Christmas in Washington DC: 17 Festive Ways to Have Fun

October 22, 2019

Christmas on the east coast presents opportunities to bundle up, sip on warm beverages, and cozy up by the fire.

Outdoors, you can revel in the snow and skate across ice rinks while sipping hot cocoa in between outings. If you're a fan of all of the above, spending Christmas in Washington DC is the perfect fit for you and yours. Read below to discover the top holiday attractions and events happening in our nation's capital this winter season.

Christmas in Washington DC

The White House / Flickr

1) Visit the National Christmas Tree

Since 1923, Washington DC has celebrated the National Christmas Tree Lighting, which gets more extravagant each year. Although you don't have to attend the tree lighting to enjoy its beauty, this year's ceremony will take place on December 5. Presented by the National Parks Service and National park Foundation, this tradition features musical guests and the official lighting on the Ellipse at President's Park. Also, you can enter an online lottery for a free ticket October 15th through October 21st or call 877-444-6777. Recipients will be notified on November 4th. After the ceremony, the tree remains lit from 4:30 pm to midnight each night.

2) Downtown Holiday Market

The 15th Annual Downtown Holiday Market at 8th and F Streets brings warmth and cheer this holiday season to the downtown area. Celebrate Christmas in Washington DC by heading to the market to do some shopping and sightseeing. Open noon to 8 pm daily from November 22nd to December 23rd, visitors can enjoy a festive village presenting more than 150 regional artisans and boutique businesses. Looking for a unique gift? Find it here as more than 60 exhibitors display their pottery, jewelry, textiles, and more. Further, exhibitors rotate, so selections vary daily. Also, guests can enjoy seasonal entertainment, snacks, and treats to ring in the season. Note that the market is closed Thanksgiving Day.

Christmas in Washington DC

Cliff / Flickr

3) National Zoo Christmas Lights

The Smithsonian National Zoo hosts a glorious display of LED lights each year for guests of all ages to enjoy. From November 29 to January 1st (excluding December 24, 25 and 31), experience the winter wonder of ZooLights as you peruse the zoo. A free event at a free zoo, what's not to love? Enjoy tasty treats in a magical wonderland as two spectacular laser light shows set to music and live musical performances glitz up the evenings. Also, we suggest everyone bundles up and uses public transportation, as parking is limited. Note that the event lasts from 5 to 9 pm.
Christmas in Washington DC

Mike Maguire / Flickr

4) Georgetown GLOW DC

From December 6th through January 5th, visitors can experience the 6th annual Georgetown GLOW. The area's only curated exhibition of outdoor public light art installations invites guests to traverse through DC's oldest neighborhood while enjoying the festivities. Furthermore, GLOW hosts several walking tours centered on holiday food and drinks, historic sites, and nighttime photography. Hosted 5 to 10 pm, nightly, you don't want to miss one of the best things to do this Christmas in Washington DC.

5) The District's Holiday Boat Parade

Join DC residents as they ring in the holidays by watching gorgeously decorated boats pass by The Wharf. As the parade continues, visitors are welcome to decorate ornaments or sit by the fire at the Camp Wharf fire pit. Additionally, guests can ice skate and sample winter beverages at Waterfront Beer and Wine Garden, as well as meet Santa at the Christmas Tree. One of the best things to do for Christmas in Washington DC, the Holiday Boat Parade is free and fun for the whole family.

Schedule of Events: December 7, 2019 - 6 to 9 pm

7:00 pm — Boats arrive in the Washington Channel
8:00 pm — Fireworks Salute
8:15 pm–9:00 pm — Live music continues on District Pier Stage

Christmas in Washington DC

6) Gaylord National Resort's ICE

Feel like a little kid again with your family as you marvel at hand-carved ice sculptures made from more than 2 million pounds of ice. ICE at Gaylord National Resort presents Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! See how the Grinch attempts to steal holiday cheer from the Whos through interactive ice displays and sculptures this year. Additionally, this walk-through experience features four two-story tall ice slides and a separate Nativity scene. From November 15th to December 30th, families can enjoy the icy splendor at 9°F. Remember to bundle up!

7) Toy Train Displays

See model trains course through miniature villages and winter wonderlands this holiday season. DC hosts some of the best toy train displays complete with churches, ski jumps, farms, historic sites, and more. One of the best ways to spend Christmas in Washington DC, check out these popular exhibits:

Christmas in Washington DC

m01229 / Flickr

8) Season's Greetings at the Botanic Gardens

Explore beautiful plants, trees, and flowers from around the nation at the Botanic Gardens holiday show! See recreations of fountains, sculptures, and iconic conservatories that fill the model train room such as the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's vibrant Japanese torii gate and many more.

Related Post: What’s New at Kings Dominion?

Filled with thousands of flowers, including newly developed poinsettia varieties, the conservatory celebrates our nation's lovely, diverse public gardens. Additionally, visitors can see a decorated tree with its own model train as well as live seasonal music. Open every day from 10 am to 5 pm, November 28th through January 5, experience one of the best things to do for Christmas in Washington DC. Note that the conservatory is open until 8 pm on select Tuesdays and Thursdays in December.

9) Theater Performances

For drama and theater lovers, Washington DC has some of the best performances of traditional holiday shows. Two of the most popular include A Christmas Carol at the historic Ford Theatre and The Nutcracker at THEARC and the Warner Theater.

A Christmas Carol at Ford's Theatre

Watch Dicken's Christmas classic unfold at historic Ford's Theatre. This renowned musical production conceived by Michael Baron follows the traditional story of Ebenezer Scrooge's transformation and redemption. The production lasts for two hours with one intermission and is recommended for ages five and older.

The Nutcracker at THEARC & The Warner Theater

Feel enchanted by The Washington School of Ballet's production of The Nutcracker. Set in historic 1882 Georgetown with historical figures like George Washington, King George III, and more, family and friends will adore this adaptation of Tchaikovsky's celebrated classic. With intricate costumes, over-the-top set designs, and over 100 dancers, this production is one of the best ways to spend Christmas in Washington DC.

Dates at THEARC: November 23-24

Dates at the Warner Theatre: November 30-December 29

Christmas in Washington DC

Capitol Christmas Tree / Architect of the Capitol

10) U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree

Since 1964, the West Lawn has showcased a fabulous Christmas Tree decked with all of the trimmings, ornaments, and festive lights. For 2019, the tree will be sourced from Carson National Forest in New Mexico, with its height and location TBD.

11) Kwanzaa Celebration at Coyoba Dance Theater

Since 1997, the Coyaba Dance Theater presents traditional and contemporary West African dance and music. Each year, the group performs an annual Kwanzaa Celebration that centers on the seven principles of Kwanzaa: Unity, Self-Determination, Responsibility, Purpose, Creativity, Faith, and Cooperate Economics. Watch as the group sings, dances, uses drums, relays stories, and much more. Held on December 14th and 15th, 2019, tickets start at $15.

12) Mount Vernon Tours

Celebrate the holidays just outside of Washington DC at George Washington's estate. Mount Vernon hosts several holiday festivities, with many included with general daytime admission. Watch 18th-century demonstrations, hear Yuletide stories from costumed characters, and enjoy a tour of the mansion and its grounds by candlelight. Additionally, historic visitors share tales of their past with guests as you wander the area. At the end of the Candlelight Tour, participate in 18th century dancing and visit an 18th century winter encampment to learn about the lives of Revolutionary soldiers. Moreover, conclude the evening with music, cider, and cookies in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum & Education Center Lobby.

Christmas in Washington DC

Phil Roeder / Flickr

13) Union Station Christmas Wreaths

Union Station not only features quality shopping during the holidays, but also gigantic Christmas wreaths that hang outside the station, a holiday model train display, and a beautiful Norwegian Christmas Tree.

14) Russian Winter Festival

Learn about Russian Christmas traditions at the Russian Winter Festival at the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Garden! Meet Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden in a family-friendly play produced by Flying V Theatre. Additionally, guests can create and wear their own kokoshnik (lady's headdress) or gentleman's winter hat to dress in the style of boyars (old Russian nobles). Moreover, the Samovar Russian Folk Music Ensemble will host live music performances while the Kalinka Dance Ensemble hosts festive dances. You can even interact with Happenstance Theater performers. Presented on December 14th and 15th, check out one of the most unique ways to spend Christmas in Washington DC.

jill111 / Needpix

15) Ice Skating at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

Multiple ice rinks open up around the holidays in DC, perfect for family outings. Check out these top spots when the winter winds pick up:

16) National Chanukah Menorah on the Ellipse

The annual lighting ceremony of the National Chanukah Menorah on the Ellipse takes place on December 22, 2019. Thousands attend the lighting of the menorah--the world's largest--to celebrate the sacred Jewish holiday of Chanukah or Hanukkah. Lighting the menorah celebrates justice over bigotry and intolerance, freedom, and lightness over darkness. With appearances and performances by Dreidelman & The Macabees, The U.S. Marine Band, and The Three Cantors, this family-friendly event is one of top things to do this holiday season. Also, hot latkes and donuts will be served and free dreidels and menorah kits are available as well. Note that the ceremony takes place at 4 pm and (free) tickets are required to attend.

Tim Evanson / Flickr

17) National Cathedral Christmas Concerts

Fans of classical music should mark their calendars for the National Cathedral's Christmas concert series. Presenting works such as Handel's Messiah, as well as medieval and modern holiday favorites, this beloved holiday tradition will get you in the spirit. Audiences can hear talents of the Girl's Choir, the Washington Symphonic Brass, The MusicianShip Washington Youth Choir, and the Cathedral's grand organ in an exquisite space.

Visit Washington DC This Holiday Season

For some of the most special, traditional events and attractions, visit Washington DC during the holidays. Fun for all ages, you'll create everlasting memories.

close up of talena smiling

Written By Talena


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