The Grotto’s Christmas Festival of Lights a retreat from the holiday grind

Colorful Christmas Festival of Lights at the Chapel of Mary at The Grotto in Portland, Oregon

Photos by Cheryl Landes

Updated August 10, 2020

Anyone driving on Sandy Boulevard near busy Interstate 205 in Portland can easily miss a beautiful oasis hidden in the woods. This is The Grotto, a 62-acre shrine and botanical garden on two levels. But inside The Grotto, you’ll feel as though you’re away from the hustle and bustle of Oregon’s largest city. It’s quiet here. You won’t even hear the traffic.

Follow quiet trails past tall Douglas firs, flowers, and gently flowing streams and waterfalls. Pause to enjoy the serenity of the reflection pools. Admire more than 100 bronze, marble, and wooden sculptures blended into the landscape. Stop at the Meditation Chapel on the upper level to pray, meditate, or simply relax.

At night from the day after Thanksgiving until December 30, the Christmas Festival of Lights transforms The Grotto into a winter paradise of more than one million colored lights illuminating trails, trees, and shrubs—along with the world’s largest choral festival.

Lights along the trail at The Grotto in Portland

Don’t miss the life-size Nativity scene inside The Grotto cave.


The Nativity scene inside The Grotto cave (photos by Cheryl Landes)

Five concerts, ranging from church choirs to folk and jazz, are held nightly in the Chapel of Mary (view concert schedule). The Grotto Carolers also perform in the seating area at the food tent throughout the evening.

Children’s activities include a puppet show in the food tent and a petting zoo with Storm the Camel and his friends.

A stand in the food tent sells hot chocolate, coffee, cider, soda, chips, and snacks. Next to the tent in a food truck, Ash Pizza bakes 10-inch pies to order.

Dinner at the Christmas Festival of Lights: Coffee and Ash Pizza with fresh mozzarella, arugula, mushrooms, Italian sausage, and pepperoni on a wood-fired crust

In 1924, the Order of Friar Servants of Mary (Servites) founded The Grotto, also known as The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother. Today, it’s recognized internationally as a Catholic shrine and botanical garden. The Grotto welcomes anyone who seeks a place to refresh and reflect in solitude.

The Grotto is located at 8840 NE Skidmore Street in Portland. The main entrance is at NE 85th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard (view directions). Parking is free.

Christmas Festival of Lights hours are 5-9:30 p.m. daily, except for Christmas Day, when it’s closed. Admission is $12 ages 13-64, $11 seniors over 65 and military, $6 ages 3-12, and free for children under 2. Tickets are sold at the gate; all major credit cards are accepted.

Snowflakes along the trail at The Grotto in Portland

The Grotto is open daily, but hours vary by season. Admission is free to the lower garden, Grotto cave, Chapel of Mary, and the Visitor Center and Gift Shop. Upper-level garden admission is $8 ages 13-64, $7 seniors 65 and older, $4.50 ages 6-12, and free for children 5 and younger. Buy tickets at the Visitor Center and Gift Shop.

For more information, visit The Grotto’s website or call (503) 261-2424.

A message of joy among the trees at The Grotto in Portland

What’s summer like at The Grotto? Find out in my armchair photo tour:
A summer stroll in The Grotto’s gardens in Portland

3 thoughts on “The Grotto’s Christmas Festival of Lights a retreat from the holiday grind

  1. Dear Cheryl,
    Thank you SO much for your thoughtful and thorough review of The Grotto and Christmas Festival of Lights. If did not know any better, I’d say you joined my Creative and Marketing team in crafting such a beautiful and accurate accounting of our “Oasis in The City”!
    Merry Christmas and thank you again for sharing The Grotto with friends, family and followers!
    Tom Fullmer
    Executive Director


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