is lit up for Christmas. Find out more about Enchanted Airlie 2022, including 2022 dates and costs, here.
If you’re planning a trip to the area, check out all of our Wilmington, NC posts.
When Pete and I were planning our trip to San Antonio, I told my mom that we were planning on heading to the San Antonio Botanical Garden there. She knew it was a reciprocal garden with our local botanical garden, Airlie Gardens in Wilmington, NC. So, as a surprise, she bought us a membership to Airlie Gardens.
With our Airlie Gardens membership, we’re able to use it at over 300 reciprocal gardens throughout the United States, including Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, SC (where we went last year).
Also included with our membership was a car pass to Enchanted Airlie, Airlie Garden’s holiday light event. Of course, we were super excited to check it out.
Since we haven’t been able to get there before, I know there are a lot of people who aren’t able to get there. Tickets sell out quickly.
So I figured I would do an Enchanted Airlie review so you could at least visit virtually.
Enchanted Airlie At Airlie Gardens Review
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Enchanted Airlie takes place after Airlie Gardens closes to visitors. The botanical garden closes at 4 pm to visitors, then reopens for Enchanted Airlie.
There are four timeslots per evening: 5:30 pm, 6:30 pm, 7:30 pm, and 8:30 pm. You register ahead of time and are able to bring in one carload (up to a mini van size) for $30. So, if you pack the van with seven people, you’re only paying about $4.25 a person — less than half the $9 per day admission for adults.
You reserve your timeslot ahead of time and you’re only allowed admission 15 minutes before your timeslot.
At the gate, you’ll pull up your ticket and it will be scanned. You’re then admitted into the parking lot.
The parking lot is actually the end of the self-guided walking tour, but the huge lit up Airlie Gardens sign is there, which you may want to see first if there aren’t too many people around it. That’s your classic shot, the one you’ll want for Instagram.
The traditional way is to start the self-guided walking tour is at the guest services building where activities like cookie decorating and writing letters to Santa are set up.
Opposite the guest services building is Candy Land, filled with a gnome surrounded by candy lollipops and a gingerbread couple greeting you in front of their candy home.
There are ten additional sections, not counting the Airlie Oak and Bradley Pier, which (obviously) are always at Airlie Gardens.
Speaking of Bradley Pier, there’s nothing there. I was thinking maybe lighted ducks in the water that you could see off the pier, but aren’t any. There are always a lot of people there, just hanging around, so skip it and you won’t miss anything.
There is a paper map, which you can use to navigate the light display.
Each year, Airlie Gardens hosts an annual art exhibit. This year, it’s Hoppy Times. Ten 4.5-feet tall painted rabbits will be scattered throughout the gardens (and designated on the map).
Back in 2020, the event was squirrels, which you can see above. And in 2021, it was owls, which you can see a photo of here.
The Singing Trees are honestly the best part of the gardens.
The four trees have mouths that light up and oftentimes go with the music that’s being played. I could have watched them for the entire hour we were permitted to stay in the gardens.
Our second favorite part was a tucked away loop behind the Singing Trees. That’s where a blowup snowman is chillin’ on a blowup float without a care in the world.
What made that part so cool was that the “water” the snowman was floating on was made up of blue lights on the ground. It was a cool optical illusion.
The Butterfly House almost trumped both of these as our favorite part. It was beautiful inside there, with a huge Christmas tree in the center of the room. I loved the way the purple lights inside the Butterfly House just (for lack of a better word) enchanted it. And the butterflies on the ceiling were my favorite photo I took all night.
Behind the Butterfly House is the Sparkling Vineyard. It’s dressed up with lighted hanging bunches of grapes, which are really pretty.
There’s a small table off the side of it that, for whatever reason, isn’t lit up. It was the perfect hiding place to just take a minute, sit, and enjoy the moment by yourself.
Those moments are hard to find at Enchanted Airlie.
The event sells out every year, and it does feel crowded, especially at the entrance. The path from Candy Land to the Holiday Hyacinths is pretty crowded.
Tips For When You Go To Enchanted Airlie
I advise that you dress warmly if you go. You’ll be walking around for the entire hour, so you’ll keep warm that way, but it’s entirely outdoors unless you go into the gift shop.
Sneakers are good to wear, since some of the path is unpaved. It’s completely flat everywhere, so you don’t need hiking boots to walk around.
Tickets go on sale to the public on November 2 at 9 am, so if you want to go, I highly recommend you go online at that time.
Airlie Gardens members are also required to reserve tickets, although members do have access to a pre-sale.
The event is rain or shine, so if it’s raining on the day of your timeslot, you should still go. Just pack an umbrella. Tickets are non-refundable if you don’t show up for your reservation.
Dogs, or pets of any kind including service animals, are not permitted to attend Enchanted Airlie.
Enchanted Airlie is wheelchair and stroller accessible, although you should bring your own wheelchairs (a limited number are available to borrow).
Airlie Gardens Free Day (aka NHC Free Day) is the first Sunday of every month. Enchanted Airlie gardens happens at night and is not eligible for NHC Free Day.
Museum For All participants are not eligible for free admission to Enchanted Airlie.
Looking for more Christmas events near Wilmington, NC?
Enchanted Airlie is just one of the great Christmas events in Wilmington, NC.
Check out our full list of 25 Things To Do In Wilmington, NC At Christmastime. Also, while you’re in the area, check out 25 Christmas Things To Do In Fayetteville, NC (which is just about 90 miles away from Airlie Gardens).
More events near Wilmington, NC:
If Enchanted Airlie was your first time in the Wilmington area and now you’re looking for more excuses to come back, there are some other events you’ll want to put on your calendar.
For the spring, add the North Carolina Azalea Festival (the biggest annual event in Wilmington) and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival.
For the fall, there’s Wilmington Riverfest and Rims on the River (although Rims on the River is canceled for 2022, it is coming back in 2023).
In the winter, there’s Leland in Lights (a light display in neighboring Leland, NC).
Want to check out other botanical gardens in the Southeast?
Airlie Gardens is one two botanical gardens in Wilmington, NC. The other is the New Hanover County Arboretum.
There are also a lot of other botanical gardens worth checking out that are within driving distance of Airlie Gardens:
- Brookgreen Gardens (Murrells Inlet, SC)
- Brunswick County Botanical Garden (Bolivia, NC)
- Cape Fear Botanical Garden (Fayetteville, NC)
- Juniper Level Botanic Garden (Raleigh, NC)
- Magnolia Plantation & Gardens (Charleston, SC)
- Wilson Botanical Gardens (Wilson, NC)
Have you been to Enchanted Airlie At Airlie Gardens? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments.