This post covers the top things to do in December in Washington, DC.
We include nighttime activities, free things to do, and family-friendly options, all updated for 2023.
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:
- Walking Tours - be sure to look for our Downtown Holiday Lights tour. We offer a walking AND a bus tour of the holiday lights and trees.
- Bus Tours
- Boat Cruises
- Top DC Memorials
Some of the items listed in this post are included for free with the purchase of a tourist attraction discount pass.
Many of the DC area's sports teams will be playing at home in December, giving you several opportunities to enjoy a game.
For more family-friendly ideas, check out our things to do with kids section.
The DC area sees some amazing musicians coming through.
Some of the concerts featured will be hosted at the Anthem, Capital One Arena, and the Wharf.
- Mannheim Steamroller | December 1st
- Marcus Johnson and Band - Jazz for Christmas | December 2nd
- Dave Koz & Friends Christmas Tour | December 3rd
- A Celtic Christmas at Dumbarton | December 3rd
- American Festival Pops Orchestra - Holiday Pops: Sounds of the Season | December 8th, 9th
- National Symphony Orchestra: A Holiday Pops! | December 8th, 9th
- Trans-Siberian Orchestra Tribute | December 15th
- National Symphony Orchestra: Handel's Messiah | December 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th
- Capital City Symphony: Sleigh Ride! | December 17th
- 43rd Annual Holiday Concert & Gala Kennedy Center | December 18th, 19th, 23rd, 27th
- Candlelight Concerts
- National Symphony Orchestra
- Washington National Opera
- Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Keep an eye out for more great concerts in the DC area.
The DC area has a large number of venues that draw all sorts of talented and fascinating people.
In December, you are sure to find some interesting events to attend.
- The Washington Ballet: Nutcracker | December 2nd-30th
- Nutcracker! Magical Christmas Ballet | December 3rd
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas | December 8th | Baltimore
- A Charlie Brown Christmas | December 15th | Baltimore
- A Candlelight Christmas | December 15th, 16th, 20th, 21st, 22nd
- Fairfax Ballet - The Nutcracker | December 17th
- A John Waters Christmas: Blow it Up | December 21st | Baltimore
- Step Afrika | December 8th, 10th, 2th, 13th, 16th, 17th
- Pretty Woman | December 12th, 14th, 15th, 16th
- Girl From the North Country | December 13th-30th
Check out this entire list of theatrical productions in and around Washington DC to see everything else available this December.
The lighting of the National Christmas Tree is one of the best holiday traditions and takes place right after Thanksgiving.
You can visit this beautiful tree for free 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 information on the event, read our post Visit the National Christmas Tree and Lighting Ceremony.
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. It offers something special in December, however.
The Cathedral Choral Society celebrates the holidays with a special "Joy of Christmas" concert the whole family can enjoy in this stunning setting.
Events take place on December 16th and 17th, and tickets can be purchased here.
For more information, read our post on Visiting the National Cathedral.
6. The District’s Holiday Boat Parade
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 Holiday Boat Parade taking place on December 2nd.
Read our Christmas Lights in DC post for some tips about attending this event!
There will be beautiful boats lit up for the parade, hot chocolate to enjoy, and even a fire pit to roast marshmallows!
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 Wharf walking tour.
For more information, visit The District's Holiday Boat Parade webpage.
7. Wreath Across America at Arlington National Cemetery
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.
National Wreath Across America Day takes place on December 16th.
To participate and learn more, click here.
8. Attend 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, arts and crafts for purchase, and tourism exhibitions.
This event is free and is a frugal way to "travel" the world and do some holiday shopping.
The dates for 2023 haven't been posted yet so visit the Winternational website to find updates.
Visiting Mount Vernon, George Washington's home, is a worthy 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.
Some December activities include:
- Holiday Fifing | November 27th - January 5th
- Mount Vernon by Candlelight | December 1st-2nd, December 8th-9th, December 17th
- Christmas Illuminations, on December 15th and 16th.
For information on tickets and about what you can see there, read our post Mount Vernon Tickets and Tours.
For a full list of Mount Vernon 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.
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.
Attend Zoo Lights
The National Zoo lights up the winter with colorful fairy lights and illuminated animal silhouettes during their ZooLights event each season.
Visitors will find live music, food, and shopping, in addition to a stunning illuminated wonderland.
Access is free, and folks can visit on select dates in December.
See Georgetown Glow Light Experience
Georgetown GLOW takes place December 1st - January 7th.
This free curated outdoor light art exhibit takes place throughout the Georgetown neighborhood.
There are also GLOW events like yoga or a silent disco and some late-night shopping options.
We offer a Georgetown Glow and Street Art Tour.
Each creation has a theme or a story behind its creation, so this is the perfect time to take a GLOW-related walking tour through Georgetown.
Shop the Downtown Holiday Market
DC's 19th Annual Downtown Holiday Market returns in 2023, with two blocks dedicated to an outdoor shopping village.
More than 70 vendors line up on F Street, from 7th to 9th Streets, with vendors selling goods and food. There will also be live music!
The Downtown Holiday Market runs from November 17th - to December 23rd and stays open until 8 p.m. each night.
For additional nighttime activities, see our post on things to do at night in DC.
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.
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.
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.
Attend the 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.
The shows run between December 2nd and 4th.
See 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.
A production of A Christmas Carol runs at the theatre from November 17th - December 31st.
We also recommend attending our Lincoln Assassination tour, which tells the full story of what went down the night of the assassination.
Attend the Silver Spring Christmas Market and Holiday Craft Fair
Discover Silver Spring, MD, and explore their Christmas and Holiday Craft Fair this December 3rd.
There will be plenty of vendors to peruse and get your holiday shopping done!
The event takes place from 12 pm - 4 pm at the Veterans Plaza and is free to attend.
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.
THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS IN DECEMBER
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.
See DC's Holiday Lights
This new month-long community event will feature 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.
Lights are up from November 18th, 2022 - January 9th, 2023.
Some select neighborhoods will also have a self-guided tour written by us at DC by Foot!
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.
Our post - Library of Congress Tours - explains how to get tickets, the best time to visit, the types of tours that can be taken, and more.
Jingle All The Way 5k and 15k
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.
The Jingle All the Way runs take place on December 10th. To register and learn more, click here.
Visit the Washington Monument
The Washington Monument is one of the most iconic monuments in Washington, DC.
This 555' (170 m) obelisk honors George Washington, the commanding general for the Colonies during the American Revolution and our very first president.
It is usually open to the public and free to go into and boasts the best view of Washington, DC.
We have a post that explains how to get tickets and how to plan your visit.
Visit the United States Botanical Gardens
Adjacent to the US Capitol and free to enter, the United States Botanical Gardens is known for its festive exhibit.
It showcases a number of plant-based recreations of conservatories, fountains, and sculptures.
They often have a special holiday exhibit, so check their website for holiday events.
The gardens are open daily from 10:00 am - 5:00 pm.