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All the things you MUST Do in DC this Winter

Tours, Festivals, Ways to Stay Warm

Updated: December 3, 2023

Washington DC is a fun and family-friendly city to visit year-round. There are plenty of fun and free things to do all around the city, and this is your guide to enjoying the best of DC this winter.

DC by Foot runs tours every day, year round - even in the snow (not that we get much). We visit museums and attend holiday events with our families and with tour guests! We'll share our own favorite things to do in Winter throughout the post.



1.  Take a Tour!

DC offers some amazing tours all around the city, especially our walking tours!

Our tours are a great way to explore the city's main attractions like Capitol Hill, the National Mall, and Arlington Cemetery.

Best Tours to Take in Winter:

  • Capitol & Library of Congress - most of this tour is indoors!
  • Holiday Lights & Georgetown Glow - these two tours only run in winter
  • National Mall - did you know crisp air makes for better photos?
  • Arlington National Cemetery - there are enough hills to keep you warm

Explore DC by Boat, Bus, Segway, and Bike

If you’re not up for walking, there are many ways to explore the city.

2. Join a Race!

DC loves hosting races, and you can join one this winter to warm up and work off those holiday treats!

Running a race in DC is a unique experience as you jog (or in my case walk) past the memorials and monuments.

All ages and abilities are encouraged to attend, and below is a list of some you can join:

3. See the Lantern Festival

Tyson's Corner (a Washington DC suburb in Virginia) will host a Winter Lantern Festival. 

This free display will feature over 100 lanterns made up of over 10,000 LED lights, all made by Chinese artisans.

Featuring pandas, flamingos, sea creatures, tigers and dragons - this is fun event for all ages.

4. See a Show!

DC has a number of great shows throughout the year, and winter is no exception. As the weather dips and afternoons and evenings get a little chilly, retire into a theater for an incredible show.

With a number of amazing venues around the city, there are plenty of shows for every taste.

Here are some performances visiting Washington, DC this winter:

For a list of more things to do at night in DC this winter, check out our Things to Do at Night post.

5. Celebrate the Holidays

DC lights up for the holidays! We have a number of fun things to do around the city for all ages, no matter what holidays you're celebrating this winter.

Below are some other ways to spend the holidays in DC:


6. Enjoy a Game

Washington, DC has a number of great sports teams so there's one to cheer on no matter when you come to visit.

There are a number of winter sports that take place in DC, so grab a ticket and get out there and cheer them on!

Our Washington Capitals hockey team and Washington Wizards basketball team play a number of games this winter at the Capital One Arena.

You can also catch a Washington Commanders football game while visiting DC this winter!

7. Hit the Ice

DC doesn't get too cold in the winter, unlike more northern places like New York and Chicago. This makes it the perfect place to ice skate during the winter!

There are a number of ice rinks around DC to enjoy this winter, on our map and post.

One of my favorite things to do in winter is ice skating at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. It's a past time winter activity in a beautiful setting. - DC Tour Guide Erica

8. Visit the United States Botanic Gardens Displays

Every year this free attraction gets into the local holiday spirit with all natural decorations.

The miniature train exhibit is popular with all ages but especially kids.


My kids would visit the Botanic Gardens every day in December if I let them. We have a great time learning about different farm practices from around the world in the train displays.

You'll also find replicas of landmarks like the US Capitol Building, White House, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Supreme Court and more made out of ecological materials.

9. Explore a Market

DC has many great markets to explore.

Some are year-round, like Eastern Market and Union Market, and some are holiday pop-up ones.


I LOVE the Downtown Holiday Market outside the National Portrait Gallery. It is my favorite place to buy gifts for the holidays with all the unique local vendors. There is always live music and good snacks (Miguels Mini Donuts!!). - DC Tour Guide Dan

These are great for getting holiday shopping done, trying delicious foods, and warming up with some hot chocolate or cider! 


10. Head Indoors!

Sometimes the weather in winter doesn't cooperate and heading indoors is the best bet.

Luckily, we have no shortage of museums in DC.

With the exception of Christmas Day and New Years Day, museums are open daily.

What happens when it snows? Museums WILL open if they have the ability to do so safely. I can only recall once or twice where none of the museums were able to open.

There are actually dozens, if not hundreds museums in DC, read about all of the museums in DC here. But some of the most popular:

  • National Museum of American History
  • National Air and Space Museum
  • National Museum of Natural History
  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • International Spy Museum
  • National Museum of African American History & Culture

Look into a Tourist Discount Pass 

Even though there are so many free things to do in Washington DC, some of the highlights do have admission costs.

To save money, we recommend purchasing a tourist discount pass.


Some of the best things to do in this winter are included in at least one if not more of the passes:

  • Hillwood Estate & Gardens
  • Potomac River Cruise
  • Mount Vernon
  • Bike Rentals

Get free admission to our tours and many top DC attractions with a Tourist Discount Pass.


Packing to go to a city you've never been to can feel daunting- how much is too much? There's also the fear of meeting unexpected weather and not having packed something essential. Below are some FAQ about packing we want to answer for you:

  • Does it rain a lot in the winter? DC sees few rainy days in the winter and only a few inches of snow. We recommend packing an umbrella in case you're caught outside on one of the few rainy days. 
  • What to pack:  We recommend packing a winter coat, like a peacoat, and comfortable, warm shoes like boots. You won't be seeing a lot of snow so no need for snow boots. We also recommend hats, scarves, and gloves! We have a post on weather in DC if you'd like to read more in-depth.
  • Be sure to bring a reusable water bottle with you. Most memorials on the National Mall have bathrooms and water fountains that are perfectly safe to drink. Museums also have special fountains to make filling up reusable bottles easier. This is a much cheaper alternative to buying bottles of water wherever you go, as sometimes the kiosks on the Mall charge up to $3/bottle!
  • Going out for a drink or nice restaurant in the evening? If you've been walking around outside all day it might be best to pack along a nice change of clothes, although most dining establishments DC are pretty casual. Still, if you're going to a more swanky place, dressing up a bit is best.

We have a monthly post section below if you want to read up more on the specifics of the weather to better decide what clothes to bring on your winter trip to DC.


Winter in DC is full of festivals and holiday celebrations. There's a festival for everyone, for all interests and ages. Below are a list of our most popular winter festivals as well as links to Things to Do for winter holidays:


To learn more about what do to in specific months here in Washington, DC, click the links below:

About The Author

Canden Arciniega

Follow On Instagram | I'm a historian & tour guide in Washington DC with 4 published books about the city. I have written for HuffPost Travel and have been featured in the Washington Post, WTOP, and numerous other DC papers. I've also been interviewed by the BBC, NPR, Travel Channel and Discovery Family Channel. I am the producer of the podcast, Tour Guide Tell All. I am an authority on D.C. history, and have led tours in the city since 2011. I currently resides in DC, but have also lived in London and South Korea, and have traveled to over 28 countries and every US State but Hawaii. I homeschool my 2 children by exploring the plethora of museums in DC. Read More...
Updated: December 3rd, 2023
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