12 Things to Do in Washington DC at Christmas

Thinking about traveling to Washington for Christmas? You're in luck, because here I have a list of the 11 best things this incredible city has to offer you during these days so full of magic.

Nicolas Reffray

Nicolas Reffray

10 min read

12 Things to Do in Washington DC at Christmas

Capitol Christmas Tree | ©maj22443

There is so much to see and do in Washington DC during these last few weeks of the year. From Georgetown's incredible decorations, the traditional Zoolights or its charming Christmas markets, to the lighting of the National Christmas Tree, everything in December seems to be soaked in the holiday spirit.

If you don't know where to start, join me on this winter tour of one of the most charming cities in the United States. I do recommend that you get a good coat and comfortable shoes, though. Let's go!

1. Take the opportunity to go to a NBA game

New York Knicks, Washington Wizards|©KA Sports Photos
New York Knicks, Washington Wizards|©KA Sports Photos

If you thought that at Christmas time NBA games stopped, nothing could be further from the truth. There are some very interesting and attractive games taking place at this time of year and Washington has its own team, the Washington Wizards.

So, if you want to know a little more about the American culture from the inside and you feel like living a 100% American experience, I recommend you to book your tickets for the Washington Wizards as soon as possible.

Even on these dates tickets are usually sold out quickly, so do not leave it to the last minute. When they play at home they play at the Capital One Arena, located at 601 F Streets NW.

Reserve Washington Wizards tickets

2. Enjoy Christmas in Mount Vernon

Christmas at Mount Vernon| ©Tim Evanson
Christmas at Mount Vernon| ©Tim Evanson

This is a truly special and unique experience. In December, Mount Vernon, the former residence of George Washington, is illuminated to celebrate Christmas.

It is a great opportunity to take a tour of this historic mansion, while enjoying the views of the garden full of light decorations, which light up as the sun goes down. A way to get close to the living history of the United States and enjoy Christmas in an unforgettable tour.

You can also witness a live music show and a historical reenactment, while letting the atmosphere of the place completely capture you. With a view of the Potomac River and the tree-lit residence, each evening ends with a fireworks display and traditional musket firing.

Practical Information

  • Location: Fairfax, Washington, 30 km south of DC.
  • Celebration dates: during the month of December

Book your trip to Mount Vernon

3. Fall in love with the decor and food in Georgetown

Christmas in Georgetown| ©Geoff Livingston
Christmas in Georgetown| ©Geoff Livingston

Georgetown is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque and elegant neighborhoods in Washington DC. Its streets with their Georgian-style brick houses are a spectacle in itself. At Christmas, the neighborhood is even more decorated with countless festive decorations and hundreds of lights.

The lanterns with their typical yellowish lights give way to huge luminous snowflakes, garlands, stars and original works of art that give even more shine to this incredible corner of Washington DC. In addition, you can also enjoy the traditional Grace Street Holiday Bonfire, a bonfire in the middle of Grace Street, around which various evening activities are organized.

It's even a good opportunity to book a food tour of Georgetown and try some delicious holiday food and hot drinks.

Book a food tour of Georgetown

4. Visit Union Station for Christmas on the architecture tour

Union Station for Christmas| ©Savy
Union Station for Christmas| ©Savy

Union Station is one of the largest and most important stations in the United States, second only in size to New York City's Penn Station. With its frenetic pace of commuters coming and going daily to and from all corners of the country, this beautiful station dresses up every December with thousands of ornaments, lights, important decorations and its imposing Christmas tree.

Always included in Washington city tours, Union Station is undoubtedly one of the most charming places to see in DC.

Sometimes the decorations are truly amazing, with miniature trains running through landscapes of snow-capped mountains, lakes and forests, all in its grand central hall. It's truly a sight not to be missed if you're visiting Washington DC for the holidays.

Practical Information

  • Location: 50 Massachusetts Ave.
  • Hours: Open 24 hours.

5. Enjoy the National Christmas Tree

National Christmas Tree.| ©Geoff Livingston
National Christmas Tree.| ©Geoff Livingston

Every year, at the beginning of December, the President of the United States gives his traditional Christmas speech, which is broadcast live and direct to reach every home, and then proceeds to turn on the thousands of lights on the big tree.

The National Christmas Tree is one of the largest and most beautifully decorated Christmas trees and a national symbol. This is one of the most awaited moments by the American people, in which there are always live musical shows.

Beyond the ceremony, you can go during the whole month of December to have your picture taken with the traditional tree lit. One of the postcards that should not be missed if you visit Washington DC for Christmas.

Useful information

To participate in the ceremony, year after year a good number of tickets are raffled on the official website of the United States Government. If you think you are a lucky person, do not hesitate and participate.

6. Live the tradition at the Christmas Markets

Downtown Christmas Market| ©Ricardo R
Downtown Christmas Market| ©Ricardo R

One of the most charming traditions of these dates are the Christmas markets. These open-air fairs, which you can only visit during the whole month of December, are located in the downtown area, although you can also find some very picturesque ones around DC, in nearby places like Maryland, for example.

This is the ideal excuse to stroll around the city and enjoy the spaces decorated with thousands of lights, buy a gift to put under the tree, or taste the typical flavors of Christmas. Some of the most important are:

  • Downtown Holiday Market: located at Penn Quarter and 7th, it is open from noon to 8pm. Here you can find decorations, artwork, jewelry, various crafts, and much more.
  • Shop made in DC: with locations in Georgetown, Dupont and WHARF, this holiday market offers only products made by Washington DC's own artisans, making it a great way to support local producers and artists.
  • Unique Markets at Union Market: Another of everyone's favorites. This charming market is located inside Union Market and is accessed from 6th Street. Here you can buy decorative objects and handmade toys, among other things. You can also enjoy some hot drinks and tasty pastries.

7. Discover Christmas at the Botanical Garden

Season's Greenings at the Botanical Garden| ©m01229
Season's Greenings at the Botanical Garden| ©m01229

Every year, the Washington DC Botanical Garden presents the Season's Greenings exhibit, where you can marvel at impressive models of some of the city's most important buildings and monuments.

The exhibit also features miniature trains that travel through this small city, and an extra theme that changes every year.

One of the details that will catch your attention is that absolutely everything is made with plant materials from the botanical garden. Cork, pumpkin, leaves, bark, mushrooms? Everything is used here to create this powerful illusion.

Practical information

  • Location: next to the Capitol, at 100 Maryland Avenue.
  • Price: free
  • Hours: both the Botanical Garden and Season's Greenings exhibit are open daily from 10 am to 5 pm.

8. Browse and enjoy Macy's incredible window displays

Macy's Store at Metro Center| ©Elvert Barnes
Macy's Store at Metro Center| ©Elvert Barnes

One of the classics that Christmas brings each year are the magical window displays of the famous Macy's store, and Washington is no exception. If you're someone who enjoys the holiday tradition and decorations, you should definitely head to Metro Center, where the red star store is located.

With true works of art in every window, Macy's is always an eye-catcher during the holidays. With snowy villages, reindeer and candy canes, lights and magic in all its forms, walking the store's sidewalks is almost like enjoying a show.

You can be sure that the inside of the store won't leave you indifferent either. Also be sure to take advantage of their discounted prices for the holidays.

Practical information

  • Location: 1201 G Street, Metro Center
  • Hours: Everyday from 10 am to 9 pm

9. Ice skating at Washington Harbour and The Wharf

Washington Harbour Rink in Georgetown| ©CarDun78
Washington Harbour Rink in Georgetown| ©CarDun78

With the arrival of winter and cold temperatures, one of everyone's favorite activities returns every year: ice skating. Ideal for the whole family, the ice rinks invite you to warm up by spinning around some of the city's most charming spots.

While there are many ice rinks this time of year, the crowd favorites are at The Washington Harbour in Georgetown and The Wharf District.

At both, you can also enjoy a stroll around these modern complexes facing the city's oldest mirror: the Potomac River. Here you will find exclusive stores and entertainment for the whole family, and places to warm up with a hot drink. All, of course, with beautiful holiday decorations in the background.

Washington Harbour ice rink

  • Location: Washington Harbour
  • Price: 9 U$S for children and 10 U$S for adults.
  • Hours: Sunday to Thursday from 11:30am to 9pm, and Friday and Saturday from 11:30am to 11pm.

The Wharf ice rink

  • Location: 760 Maine Ave.
  • Price: 9 U$S for children and 12 U$S for adults.
  • Hours: Wednesday to Friday from 4pm to 10pm - Saturdays from 12pm to 10pm - Sundays from 12pm to 8pm - Mondays and Tuesdays the ice rink is closed.

10. Visit the Library of Congress Christmas tree

Library of Congress Christmas Tree| ©USCapitol
Library of Congress Christmas Tree| ©USCapitol

The most common excuse for seeking refuge at the Thomas Jefferson Library is to visit the Christmas tree. The truth is that although it is a very good option to warm up on very cold days, once inside it will conquer you with its beautiful architecture, shows and exhibits.

The Thomas Jefferson building is one of the four that make up the Library of Congress, considered the largest in the world. It is definitely a place full of history. I recommend you to visit its reading room, you won't regret it.

11. Experience A Christmas Carol, at Ford's Theater

Ford's Theater| ©JGHowes
Ford's Theater| ©JGHowes

With the city filled with decorations and the cold weather hanging in the streets, it is impossible not to think of Charles Dickens and his unforgettable novel A Christmas Carol. Here in Washington, it has become customary to keep this classic of world literature alive through theater.

Every year, Dickens' words come to life in a new performance in one of the most historic places in the city: Washington's Ford's Theatre. If you want to attend, you must make your reservation in advance, since every year the show sells out easily. Finally, it is worth mentioning that the play is entirely in English.

Famous for having been the scene of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Ford's Theatre is one of the oldest theaters in the United States. You can also tour this history-filled venue with a highly recommended guided tour, where you'll learn interesting details of America's past.

12. Visit Zoolights during the day and Brewlights at night

Smithsonian National Zoo| ©Kaemat
Smithsonian National Zoo| ©Kaemat

Every Christmas, the Smithsonian Washington Zoo is filled with lights at the enchanting nighttime Zoolights event. A walk for the whole family, where you can enjoy a stunning visual spectacle, with more than 500,000 LED lights shaping different animals, live music shows and beautiful decorations.

You can also meet one of the most famous animals of the place: the panda bear Tian Tian.

Now, for some time now, the Smithsonian Zoo has also held the Brewlights, an adults-only version of this Christmas classic. With more than 40 local craft beer producers, musical shows and an incredible party atmosphere, this is one of the events you can't miss if you're not traveling with kids.

Extra Info

If you have been left wanting more, or think that December is not just about Christmas, I invite you to find out what are the 10 things to see and do in Washington DC in December.

Some tips for your Christmas trip to Washington DC

Winter in Washington| ©VillageHero
Winter in Washington| ©VillageHero

As you can see, Washington DC is an excellent choice to spend Christmas. With lights, decorations and festivities throughout the city, walking its streets, visiting its monuments and living the authentic Christmas spirit is an experience.

Finally, I would like to give you some practical tips to keep in mind before starting your trip.

Is accommodation cheaper or more expensive at this time of year?

Let's see, the last two weeks of December are usually very cheap to stay in Washington DC.

This is mainly due to the fact that there are no congresses or business meetings during these dates, which translates for you into the possibility of getting a very good hotel for less than what you would pay at other times of the year. This is another good reason to visit DC for Christmas.

What should I pack in my suitcase to visit Washington DC for Christmas?

Keep in mind that December in Washington DC is the beginning of winter, and temperatures can be very cold, so it won't hurt to include a warm jacket, some sweaters, scarves and gloves.

While it doesn't usually snow a lot in DC, you may have a few days with temperatures below 0 degrees Celsius.

What can you do in Washington DC in case it snows?

It's not that common to have a snowfall that leaves you stranded and unable to enjoy anything. But if the cold is so intense that you can't enjoy outdoor activities, you can visit one of the many museums. Many of them are free, such as:

  • The Natural History Museum
  • The Air and Space Museum
  • The Museum of Espionage
  • The Museum of African American History and Culture