20 Holiday Things to Do in Washington, DC

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It’s time to start planning those holiday festivities! We’ve got your list of 20 holiday things to do in Washington, DC ready to go. If we missed anything, please share your holiday traditions in the comments!

Note: This blog was originally posted in 2013 but has been updated to reflect 2017 dates.

Washington, DC

The National Christmas Tree: The National Christmas Tree is a beautiful display of holiday cheer in front of the White House. You can also see the Pathway Of Peace – 1 miniature tree to represent each state and territory with ornaments made by the tree’s local children. You can also visit Santa’s Workshop and watch the nightly performances.  The tree will be lit on Thursday, November 30 and remain open through the new year. You can visit the tree during daytime hours but it will be lit from 4:30 to 10 PM.   Check our tips for visiting the tree.

The US Capitol Christmas Tree: You’ll find another holiday tree on the Capitol lawn. This year’s tree is harvested from Kottenai National Forest which spans across both Idaho Montana and has traveled across the country to Washington, DC, making various stops along the way to bring holiday cheer to local communities. The Capitol Tree will be lit each evening throughout the holiday season.

ZooLights: ZooLights is a huge display of holiday lights at the National Zoo. Admission is free – avoid the parking fee and go green by taking the Metro to Woodley Park on the red line.  Stay warm by visiting the exhibit buildings with favorite animal friends such as small mammals, apes, and reptiles. There are some paid attractions such as  a slide, carousel, and a train ride.  ZooLights is open nightly from November 24 to January 1. Closed December 24-25 and 31. Be sure to check out their new holiday market from December 15-17 from 5 pm to 9 pm. Read about our visit. 

Season’s Greenings at the Botanic Gardens: Join the Botanic Gardens to see models of the city’s famous landmarks made from natural materials. You’ll also find a giant indoor Christmas tree, poinsettia display, and model train setup. Season’s Greenings runs from November 23 to January 1, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. including December 24-25. Admission is free. Read about our visit. 

National Cathedral Christmas Concerts: Enjoy beautiful Christmas music at the National Cathedral. Hear Handel’s Messiah December 1-2 or attend The Joy of Christmas chorus concert December 16-17. Tickets available online.

Downtown Holiday Market: The Downtown Holiday Market will be set up daily from noon to 8 PM from November 24 to December 23 at 8th and F Streets. Over 150 vendors will be selling arts, crafts, jewelry, specialty items, and more!

Virginia

Bull Run Festival of Lights: Drive through a beautiful holiday light display in Centreville, Virginia. Open nightly from November 22 to January 7. Check the website for discounts. There is also a holiday village open on select nights in December with holiday crafts, games, and stories.

Meadowlark’s Winter Walk of Lights: Located in Vienna, this walking tour light show takes you through the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. It is lit up for the holidays with beautiful displays of nature and holiday themes. The Winter Walk of Lights is open November 10 to January 7.  Tickets are timed entry to you’ll need to purchase them online. Discounts are available Monday-Thursday. Read about our visit.

A Christmas Carol: The Little Theatre of Alexandria presents A Christmas Carol December 1 – 16. Enjoy the classic story of Ebenezer Scrooge as he travels with ghostly guides through Christmas past, present, and future to find the true meaning of the holidays. This production is fun for the whole family. Purchase tickets online and get them early!

Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade: Head to the Alexandria Marina behind the Torpedo Factory on December 2 to see the boats dressed in their holiday best sail by. Visitors should come early for dockside festivities at the marina, with Santa arriving by fireboat, and the parade beginning at 5:30 pm. If you are in the District, you can check out the new Holiday Boat Parade at The Warf the same evening at 7 pm. Both events are free!

Christmas at Mount Vernon: Mount Vernon is decorated for Christmas November 24 to January 6 (including December 24-25 and January 1). During the day, you can enjoy the beautiful decorations, meet Aladdin the Camel, and learn how chocolate was made in the 18th century. You can also visit Mount Vernon by Candlelight during the evenings for additional holiday festivities not included in regular admission.

Manassas Christmas Parade: Head to Manassas on December 2 at 10:00 a.m. to see over 2,000 participants including marching bands and balloons!

Wolf Trap Holiday Sing-A-Long: Wolf Trap will host a sing-a-long holiday concert on December 2 at 4:00 p.m. with the United States Marine Band. The performance will feature Christmas and Hanukkah favorites. This event is free but get there early because parking is limited! Gates open an hour before show time. They will also be collecting Toys for Tots donations.

Christmas at Oatlands Historic House: Oatlands in Leesburg was a thriving wheat plantation in the 19th century. Today, it is a reflection of Virginia’s rich history. Take a tour during the Christmas season to see the beautiful decorations and  hear how the families of Oatland celebrated Christmas in the past.  The Oatlands Christmas celebration runs from November 17 –  December 30 and look out for Candlelight Tours November 24-26 and December 2. 

Maryland

Winter Lights Festival: Head to Seneca Creek State Park  in Gaithersburg, Maryland for the Winter Lights Festival open nightly from November 24 to December 31 (closed December 25).  You’ll see over 365 displays including Winter Woods, Teddy Bear Land, and the North Pole on this 3.5 mile drive. Discounts are available on weekdays.

Symphony of Lights: Symphony of Lights in Howard County is a beloved holiday light display in Maryland. Drive through the beautiful light displays from November 21 to January 1.  Look out for special theme nights like a walking through night (instead of driving), Military Appreciation Night, and a dog friendly night. There is also a 7 PM New Year’s Eve celebration for your little ones who can’t stay awake for midnight!

Bethesda’s Winter Wonderland: Head to Bethesda on December 2 from 1 to 4 PM to kick off the holiday season. Enjoy an amazing ice sculpture demonstration, music, and a visit from Santa!

Holiday Festival of Trains: The Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad Museum presents the Holiday Festival of Trains December 1-31 (closed December 24-25)!

Baltimore Christmas Village: Head to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor November 23 to December 24 for a beautiful winter wonderland modeled after the traditional Christmas Markets in Germany. Enjoy a giant tree and hundreds of festive lights. Vendors will be selling ornaments, jewelry, art, holiday sweets, and more! Closed November 28, December 5 and 12. Read about our visit. 

Garden in Lights: Located in Dowell, The Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center presents the Garden in Lights. This walking tour light show runs nightly from December 1 to January 1 and features thousands of lights and nightly entertainment. Check the website for dates and entertainment schedule.

If you need even more ideas, check out 15 (more) holiday things to do in Washington, DC!

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About Kelley Smith 56 Articles

I’m Kelley Smith and I love sharing tips on how to best explore Washington, DC. I love pretty much anything I can eat plus really good beer and whiskey served by story telling bartenders. I also like sassy museum guides, photogenic architecture, and colorful urban gardens.

10 Comments

    • Hi Joy!

      The Botanic Gardens are located at:

      100 Maryland Ave SW
      Washington, DC 20001

      There is some parking nearby but guests are encouraged to take the metro to Federal Center (orange and blue lines).

  1. Wqshington Temple Visitors Center –
    Free concerts at 6, 7 and 8 PM through January 1. Half a million Christmas light display in the Mormon Temple trees and gardens. All is free. 

  2. Also ice skating at the Sculpture Garden. Plus they have a great snack bar where you can sip hot chocolate and get warm.
    I second the Mormon Tabernacle’s light display and Meadowlark Garden’s display!

  3. Hello Kelly,

    Would like to share another Christmas event with you: The tree lighting ceremony of the Norwegian Christmas tree will take place at Union Station. Please email me back and I will provide you with a press release we have created.

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