30 Best Christmas Things to Do in Washington DC

Washington, DC is known for its rich history and iconic landmarks, and during the Christmas season, the city takes on a whole new level of magic. The streets are adorned with twinkling lights, and the air is filled with the sound of carolers and the scent of roasted chestnuts. From dazzling light displays to festive performances, there is no shortage of holiday cheer in the nation’s capital. Whether you’re a local or just visiting, let’s explore some of the best Christmas things to do in Washington DC.

Go Ice Skating

One of the quintessential Christmas activities is ice skating, and Washington DC offers several outdoor rinks where you can glide across the ice surrounded by a picturesque winter backdrop. The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Ice Rink is a popular choice, located in the heart of the city. Beautiful sculptures surround this rink and offers a unique skating experience. Another great option is the Washington Harbour Ice Rink, along the Georgetown waterfront. Skating here provides stunning views of the Potomac River and the city skyline. Lace up your skates and embrace the holiday spirit as you glide across the ice.

The National Christmas Tree

A visit to the National Christmas Tree is a must during your time in Washington DC. Located on the Ellipse near the White House, this iconic tree has been a holiday tradition since 1923. The tree is adorned yearly with thousands of sparkling lights and ornaments. The lighting ceremony, which takes place in early December, is a major event that draws visitors from all over the country. Throughout the holiday season, the National Christmas Tree is surrounded by a festive atmosphere, with nightly musical performances and a Santa’s Workshop where children can meet Santa Claus.


For a unique and family-friendly Christmas experience, head to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo for ZooLights. This annual event transforms the zoo into a winter wonderland, with more than 500,000 environmentally friendly LED lights illuminating the park. As you stroll through the zoo, you’ll encounter dazzling light displays, animated sculptures, and even a gingerbread village. There are also live musical performances, holiday treats, and opportunities to meet zoo animals. ZooLights is a delightful way to celebrate the holiday season while supporting the conservation efforts of the National Zoo.


Step back in time and experience the beauty of a candlelit Christmas at Mount Vernon, the historic home of George Washington. During the holiday season, Mount Vernon offers special evening tours where visitors can explore the mansion and grounds illuminated by candlelight. Learn about the holiday traditions of the Washington family and enjoy live music and historical reenactments. The candlelight tours provide a unique and intimate glimpse into the past, allowing you to experience the magic of Christmas as it would have been celebrated in the 18th century.

Christmas at National Harbor

Located just outside of Washington DC, National Harbor is a waterfront destination that hosts a variety of Christmas events and attractions. One of the highlights is the Christmas on the Potomac celebration at Gaylord National Resort. This extravaganza features the ICE! Exhibit, where you can walk through a winter wonderland made entirely of ice sculptures. The resort also offers a beautiful Christmas Village with unique shops, holiday entertainment, and a carousel. The National Harbor Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony is another must-see event featuring live performances and fireworks. Christmas at National Harbor is a festive and enchanting experience that should not be missed.

CityCenter DC

CityCenter DC is a premier shopping and dining destination in the heart of downtown Washington DC, and during the Christmas season, it transforms into a holiday paradise. The centerpiece of the festivities is a dazzling 75-foot Christmas tree adorned with thousands of lights and ornaments. The surrounding streets are lined with festive decorations, creating a magical atmosphere. Take a leisurely stroll through the area and admire the beautiful displays, or stop by one of the many shops and restaurants to indulge in some holiday shopping or dining. CityCenter DC is the perfect place to soak up the Christmas spirit in the heart of the city.

Union Station

Union Station, one of Washington DC’s most iconic landmarks, is a must-visit destination during the Christmas season. The station’s grand main hall is transformed into a winter wonderland with a towering Christmas tree, festive decorations, and a model train exhibit. Take a moment to marvel at the beautiful architecture and soak in the holiday atmosphere. Union Station also hosts various holiday events, including musical performances and a holiday market. Whether catching a train or simply exploring the city, Union Station is a must-see stop during the Christmas season.

United States Botanical Garden Holiday Display

Escape the winter chill and step into a tropical paradise at the United States Botanical Garden. During the holiday season, the conservatory is transformed into a breathtaking display of seasonal plants, flowers, and decorations. The highlight of the holiday display is the National Mall, which is made entirely of plant materials. As you wander through the gardens, you’ll encounter a variety of themed exhibits, including a showcase of poinsettias, a model train display, and a gingerbread house competition. The United States Botanical Garden Holiday Display is a feast for the senses and a delightful way to celebrate Christmas.

U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree

The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is a beloved Washington DC tradition from 1964. Each year, a tree is selected from one of the national forests and transported to the Capitol grounds, where it is decorated with thousands of ornaments handmade by people from the tree’s home state. The lighting ceremony, attended by members of Congress and the public, is a festive event that signifies the start of the holiday season in Washington DC. Take a stroll around the Capitol grounds and marvel at the towering tree, or attend one of the concerts or special events throughout the season. The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree symbolizes unity and joy during the Christmas season.

Dumbarton Oaks

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and explore the peaceful grounds of Dumbarton Oaks. This historic estate, located in the Georgetown neighborhood, offers a serene setting for enjoying the beauty of nature during the Christmas season. Take a leisurely walk through the gardens and admire the winter foliage, or cozy up with a hot drink in the Dumbarton Oaks Café. During the holiday season, Dumbarton Oaks also hosts a variety of events, including concerts and art exhibitions. It’s the perfect place to unwind and embrace the tranquility of the Christmas season.

The Holiday Boat Parade

For a unique and festive Christmas experience, head to the waterfront and watch the Holiday Boat Parade. This annual event takes place on the Potomac River and features a procession of beautifully decorated boats. As you watch the boats sail by, you’ll be treated to a stunning display of lights and holiday decorations. The Holiday Boat Parade is a beloved tradition that brings the community together and spreads holiday cheer. Grab a hot chocolate and find a spot along the waterfront to enjoy this magical event.

White House at Christmas

Visiting the White House is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it becomes even more special during Christmas. Each year, the White House is transformed into a winter wonderland, with stunning decorations that reflect the unique style of the current First Family. The White House Christmas Tree, located in the Blue Room, is the centerpiece of the holiday decorations. Unfortunately, touring the interior of the White House during the holidays is limited to guests. However, you can still admire the exterior decorations and soak in the festive atmosphere as you walk along Pennsylvania Avenue. The White House at Christmas is a sight to behold and a reminder of the magic of the holiday season.

Downtown Holiday Market

If you want unique gifts and festive treats, head to the Downtown Holiday Market. Located in the heart of downtown Washington DC, this open-air market features more than 150 vendors selling various goods, including arts and crafts, clothing, jewelry, and delicious food and drinks. The market is adorned with festive decorations and a lively and cheerful atmosphere. Take your time to browse through the stalls, sample local delights, and find the perfect gifts for your loved ones. The Downtown Holiday Market is a must-visit destination for anyone searching for holiday cheer and one-of-a-kind treasures.

National Cathedral Christmas Concerts

For a truly enchanting musical experience, attend one of the Christmas concerts at the National Cathedral. This magnificent cathedral, with its stunning Gothic architecture, provides a breathtaking backdrop for various holiday performances. From traditional carol services to orchestral concerts, there is something for everyone to enjoy. The soaring acoustics of the cathedral enhance the beauty of the music, creating a truly magical atmosphere. Attending a Christmas concert at the National Cathedral is a spiritual and cultural experience that will leave you feeling inspired and filled with the joy of the season.

Wreaths Across America

Arlington National Cemetery participates in the Wreaths Across America program, which honors fallen soldiers by placing wreaths on their graves each December. This annual event is a powerful and moving tribute to those who have served their country. Volunteers from all over the country gather at Arlington National Cemetery to place wreaths and pay their respects. The ceremony includes a wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a moment of silence. Participating in Wreaths Across America is a meaningful way to remember and honor the sacrifices of our military heroes during the Christmas season.

Season’s Greetings at the Botanic Gardens

One of the highlights of the Christmas season in Washington, DC is the Season’s Greetings exhibition at the United States Botanic Garden. This annual display features a stunning collection of holiday plants and decorations, including a towering Christmas tree and a model train exhibit that winds its way through a miniature landscape. The Botanic Garden also hosts live music performances throughout the season, adding to the festive atmosphere.

Antietam National Battlefield

For history enthusiasts, a visit to the Antietam National Battlefield during Christmas is a must. This historic site commemorates the bloodiest single day of the Civil War and offers visitors a chance to explore the battlefield and learn about the events there. During Christmas, the battlefield is decorated with wreaths and candles, creating a solemn yet beautiful tribute to those who fought and lost their lives.

National Menorah

Located on the White House Ellipse, the National Menorah lighting ceremony is a cherished tradition in Washington, DC. Each year, the lighting of the National Menorah marks the beginning of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights. The ceremony features live music, speeches, and, of course, the lighting of the menorah itself. It’s a beautiful and meaningful event that brings people of all faiths together to celebrate the holiday season.

Christmas at the Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral is a breathtaking place to visit any time of year, but it becomes even more special during Christmas. The cathedral hosts various Christmas events and services, including a candlelight procession and a performance of Handel’s Messiah. Visitors can also participate in the annual Christmas pageant, which brings the nativity story to life with live animals and a cast of volunteers from the community.


Enchant is a magical Christmas light maze and market at Nationals Park in Washington, DC. The maze is made up of millions of twinkling lights and features interactive displays and sculptures. Visitors can wander through the maze, explore the market stalls, and even meet Santa Claus himself. Enchant is a truly enchanting experience that will delight visitors of all ages.

Library of Congress Christmas Tree

The Library of Congress is home to millions of books and documents and hosts a beautiful Christmas tree during the holiday season. The tree is decorated with handmade ornaments representing each state and territory of the United States. Visitors can admire the tree and participate in holiday-themed activities and performances held throughout the season.

The Nutcracker

No Christmas season is complete without a performance of The Nutcracker, and the Washington DC Ballet puts on a truly spectacular show. With beautiful costumes, enchanting sets, and talented dancers, the performance brings the classic holiday tale to life. The Nutcracker is a beloved tradition for many families, and seeing it performed by the Washington DC Ballet is a magical experience.

D.C. Neighborhood Lights

In neighborhoods throughout Washington DC, residents go out with their Christmas light displays. From intricate designs to synchronized music shows, D.C. neighborhoods truly shine during the holiday season. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the best light displays in the city, marveling at the creativity and festive spirit of the residents.

Willard Hotel Carolling

The historic Willard InterContinental Hotel is known for its grandeur and elegance, especially during Christmas. One of the highlights of the holiday season is the hotel’s caroling event, where guests and visitors gather in the lobby to sing classic Christmas carols. The event is accompanied by a beautifully decorated Christmas tree and a festive atmosphere that will get everyone in the holiday spirit.

Georgetown Glow

Georgetown Glow is an annual light art exhibition in the historic Georgetown neighborhood. The exhibit features local and international artists’ outdoor installations and light projections. Visitors can take a stroll through the neighborhood, admiring the stunning light displays and enjoying the festive atmosphere.

Winter Festival at the National Arboretum

The United States National Arboretum is a hidden gem in Washington, DC, and it becomes even more magical during the Christmas season. The arboretum hosts a winter festival that includes various activities and events, such as wreath-making workshops, holiday-themed garden tours, and live music performances. Visitors can also explore the arboretum’s stunning gardens and take in the beauty of nature during the winter months.

Ice Skating at the Sculpture Garden

Ice skating is a quintessential winter activity, and the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden offers a picturesque setting for this festive pastime. Beautiful sculptures and twinkling lights surround the garden’s ice rink, creating a truly enchanting atmosphere. Whether you’re a novice skater or a seasoned pro, ice skating at the Sculpture Garden is a must-do activity during the Christmas season.

Christmas at Mount Vernon

A short drive from Washington DC, Mount Vernon is the historic home of George Washington and offers a unique glimpse into the first president’s life. During Christmas, Mount Vernon is transformed into a winter wonderland with holiday-themed tours, festive decorations, and live music performances. Visitors can explore the beautifully decorated mansion and learn about the Christmas traditions of the time.

Reston Ice Skating & Holiday Fun

For those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, Reston Town Center offers a charming and festive retreat. The town center features an outdoor ice rink where visitors can lace up their skates and glide across the ice. In addition to ice skating, Reston Town Center hosts a variety of holiday events and activities, such as tree-lighting ceremonies and visits from Santa Claus.

Wrap Up

Washington, DC, is truly a magical place to visit during the Christmas season. From stunning light displays to festive performances, there is no shortage of holiday activities to enjoy. Whether exploring the city’s iconic landmarks or discovering hidden gems, Washington, DC, offers something for everyone. So, make sure to plan your trip to the nation’s capital and experience the best things to do in Washington, DC, during Christmas.

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