When winter sets in, the city of Washington DC begins to sparkle with beautiful light displays, holiday cheer and an abundance of things to do and see. Read on for the top things to do in DC during the winter.
Discover the magic of wintertime in DC and embark on a historical “Transportainment®” adventure!
As you can imagine, there are several places to try your hand at ice-skating in Washington DC. One of the most popular spots is the Washington Harbor Ice Rink in Georgetown. This rink features twinkling snowflakes that light up after dark and offers ice skating everyday from November through March, even on Christmas Day. Another popular rink is located at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden in the National Mall. A busy spot during the holidays especially, this rink is surrounded by works of art and serves hot cocoa at the Pavilion Café.
Held at the beginning of December, this annual tradition began in 1923. During this special ceremony that takes place on the White House Ellipse, a 40-foot live Colorado blue spruce is lit as the first family welcomes a lineup of entertainers. There are also mini trees representing all 50 states, each adorned with decorations provided by the states. The display stays illuminated for several weeks and includes visits from Santa, reindeer and more.
Bundle up the family and head to the National Zoo for a wild good time. ZooLights features environmentally friendly light displays, a tour through the grounds on the National Zoo Choo Choo, snow tubing on Lion/Tiger Hill, a visit with Panda Claws and special after hours keeper talks. ZooLights takes place annually during the winter and runs through the end of the year.
The U.S. Botanic Garden knows how to decorate for the holidays! Escape the cold and journey through this indoor paradise. Visit the Conservatory for an inspiring poinsettia display and one of the largest indoor decorated trees in DC. And be sure to check out its Season’s Greenings showcase. The garden’s famous train is on display in the East Gallery, a sight that is sure to please every member of the family.
Known as the “other residence of presidents,” this historic hotel is located just steps away from the White House. The magnificent tree in the lobby is decorated with official White House ornaments and offers special holiday tea in the famed Peacock Alley. Be sure to check out the gingerbread house replica of the hotel and special performances in December.
Many of the city’s Smithsonian museums participate in an annual holiday festival. Everyone will be entertained during the two-day celebration. Listen to live music performances, attend book signings, and check out the kid-friendly activities, trunk shows, gift-wrapping and more. And for extra holiday cheer, don’t forget that admission to all Smithsonian museums is free.
Located in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery building, the Downtown Holiday Market is a great place to find unique treasures and holiday treats. Check out eclectic wares from various tents and listen to seasonally themed live music performances. Locally roasted coffee and handcrafted mini-doughnuts will stir up your cold-weather appetite. Enjoy the holiday atmosphere of this downtown market with free admission.
The Chanukah holiday gets started with a lighting ceremony of the world’s largest menorah on the White House Ellipse. Munch on latkes and doughnuts and have fun with menorah kits and dreidels. Music from the United States Marine Band and The Three Cantors will add a soundtrack to the scene. In tradition, a new candle is illuminated for all eight days of Chanukah.
Light-art installations brighten up Georgetown during the 10-day winter event known as GLOW. This event highlights local and international light artists with their works displayed around Georgetown in both indoor and outdoor spaces. Plus, over 30 local merchants offer in-store specials like free hot chocolate and gift-wrapping. Enjoy outdoor seasonal music performances too.
Tudor Place Historic House & Garden will delight both the history buff and sweet tooth fan. This annual holiday tradition is a great time for kids ages five and up. The little tikes can wander Tudor Place estate acting as detectives while looking for clues on how holidays were celebrated in the past. After this activity, the detectives will transform into bakers as they build their own edible gingerbread house.
Union Station is a can’t miss stop during the holiday season. Desperate for gift ideas? Look no further than the famous shops of this landmark. Need a little holiday cheer to boost your day? Catch a glimpse of the Norwegian Christmas tree.
Watch the Parade of Lighted Boats passing by on the Potomac River. The festively decorated vessels are complete with lights and holiday props. DC’s Southwest Waterfront becomes electric with live music, hot chocolate, a Christmas tree lighting, photo ops with Santa and more.