Winter in Washington, D.C. brings seasonal magic for all ages. With lights and greenery lining city streets and adorning stately buildings, the holiday spirit fills the air. The season officially begins with National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on December 1 on the ellipse in front of the White House. The tree stays illuminated the rest of the month and free concerts take place every night.
Holiday Festivities Near the National Mall:
U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony—a 50-year tradition of celebration with an 80-foot fir tree from Idaho
The U.S. Botanic Garden’s “Season’s Greenings” display
Union Station’s Norwegian-themed electric train display, complete with frozen mountains and ice-covered fjords.
The Lighting of the National Menorah on the ellipse of the White House the first night of Hanukkah
Holiday Fun around D.C.:
Zoolights, a nightly holiday lights display at the Smithsonian National Zoo with musical performances, a train ride, snow-less tubing, and a carousel.
Scottish Christmas Walk in Old Town Alexandria on the first Saturday in December, a parade complete with bagpipes, kilts, tartans, Scottish dancers, and Scotty dogs.
Bethesday’s Winter Wonderland in early December at Veterans Park: live ice sculpting, choral perfomances, and Santa himself!
See a Show!
No holiday season in Washington is complete without The Nutcracker at the Warner Theatre (with George Washington as the Nutcracker!), Handel’s Messiah at the Kennedy Center, or A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre.
Ring in the New Year in Washington, D.C.
Several neighborhoods and cities throughout the D.C. area host First Night events. Most popular is the fireworks display over Old Town Alexandria, which can also be enjoyed from the National Harbor across the Potomac River.
The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Ice Rink offers the romance of skating below Capitol Hill. Alternately, the National Harbor Ice Rink affords skaters views of the Potomac River. Both rinks stay open from December through March.
January and February in Washington, D.C.
Visitors can still find plenty to do during the post-holiday season, from Wizards basketball and Capitols ice hockey, to Martin Luther King Day events and Chinese New Year celebrations. Plus, D.C.’s mild winter climate keeps most area attractions open—but less crowded!
Great Neighborhoods to Visit in Washington, D.C.:
Capitol Hill / National Mall
5 Fun Things to Enjoy in Washington, D.C.:
Smithsonian Institution: Impressive—and free—museums line the National Mall. The National Gallery is an incredible collection of art. The Natural History Museum features gigantic dinosaur skeletons. And don’t forget the American History Museum, the Museum of the American Indian, or the incredible Air and Space Museum.
National Zoo: Also operated by the Smithsonian Institution, the zoo is most famous for its giant pandas. The zoo’s beautiful, walkable, park-like environment will keep visitors busy all day, enjoying lions, orangutans, zebras, and more!
Library of Congress: Enter a world of art, history, and…books! With vaulted ceilings covered in classical murals and quotations from famous thinkers, this library is an American homage to Renaissance humanism. Look in on the famous reading room, and make sure to see Thomas Jefferson’s library.
The Capitol: : An underground tunnel connects the Library of Congress to the Capitol, where both chambers of Congress meet. Make sure to book a tour well in advance, as it is one of the most popular destinations in Washington.
Memorials: From the classical beauty of the Lincoln Memorial to the austere silence of the Vietnam War Memorial, Washington is home to many poignant reminders of this nation’s history. Most are located along the National Mall.
Major Convention Centers:
Walter E. Washington Convention Center: With 2.3 million square feet of space, it’s gigantic; as host of numerous presidential inaugural balls, it’s glamorous. The connected Washington Marriott Marquis provides perfect accommodations.
National Park Services – https://www.nps.gov/state/dc/index.htm
24 national parks and 565 listings on the National Register of Historic Places
Theodore Roosevelt Island: The founder of the National Parks has an entire island dedicated to preserving his conservationist legacy. Visit his memorial, hike through woodlands and swamps, and rent a canoe or kayak to explore the surrounding Potomac River.
Potomac Heritage Trail: This expansive network with 710 miles of trails passes from Virginia to Pennsylvania, offering some of the best urban hiking and trail biking experiences in its D.C. sections.
Exotic Car Drive, Washington D.C.: While D.C. does not have any race tracks, racing fans should check out Exotic Car Drive. Just over the border in Waldorf, MD, visitors get behind the wheel of real race cars and experience the thrill of navigating an autocross course.