DC during the Holidays

Top things to do in DC during the holidays!

Washington DC during the Holidays is so amazing! There’s just so much to see and do here at Christmas time.

Plan your visit to the Nations Capital during the holidays and see the city all decked out with lights, and fun events for the whole family.

On the blog, I highlight some of the top things to do in DC during the holidays, including a few holiday events around the DC area.

*This post may contain affiliate links. Affiliate links are no extra charge to you, but I may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase.


Top things to do in DC during the Holidays

Visit the National Christmas Tree

One of the best Washington DC holiday experience is a visit to the National Christmas Tree during the holidays. The National Tree is located in President’s Park on the White House Ellipse, and is surrounded by smaller trees decorated with handmade ornaments from 56 U.S. states and territories.

At night the whole place lights up and it is so beautiful! The National Christmas Tree stays lit from about 4:30pm-10pm Sunday-Thursday, and till 11pm on Fridays.

DC during the Holidays
DC during the Holidays

The Capitol Christmas tree

You can’t miss a visit to the US Capitol to see the Capitol Christmas tree on the West Lawn. Every year a different national forest has been chosen to provide “The People’s Tree” and it’s always decorated so beautifully.

The Capitol Christmas tree lighting ceremony usually happens during the first week of December, and it’s so beautiful when it’s all lit up!

This years tree (2018) comes from the Willamette National Forest in Oregon, and is lit from dusk until 11 p.m. each evening through the holiday season.

DC during the Holidays


Downtown Holiday Market

If you’re in need of some unique holiday gift ideas, then visit the Holiday Market in DC during the holidays.

At the Holiday Market you can find crafters and vendors selling some unique-specialty items, which makes it the perfect place to find that special something for that hard to shop for person! 

You can also find some food vendors and holiday performances here as well. Grab some hot coffee and take a break from sightseeing and enjoy the festive atmosphere.

The holiday market is open daily 12-8 p.m., and is located at 8th and F Streets NW, in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery.

DC during the Holidays

Visit the Season’s Greenings holiday display at the U.S. Botanic Gardens 

United States Botanic Garden is one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America, and offers a variety of exhibits, tours, and programs for visitors of all ages.

During the holidays, the gardens are transformed for Christmas with a holiday display of DC landmarks made entirely of plant materials, which is quite amazing! One of our favorite display is the United States Capitol building which is just absolutely amazing.

DC during the Holidays
Season’s Greenings Train display

The annual Seasons Greenings event also showcases various train stations across America made of plant material as well. It’s one of our little ones favorite holiday event that will surely amaze them!

When planning a visit to the Train displays, I suggest visit during the weekdays, or plan an early morning visit on weekends as lines do get quite long.

DC during the Holidays
DC during the Holidays

Ice skating at the National Gallery of Arts Sculpture Gardens

What could be more perfect on your visit to DC during the holidays than ice skating. Now imagine ice skating amongst art sculptures in the National Mall in DC! it’s so much fun and is a must do when visiting DC during the holidays.

The Ice Rink at the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden is the perfect place for some winter and holiday vibes.

Take a break from sightseeing and rent some skates for some afternoon fun, or if you aren’t into skating, then simply grab a cup of hot cocoa and watch others glide along the ice, it’s the perfect place to chill, (literally).

DC during the Holidays

Visit the DC Wharf during the holidays 

The DC Wharf is so festive during the holidays. Stay at a hotel at the Wharf and enjoy all the fun holiday events and festivities. Here is list of some of our favorite holiday activities at the DC Wharf.

DC during the Holidays
Roast S’mores by the fire
  • One of the best things to do at the DC Wharf during the holidays is roasting S’mores by the fire pit. Purchase your Smore’s kit and find a spot by the fire pit and warm up to a hot and gooey treat. There are different Smore’s options to purchase, including some hot cocoa or some warm apple cider.
DC during the Holidays
DC during the Holidays
Visit Santa at the Pier and watch the carolers
  • Don’t forget to visit with Santa at the pier, while you enjoy the sounds of the Christmas carolers at the DC Wharf. The visit with Santa is free, just make sure to bring along your camera and say cheese!
DC during the Holidays
Go Ice Skating at the DC Wharf
  • Another fun holiday experience at the Wharf is Ice skating. Stop by the Wharf Ice rink and lace up your skates while you admire the Potomac River views. Pricing for adults is $12, while children 12 and under costs $9. You can also rent skates for an additional $7, or bring your own. The Rink also has a snack shop, including some hot chocolate to warm you up.
The District’s Holiday Boat Parade
  • Another fun event during the holidays at the DC Wharf is the District Holiday Boat Parade.Spend the day decorating gingerbread cookies and ornaments with the kids, and a visit with Santa. 
  • In the evening, watch the beautifully decorated boats pass by The Wharf, and get into the holiday spirit. The night ends with an amazing fireworks show, which is the perfect way to end a night of fun during the holidays in DC!
DC during the Holidays

Visit the Willard Intercontinental Hotel

On your visit to Washington DC during the holidays, make sure to stop by the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. The Grand Hotel lobby is decorated elegantly, with it’s 20 foot tree as it’s centerpiece and it’s absolutely beautiful!

For the perfect holiday experience in DC, make sure to reserve a spot for some Holiday Afternoon Tea at the Willard. This is one of the hotels annual holiday tradition, where you can enjoy an array of festive teas, sandwiches and seasonally inspired pastries.

Don’f forget to admire the gingerbread display, last years theme was the Ronald Reagan Airport and it was pretty cool.

DC during the Holidays
Have a Holiday afternoon Tea at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington DC.

Enjoy Christmas on the Potomac at the National Harbor 

Just a short drive away from DC is the National Harbor. The National Harbor is fun for the whole family, with lots of restaurants, shopping and fun things to do. 

During the holidays, the National Harbor hosts the Christmas on the Potomac with festive events, such as a tree lighting and fireworks show, Christmas movies, and photos with Santa.

You can also ride the Capital wheel, which lights up at night and take in the views of the Potomac from above. 

Gaylord National Resort

Located in the National Harbor is the Gaylord national resort, Gaylord National resort is a destination in itself. 

During the holidays the Resort hosts their yearly ICE! event, an indoor winter wonderland featuring two million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures, ice slides, featuring a Charlie Brown Christmas this year, and offers a different theme each year. 

The Resort also offers some holiday themed shows, as well as a tree lighting show. 

For more on the ICE event, read our Christmas on the Potomac and ICE event blog here.

DC during the Holidays
DC during the Holidays
ICE sculpture event at the Gaylord National Resort
  • The ICE event is quite spectacular! Before you go, make sure to check online for discounts.You have the option of purchasing your tickets online, or at the box office, but I suggest purchasing them online to avoid the queues. There are also various packages you can purchase that includes, rides, gingerbread decorating kits and more.

The best tip when visiting the ICE event is to dress warm (jackets, gloves and a beanie). Its a freezing 9 degrees in there! although they do provide parkas, its better to bundle up! 

DC during the Holidays

Visit Christmas in Old Town Alexandria

Just a short drive, metro ride, or water taxi from DC is Old Town Alexandria. During the holidays the charming town is transformed with twinkly lights and holiday decor, as well as some fun events for the whole family.

Old Town is also the perfect place to purchase some unique gift ideas, with an abundance of local shops selling locally made, and one of a kind products.

DC during the Holidays
Watch the Holiday boat parade at Old Town Alexandria
  • There are a few events worth noting here, such as the District Holiday Boat Parade. This years event is on December 1,2018,  and goes on in Alexandria, VA and in the District Wharf in DC.
DC during the Holidays
Visit the Torpedo Factory
  • You can’t miss a visit to theTorpedoFactory Art Center during the holidays. The Torpedo Factory is home to the largest number of publicly accessible working artist studios in the US, which makes it the perfect place for some unique gift ideas! 

Read our Holidays in Old Town Alexandria blog for more on all the fun things to do during the holidays.

DC during the Holidays

Visit Nalls Produce

One of our favorite places to visit during the holidays is Nalls Produce in Alexandria. This place really knows how to do the holidays, with their insta-worthy holiday displays, like the pumpkin wall, which have painted in bright holiday colors after the Halloween season. There is also a Christmas tree display, and you can purchase a fresh Christmas tree and wreath.

DC during the Holidays

Visit the Washington National Cathedral

There are an array of special services, concerts and events happening at the Washington National Cathedral in DC during the holidays. Take in a choir performance, a Christmas service, or simply take a tour of this beautiful Cathedral.

*Please note, tickets for the choir performances and some of the services have to be reserved in advance as they are usually sold out. Visit the website for more information.

DC during the Holidays


Some other fun Christmas ideas in the DC area

Zoo Lights
  • Visit the National Zoo during ZooLights, which illuminates the zoo with more than 500,000 environmentally-friendly LEDs, animated light installations, live music and more.
Experience Light Up at One Loudon
  • Over 70 different stunning light exhibits celebrating a rich cultural heritage, with traditional Chinese lanterns and state-of-the-art lighting technology. For more information on this event, check out their website.

Book your hotel in Washington D.C. here:



Disclaimer: Skylar Arias Adventures is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com and its partners. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. These links are no extra charge to you, but I may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase.


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