Our nation’s capital celebrates the holidays like no other. From an official National Christmas Tree to many special events to one of the best holiday markets in the city, DC knows how to throw a good Christmas party. Whether you want to appreciate the season through unique exhibitions and light displays or take the opportunity to get some holiday shopping done, you’ll find an excellent option in DC. If you’re visiting the DMV during the 2019 holiday season, you’re probably looking for festive things to do in Washington DC to celebrate this most wonderful time of year. Check out a few of our favorite holiday attractions and activities in Washington DC, including:
- National Christmas Tree
- ZooLights at the National Zoo
- Christmas Décor at Union Station
- Enchant at Nationals Park
- Downtown Holiday Market
- CityCenter DC Festivities
- Georgetown GLOW
- Christmas at Mount Vernon
- US Botanic Garden Season’s Greenings
National Christmas TreeThe official Christmas Tree of the United States, this majestic conifer is erected each year on the White House Ellipse, where it’s free to visitors to enjoy for the month of December. It’s notable for its unique décor, which is comprised of handmade ornaments that were contributed by each of the states and territories of the US. The tree is illuminated from 4:30 pm to 10:00 pm nightly, so swing by after dinner for the best shot at the lights.
ZooLights at the National ZooThe National Zoo is already one of our favorite attractions and it becomes even more exciting during the month of December. The entire zoo is illuminated with hundreds of thousands of environmentally-friendly LED lights which provide the backdrop for exciting activities all month. Enjoy a craft beer garden, live music, and much more. Visitors can also enjoy special after-hours access to animal exhibits, which can be a rare opportunity to see some of the nocturnal animals in their element.
Christmas Décor at Union StationUnion Station is the central train hub of the city. Housed in a grand historic building that also encompasses a well-curated selection of stores and restaurants, Union Station comes alive during the holidays. Marvel at their grand Norwegian Christmas Tree alongside a beautifully elaborate model train display and get some holiday shopping done. Here is also a good place to pick up the Big Bus DC tour, so take a moment to enjoy the festive decorations before you embark on an exciting city adventure.
Enchant at Nationals ParkNovember 22 – December 29, 2019 A unique Christmas experience for the whole family, Enchant is a magical adventure that transforms Nationals Park into a wintery maze. Visitors are enlisted to help find Santa’s errant reindeer, who have been set free by a mischievous elf and are now lost somewhere in this holiday maze. Comprised of brilliant lights, impressive illuminated sculptures, and all the Christmas cheer you could imagine, this experience is one the kids will never forget.
Downtown Holiday MarketNovember 22 – December 23, 2019 One of the top holiday markets across the country, Downtown Holiday Market in Washington DC brings together many of the best artists, craftspeople, and indie retailers in the region to provide a carefully curated selection of gifts for you and your loved ones. The market is located along F Street in the Penn Quarter neighborhood and is open daily from 12 noon to 8 pm. If you visit at night, you’ll get to enjoy beautiful twinkly lights and other festive décor. For more information, check out our guide to the best holiday markets in the US. [insert link to that post here when it gets published]
Christmas Shopping at CityCenter DCThis hip neighborhood in NW DC is a hot spot for shopping, dining, and festive events. They boast a selection of some of the best shops in the city—ranging from indie boutiques to high-end stores—and a few of the most popular restaurants in the city including Momofuku. CityCenter DC also boasts a Christmas Tree of its own, which will be illuminated on November 30, 2019. The tree lighting ceremony begins at 6:00 pm and includes a live music performance, face-painting, and other festive family activities.
Georgetown GLOWDecember 6, 2019 – January 5, 2020 Now in its sixth year, GLOW illuminates the Georgetown neighborhood through multiple installations and exhibitions across an entire month. Local artists design unique light displays that visitors can stroll through to appreciate the beauty and cheer of the season. You can opt for a guided tour of the installations, or simply roam them at your own pace. It’s a rare opportunity to see lovingly curated outdoor light sculptures—especially set against such a historic backdrop!
Christmas at Mount VernonSelect dates, November & December 2019 The holiday season at George Washington’s Mount Vernon combines the historical charm of this legendary estate with all the festive cheer of Christmas. With a series of special events that take place throughout the month, there’s always something going on at Mount Vernon. Enjoy holiday fireworks on December 20 & 21, a candlelight tour of the estate highlighting historic Christmas traditions in Virginia, and an abundance of holiday programs, activities, and tours during the daytime for all to enjoy.
US Botanic Garden Season’s GreeningsNovember 28, 2019 - January 5, 2020 Each year the United States Botanic Garden creates a beautiful organic holiday oasis with a different theme. This year, they’re celebrating famous botanical gardens across the country, from Hawaii to Maine. See detailed representations of iconic structures like the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Japanese Gate and the Huntsville Botanical Garden's Rocket Garden. You can also enjoy seasonal music on select evenings in December. This festive exhibit is free and open to the public.
More Festive Things to Do in Washington DC
- Go ice-skating at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
- Watch the holiday boat parade along the Potomac River (December 7)
- Partake in the Russian Winter Festival at the Hillwood Estate (December 14 & 15)
- Sip holiday tea at the Willard InterContinental Washington Hotel
- Check out the indoor tree at the Library of Congress
- Celebrate with the National Menorah on the White House Ellipse (December 22)
- Shop at the Dupont Circle German Christmas Market
- See the National Harbor Christmas Tree from the Capital Wheel