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Christmas in Washington DC

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This post is a guide to things to do in DC during Christmas, including markets, public Christmas trees, tours, and shows, and is updated for 2022.  

OVERVIEW

The holidays are a magical time of year, but there is something extra special about spending Christmas in the Nation's Capital.

Christmas in DC

There are many things to do during the holiday season, which is why we created this guide.

Timing is everything. Most decorations, lights, and window displays start going up in late November.

Thanksgiving, a U.S. national holiday that takes place on the last Thursday of November, is consider the start of the Holiday Season.

The popular holiday shows, as well as the famous holiday tree lightings, start at the end of November.

However, things really are in full swing by the start of the second week of December when the National Christmas tree gets lit.

If you are planning on visiting many attractions during the holidays, then consider a tourist discount pass, and be sure to check out our ultimate guide for things to do in DC.

Below, we highlight the top things to do in DC during the Christmas and holiday season. 


CHRISTMAS THEMED TOURS

The city decks the halls, light the menorah, and celebrates the holidays with markets, parades, and joyous celebrations.

DC by Foot's Holiday Lights Tours

We offer an evening stroll through downtown DC to view some of the best holiday light displays - from the famous Old Ebbitt's Grill giant nutcrackers to the National Christmas Tree.

Want to see even more Christmas trees? We also have a bus version of our popular Holiday Lights Tours.


GEORGETOWN GLOW WALKING TOUR

While it isn't meant to be a holiday lights tour, the Georgetown Glow tour is full of holiday decorations and light displays.

For the holiday season, the historic neighborhood of Georgetown hosts 5 temporary light installations. They are not holiday themed, but they are sure to make for an unforgettable experience.

Along the way, we'll see of the best holiday decorations up in Georgetown.

Find out more...


Holiday Lights in the Neighborhoods:

Many of the city's local neighborhood Main Streets are sponsoring Holiday Lights and Window display competitions.

You can shop local and vote your favorite in Logan Circle, Lower Georgia Ave, Eastern Market, Columbia Heights & More.

Find out more at: https://dcholidaylights.org/

WHERE TO SEE HOLIDAY LIGHTS

There are many light displays throughout Washington DC!

We have listed the top Christmas light displays around the city.

  • National Christmas Tree
  • US Capitol Tree
  • Union Station Norwegian Tree
  • The Wharf Boat Parade
  • City Center Holiday Tree
  • Main Street Holiday Lights

HOW TO VISIT THE NATIONAL CHRISTMAS TREE

The National Christmas tree is an actual tree planted on the south side of the White House on what's called the Ellipse - we visit it on our Holiday Lights of DC tour.

So while it is there year-round, it's not until December when it is lit up and surrounded by smaller state themed threes.

Find out more about the National Christmas Tree as well as how to attend the official lighting ceremony.

Near the National Christmas tree is the largest menorah in the world, the National Menorah. You can also attend the lighting ceremony if you have a ticket.


Christmas Markets in Washington DC

While we only have one main holiday market that lasts all month long, there are a number of pop up holiday markets in December.

If you're looking for DC themed gifts, be sure to check out our DC Holiday Gift Guide!

The main market is the Downtown DC Holiday Market, located just outside the National Portrait Gallery.

Open Daily from 12pm -8pm, you can find local made art, jewlery, ornaments, winter scarves and gloves.

Below is a list of the most popular markets in DC, but for a full list read our post on the best Christmas markets to find some unique pop up markets.

  • Heurich House Museum Christkindlmarkt - Dec 2nd - 4th, 2022
  • White House History Shop's Holiday Book Festival - December 2, 2022
  • Takoma Pajama Rama - December 4, 2022
  • Van Ness Main Street Pop Up Market - December 10, 2022
  • The Last Minute Market at Brookland Arts Walk - December 17, 2022

Christmas Performances

From late November until the beginning of January, DC hosts several Christmas and winter holiday-themed plays, musicals, and other performances.

One of the most famous Christmas performance in DC is Ford's Theatre's production of A Christmas Carol.

PRO TIP: If you want a good view of the President's Box, select seats in the Left Orchestra (but not too far back) or in the Left Balcony. However, you will have a chance before, during intermission, and after the play to get out of your seat and get a good photo of the President's Box.


Other Unique DC Christmas Experiences

CHRISTMAS AT THE CATHEDRAL

December 10th - 11th, 2022

The National Cathedral is a beautiful place to visit. You can even find the Darth Vader gargoyle on it if you search hard enough!

While we offer tours throughout the year, the National Cathedral puts on special programs during holidays, including Christmas at the Cathedral concert.

There will be a mix of medieval and modern music being performed that will sure you put you in the holiday spirit!

In addition to this, there will also be a Christmas Day Organ Recital on December 25th at 1:30 pm.


ZOOLIGHTS

November 25th, 2022 - December 30, 2022

A free, ticketed, event, ZooLights includes live music performances, tasty winter treats and plenty of opportunities for holiday shopping. 

Environmentally friendly LED lights and dozens of glowing animal lanterns transform the Zoo into a winter wonderland! 

Discover more about Zoolights and how to get tickets...


WREATHS ACROSS AMERICA

December 17th, 2022

Participating in Wreaths Across America is a special way to honor our fallen veterans.

Every year, this organization lays out thousands of holiday wreaths on graves in military cemeteries across America, including Arlington National Cemetery.

Volunteers will make sure every grave gets placed with a beautiful wreath, and the effect of seeing these thousands of wreaths laid out is incredibly moving. (website)

If you can't participate, you can still visit Arlington National Cemetery on one of our free walking tours.


HOLIDAYS THROUGH HISTORY OPEN HOUSE

Ever wanted to walk through a president's house?

No, we're not talking about the White House, we're talking about the Woodrow Wilson House, which today is a museum to our 28th president.

Celebrate the holidays here with a self-guided tour of the festively decorated home and participate in activities while enjoying music and historic cocktails.

The event sells out fast, so be sure to get your tickets here. (The 2022 dates have not been announced)


9. Visit a Holiday Market

Holiday Markets are wonderful places to get your holiday shopping done.

They usually feature local artists and craftsmen who sell their unique wares that become the treasures you gift your loved ones.

BOAT PARADE OF LIGHTS

December 3rd, 2022

The annual Holiday Boat Parade of Lights takes place in Alexandria again this year.

This family-friendly event invites you out to see the boat parade floating down the Potomac River.

The parade stretches a mile along Old Town Alexandria's waterfront and there are a number of places to observe from:

  • Founders Park (351 North Union Street)
  • Alexandria City Marina (0 Cameron Street)
  • Waterfront Park (1 King Street)
  • Shipyard/Harborside Park (1 Wilkes Street)
  • Ford’s Landing Park (99 Franklin Street)

If you want to explore more of Old Town Alexandria we recommend taking our Old Town Alexandria free walking tour.


CHRISTMAS AT MOUNT VERNON

December 16th - 17th, 2022

Come out to Mount Vernon and celebrate the Christmas festivities!

Tour George Washington's estate and see where the very first family lived. You can learn about the history of the place and partake in a number of holiday activities.

There will be a holiday fireworks show, you can see how 18th-century chocolate is made and there will be a special guest, Aladdin the camel.

Grab your tickets here.

US BOTANICAL GARDENS DISPLAYS

The US Botanical Garden is a great free place to visit anytime you're in Washington DC, but plans for the 2022 holiday season have yet to be announced.

However, the outdoor gardens are open and for the holidays they usually decorate the area with winterberries, lights, and greenery in the Terrace Gardens and Bartholdi Park.


WILLARD HOTEL CAROLING

The Willard Hotel is one of the most famous hotels in Washington, DC, located right near the White House.

The lobby will be decorated beautifully and will be hosting nightly choral concerts that you and your loved ones are welcome to attend. You can also join them for holiday afternoon tea!

To learn more, view their website here.


MACY'S HOLIDAY WINDOWS

Like most Macy's nationwide, the DC store downtown unveils their holiday windows mid-November with holiday theme displays.

Walk down the street to see them all or pop into the store for even more.

About The Author

Canden Arciniega

Canden is a historian and tour guide in Washington DC with 4 published books about the city. She has written for HuffPost Travel and has been featured in the Washington Post, WTOP, and numerous other DC papers. She's also been interviewed by the BBC, NPR, Travel Channel and Discovery Family Channel. Canden is the producer of our podcast, Tour Guide Tell All With a M.A. in History from University College London and a B.A. in History from Elon University, she is an authority on D.C. history, and has led tours in the city for over 10 years. She currently resides in DC, but has also lived in London and South Korea, and has travelled to 28 countries. Her two children (both under the age of 4) have their passports and own frequent flier accounts.
Updated: November 23rd, 2022
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