10 tips for a delightful Christmas Candlelight House Tour in Cape May, N.J.

Enjoy this self-guided Cape May tour of historic homes, inns, churches and B&Bs decorated for the holidays, presented by the MId-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC).

(This story was originally published Dec. 1, 2016 and updated in 2017, 2018 and 2019.)

For 46 years, visitors have come to Cape May, N.J. in December to partake in a time-honored and beloved holiday tradition — the Christmas Candlelight House Tours. On three evenings in 2019, Saturdays, Dec. 7, 14 and 28, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., over a dozen hotels, bed & breakfast inns, private homes and churches open their doors and welcome you to step inside, take in the lovely decorations and enjoy their unique beauty at Christmas. Cape May’s Victorian charm attracts so much festivity here during the holidays. Join us this year and make new memories during these 46th annual tours!

Here are 10 ways you can prepare to make the most of your evening:

  1. Purchase Tickets in Advance. Avoid the rush and avoid disappointment. The tour is limited and tickets may not be available the day of your tour. Purchase online, by phone 609–884–5404 or in person at the Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington Street. Typically, the third tour, this year on Dec. 28, is less crowded than the first two and that’s true this year as well based on advance sales. (Other tours might be to your liking as well, including Lamplighter Tours, also in the evenings.) Are you part of a large group? Groups of 20 or more receive a discounted rate when booking ahead. Call Susan Gibson in advance of your tour at 609–224–6030 for more information.
  2. Obtain your Map and Wristband. When you purchase your ticket, you will get a map with all the properties listed and a wristband that you show to be admitted to each property. If purchasing tickets in person, you will be given a map and wristband right away. If purchasing tickets online or by phone, you will need to obtain your map and wristband in advance, the day before or the day of the tour, at either Hill House office at the Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington Street (recommended for ease of parking 609–884–5404) or the Washington Street Mall Information Booth, Washington Street Mall at Ocean Street. Please plan ahead and leave yourself plenty of time to do so. Traffic coming into Cape May on these days and evenings can be heavy. If you are attending the first of the three tours, try to plan for even more time, or please consider picking up your wrist bands the day before your tour. The Cape May Christmas parade is normally scheduled on the night of the first tour, and traffic detours are in effect. Once you do receive your map and wristband, and are starting your tour, consider attaching your wristband through a buttonhole of your coat where it’s clearly visible. The volunteers who greet you at each property will see it right away and that helps keep you moving.
  3. Review your Map Ahead of Time. This is a self-guided tour, so you decide which properties to visit and the norm is that you will not be able to see all of them. Some people try to visit every property on the map, but experience tells us this is next to impossible. Most people are only able to comfortably visit about half a dozen properties. So, if you can, review your map ahead of time. Are there particular properties you would like to see? Each property has its charms, and not every property is on each of the three evening’s tours but you can review a list of properties for each evening here.
  4. Starting Points. Check out your map ahead of time and consider starting at properties on the outskirts of town to avoid long lines.
  5. Walking is Encouraged. A limited number of heated trolleys are running to help get you to the far reaches of the tour, but this is in essence a walking tour. Be prepared by wearing comfortable shoes and layers if it’s cold. You can drive, but Cape May is a wonderfully walkable city, ideally appreciated on foot along its gaslit sidewalks. A limited number of trolleys run a continuous loop but do not stop at each property; rather they make designated stops along predetermined routes as noted on your map.
  6. Refreshment and Restrooms. There are several centrally located stops for restrooms and complimentary light refreshments (many have warm beverages and cookies) marked on your map. They are: Dec. 7 — Episcopal Church of the Advent, 612 Franklin Street, and Emlen Physick Estate Carriage House, 1048 Washington Street. Restrooms only are also available at Cape Island Baptist Church, 115 Gurney (Columbia Avenue and Gurney Street). Dec. 14 — Cape Island Baptist Church, 115 Gurney (Columbia Avenue and Gurney Street), Cape May Convention Hall, 714 Beach Avenue (Beach Avenue at Stockton Place), and Emlen Physick Estate Carriage House, 1048 Washington Street. Dec. 28— First Presbyterian Church of Cape May, 500 Hughes St. (corner of Decatur and Hughes Streets) and Emlen Physick Estate Carriage House, 1048 Washington Street. Restrooms only are also available at Cape Island Baptist Church, 115 Gurney (Columbia Avenue and Gurney Street).
  7. Illumination! A flashlight or your mobile device will illuminate the map as you walk and navigate. You can buy a small flashlight in the Carriage House Museum Shop, Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington Street if you like. Or, if you have a mobile device, upload the map onto your device. Each map has a QR code in the lower left hand corner that looks similar to this. Use a QR code reader to scan the QR code on the map and it will upload the map image directly onto your phone. Don’t have a QR Code Reader app on your phone? See how to download one here.
  8. Etiquette inside. Please dispose of food and drinks prior to entering a property and the sa
    me goes for the trolley. Please ask permission before taking photographs inside properties.
  9. The Colonial House Museum. Some people have trouble finding The Colonial House Museum at 653 1/2 Washington Street. It is tiny, not visible from the sidewalk and located directly behind The Blue Rose Inn, 653 Washington Street (City Hall is on your left). Face The Blue Rose Inn, and walk around the right along the parking lot.
  10. Safety and Help Along the Way. The streets of Cape May are busy at this time of year. For your safety, and the safety of others, please observe the following: Stay Alert — Be Aware of automobile traffic around you — Cross the Streets at Intersections only — Walk on Sidewalks only — Do Not Walk in Roadways. If you need assistance during your tour, look for individuals with illuminated vests who can help direct you.

Susan Krysiak is Director of Media Relations for the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC) in Cape May, N.J. and an award-winning writer and editor. For more information on Cape May’s holiday season tours and events, visit www.capemaymac.org