This Enchanted Airlie At Airlie Gardens Review is not sponsored.
When Pete and I were planning our trip to San Antonio, I told my mom that we were planning on heading to the botanical gardens 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. So I figured I would do an Enchanted Airlie review so you could at least visit virtually.
Enchanted Airlie At Airlie Gardens Review
Enchanted Airlie takes place after Airlie Gardens closes to visitors. The botanical garden closes at 4pm to visitors, then reopens for Enchanted Airlie.
There are four timeslots per evening: 5:30pm, 6:30pm, 7:30pm, and 8:30pm. 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 path, 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 at the guest services building.
In the past, there had been cookie decorating and hot chocolate, but this year, no food or drinks were sold on site. Also this year, there was no Santa.
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 there wasn’t any. There were a lot of people there, just hanging around, so skip it and you won’t miss anything.
There is a map, which you can see online here or can get as a paper copy at Airlie Gardens, that takes you on the path between sections.
Right now, Airlie Gardens is hosting its annual art exhibit, SQUIRRELS! Eight larger than life squirrels are scattered throughout the gardens (and designated on the map).
We followed the map, although we did have a 5-year-old tour guide leading us. Somehow, even though we kept peaking at the map over her shoulder, we completely missed the Minnie Evans Bottle Chapel.
We saw the gigantic flashing butterfly in the Minnie’s Bottle Garden, but we didn’t notice the bottle chapel behind it.
We didn’t miss the Singing Trees, and thank goodness. That was 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. Social distancing is requested, but in that section, it’s just impossible.
Masks are required at Enchanted Airlie this year, although I didn’t actually see anyone enforcing it. But everyone we were with wore masks the entire time, so no one would have had to enforce it with us.
The night we went was the first real cold night of the season, so it was actually nice to be wearing a mask to keep our faces warm.
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.
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 usually go on sale right before Halloween, so if you want to go next year, I highly recommend you go online at that time.
Airlie Gardens members are also required to reserve tickets.
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 must bring your own wheelchairs (you cannot borrow them this year).
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 in 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.
Want to check out other botanical gardens in the Southeast?
Airlie Gardens is one two botanical gardens in Wilmington, NC.
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)
- New Hanover County Arboretum (Wilmington, NC)
- Wilson Botanical Gardens (Wilson, NC)