Skip to Content

Must-Visit Holiday Displays in Central Iowa (2023)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — to take in some truly spectacular holiday light displays! There’s no shortage of cheer in central Iowa with all sorts of seasonal things to do from drive through displays to a train ride with Santa himself. 

No matter how you celebrate, there’s something for lovers of the holidays both young and old. If you’re looking for a way to make your season merry, consider planning a visit to one of these five holiday displays in central Iowa. 

Disclosure: This post may containaffiliate links. At no extra cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad’s Santa Express

Santa and Mrs. Claus waving to passerby on the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad
Photo courtesy Boone & Scenic Valley Raiload

Hop on the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad and head straight to the North Pole! Enjoy an hour and 15 minute round trip along the historic railway, hear a festive story and even meet Santa himself. This holiday tradition is fun for families and kids of all ages. But be sure to buy tickets in advance – They go on sale Nov. 1 each year!

Seating is limited and this event does sell out. 

Where: Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad and Museum, 225 10th St., Boone, Iowa

When: Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays | typically starting the Friday after Thanksgiving through December

Cost: TBD

Jolly Holiday Lights

A holiday tradition for more than 25 years, Jolly Holiday Lights is a light display that embraces the true meaning of the season. This beloved tradition benefits Make-A-Wish Iowa and helps raise money to grant the wishes of children from across the state. Jolly Holiday Lights is held at Adventureland Park in Altoona and features a drive through display of thousands of lights and dozens of impressive displays. 

Where: Jolly Holiday Lights, Outlets of Des Moines, 801 Bass Pro Drive NW, Altoona, Iowa

When: Nov. 17, 2023 — Jan. 7, 2024 | Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas

Cost: Viewing the lights is FREE; there are special ticketed events that are not free, as well as ticketed train rides

Santa’s Rock n Lights

New to the Des Moines metro in 2020, Santa’s Rock n Lights at Living History Farms is a drive through display that features over 700 feet of vibrantly lighted tunnels. This immersive holiday light experience is full of surprises and twinkling holiday wonders.

Tune your car radio to one of the local partner stations for a festive soundtrack for your drive. Plus, the festive event benefits Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. 

Where: Santa’s Rock’n Lights, Living History Farms, 11121 Hickman Road, Urbandale, Iowa

When: Nov. 25, 2023 – Jan. 1, 2024

Cost: $25.99 – $32.99 per vehicle, depending on the day (and $7 extra per person for vehicles with more than 6 passengers)

Winter Wonderscape Light Show

Bundle up and head to Reiman Gardens’ walk through Winter Wonderscape Light Show. Experience a variety of immersive light displays scattered throughout the gardens’ 17 acre site. From large-scale sculptures to installations that incorporate motion and music, this is a holiday event not to miss.

Lights at Reiman Gardens during the Winter Wonderscape Light Show
Photo courtesy Travel Iowa

Each evening of this seasonal event also has a rotating slate of live musicians. Be sure to buy your tickets in advance! Spots for this holiday favorite tend to sell out.

Where: Winter Wonderscape Light Show, Reiman Gardens, 1407 University Blvd., Ames, Iowa

When: Thursdays through Saturdays in December 2023

Cost: $10 adults | $5 children 

Related Post: Make a night of it and get dinner at one of these great restaurants in Ames!

Festival of Trees & Lights

Not only is the Festival of Trees & Lights the largest fundraiser for Blank Children’s Hospital but it’s also one of the metro’s favorite ways to kick off the holiday season. The 40th annual event features beautifully decorated trees, live performances by local music and dance groups, visits with Santa, a scavenger hunt, and fun crafts & activities.

Where: Festival of Trees & Lights, Iowa Events Center – Veterans Memorial Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center, 833 Fifth Ave., Des Moines

When: Nov. 24-26, 2023

Cost: $5 per person; kids 2 and under are FREE

Up-close photo of ornaments on a tree

About the Guest Blogger

Megan Bannister is a freelance writer and blogger at Olio in Iowa based in Des Moines, Iowa. When she’s not sampling and writing about food, Megan enjoys visiting unique destinations, roadside attractions, and “world’s largest” things across the Midwest and beyond. Her book, Iowa Supper Clubs, highlights classic eateries past and present from around the state.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.