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The Ultimate List of Things to do in Washington D.C. in the Winter

The Ultimate List of Things to do in Washington D.C. in the Winter

I might hate the cold, but I LOVE the winter because it’s the holiday season! Moreover, Christmas is my favorite time of the year! There are so many fun things to do in Washington D.C. in the winter whether it is to enjoy the crisp air or to get into the holiday spirit. Which is why Washington D.C. is one of the best places to visit in the winter. From ice skating on outdoor rinks to drinking peppermint hot cocoa, seeing the best Christmas trees, shopping at outdoor markets, and so much more! My (local) post will cover all of the best things to do in Washington D.C. in the winter.

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Inside Things to do in Washington D.C. in the Winter

There are so many fun things to do inside when it is cold in D.C. With that being said, just because you are inside, does not mean you are always going to stay warm. From touring the White House to walking through an ice exhibit, here are some of the best things to do inside places in Washington D.C. during the winter.

The White House Holiday Tour

Enjoy a patriotic Christmas in Washington D.C. by attending the public White House holiday tour. Every year the First Lady along with diligent workers from all around the country, decorate the White House with festive ornaments, garnets, wreaths, Christmas trees, and more. A few rooms visitors get to see inside the White House holiday tour include the East Wing, the Library, the China Room, the Grand Foyer, the Green, Blue, and Red Rooms, and more. Needless to say, visiting the White House in December is one of the best holiday things to do in Washington D.C. in the winter.

With that being said, though the tour is FREE, it is not simple to receive tickets. The White House holiday tours are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis throughout December and tickets are very limited. To obtain tickets, you must contact your US Member of Congress three months in advance and no less than 21 days in advance of the requested tour date. So my recommendation is to place your request by at least September 1st.

Price: FREE

The U.S. Botanical Garden’s Seasons Greenings

Escape the hustle and bustle of Washington D.C. and transport yourself to a rainforest or desert at the U.S. Botanical Garden. Moreover, who loves train sets? Because the U.S. Botanical Garden has an annual holiday show that showcases model trains correlating to a National theme. The display of these train stations are not your average train set, they are all made from plant-based materials! As briefly stated, this annual show takes visitors on both a holiday and a U.S. historical journey. In previous years, visitors have followed the model trains journey through U.S. National Parks and historic places, famous U.S. roadside attractions, and iconic U.S. train stations.

In addition to the train models, visitors can also find a collection of D.C. landmarks (also made of plant-based materials), such as the Washington Monument, U.S. Capitol, the White House, Jefferson Memorial, and more. Each plant-based D.C. landmark is truly a remarkable sight to see as the artists feature every small detail.

The U.S. Capitol building made of plant-based materials with rows of greenery in the background. You can find this attraction in Washington D.C. in the winter at the U.S. Botanical Garden.

Price: FREE

Visit Museums

Washington D.C. is well-known for their FREE world-class Smithsonian museums. So to stay warm in the winter in D.C., we enjoy visiting the Smithsonian museums. Moreover, there are 17 different museums and galleries (including the zoo). Eleven of the Smithsonian museums and galleries are located at the National Mall, while the remaining six are in the greater D.C. area. Though you cannot visit all 17 in one weekend, you can visit a few of our favorite museums such as Air and Space, African American History and Culture, American History, and of course, the Smithsonian Castle.

Price: FREE

MGM National Harbor Conservatory

One of the best things to see in Washington D.C. in the winter is actually just outside the capitol at the National Harbor. So if you are looking for the perfect day trip from D.C., visit the National Habor. The National Harbor is a beautiful waterfront area along the Potomac River, but during the winter we advise to stay inside. Moreover, you should visit MGM National Harbor, a hotel-casino resort, because the true sight to see is their conservatory. Inside the resort is a beautiful 15,000-square foot conservatory located by the hotel lobby under an 85-foot-tall glass ceiling atrium. The conservatory changes its theme in correlation to the seasons. So following Thanksgiving, the conservatory transports you into a winter wonderland!

Every year the design is different but always stunning. Typically, the MGM National Harbor conservatory has tall, elegant, trees along the conservatory with chandelier ornaments hung from the ceiling. In addition, the conservatory also includes beautiful elements to accompany the trees and ornaments with small water features, gift boxes, a wooden bridge, and more. Of course, it is not a conservatory without flowers – visitors can find fresh flower arrangements and poinsettias sporadically on the Christmas trees, overflowing from the gift boxes, used as a bow and ribbon, and spread throughout the beds of the conservatory.

MGM National Harbor's Conservatory decorated as a winter wonderland. There are silver and gold trees with ornaments hanging from the ceilings.

During the day, natural sunlight shines in the conservatory and at night the conservatory sparkles with snowflake light fixtures. Day or night, the conservatory is a sight to see. Better yet, enjoy the winter wonderland conservatory with a heavenly croissant or decadent dessert from the Bellagio Patisserie located next to the conservatory. You can either sit down at the patisserie or on a bench in the conservatory to enjoy your sweets and scenery.

Price: FREE

ICE! at Gaylord National

Another great place to visit at the National Harbor is the Gaylord hotel to experience their ICE! exhibit. Though you are staying warm inside the hotel, you will be cold in ICE!, but I promise it’s worth it! You will be walking through the ICE! exhibit at a very chilly 9 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not worry, you will be provided a complimentary winter coat, but it is advised to also dress warmly.

A beautiful ice sculpture of the Nativity scene found at the Gaylords ICE! exhibit.

Going to ICE! is one of the most special things to do in Washington D.C. in the winter because of the remarkable ice sculptures. These hand-carved sculptures are made from more than 2 million pounds of ice! The interactive ice sculptures and displays are truly brought to life by talented artists. Moreover, there is always a theme at ICE! I have seen themes such as Christmas Around the World, a Charlie Brown Christmas, the Polar Express, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and more.

In my opinion, if I were to imagine what the North Pole would look like, ICE! is exactly what I picture! Whether you are five years old or twenty-eight years old – ICE! will make you feel young. Especially with their two-foot story ice slide! Everyone of all ages is able to go down the ice slide as many times as you want or until your butt gets numb. Needless to say, visiting ICE! is definitely the perfect family event or a fun winter date.

Two people racing down a two-story slide made of ice inside the Gaylords ICE! exhibit.

Price: $25 for child and $33 for adult, but you can find great discounts on Groupon.

Be Merry at Miracle on 7th Street

You can ask any local, they will tell everyone 21 years and older that the number one thing to do in Washington D.C. in the winter is drinking at Miracle on 7th Street! The Drink Company is well known for having some of the best-themed pop-up bars in the nation. As a (previous) D.C. local, we have been able to go to several of their themed pop-up bars including their Cherry Blossom, Game of Thrones and Miracle on 7th Street.

Every year, the Drink Company turns a space of five rooms into a winter wonderland with a menu full of holiday spirits (no pun intended). The themes at Miracle on 7th Street change yearly but are always festive. Previously, they have showcased themes of a Christmas Story, a gingerbread house, a moving toy train, a nutcracker gallery, a sleigh room for selfies, and more.

A decorated room filled with wreathes and nutcrackers on the wall from Drink Company's Miracle on 7th Street pop-up bar in Washington D.C.

Though the spiked holiday drinks are not cheap, there is no charge at the door. We find this justifiable because being inside the bar is definitely an attraction worth paying for. Most holiday cocktails are priced around $14 and eggnog shots around $5. They also have a beer and wine list and a few snacks to purchase. Most cocktails come in cute Santa, snowman or polar bear mugs, which can all be purchased to take home for $10.

A holiday cocktail inside a Santa mug with a skewer of cookie dough on top. This drink can be found in Washington D.C. in the winter when the Drink Company opens their Miracle on 7th Street pop-up bar.

Price: Entrance is FREE, drink parties vary around $14.

Go to a Capitals Game!

As briefly stated, the winter is my favorite time of the year because of the holiday season, but it’s Adam’s favorite time of the year because of hockey! We encourage both locals and tourists to buy tickets to a Washington Capitals game as they are a lot of fun, especially when they are winning! The concession stands at Capital One Arena are also pretty phenomenal. In fact, they have some of the best food options we have ever seen at a stadium. The atmosphere is also fantastic – the Washington Capitals have some of the best fans in the nation. So whether you are a Caps fan or cheering for the other team, going to a game is one of the most fun things to do in Washington D.C. in the winter.

A panoramic view inside the Washington Capitals hockey arena filled with fans.

Fun fact: we watched the St. Louis Blues (Adam’s team) play against the Washington Capitals in January 2019. The Blues ended up beating the Capitals that night despite being dead last in the season. However, they persevered and ended up winning the Stanley Cup in 2019 for the first time ever! Let’s Go BLUES!!!!

A St. Louis Blues couple cheering on their favorite team inside the Capital One Arena.

Prices: vary on ticket, purchase your Washington Capitals game tickets HERE.

Outdoor Things to do in Washington D.C. in the Winter

Though it is very chilly in Washington D.C. in the winter, there are so many fun things to do outdoors that you cannot miss. From ice skating on outdoor rinks to walking through a light-art exhibit, shopping at holiday markets, and more.

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Ice Skating at Washington Harbour

One of the best ice skating rinks in Washington D.C. that locals enjoy going to is the Washington Harbour Ice Rink. Starting in mid-November the Washington Harbour turns their fountain into an ice rink covering 11,800 square ft. In fact, this is D.C.’s largest outdoor ice skating venue. In addition to this ice skating rink being the largest in the city, guests can enjoy skating alongside the famous Potomac River. After a few laps around the rink, enjoy some food and beverages at the many outlets surrounding the venue. Two of our favorite places to eat are Farmers Fishers Bakers and Fiola Mare.

Adults: $10.00
Children/Seniors/Military: $9.00
Skate Rental: $6.00
Socks/Gloves: $4.00

Ice Skating at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden 

Another wonderful outdoor ice skating rink in Washington D.C. is at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. Visitors get to skate the rink surrounded by beautiful pieces of sculptures by modern and contemporary artists. This ice rink also opens to the public starting mid-November and closes in March. In addition to ice skating, do not forget to warm up with a warm peppermint hot chocolate from the Pavilion Cafe – it is very delicious! (Insider tip: adults can enjoy a spiked peppermint hot chocolate).

A cute couple holding hands while ice skating at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C. in the winter.

Skaters 13 yrs and older: $9.00
Children (12 years and under)/Seniors (50 years and older)/Students with valid ID: $6.00
Skate Rental: $4.00

Visiting Christmas at Mount Vernon

For a fun and historical outing to enjoy in Washington D.C. in the winter, I recommend visiting George Washington’s beloved Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon is a fantastic place to visit year-round, but during the holiday season, it is the perfect place to be! In addition to a traditional tour of Mount Vernon, visitors can enhance their experience with holiday programs and events during Christmas at Mount Vernon. These holiday programs and events are the perfect winter outing for the entire family.

Washington's iconic estate, Mount Vernon, during a cloudy day in the winter.

Visitors will be able to watch 18th-century demonstrations such as making chocolate, watch musical fifing demonstrations, hear stories of Christmases past from costumed characters, and much more. Furthermore, one of the most popular holiday events at the estate is Mount Vernon at Candlelight. On select dates, visitors will go on a candlelit character-guided tour, learn about holiday traditions during the 18th-century in Virginia, participate in 18th-century dancing, enjoy cider and cookies, and more.

Prices: Adults (12 yrs and older) are $20, youth (6 – 11 years) are $12, and children 5 and younger are FREE.

Christmas Lights Down Kings Street

Every year in Old Town Alexandria, Kings Street turns into a magical road with Christmas lights strung on every tree. The results are more than beautiful, which is why we love visiting Kings Street in the winter. Visitors can enjoy the festive road by car, trolley (free), or foot.

Kings Street is not the only thing decorated in Old Town Alexandria, even the shops and restaurants are too. Some of the shops have the most adorable storefronts that will instantly draw you in. So be prepared to do a little shopping when you visit Kings Street during the holiday season.

I also recommend grabbing a bite to eat at one of the many fabulous dining establishments. A few of my favorite restaurants in Old Town Alexandria include Jackson 20, Bastille Brasserie & Bar, Old House Cosmopolitan Grill, Murphy’s Irish Pub, Chadwicks, and Redrocks Neapolitan Bistro. Of course, you cannot miss out on dessert so try Nicecream for a special treat.

Prices: FREE, even the trolley is free!

Shopping at the Downtown Holiday Market

If you are looking for the perfect holiday market to buy your loved ones a gift for under the tree, look no further than Washington D.C.’s Downtown Holiday Market. The holiday market showcases several different retailers ranging from, artwork, jewelry, crafts, clothing, accessories, specialty items and more. The market also has local food and beverage outlets, so you will not drop while you shop! Our favorite vendor at the Downtown Holiday Market is The Capital Candy Jar because they produce giant s‘mores with housemade flavored marshmallows – truly the best treat to enjoy in Washington D.C. in the winter!

Every day the Downtown Holiday Market has musicians performing both Christmas and original songs for shoppers to enjoy. The music genre includes everything you can think of such as rock, jazz, gospel, folk, R&B, classical, blues, and bluegrass. The schedule and list of retailers can be found here. With all that being said, there is definitely something for everyone to enjoy at Washington D.C.’s Downtown Holiday Market!

Price: FREE to visit, but be prepared to spend some shopping!

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Experience Georgetown’s GLOW Exhibit

Another great free event to enjoy in Washington D.C. in the winter is Georgetown’s GLOW exhibit. Georgetown itself is an amazing and popular neighborhood in Washington D.C. to visit any time of the year. The holiday season is no exception because Georgetown features the GLOW exhibit – a wonderful outdoor light experience. It is essentially an art exhibit all around the neighborhood that takes place at night. The artists are from all around the world and showcase light art in various forms. Some are interactive pieces while others are mesmerizing just to see.

A row of several circles lighting in different colors as part of Georgetown's GLOW exhibit.

The entire walk does not take long (give or take an hour) as the art pieces are strategically placed on a convenient route for travelers. At each art piece, there is a sign describing the artwork, artist and a map that shows where each art piece is located. There is also an interactive map on the Georgetown GLOW website. For those who enjoy audio guides, the Georgetown GLOW website also includes an audio guide for each exhibition.

The Georgetown GLOW is available for guests to enjoy nightly from 5 pm to 10 pm from December through the first week of January (check for exact dates here). So if you are in the Georgetown neighborhood in winter, be sure to keep an eye out for the GLOW exhibit.

The Best Christmas Trees in Washington D.C.

There are so many beautifully decorated Christmas Trees to see in Washington D.C. in the winter. Most start appearing after Thanksgiving and you can visit all of them for FREE! Moreover, each one will most likely have a Christmas tree lighting event to attend too. Here is a list of my favorite Christmas trees in Washington D.C.

National Christmas Tree

What could be more special than visiting the National Christmas tree in Washington D.C. in the winter? The National Christmas Tree is definitely a sight to see for tourists, locals, and Americans. Moreover, when you are at the National Christmas Tree, you can see the White House and Washington Monument in the background magnifying the views and experience. Around the National Christmas Tree are smaller Christmas trees representing every state and territory of the United States.

A colorful decorated National Christmas Tree in Washington D.C. with the White House in the background.

Every tree representing a state or territory is decorated with ornaments created by girl scouts, boy scouts, students at schools, etc. Each tree is uniquely decorated by the children and highlights what their state is well-known for. Of course, we spent some quality time admiring the Nevada, Missouri, and Texas Christmas trees because we met in Las Vegas, Adam is from St. Louis, and I am from Dallas.

In addition to being the most magnificent Christmas tree in the nation, the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony is a one-of-a-kind experience. The President and First Lady do the honor of lighting the National Christmas Tree. There are also famous musicians performing during the entire National holiday event.

U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree

Another beautiful Christmas tree to see in Washington D.C. is in front of the U.S. Capitol. Every year the Christmas tree is from a National Forest in a different state and species. The first U.S. Capitol Christmas tree was in 1964. It was a Douglas Fir from Pennsylvania standing at only 24-feet tall. Since then, the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree has increased in height. Today, you can see a Christmas tree in front of the U.S. Capitol standing 88-feet tall and decorated beautifully.

A tall, decorated Christmas tree with the U.S. Capitol building in the background.

Library of Congress Christmas Tree

Lo and behold, the largest library in the world has one of the most visually stunning Christmas trees in Washington D.C. because of its surrounding atmosphere. The Library of Congress is absolutely gorgeous and quite regal with its white marble interior, painted ceilings, and stellar book collection. In addition to the aesthetics, visiting the Library of Congress Christmas tree with the pure silence is one of the most peaceful places to be in Washington D.C. in the winter.

Union Station Christmas Tree

I always enjoy visiting Washington D.C.’s Union Station not to actually take the train but to enjoy the ambiance – especially during Christmas. During the winter, the Union Station can be found decorated from floor to ceiling with festive garnishes. Moreover, visitors will find one of the tallest Christmas trees in Washington D.C. just beyond the front doors. This Christmas tree is not only filled with holiday spirit but also a gift and a symbol of friendship between the United States and Norway. In fact, every year, the Christmas tree is decorated in partnership with the Norwegian Embassy and shares the duties to light the tree. Furthermore, the Union Station has a holiday train display in the West Hall, special events throughout the season, and great shopping sprees.

A stunning Christmas tree found inside Washington D.C.'s Union Station during the holiday season.

National Harbor Christmas Tree

A beautiful Christmas tree near Washington D.C. is along the Potomac River at the National Harbor. The National Harbor Christmas tree is 60-feet tall and decorated with 20,000 lights. Speaking of lights, it has one of the best Christmas tree lightings in the area. It is actually one of the very first Christmas tree lighting ceremonies to take place in the DMV because the event is held before Thanksgiving.

What makes the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony fun and special is their music show. When they light the Christmas tree, it features a music light show. When we attended the light ceremony, one of my all-time favorite songs, “A Mad Russian’s Christmas” by Tran-Siberian Orchestra played as the finale song and it was pretty epic! If you miss the music light ceremony, do not fret – visitors can see the show nightly on the half-hour following sunset and then every half-hour after until 9:30 pm.

In addition to the music light show, the National Harbor Christmas Tree Light Ceremony also hosts an amazing firework show, live musical performances, a holiday movie at the plaza stage, and fun family-friendly events. It is a light ceremony you do not want to miss!

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Christmas Special for Locals

One of the best parts about living near Washington D.C. is the local Christmas tree farms. I have always wanted to cut down my own Christmas tree just like the Griswolds (without the mayhem). So when we finally cut one in 2018, it was one of the best holiday experiences of my life!

Cut Down Your Own Christmas Tree

For locals in the holiday spirit and who enjoy a fresh Christmas tree, I recommend cutting the perfect one down yourself! We always have a fresh Christmas tree, so when we found Christmas tree farms near Washington D.C. – my Griswold Christmas tree dream became a reality!

There are plenty of Christmas tree farms in Maryland and Virginia, but our favorite is Hanks Christmas Tree Farm in Markham, Virginia – an hour away from Washington D.C. We love Hanks Christmas Tree Farm because most days you can find Hank himself working and helping guests find their perfect Christmas tree. Moreover, he is a really nice gentleman that runs the Christmas tree farm with his family. It is the personal touch that makes this experience truly special.

A row of Christmas trees on a sunny day on Hanks Christmas Tree Farm in Virginia.

Hanks Christmas Tree Farm has countless rows of several different trees to choose from including Fraser Fir, Douglas Fir, Concolor Fir, Blue Spruce, Norway Spruce, Serbian Spruce, White Pine, and Leyland Cypress. Hank tries to grow as many popular Christmas tree species as possible so everyone can find their traditional Christmas tree. The only thing you need to bring to the farm is a vehicle big enough for your Christmas Tree because Hank supplies the gloves, hand saws, and sleds for everyone.

The whole process of finding, cutting and preparing your tree is a fun experience because YOU do it all! You find your Christmas tree, you cut it down yourself, you spruce it up on the “shaker” and even bag it. Of course, if you need assistance, Hank and his team will help. With that said, I know it sounds like a lot of work, but it is a very rewarding experience and makes the Christmas tree more sentimental.

Price: For only $40, guests can cut down their own handpicked Christmas tree.

I hope you have enjoyed my list of fun things to do in Washington D.C. in the winter. Despite the cold weather, it is a pretty spectacular time of the year to visit!