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 2022.
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.
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.
Here are some select teams playing in DC area in December:
For more family-friendly ideas, check out our things to do with kids section.
DC has lots of great concerts in venues around the city all year long, and December is no exception.
Below are just some of the concerts coming to DC in December:
- Deana Carter | December 1st | Annapolis
- The Temptations/Four Tops | December 3rd
- Ryan Adams | December 8th
- Bonny Light Horseman | December 10th
- The Lemonheads | December 12th
- Post Modern Jukebox | December 13th
- Foals | December 13th
- Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes | December 17th
- Oddisee/Good Company | December 18th
- Trans-Siberian Orchestra | December 26th
Keep an eye out for more great concerts in DC.
DC has amazing theater performances all around the city. There is something for everyone to enjoy in DC this December!
Some shows in the DC area in December are:
- The Nutcracker | December 1st-30th | Warner Theatre DC
- The Nutcracker | December 3rd, 14th | Tysons
- DCappella | December 4th | Tysons
- The Tempest | December 1st-31st | RoundHouse Theatre Bethesda
And if you're willing to go to Baltimore, there are other options in December:
- The Nutcracker | December 7th, 8th
- Paw Patrol Live! The Great Pirate Adventure | December 10th, 11th
- Jagged Little Pill | December 13th - 18th
If comedy is something you're interested, National Harbour has the following comedy shows in December:
Check 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.
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 celebrates the holidays with a special "Joy of Christmas" concert the whole family can enjoy in the beautiful setting of the cathedral.
After a few years of virtual events only, the Choral Society is returning with their live "Joy of Christmas" programs.
Events take place on December 10th (at 2:00 pm and 6:00 pm) and 11th (4:00 pm). It's truely an experience you won't want to miss.
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 from 6-9 pm on December 3rd, 2022.
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.
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
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 17th, 2022.
To participate and learn more, click here.
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.
The event takes place on December 8th, 2022. To learn more, click here.
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'. Some activities include:
- Meet Aladdin the Camel | November 26th - Jan 6th
- Holiday Fifing | November 29th - December 25th
- Holiday Family Day | December 10th, 11th
They also plan to kick off the holiday season with Christmas Illuminations, on December 16th and 17th.
And they'll be offering a Mount Vernon by Candlelight tour on December 2nd, 3rd, 9th, 10th, and 18th.
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.
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.
The National Zoo lights up the winter with colorful fairy lights and illumintated animal silhouettes during their ZooLights event each season.
Lights are on between 5:00 pm and 9:00 pm.
The schedule for December 2022 is:
- December 2th, 3rd, 4th | Friday to Sunday
- December 9th, 10th, 11th | Friday to Sunday
- December 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd | Friday to Friday
- December 26th, 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th | Monday to Friday
Downtown Holiday Market
DC's 19th Annual Downtown Holiday Market returns in 2022, 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!
Hours are between 12:00 pm and 8:00 pm, from December 1st-23rd (closed December 5th).
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.
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, 2022.
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.
A production of A Christmas Carol runs at the theatre from November 18th - December 31st, 2022.
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
Discover Silver Spring, MD, and explore their Christmas and Holiday Craft Fair this December 4th.
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.
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.
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.
DC's Holiday Lights
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.
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.
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 December 11th, 2022. 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 a festive exhibit showcases a number of plant-based recreations of conservatories, fountains, and sculptures.
There will be a special holiday exhibit with model trains and holiday decor which takes place between November 24th, 2022 and January 2, 2023.
The gardens are open daily from 10:00 am - 5:00 pm.