20 Christmas Things to Do in Washington, DC

Bundle up this year to celebrate the holiday season in the DMV! Enjoy light shows, holiday markets, and festive performances.

I will do my best to update this post as often as possible but please refer to each event’s website for the most up-to-date information. Events that have not announced full details for the 2023 season are noted below.  

Christmas in Washington, DC

The National Christmas Tree: This year, the National Christmas will be open to the public starting December 2. Visiting the National Christmas Tree is a wonderful family tradition day or night. Consider visiting on a weeknight or during the day when the area is less crowded. Guests can also see the Pathway Of Peace – 1 miniature tree to represent each state and territory with ornaments made by children local to that state.  Check our tips for visiting the tree.

The US Capitol Christmas Tree: Not to be outdone by The National Christmas Tree, you’ll find another holiday tree on the Capitol lawn. It generally draws fewer visitors than the National Christmas, especially on weeknights. If you visit during the day or early evening, you can pair it with a visit to the Botanic Gardens (listed below). The Capitol tree is harvested from a different location each year. This year, it will travel from the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. The Capitol Tree usually arrives around Thanksgiving.

Capitol Christmas Tree

Season’s Greenings at the Botanic Gardens: The Botanic Gardens invites guests to enjoy an outdoor holiday display with model trains, DC landmarks made from plants, and holiday decor. This display will be set up from November 23 to January 1 from 10 am to 5 pm (closed Christmas Day). The Botanic Gardens are located very close to the Capitol so you visit the gardens and the Capitol Tree in one visit.

DC Neighborhood Lights: DC’s Main Streets are joining together this year to bring holiday cheer and highlight local businesses this holiday season. Find festive lights plus special promotions and events from November 17 to January 7. Participating neighborhoods include U Street, Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant, Woodley Park, Cleveland Park, Dupont Circle, Lower Georgia Ave, and Logan Circle.  

Georgetown Glow: Georgetown Glow is back this year from December 1, 2023 to January 7, 2024 with light displays throughout the neighborhood. These displays are not holiday-themed but are a great way to enjoy the neighborhood after dark.

National Cathedral Christmas Concerts: The National Cathedral is hosting holiday concerts in person and online this year. Notable dates include: 

  • Handel’s Messiah: December 8 at 7:00 pm, December 9 at 12:00 (family-friendly) and 4:00 pm, December 10 at 4:00 pm. The December 10th performance will also be live streamed. 
  • Christmas with the King’s Singers: December 15 at 7:00 pm (in person and live streamed)
  • Christmas Lesson and Carols: December 23 at 7:00 pm and December 24 at 6:00 pm (in person and live streamed)
  • Christmas Day Organ Recital Webcast: December 25 at 1:30 pm  (in person and live streamed)

Peppermint Treats from Milk Bar: 2023 Dates TBD. Tis the season for peppermint treats! Order peppermint bark cake, peppermint truffles, and cookies to complete your holiday celebrations this year. 

Winter Festival at the National Arboretum: On December 2 from 10 am to 4 pm, get some holiday shopping done at the Arboretum. Find local vendors, holiday greenery, and family friendly activities. You can also pre-order a Christmas tree for pick up. You must order trees and holiday greenery ahead of time. I have tried to buy day of but they are usually sold out.

Downtown Holiday Market: The Downtown Holiday Market will be set up daily from noon to 8 PM from November 17 to December 23 at 8th and F Streets. (Closed Thanksgiving Day and December 4.) Vendors will be selling arts, crafts, jewelry, specialty items, and more!  For fewer crowds, try to visit early or on a weekday.  Read about our 2020 experience

Ice Skating at the Sculpture Garden: Ice skating in the Sculpture Garden returns for the 2023 season! Enjoy the winter season from November 20 to March 3. Single sessions and season passes are available. Fees cover 2 45-minute sessions. Adults skate for $12 + $6 skate rental.  

Christkindlmarkt at the Heurich House Museum: Get started on your Christmas shopping at the Heurich House Museum German-style market featuring local craftspeople and artisans from December 1-3. More details to come but there is usually an entry fee and drinks.

The District’s Holiday Boat Parade: The boat parade at The Wharf is back! Enjoy the boats decorated with holiday lights on December 2 from 6 to 9 pm. Enjoy holiday activities like roasting s’mores, lighting the Christmas tree, ice skating, pictures with Santa, and winter drinks at the Pacifico Beer Garden. Get there early to snag a good seat. 

12 Days of Christmas at The Conrad: Join The Conrad Hotel near Metro Center for holiday fun on select dates through December 24. Enjoy special musical performances including harpist Abbie Palmer on select weekends, brunch with Santa on December 10 and 17, and a special holiday menu available after the CityCenter Christmas Tree lighting on November 25. Check their website for more events!

Light Shows and Historic Spots Ready for the Holidays in Virginia

Bull Run Festival of Lights: Drive through a 2.5 mile holiday light display in Centreville, Virginia. Open weekends starting November 10 and daily from November 20 to January 7. Tickets are $30/car online at $40/at the door with discounts on select weekdays. Pack your car with some friends, put on your favorite Christmas music, and enjoy this light show. You can also enjoy the carnival open nightly (weather permitting) to enjoy rides, holiday treats, and more. Rides require 3 to 5 tickets and can be purchased in packs. Or get a ride-all-you-want pass for $27.

Meadowlark’s Winter Walk of Lights: Located in Vienna, the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens sparkle with holiday lights. Walk through light displays of nature and holiday themes. Open November 10 to January 7 including holidays. Tickets range from $18-$22. Advance tickets are required from December 8 to January 1 but highly recommended for all nights. Dress warm! Read about our visit.

A Christmas Carol: The Little Theatre of Alexandria presents A Christmas Carol from December 2-16. Enjoy this classic holiday story in this cozy theater. Tickets go on sale November 2.

Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade: The Alexandria Boat Parade is back for 2022. Head to the waterfront on December 2 at 5:30 to enjoy the boats and small business shopping. Holiday activities begin at 2 pm.  (Note the parade continues to The Wharf – listed above.)

Christmas at Mount Vernon: Join Mount Vernon on December 15-16 at 5:30 for fireworks, a winter market, food, drinks, and decorations. The grounds glisten with holiday cheer including Christmas trees, candlelight walkways, and cozy fires. Tickets range from $50 to $60 for adults depending on membership and if you choose a mansion tour. 

Manassas Christmas Parade: The Manassas Christmas Parade steps off on December 2 at 10:00 am. Head to Downtown Manassas to enjoy Christmas floats, music, and Santa. Visit the night before on Friday, December 1 at 5:15 pm for a tree lighting, live music, and visits with Santa. 

Reston Ice Skating & Holiday Fun: Reston Town Center will light its tree on November 24 with a large parade and festive fun. Enjoy a holiday parade at 11:00 am following by local shopping and dining. Stick around for the tree lighting at 6 pm on Market Street.

Fairfax Festival of Lights and Carols: Head to Old Town Hall in Fairfax on December 2 from 12 to 6 pm for holiday fun including music, hot cider, and a tree lighting ceremony (5:30 pm). Be sure to also check out the Fairfax Holiday Market on select dates in December! 

Gray Ghost’s Christmas Cork and Cheese Celebration: The title says it all: ring in Christmas with wine and cheese at Gray Ghost Vineyard in Amissville (west of Warrenton) December 2-3. Tickets (price TBD) let you enjoy live holiday music with wine tasting, 1 full pour, a limited edition holiday logo glass, and a cheese plate. Plus, don’t miss an opportunity to see Santa on December 10 (free).

Leesburg Holiday Parade: Head to Leesburg on Saturday, December 2 from 6 to 9 pm for lights, food samples from local restaurants, and Santa. The parade begins at 6 pm. 

Shopping and Light Shows to Celebrate Christmas in 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. Tickets are $15/car on weekdays and $25/car from Friday to Sunday. Tickets go on sale on October 17 and purchasing tickets in advance is required.

Merriweather Symphony of Lights: Drive through the Symphony of Lights in Columbia to see thousands of holiday lights! Open nightly from November 23 to January 1 (closed November 27-29 and December 4 and 11. $25/car. Closed to cars on walkthrough nights on November 26 (family-friendly), December 5 (dog-friendly), December 7 and 12 (Lit at the Lights with cocktails and a beer garden), and December 31 (Midnight at 7 with fireworks and food trucks.)

Bethesda’s Winter Wonderland: Head to Downtown Bethesda on December 2 from 1 to 4 pm for a winter wonderland! Enjoy a ice sculpturing demo (1 to 2), facing painting, crafts, music, and more! Visit and take photos with Santa from 2 to 4 pm.

Polar Express Train Ride: The Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad Museum a Polar Express Train Ride from November 24-26, December 1-3, 8-10, and 15-19, 2022. Enjoy the Polar Express story on the train with your little ones. After, enjoy visits with Santa.

Holiday Concerts at the Strathmore: Join the Strathmore on select dates throughout December for holiday concerts. Some big names include: 

  • Mannheim Streamroller Christmas: December 1 at 8 pm
  • The Nutcracker: December 2 at at 3 and 7 pm
  • Dave Koz and Friend Christmas: December 3 at 8 pm
  • BSO: How the Grinch Stole Christmas: December 7 at 8:30 pm
  • Sean Heely’s Celtic Christmas: December 8 at 8 pm
  • Washington Bach Consort: The Christmas Story: December 9 at 7 pm
  • The Washington Chorus: A Candlelight Christmas: December 15 at 8 pm
  • Handel’s Messiah: December 16 at 7:30 pm and December 17 at 3 pm
  • Hip Hop Nutcracker: December 19, 20, 22 at 8 pm and December 21 at 2 pm

Baltimore Christmas Village: The Baltimore Christmas Village will be back this year in the Inner Harbor. Join them November 18 to December 24 for German-style treats and decorations plus shopping from local vendors. Enjoy both boozy holiday drinks and kid-friendly options. Read about our visit from 2021.

Kelley drinking mulled wine
Baltimore Christmas Village 2019

Garden in Lights: Located in Dowell, The Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center presents the Garden in Lights. Experience thousands of lights, nightly entertainment on this walking tour light show. Join them nighly from November 24 – January 1. (Closed November 27-28 and December 4, 5, 24, 25.) Guests are encouraged to purchase tickets online. Free for members or $17 for non-members. 

Holiday Candlelight Stroll: Join the historic district of Annapolis for a 90-minute stroll by candlelight for the holiday season. Select dates during the holiday season: November 24-25, December 1-2, 8, 15-16, 22-23, and 29-30.

Holiday Concerts with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is back with holiday performances this season!

  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas: December 7-8 at 7:30 and December 8 at 1:30 pm
  • Baroque Christmas: December 15 at 7:30 pm
  • Cirque Nutcracker: December 16 at 7:30 pm and December 17 at 3:00 pm
  • Holiday Spectacular: December 22 at 7:30 pm and December 23 at 3:00 pm

Garden of Lights at Brookside Gardens: Head to Brookside Gardens in Wheaton for a stroll through the Garden of Lights! Enjoy over a million lights and special effects. Garden of Lights is open from November 17 to December 31 except November 20-23 and December 24-25. Advanced timed tickets are required for $10 per person over 5 years. The event is open rain or shine. 

Annapolis Lights Parade: Annapolis is one of the best places near the DVM to see boats and they know how to deck out for the holidays. Head to the harbor on December 9 at 6 pm to see the boats dressed in festive lights!

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