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Top Things to Do in December in DC

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This post covers the top things to do in December in Washington, DC, including nighttime activities, free things to do, and family-friendly options. We have updated this post for 2021.

Be sure to read our master post on things to do in DC for even more ideas.




December is a very festive month, so for the full list of Christmas-themed things to do in DC, check out the post here

For more ideas on favorite things to do in DC, check out the following posts:

Some of the items listed in this post are included for free with the purchase of a tourist attraction discount pass

1. Attend a Sporting Event 

There are plenty of indoor sports to enjoy in DC in December, like basketball and hockey. There are also football games to attend on days that aren't too cold.

We've listed DC's teams playing in December below:

Washington Capitals

DC loves their hockey team, the Washington Capitals, who won the 2018 Stanley Cup. You can come out to see them at the Capitol One Arena:

Washington Wizards

The Washington Wizards also play at the Capital One Arena, and you can catch them there on these dates:


The Washington Redskins take FedExField this December for two games you can attend:

For more family-friendly ideas, check out our things to do with kids section.

2. Go to a Concert

DC has lots of great concerts in venues around the city all year long, and December is no exception.

Below are some of the concerts coming to DC: 

Keep an eye out for more great concerts in DC.

3. See a Musical or Theatrical Performance

DC has amazing theater performances all around the city. There is something for everyone to enjoy in DC this December!

To get into the holiday theme, The Washington Ballet is putting on its performance of The Nutcracker from December 2nd - 26th at the Warner Theater, so there will be plenty of chances to see them.

The following theatrical shows will also be available this month:

You may also want to make a day trip to Baltimore for these musicals:

Check this entire list of theatrical productions in and around Washington DC to see everything else available this December.

4. See the National Christmas Tree

The lighting of the National Christmas Tree is one of the best holiday traditions and takes place right after Thanksgiving. It's free to visit all of December!

It is located at the Ellipse, the park south of the White House, and it is a beautiful sight to see. There are also mini trees from all the states around it, a train display, and great music to enjoy as well. 

For more free things to do in DC in December, check out our free section below. 

5. Christmas at the National Cathedral 

The National Cathedral is a beautiful place to visit during any trip to DC, but is offering something extra special this December.

The Cathedral Choral Society usually celebrates the holidays with a special Joy of Christmas concert the whole family can enjoy in the beautiful setting of the cathedral. 

NOTE: This event was taken virtual for 2020, and it may once again be made available in this manner for 2021.

That being said, they might also decide to make this an in-person event for 2021. Full details have not yet been made available.

6. The District’s Holiday Boat Parade

Dec 4th, 2021

The Wharf neighborhood in Washington, DC has recently been renovated and has some amazing things to see and is constantly hosting great events throughout the year.

One of these is the completely free District's Holiday Boat Parade taking place from 6-9 pm.

There will be beautiful boats lit up for the parade, hot chocolate to enjoy, and even a fire pit to roast marshmallows! Learn more here

Along with great food spots and a gorgeous view of the water, the Wharf has a lot of history to uncover, which we do on our brand new Wharf walking tour

Some of the concerts featured in our Top 10 will be hosted at the Anthem at the Wharf. 

7. Wreath Across America at Arlington National Cemetery

Dec 18th, 2021

Wreaths Across America is an organization that sponsors the laying of beautiful holiday wreaths on graves at military cemeteries.

This is a beautiful way to pay homage to our lost heroes and makes a striking impression upon entering Arlington National Cemetery, one of the participating places.

You are welcome to sign up and participate as a volunteer, or simply enjoy the sight by visiting on your own or on our free walking tour.

To participate and learn more, click here

8. Winternational

Winternational is a festival that showcases the world in one place.

The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center will transform into a global marketplace where each embassy presents its country with foods to try, art, crafts for purchase, and tourism exhibitions. 

This event is free and is a frugal way to "travel" the world and do some holiday shopping.

To learn more, click here

NOTE: This event was taken virtual in 2020 to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and it will run online through December 2021 as well.

9. Visit Mount Vernon

Visiting George Washington's Mount Vernon is a great addition to your itinerary when visiting Washington, DC.

Located in Virginia just a few miles south of the city, the home of our first president is a national treasure. 

This December the home will be celebrating the holidays with 'Christmas at Mount Vernon' with special programming and events like fireworks.

For a full list of events, click here

10. Look into a Tourist Attraction Discount Pass for Savings 

Tourist attraction discount passes bundle together many popular attractions and tours into one discounted price and can save you over 50%.

They also can save you time with skip-the-ticket-line privileges. 


Attractions you can see with these passes include:

  • CitySights Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour
  • International Spy Museum
  • The Capital Ferris Wheel
  • George Washington's Home

We detail how these passes work and help you decide which, if any, is best for you. 

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DC is lit up during December for the holidays, making nighttime a great time to explore the city.

Lights and wreaths decorate the streets, making even a simple stroll magical.  


For more nighttime activities, visit our post on things to do at night in DC

CANCELLED: BrewLights at Zoo Lights

The National Zoo usually lights up this winter and turns into the "hoppiest" place with breweries filling up the venue to bring you a night of beer! Sample your way through the array of craft beers and munch on complimentary snacks while exploring the zoo.

Proceeds go back to the zoo for aminal care and preservation, so you're drinking for a great cause!

Grab your tickets here

NOTE: This event will not be running 2021.

Murder on 34th Street

Dec 22nd, 2021

Murder on 34th Street puts a comedy routine to solving a murder!

With the help of the audience, the killer will be found in this fun, interactive show that has been hosted by the DC Improv Comedy Club since 2016.

Doors open at 6:15 pm and tickets go for $25, which you can purchase here


Support local DC artists by coming out to the GRUMP Holiday Market hosted by the National Zoo.

All sorts of handmade crafts will be for sale, from beauty products to upcycled holiday pillows and glass art.

This market is free to attend and takes place at the Zoo’s main Connecticut Avenue entrance from 5-9 p.m. 

NOTE: This event has yet to be confirmed for 2021.

For even more nighttime ideas, see our post on things to do at night in DC

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DC is loaded with free things to do! A lot of the items we've listed in other sections like visiting the National Christmas Tree are completely free to do!

Here are a few more free activities to do in DC in December.

For even more budget-friendly ideas, check out our post on free things to do in DC

Upshur Street Craft Fair | December 14, 2021

The Annual Upshur Street Craft Fair is coming back to the 800 Block of Upshur Street NW Saturday from 11am- 4pm.

This annual holiday market is free to attend and will feature over 50 crafter, artists, and food vendors.

The event is led by Julie Wineinger, local DC resident, and owner of Willow & Lulabelle's. You can pop into her store to see this year's Gingerbread House Contest entries in the Gingerbread Village and get your gifts wrapped!

This year will include a new Pop-Up Holiday Lounds where the whole family can enjoy a live DJ, boozy and non-boozy winter drinks, and delicious wintery treats. 

Visit a Museum

While DC doesn't get too cold in December, it's nice to spend a chilly day inside exploring one of our many free Smithsonian museums.

Explore on your own or go on a guided tour. Some of our favorites are the American History, Natural History, and Air & Space Museum.

It's also the slow season, so you can enter museums that usually require tickets without reservations, like the Holocaust Museum and the African American History & Culture Museum.  

American Holiday Festival 

Come out for the annual holiday concert performed by the musicians of The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own."

This event will be hosted at the DAR Constitution Hall in the heart of Washington, DC.

It will be an evening of beautiful music to put you in the holiday spirit! The show lasts approximately 90 minutes.

Tickets are free online! For showtimes and tickets, check out their website here

NOTE: This event was taken virtually in 2020, and it will likely be offered the same way in 2021. There are efforts being made to make this an in-person event again this year, but they have yet to confirm their plans.

Visit Ford's Theater

Ford's Theater is best known for being the place where President Lincoln was assassinated.

While still an active theater, simply exploring the theater and its museum is free to the public. There are ranger talks as well.

Tickets are free to go inside, or you can reserve yours online for a small fee to guarantee a spot.

The current plan for 2021 is to run a production of A Christmas Carol from November 24th - December 27th.

We also recommend attending our Lincoln Assassination tour, which tells the full story of what went down the night of the assassination.

Silver Spring Christmas Market and Holiday Craft Fair

Dec 5th, 2021

Discover Silver Spring, MD, and explore their Christmas and Holiday Craft Fair this December.

There will be plenty of vendors to peruse and get your holiday shopping done!

The event takes place from 9 am - 1 pm at the Veterans Plaza and is free to attend.

To learn more click here

Take a Walking Tour 

Our tours cover several different neighborhoods - from our popular ticketed Historic Georgetown tour to our name your own price National Mall tour. Our Capitol Hill tour runs during the day, but you'll still be able to see the Capitol Christmas tree on the West Lawn after the tour.

Starting in December, our popular Downtown Holiday LIghts will run on a name your own price basis!


You can find out more about all our walking tours here.


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Washington, DC is super family-friendly! There are so many things to do, there is sure to be something to fit everyone's tastes.


A few activities we've listed above are also kid-friendly, like checking out the Holiday Boat Parade at the Wharf, so be sure to read through the other sections for more ideas.

Be sure to read our master post on things to do with kids in DC for even more ideas.

Main Street Holiday Lights

Dec. 1-31, 2021

This new month-long community event will feature the businesses along various neighborhood Main Streets decked in holiday lights for everyone to enjoy!

There will be amazing holiday-themed events, activities, and more all month long. Holiday Lights is great for locals wanting to meet their neighbors and those visiting to see the local side of DC. 

Some select neighborhoods will also have a self guided tour written by us at DC by Foot!


The National Zoo is hosting a number of festive holiday events, some of which can be found in our nighttime section above.

Perhaps the most anticipated event of the year is Zoo Lights, where the zoo comes to life after dark with thousands of lights.

These lights fill the trees and are arranged to look like animals, with different themes like Ocean Theme as you stroll through the zoo after hours.

It's completely free to enter and a great activity for the whole family. 

NOTE: This event is CANCELLED for 2021.

Visit the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is one of the most beautiful buildings in America, home to the largest collection in the world.

The Jefferson Library will also have its annual Christmas tree put up, making it a beautiful place for taking holiday-themed pictures.

The library runs free tours throughout the day. 

Jingle All The Way 5k and 15k

Dec 12th, 2021

The best way to keep off the holiday pounds is to get your run on!

In anticipation of all the holiday goodies you'll be consuming, we suggest you come out to the Jingle All the Way races taking place in the heart of DC.

This holiday-themed race always has a huge turn-out, with racers of all skill levels dressed in bells and costumes jingling their way to the finish line.

To register and learn more, click here

Visit the Washington Monument

After years of construction, the Washington Monument is finally open!

Although it opened in earlier this year, by December the crowds will have grown thin. This means more of a chance to snag a ticket and less of a line to go inside!

At the top, you will get an incredible bird's-eye view of the city, and in the elevator ride down you will see the secrets inside the monument.

It's free to enter, just make sure you grab a ticket

Visit the United States Botanical Gardens

Adjacent to the US Capitol and free to enter, the United States Botanical Gardens is known fo festive exhibit will showcase a number of plant-based recreations of conservatories, fountains, and sculptures. As the building remains closed to the public, they'll be taking some of the festive displays outside to the gardens.

The gardens are open daily from 10:00 am - 5:00 pm.

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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: January 6th, 2022
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