Christmas in Washington, DC: 10 Things to do in Washington, DC at Christmas

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The United States’ hub of history and politics, Washington, DC brings millions of visitors each year to see its museums, monuments, and the famous White House. A great city for visitors all year, it gets even better as the holidays near.

If you’re planning to visit Washington, DC over the holidays, be sure to check out our list of 10 things to do in Washington, DC at Christmas for some festive fun and yuletide cheer at the capital of the United States.

1. The National Christmas Tree

A tradition for nearly 100 years, the National Christmas Tree at the White House almost needs no introduction. Crowds from all over gather each December to watch the lighting ceremony of one of the world’s most recognizable Christmas trees. 

The Tree Lighting ceremony always kicks off the holiday season in Washington, DC, full of spectacle, pageantry, and live music to brighten anyone’s holiday spirit. If you miss the ceremony, you can still visit this beautiful tree throughout the month of December. 

In addition, you’ll want to see the famous Pathway of Peace, a walkway of 56 smaller Christmas trees representing all 50 states, 5 US territories, and the District of Columbia. 

A festive crowd gathers for the lighting of the National Christmas Tree

2. Downtown Holiday Market

Looking for a place in Washington DC to get your Christmas shopping done? Washington, DC’s outdoor Downtown Holiday Market will delight any holiday shopper seeking unique gift ideas from local artisan vendors.

With over 70 exhibitors featured, as well as ample food and drink options, you can find that unique DC souvenir and sample some tasty local cuisine at the same time. 

Stay into the evening to enjoy some festive ambience while you stroll along listening to live music and make a date of it by grabbing a nice cocktail at a number of local restaurants nearby.

3. Christmas at the Wharf

The Wharf, one of Washington, DC’s lively neighborhoods, provides waterfront shopping, food, places to stay, and entertainment year-round along the Potomac River.  At Christmastime, the Wharf provides a variety of things to do throughout the holiday season.

Visitors will want to see the Wharf Christmas tree lighting, as well as the famous District’s Holiday Boat Parade, which showcases over 60 boats adorned in Christmas lights and decor cruising along the Washington Channel.

In addition, visitors can go ice skating, enjoy classic outdoor Christmas movies, and connect with friends while roasting s’mores by the fire at Camp Wharf, a refurbished airstream trailer. 

4. A Christmas Carol at the Historic Ford’s Theatre

By attending a performance of A Christmas Carol at the historic Ford’s Theatre you can experience a fascinating combination of live entertainment and history in one setting. 

As the location where President Abraham Lincoln was notoriously assassinated, Ford’s Theatre is a historic site that still continues to host live performances to this day. 

It’s long-running production of A Christmas Carol remains a popular tradition each year. You’ll want to get tickets in advance for this unique Christmas experience that allows you to take a step back in time to 1865 while enjoying a wonderful classic Christmas tale. 

5. An Italian Christmas Dinner at Filomena Ristorante

A dining staple in Washington, DC for over 30 years, locals and visitors come to Filomena Ristorante in Georgetown especially during the holidays. 

For a fun and festive Christmas dinner filled with hearty Italian dishes (some of the best in the city), you’ll want to add a stop at Filomena to your Christmas in Washington, DC visit.

While the food is excellent, Filomena Ristorante really draws the crowds at Christmastime for its famous holiday decor. Get your cameras ready!

A whimsical and magical place at Christmas, the restaurant boasts over 5,500 Christmas ornaments, over 10,000 Christmas lights, and its popular centerpiece Christmas tree. 

The holiday spirit is cheery and bright at Filomena Ristorante

6. Christmas at Mt. Vernon

A short drive from Washington, DC, visitors come to Mt. Vernon all year to immerse themselves in the history of George Washington’s famous home and estate. During the holidays, Mt. Vernon provides a winter wonderland of activities full of history and fun.

Guests can take a fascinating step back in time touring Mt. Vernon by candlelight during the holidays and learn about area Christmas traditions in the 18th century over some cider, cookies, and live music. Other holiday festivities include:

  • Christmas Illuminations holiday lights and fireworks show
  • Meeting Washington’s Christmas camel
  • Touring Mt. Vernon with Martha Washington
  • Listening to holiday fifing performances
  • Decorating Christmas ornaments
  • Chocolate making demonstrations
Mt. Vernon–George Washington’s famous home

7. Water Skiing Santa Christmas Show 

For over 30 years, Alexandria, VA (a Washington, DC suburb) has been the place to see Santa on Christmas Eve, but not in a way you’d expect. While most people see Santa at the mall or in a parade around the holidays, you can see him water ski only in Alexandria. 

On Christmas Eve, visitors and locals come out to the historic Old Town Alexandria waterfront to see Santa put on a holiday water skiing show with some other festive friends, braving the chilly Potomac waters. Afterwards, attendees can meet and take pictures with water skiing Santa.

8. Christmas Concerts at the National Cathedral

Christmas in Washington, DC wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the National Cathedral, the second largest cathedral in the US and 6th largest in the world. 

Since its final completion in 1990 after 83 years of construction, locals and tourists have been attending concerts, recitals, and services there each holiday season. Hearing the sounds of a large choir singing Christmas carols and songs in such a beautiful setting mesmerizes and lifts your spirits at the same time. 

In addition, visitors can tour the cathedral and see this opulent structure covered in festive holiday decor and learn about its impressive history.

9. The US Capitol Christmas Tree

Each year, a special tree from a different US national forest is selected to become the US Capitol Christmas Tree. Once the tree is selected, it goes on a tour across the nation with stops along the way until it arrives at the US Capitol.

An annual tradition for over 50 years, the US Capitol Christmas Tree is decorated with over 10,000 ornaments made by kids from the tree’s home state and lit on the West Lawn of the US Capitol by the Speaker of the House.

A visit to see this gigantic, magnificent tree is a must during your Christmas in Washington, DC visit. The backdrop of the US Capitol behind the tree provides excellent holiday selfies and family photos.

The magnificent US Capitol Christmas Tree–notice its size relative to the person looking up at it!

10. Gray Ghost’s Annual Christmas Cork and Cheese

Needing a break from the big city during your Christmas in Washington, DC visit? You’ll want to take an hour’s drive to Amissville, VA to attend the annual Christmas Cork and Cheese celebration at the scenic Gray Ghost Vineyards

Attendees can enjoy Gray Ghost’s wine and local cheese tastings, festive desserts, vineyard tours, live holiday music, and a souvenir holiday glass to take home. Plus, you can see the world’s largest cork Christmas display with decorations made from over 120,000 corks!

Did we miss any of your favorite things to do in Washington, DC at Christmas?

Let us know in the comments so we can add more to the list!

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