31+ Christmas Activities in Washington DC (+ Events) in 2023

It’s Christmas in DC when the last golden leaves fall from the trees in the nation’s capital.

There are many Washington DC Christmas events for your family to enjoy, from the lighting of the National Christmas Tree on the White House Ellipse to the colorful, frozen sculptures at ICE! at the Gaylord National.

Fountains are transformed into ice skating rinks for Christmas in DC, botanic gardens into grand light displays, and model trains chug through conservatories.

The tallest and most beautiful evergreen trees are brought in to decorate The National Mall, kicking off an exciting season!

#1 Skiing Santa (Water Skiing Santa On The Potomac)

Cross the Potomac River to Old Alexandria, VA for an out-of-this-world Santa experience. What began as a dare in 1986 has evolved into an annual community event not to be missed. Santa, his reindeer pals, the Grinch, and a few other friends ride waterskis and jet skis from Founders Park to Point Lumley Park. Yes, just for kicks.

Every Christmas Eve at 1pm, the fun begins. Following the show, there will be a meet-and-greet near the waterfront pavilion and behind the Torpedo Factory.

#2 Ice! at Gaylord National

The Gaylord National hosts a massive Christmas celebration. The Gaylord National is a luxurious hotel in National Harbor. Every year, they hold their Christmas festival, ICE! It is open from late November to New Year’s Eve.

The hotel has rooms for rent and special packages that include a variety of ICE! activities. However, you do not have to be a hotel guest to enjoy everything ICE! has to offer.

For good reason, it’s one of the most popular Christmas activities in Washington, DC. This massive Christmas festival offers a plethora of activities.

Snow tubing, snowman building, ice bumper cars, live performances, and much more are available. If you’re visiting Washington, DC in December and have children, you won’t want to miss ICE! at the Gaylord National. This is without a doubt one of the best hotels in Washington, DC!

B&O Railroad Museum
Source: B&O Railroad

#3 Polar Express at the B&O Railroad Museum

901 W Pratt St, Baltimore, MD | Full Details

We all know the B&O Railroad Museum as a great place for train lovers as it has the largest collection of 19th-century locomotives.

But at Christmas time, the museum is also home to The Polar Express!

Hop aboard this real train ride and receive your very own golden ticket. You’ll ride the train to the north pole and even see Santa along the way.

#4 Enchant Christmas

This season, Nationals Park is transformed into Enchant Christmas, the world’s largest light maze and market, with snow falling and larger-than-life sculptures as you make your way through this North Pole wonderland.

Special treats will be prepared exclusively for the event, and favorite D.C. vendors such as Ben’s Chili, Dog Tag Bakery, and Meribeth’s Bakery will be present. They’ve heard that if someone asks, “May they Enchant that for you?” you should always say, “Yes!”

What other activities should you not miss? The Ice Skating Trail (skates can be rented) and Santa’s Landing, where professional photos can be taken with the big man himself.Keep an eye out for Paws ‘n’ Claus dates, when you can bring your pup to take photos with Santa as well.

Enchant Christmas is expensive, and it doesn’t always come to D.C., but it’s worth seeing when it does.

#5 Light Shows

Holiday light displays in the DC Metro Area are their favorite family tradition! They are ideal for early winter nights, social distancing, and rekindling the holiday spirit. Every winter, neighborhoods across the country come alive with holiday cheer. Beautiful LED displays and quirky fixtures can be found everywhere, including parks, malls, and private properties.

While some cities’ holiday lights are modest, D.C.’s displays are extravagant, with over 500,000 LED lights and a few roaring tigers!

Holiday displays in Washington, D.C. include more than just lights. Food, live music, and vendors may also be available. Many of the light displays in Washington, D.C. are free, and some aren’t even holiday-themed.

Christmas lighting
Credit nps.gov

There is sure to be something to add to your “Winter in Washington, D.C.” bucket list, from art exhibits and massive installations to Christmas trees and ice skating extravaganzas.

#6 Annual Christmas Party

4101 Yuma Street NW, Washington DC 20016 | Website

Christmas has arrived, and it is taking place! Many Christmas Eve events, such as:

  • Gospel Choirs
  • Brunch
  • Santa Claus Gift Distribution
  • Christmas Dinners
  • the Annual Christmas Party in Yuma

People decorate small Christmas trees in their homes, children sing Christmas carols, and families take a week off for Christmas and New Year to celebrate with people from all over the world.

Apart from vacations, there is still plenty to do! Explore some of the best Christmas events and activities for kids near you and reserve your seats for delectable buffets, dinners, and gala nights! Make Christmas Eve memorable with fun activities and events to get you ready for New Year’s Eve.

#7 Holiday Light Displays

You can’t spend Christmas in Washington, DC without visiting the National Christmas Tree. It’s close to the White House, near 15th and E Streets NW. It is actually a large evergreen that has been planted there.

So, unlike the Christmas Tree in New York City, it is a year-round fixture. The massive evergreen has been decorated for Christmas every year since 1923.

If you’re in town early in December, don’t miss one of the coolest Christmas events in Washington DC. Every year in early December, the President and First Lady host the tree lighting ceremony.

If you are able to attend the Tree Lighting Ceremony, you will be able to hear the President deliver a brief speech and, of course, witness the lighting of the tree. It’s one of Washington, DC’s most unusual Christmas activities.

#8 US Capitol Christmas Tree

In Washington, D.C., they adore their Christmas trees. While Christmas tree scavenger hunts are entertaining, sometimes you just want to see the best, and the United States Capitol Christmas tree is without a doubt one of the best. Every year since 1964, a tree from a different national forest has been chosen to be the official “People’s Tree” on display on the West Lawn of the United States Capitol.

This tree travels far from home, stopping in at least 20 towns along the way. People enjoy following the tree’s progress and stopping by when it comes close to their town.

Thousands of volunteers help raise funds and ensure that the tree is watered and protected during its journey to the nation’s capital.

Viewing this massive tree, which can be nearly twice as tall as the National Christmas Tree and can reach heights of 75 feet, is free.

The more than 10,000 ornaments on this tree were made by children from the tree’s home state. It is truly a tree that affects the entire country, not just the people of Washington, DC.

#9 Library of Congress Christmas Tree

They always know that they can warm up and find holiday joy in front of the Library of Congress Christmas tree on a cold and rainy day in Washington, D.C. This tree, located in the Thomas Jefferson Library of Congress, is sure to make you smile.

It is well-lit throughout the day, making it an ideal destination for families with young children who have an early bedtime. When all you want is a little holiday cheer to brighten your day, you won’t have to worry about the weather.

Get your library card while you’re there for even more fun, and you’ll have access to the stunning Reading Room.

#10 Season’s Greenings at the Botanic Gardens

They love a little greenery in the winter, and D.C. excels at it. The annual holiday exhibit at the United States Botanical Garden features poinsettias, seasonal music, and greenery.

The replicas of many of the city’s landmark buildings decked out for the holidays inside the greenhouse set it apart. These miniature structures, replicas of which can be found on the National Mall, are entirely made of natural materials. They are on display in the conservatory’s entryway, just past the visitor’s desk, all year.

Scavenger hunts for the Washington Monument, the United States Capitol, the Supreme Court, and even the National Museum of African American History and Culture will be popular among children.

You can also visit the tropical room, cactus garden, children’s gardens, and special U.S. Botanical Christmas exhibits, each with a different theme. There are, indeed, Christmas trains.

The best part is that the US Botanical Garden is open all year. There are no more excuses not to visit this greenhouse near the United States Capitol.

#11 Washington National Cathedral Christmas Concerts

The National Cathedral is a stunning structure. If you look hard enough, you can even find a Darth Vader gargoyle on it!

While tours are available all year, the National Cathedral puts on special programmes during the holidays, such as the Christmas at the Cathedral concert.

There will be a mix of medieval and modern music performed to get you in the holiday spirit!

In addition, on December 25th at 1:30 p.m., there will be a Christmas Day Organ Recital.

#12 Peppermint Treats From Milk Bar

1525 15th St NW Washington, DC 20005 | Website

Milk Bar is a sweet (and occasionally savory) shop that has been shaking up the dessert scene since 2008 by turning familiar treats upside down and on their heads. “One of the most exciting bakeries in the country,” according to Bon Appetit magazine.

However, you can simply refer to us as Milk Bar. They don’t believe in feeding the hype beast. They are, however, very interested in feeding our flavorful treats to those who crave the unexpected. Try our best-selling Peppermint Bark Cake and the rest of our holiday treats.

If you’re referring to Candy Cane Chocolate Chip Cornflake Ice Cream. You’ve got an excellent topping bar or a very fancy ice cream sandwich with perfectly sweet and salty Peppermint Snaps and crushed candy cane bits.

#13 Downtown Holiday Market

The Downtown Holiday Market is an annual tradition that honors local D.C. artisans. It’s the bright spot in the Penn Quarter and Chinatown during the holiday season, set up in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery.

The market is open daily from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., with vendors changing throughout the season, so make sure to stop by more than once. This much-anticipated D.C. The Christmas event will feature hot coffee from local roasters, fresh mini donuts, and other festive treats, as well as 150 crafters, artisans, and stylish boutiques with customized tents.

#14 Experience Handel’s Messiah 

3101 Wisconsin Ave., Washington DC 20016 | Website

Handel’s Messiah at the Washington National Cathedral is a yearly tradition for many D.C. residents and visitors from across the Mid-Atlantic region. The second weekend of December features at least three late afternoon/evening concerts.

That same weekend, there is also a midday family concert, a shorter performance featuring the highlights.

#15 Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theater

Ford’s theater is always available for public tours (for a small fee). Seeing a performance at the theater where Lincoln was shot becomes an extra special treat during the holidays. Yes, it may sound morbid, but this historic theater has been hosting performances for centuries.

This holiday season, family and friends will enjoy seeing Ford’s theater’s A Christmas Carol, which is something not many people can say they have done.

This haunting and moving production based on Charles Dickens’ novel tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge (usually played by a well-known actor), a grumpy old man who is visited by his old (dead) business partner and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

He learns about his own life as well as the lives of those around him and eventually changes his mind.

#16 See The Nutcracker at The Washington Ballet 

3515 Wisconsin Avenue NW Washington, DC 20016 | Website

Seeing a performance of The Nutcracker is one of the most iconic things to do in Washington DC in December. This classic Christmas ballet is performed to perfection by the Washington DC Ballet Company. The classic play is set in Georgetown in 1882 for this performance. To add a twist, the main characters are George Washington and King George III.

Source: The Nutcracker

You won’t find a Nutcracker performance like this anywhere else. The show is performed by the Washington Ballet beginning in late November and running through December.

They also have special performance nights throughout the month. As an example, Military Appreciation Night or Family Night.

On certain days, they also have a tea party after the performance. If you’re in Washington DC during the holidays, you can’t go wrong with seeing a performance of The Nutcracker.

Christmas in Washington, DC is truly a magical experience that everyone should have at least once in their lives. Whether you’re strolling through the Christmas markets, watching a Nutcracker performance, or spending the day at one of the many festivals. December is an excellent time to visit Washington, DC and experience the city’s charm and magic.

#17 Go Ice Skating at The Washington Harbor 

The largest outdoor ice skating rink in Washington, D.C. is open from mid-November to mid-March each year along the Potomac River. Weekly themed events like Cartoon Skate or Rock the Rink are sure to entice your children to learn a new skill or your friends to bundle up even on a chilly evening.

Restaurants such as Fiola Mare and Sequoia are ideal for warming up with cocktails and a bite while the Zamboni smooths the ice. Better yet, reserve a table for brunch at Farmers Fishers Bakers and burn off those calories with a few laps around the rink.

#18 Ice Skating at the Sculpture Garden

The National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden ice skating rink is one of their favorite winter traditions in Washington, D.C. Bring the kids or a date to enjoy the beauty that surrounds this fountain-turned-ice-rink during the winter months.

From mid-November to mid-March, the ice rink is open. Check out the $5 food and drink specials at the Pavilion Cafe during the week from 4-7pm if you’re looking to save money on family dinners and date nights. This is one well-kept local secret that will undoubtedly leak.

Lessons are available for both beginning and advanced skaters. If you’re visiting from out of town, a 30-minute drop-in lesson is your best bet, but season-long lessons are also available for locals.

#19 The District’s Holiday Boat Parade

The Wharf has become the place to be in D.C. for Christmas. Bring the kids down to decorate ornaments, and then relax by the fire pit with a cup of hot cocoa.

The Annual Holiday Boat Parade will pass by as you all wave at the captains, who are excited to show off their ships, which are all decked out for the holidays. Before the fireworks show, adults can enjoy a few adult beverages at the Waterfront Beer and Wine Garden.

With children, you can visit restaurants such as La Vie and Lupo Marino to stay warm and enjoy your beverages together.

BONUS: The Saturday after Thanksgiving, don’t miss Light Up the Wharf, which kicks off a season of events at The District. As the tree is lit for the first time, the dock transforms into your own winter wonderland.

#20 Christkindlmarkt at the Heurich House Museum

Don’t know what to get that special someone on your Christmas list? The annual Christkindlmarkt, a traditional German Christmas market held in the Heurich mansion, is held in Dupont Circle (now the Heurich House Museum).

The event brings together 40 local artisans from Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia to celebrate their crafts, art, and delicious food gifts.

If you can tear yourself away from the tables piled high with things to buy, tours of the property decked out for the holidays are available.

But don’t put off purchasing tickets to this market. It is only available for one weekend, the first weekend of December. Tickets include a self-guided tour of the house, and all proceeds help to keep the museum open for future generations.

#21 US Botanic Garden Holiday Train Display

The US Botanic Garden has a separate entrance that leads to an elaborate model train display that is built to reflect a different theme each year. During the holidays, the train display is one of the best things to do in DC with kids.

The majority of the train decorations are made of natural materials and highlight locations across the United States. And every year they focus on a different theme.

Whatever the theme, multiple trains are always in motion over bridges, through mountains, and past scenes you’ll recognise if you’ve traveled the United States.

#22 Zoo Lights at the National zoo

3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008 | Website

ZooLights at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo is one of Washington, D.C.’s best free holiday light displays. This magical, holiday-themed event takes place from Thanksgiving weekend to New Year’s Day. Live music, glowing animal lanterns, and over 500,000 LED lights are all part of ZooLights.

Arrive early to secure a parking spot (for a fee) and see the pandas, their favorite zoo animals. Bei Bei may have returned to China to meet a lady friend, but his parents Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, along with their other zoo pals, are still there to wish you a Merry Christmas.

The zoo shops are also open, so you can stock up on Christmas gifts that benefit the zoo’s conservation efforts all year.

zoo lights at the national zoo
Source: Zoo Lights

#23 Georgetown Glow

Georgetown Glow is an annual free exhibit of illuminated public art installations. 11 curated lighted art pieces are scattered throughout Georgetown’s historic buildings and shops.

Spend a festive evening exploring the lighted art and visiting the many shops, bars, and restaurants in Georgetown.

You can visit GLOW on your own or as part of one of the many themed walking tours that include history, food, photography, and art.

#24 See A Christmas Carol at The National Theater

Experience A unique Christmas Carol | past, present, and future. “There is no better gift this season for true theater fans.” The National Theater is a live stage production venue in Washington, D.C. Broadway musicals, concerts, lectures, opera, ballet, seminars, and receptions are all held at the Theater.

Beetlejuice – The Musical, Hadestown, and Aladdin are among the events scheduled for the National Theater in 2023. TicketSales.com has the largest inventory of National Theater tickets, so keep an eye out for great resale deals.

#25 See An Irish Carol at The Keegan Theater 

1742 Church St NW, Washington, DC 20036 | Website

The Keegan Theater is a Washington, D.C.-based American professional theater that produces a mix of classics, musicals, and new works, including world premieres. Acting that is intense: always well-emoted but never overplayed. Great prices and a diverse menu. I really like “Hands on a Hardbody.”

Keegan has been described as “eclectic” and as one of the “most popular small [theater] companies” in Washington, D.C. Its repertoire has expanded from its initial focus on Irish plays and playwrights to include musicals and contemporary American and British works.

#26 Skating at the National Sculpture Garden

A spin on the ice at the National Sculpture Garden is a fun, though not free, addition to any holiday visit to Washington, DC.

During the day, explore the large-scale sculptures by major artists that surround the rink, and at night, skate under festive lights.

Tip: The skating rink is open daily from mid-November to early March, weather permitting, except for major holidays.

#27 See a Family Christmas 

1666 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 525 Washington DC Website

Bring the kids for an unforgettable holiday experience as the Choral Arts Chorus performs holiday favorites just for them! They’ll take you on a festive tour of holiday favorites that will have your entire family singing all the way home. Santa, Frosty, and Rudolph are on their way! This one-hour concert is appropriate for kids aged 5 and up.

#28 National Menorah

2110 Leroy Place NW Washington DC, 20008 | Website

The White House Ellipse also houses the National Menorah. Proclamations, entertainment, hot donuts and latkes, and free dreidels and menorah kits are all part of the annual Menorah Lighting Ceremony.

#29 Help out at The National Wreaths Across America Day  

214 McNair Rd, Arlington, VA | Website

Participating in Wreaths Across America is a unique way to remember their fallen soldiers.

Every year, thousands of holiday wreaths are placed on graves in military cemeteries across America, including Arlington National Cemetery.

Volunteers will ensure that every grave has a beautiful wreath placed on it, and the sight of thousands of wreaths laid out is extremely moving.

If you are unable to attend the ceremony, you can still visit Arlington National Cemetery on one of their free walking tours.

#30 Listen to The United States Airforce Band  

Washington, DC | Website

It is the premier musical organization of the Air Force and is based at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. There are six performing ensembles in the band:

  • Singing Sergeants
  • Airmen of Note
  • Air Force Strings
  • Ceremonial Brass
  • Max Impact
  • The Concert Band

These musical ensembles perform a wide range of styles, including classical, jazz, popular, patriotic, and ceremonial music.

The Band’s mission is to provide musical products that elicit emotions, create positive impressions, and communicate information in accordance with Air Force objectives for the defense of the United States of America.

#31 Visit Santa

Christmas is the season of Santa!

While there are plenty of places to visit Santa in the Washington, DC Metro area, often they are for a short period of time or even a one time appearance.

Shopping malls provide an opportunity to visit Santa 7 days a week for 4 or more weeks prior to Christmas.

Convenience is the biggest advantage to visiting a shopping mall Santa, but the high cost of pictures, packages ranging in price from $21 to $45, can be a disadvantage.

Photo packages at all malls are also available.

#32 Bass Pro Shops

Who can forget last year’s Bass Pro Shop Santa Wonderland? It had everything we were looking for to have an adventurous Christmas. From holiday displays, Santa, games and a lot more!

Source: Bass Pro Shop Santa Wonderland

Mixed in with all the free fun are displays of toys and Christmas novelties to buy.

The main attraction…Santa of course and the free photo with Santa you can get.

The dates for this year, are going to be announced soon, and you definitely don’t want to miss that. You can check the latest information here.

Related Christmas Fun!

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Michaela Lee

Michaela lives in Northern Virginia and is a mom of 2 young kids. She enjoys writing, reading and going new places with her family.