30 Festive Ways To Celebrate Christmas In Washington DC 2023

Looking to sprinkle some extra magic on your Christmas season? Well, you’re in the right place–particularly if that place is (or will be) Washington DC.

georgetown christmas decorations in washington dc, christmas in washington dc
Georgetown Christmas Decor In DC

Washington DC, renowned for its historical landmarks and vibrant culture, transforms into a winter wonderland during the holiday season. With hallmark Christmas festivities like Georgetown Glow, performances of A Christmas Carol, Christmas markets, a holiday boat parade, and more that we’re diving into below.

Consider this post your golden ticket to exploring the most magical Christmas activities in the heart of the nation’s capital. Whether you’re a local seeking new traditions or a visitor eager to experience DC’s festive charm, I’ve got you covered with a lengthy list of 30 ways to celebrate Christmas in this iconic city. 

So, grab a hot cocoa, settle in, and let’s embark on this jolly journey through Washington DC’s festive offerings!

Related Reading: Best Things To Do On New Year’s Eve In Virginia

Christmas In Washington DC: 30 Best Events & Attractions

washington national cathedral during christmas, washington dc christmas lights
Washington National Cathedral Christmas Services

White House

The 2023 White House Holiday Display captures the delight and imagination of childhood, encouraging visitors to reflect on the holiday season. The National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony takes place on November 30, 2023, marking the 100th anniversary of this event. The tree and 58 smaller trees are open to the public from December 2, 2023, to January 1, 2024.

Downtown Holiday Market

Running from November 17 through December 23, this outdoor shopping village in Downtown DC features over 70 exhibitors, including local businesses and food vendors. The market is centered at 8th and F Streets, NW.

Live Music

The Washington National Cathedral Choir and Baroque Orchestra perform Handel’s Messiah. Other live music includes the Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol, and performances by the National Symphony Orchestra and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Union Station

Union Station hosts various holiday events, including the 27th annual lighting of a holiday tree presented by the Royal Norwegian Embassy, a pop-up bar, weekly concerts, and a holiday market. Visitors can also see the iconic wreaths and a holiday train display.

Ice Skating

Ice skating is a popular holiday activity in DC. Locations include The Winter Village at Cameron Run (November 17, 2023 – January 1, 2024) and the Washington Harbour ice rink. The White House also has an ice-skating rink on the South Lawn for the first time in 43 years.

washington dc ice skating at washington harbour, washington dc christmas events
Washington Harbour’s Ice Skating Rink

Christmas Market

Several Christmas markets are held in DC, including the Downtown Holiday Market, Unique Markets at Union Market, Eastern Market, Van Ness Holiday Pop Up Shop, and GRUMP Holiday Market at National Zoo.

Botanic Gardens

The “Season’s Greenings” holiday exhibit runs from November 23, 2023, to January 1, 2024. It features model trains in the outdoor gardens, festive lights, and landmarks made from plants inside the Conservatory.

Mount Vernon

Open every day including Christmas, Mount Vernon offers a variety of holiday events such as Winter Glow, Christmas Illuminations, Mount Vernon by Candlelight, and daytime holiday activities. Visitors can meet Aladdin the Christmas camel and join holiday craft workshops.

National Zoo

ZooLights runs from November 24 to December 30, 2023, transforming the zoo into a winter wonderland with light displays and festive activities.

President’s Park

In 2023, President’s Park hosts the 100th anniversary of the National Christmas Tree lighting. Visitors can enjoy the tree and smaller state trees from December 2 to January 1.

botanic gardens seasons greetings holiday display, washington dc lights festival
Botanic Gardens Season’s Greetings Holiday Display

Potomac River

Every Christmas Eve at 1 pm, Santa and his friends ride water skis and jet skis from Founders Park to Point Lumley Park in Old Alexandria, VA. This unique event started in 1986 and includes a meet-and-greet near the waterfront pavilion.

Old Town Alexandria

During the 2023 holiday season, Old Town Alexandria offers various events such as the 29th Annual First Night Alexandria and Ice & Lights: The Winter Village at Cameron Run. The Little Theatre of Alexandria presents “A Christmas Carol,” and there’s also a Holiday Bricktacular Adult Night at LEGO Discovery Center.

Holiday Lights

The DC Holiday Lights Experience runs from November 17, 2023, to January 7, 2024, featuring lights across various DC neighborhoods. Notable displays include the Gaylord National’s LIT Holiday Light Show and the Bull Run Festival of Lights, where visitors can drive through over two miles of light displays.

Washington National Cathedral

The Cathedral hosts several Christmas events, including Gospel Christmas: Joy to the World, Family Christmas Service, Christmas Lessons & Carols, Christmas Eve Festival Holy Eucharist, and Christmas Day Festival Holy Eucharist. The Cathedral also presents a Christmas Day Organ Recital and Handel’s Messiah, among other special events.

Sculpture Garden

The 2023–2024 Sculpture Garden Ice Rink season runs from November 20, 2023, to March 3, 2024. It offers skating among monumental sculptures, with rink hours extending into the evening on Fridays and Saturdays.

church in washington dc during christmas, washington dc christmas tree
A Church Decorated For Christmas In Washington DC

Holiday Boat Parade

The event on December 2, 2023, includes over sixty decorated boats parading along the Washington Channel and various landside activities like ornament decorating, holiday karaoke, and a music performance. Family photos with Santa and fireworks are also part of the festivities.

National Christmas Tree

Located on the Ellipse, south of the White House, the tree and 58 smaller trees will be open from December 2, 2023, to January 1, 2024, from 10 am to 10 pm daily, with extended hours on weekends. The lighting happens near sunset each evening.

National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art offers various free holiday programs in December, including concerts, caroling, and other activities. Notable dates for performances include December 7, 14, 17, 19, 20, 23, and 24.

Old Ebbitt Grill

Washington’s oldest saloon, founded in 1856, has a rich history with connections to several U.S. Presidents. The current location at 675 15th Street NW houses a Victorian interior with historic artifacts. During the holiday season, Christmas decorations give the saloon a charming festive vibe.

Smithsonian Model Train Collection

Located at the B&O Railroad Museum, this collection features exceptional railway scale models from the 19th and 20th centuries. It offers an interactive experience around a General Motors E8 Prototype Model from 1949.

old ebbitt crill in washington dc, christmas in washington dc
Old Ebbitt Grill In Christmastime

Gaylord National Harbor

From November 19 to December 31, 2023, visitors can enjoy ICE! featuring Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, along with various activities and live shows for all ages. The resort offers exclusive privileges for overnight guests and festive activities for day visitors.

Kennedy Center

On December 16 & 24, 2023, the Kennedy Center will host ‘A Family Christmas,’ a performance filled with holiday classics suitable for all ages. It promises a memorable experience complete with visits from Santa, Frosty, and Rudolph.

Georgetown Glow

This free outdoor light art experience, known as Washington, DC’s signature winter event, returns for its 9th edition. Georgetown Glow transforms the historic neighborhood into a canvas for modern light art installations, creating a magical holiday experience for visitors.

Washington Monument

The Washington Monument, completed in 1884, was the world’s tallest building at that time. It stands as a tribute to George Washington’s military and political leadership, symbolizing the respect and gratitude of the nation. The monument is a prominent feature in Washington, DC, especially during the holiday season when the city is adorned with festive lights.

Christmas Carol Performances

The National Gallery of Art celebrates the holiday season with a variety of free programs, including Christmas Carol performances. These events typically occur throughout December and are open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis.

georgetown christmas decorations, washington dc christmas events
Georgetown Christmas In Washington DC

Nutcracker Performances

The Washington Ballet presents “The Nutcracker” from November 25-26 at THEARC and December 2-30, 2023, at Warner Theatre. This version of the classic ballet is set in Georgetown and includes a George Washington Nutcracker and a Rat King villain. Ballet West will also present their version of “The Nutcracker” at the Kennedy Center from November 22-26, 2023.

Performances at Ford’s Theatre

Ford’s Theatre will host “A Christmas Carol” from November 17 to December 31, 2023. This beloved holiday performance follows the transformation and redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge, led by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

Tudor Place Historic House

Tudor Place offers “Tudor Lights,” a holiday version of their Tudor Nights event. Visitors can see festive decorations, learn about the Peter Family’s tradition of gift-giving, and stroll through gardens adorned with holiday lights. The event also features cocktails and seasonal treats at the Dower House.

Heurich House Museum

The Heurich House Museum’s annual holiday festivities in 2023 will feature Maker Month, starting November 1st and culminating in the 11th annual Christmas Market from December 1st-3rd. Maker Month includes artisan-led workshops, craft stations, and discussions on historic craftsmanship. The Christmas Market and Maker Month support the museum’s Small Business Development program.

Christmas Themed Bar Crawls

Washington D.C. hosts several Christmas-themed bar crawls, including the DC Santa Crawl on December 9, 2023, taking place at various bars in the city. Participants can enjoy exclusive drink deals and festive camaraderie.

library of congress during christmas, washington dc lights festival
Library Of Congress During Christmas

Christmas In Washington DC FAQs

Is Christmas a good time to visit Washington DC?

Yes, Christmas is a great time to visit Washington DC. The city is less crowded, hotels are more affordable, and there are many Christmas activities to enjoy. The weather is typically mild, making it a pleasant time for sightseeing and participating in holiday events​​.

What is there to do in Washington DC at Christmas time?

Washington DC offers numerous activities during Christmas, including visiting the Library of Congress, ice skating, enjoying light shows and holiday markets, and festive performances. Attractions like the National Christmas Tree and historic candlelight tours add to the Yuletide ambiance.

Does DC have Christmas markets?

Yes, Washington DC hosts several Christmas markets during the holiday season. The most notable ones include the Downtown Holiday Market, the Christmas Market at Eastern Market, and the Union Market Holiday Pop-Up, offering a variety of handcrafted gifts, local art, and seasonal treats.

Does it snow in DC around Christmas?

Snowfall on Christmas Day in Washington D.C. is rare but ultimately varies from year to year. While the city might experience some form of precipitation in December, measurable snow on Christmas Day has only occurred about once every 14-15 years. December temperatures can range from chilly to moderately cold.

Where to go Christmas shopping in DC?

For Christmas shopping in Washington DC, popular destinations include Georgetown for its boutique shops and festive atmosphere, CityCenterDC for high-end retail, and the various Christmas markets scattered throughout the city for unique and artisanal gifts.

What is open in Washington DC in Christmas week?

During Christmas week, many of Washington DC’s major attractions, like the Smithsonian museums and national monuments, remain open, although some may have limited hours on Christmas Day itself. Many restaurants and shops also remain open, but it’s advisable to check individual opening hours in advance.

Does Washington DC have a Christmas tree?

Yes, Washington DC prominently features a Christmas tree each year, known as the National Christmas Tree. This tree is traditionally located near the White House, in President’s Park, and is a centerpiece for holiday celebrations in the city, including the annual lighting ceremony which is often attended by the President of the United States and accompanied by live musical performances.

Is Washington DC a good place to holiday?

Washington DC is a great place to holiday, offering a rich blend of historical sites, museums, and cultural activities. During the holiday season, the city is beautifully decorated and has numerous festive events, including the National Christmas Tree lighting, holiday markets, and performances at the Kennedy Center.

Additionally, many of its famous attractions, like the Smithsonian museums and national monuments, are open year-round and free to the public.

christmas decor in washington dc, christmas in washington dc
Christmas In Washington DC

Wrap Up

From the twinkling lights of the National Christmas Tree to the cozy charm of holiday markets, DC offers a unique blend of tradition, culture, and festive fun. The capital city is a treasure trove of holiday happenings. (I’ll cut the alliteration out.)

While we’re in the holiday swing, the special events and attractions roll into New Year. And, I’ve recently showcased the top things to do on New Year’s Eve in Virginia–amusement park countdown events, glamorous masquerade balls, beachside bar crawls, virtual murder mysteries, and more. It includes some fun celebrations just outside of DC.

Back to DC, I’d love to hear about your holiday experiences in the capital! Which Washington DC Christmas events and activities are your favorite? Do you have any hidden gems or personal recommendations to add to the list? Share your stories in the comments below.

Remember, the magic of Christmas in Washington DC isn’t just in the grand events or spectacular decorations; it’s also in the small, shared moments with loved ones, warmth of community spirit, and creation of new traditions. So, here’s to a wonderful wintertime season in Washington DC!

Merry Christmas!

What’s your favorite way to celebrate Christmas in Washington DC?

For more holiday travel guides, you can also check out:

Christmas In Williamsburg VA

Kings Dominion Winterfest Guide

Best Things To Do On New Year’s Eve In Virginia

Thanks for reading!

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