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Best Places to see Holiday Lights in DC

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Each season in Washington D.C. brings its own special feature. Viewing the Holiday lights is a great way to see the city. Grab a scarf and a hot coffee and enjoy a seasonal celebration.

Of course, the best way to see Holiday Lights in DC is on our Holiday Lights Tours. We offer downtown DC walking tours and a bus tour to cover all the best trees light displays!


When Do the Christmas Decorations Go Up in DC?

Christmas is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in America.

The anticipation begins early and some Christmas decorations go up in DC at the end of October.

But Thanksgiving (the last Thursday in November) is regarded as the start of the holiday season and the holiday lights drape DC by late November.

Nothing kicks off the Christmas season quite like the lighting of the National Christmas Tree which takes place after Thanksgiving.

The festive mood continues into early January. And many winter activities like ice-skating can be enjoyed for a few months after the New Year.

So what can you expect to see in DC during the holidays?

Huge sparkling Christmas trees, playful holiday window displays, a few giant menorahs for Hanukkah, and some unique light displays and installations you won't see at any other time of the year!


1. The Holiday Trees


NATIONAL CHRISTMAS TREE

Probably the second most famous Christmas tree in the United States (after the one in Rockefeller Center), the National Christmas Tree has a more than 90-year tradition.

You can see it on the Ellipse, on the south side of the White House.

We see this on on Holiday Lights tours, but have a full post on how to visit it on your own.


CAPITOL CHRISTMAS TREE

At the eastern end of the National Mall, just in front of the U.S. Capitol is the Capitol Christmas Tree.

Though there are records of a tree at the Capital as far back as 1919, an official ceremony was put in place in 1964. We see the Capitol tree on our Holiday Lights bus tour.

The tree lights up November 26, 2022.


CITY CENTER TREE

A much newer addition to D.C.’s Holiday tradition is the City Center Holiday Tree.

The City Center will also have an illuminated Ice Maze. Festivities are scheduled to begin on November 26, 2022.

UNION STATION NORWEGIAN TREE

In honor of American assistance during WWII, each year the Royal Norwegian Embassy presents a holiday tree to the people of DC. Displayed in Union Station Main Hall, you can watch the tree lighting on November 28, 2022.


2. District Boat Parade

On December 3, 2022, you can head down to the Wharf to enjoy the District Boat Parade, make smores on their giant campfire, see their Christmas and fireworks.

Make sure you're there by 7pm to watch the boat parade of lit up boats parade down the Washington Channel.


3. National Menorah

The National Menorah is located on the Ellipse not far from the National Christmas tree.

The official lighting of the menorah is December 18, 2022.


4. Enchant Christmas


Visit Nationals Park to enjoy Enchant Christmas from November 25, 2022 to January 1, 2023.

Come for the Light Maze and skating, stay for the shortbread and mulled wine.

There’s a lot to do and see for all ages.


5. Old Town Alexandria


Stroll down King Street and enjoy the lights strung on historic buildings.

The quaint downtown is filled with beautiful architecture that is only enhanced by the lights. Visit the waterfront for even more fantastic views.

You may even see some of the boats decked out for the Holidays, too at the Boat Parade

Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk Parade takes place on the morning of December 3, 2022 with their own boat parade that evening. In between find holiday events and festivals throughout the waterfront and old town.

Find out more about visiting Alexandria and things you can do all year round on our guide to Alexandria, Virginia.


6. United States Botanical Garden Train Display


From November 24 through January 2 (closed on December 25), visit this outdoor garden and see trains running through displays of agriculture from around the United States.

The trains run from 10AM to 5PM, so it might be a good activity to enjoy before going out to view Holiday lights around the National Mall area.


7. Caroling at the Willard Hotel


Step out of the cold for a bit of Holiday music.

From 5:30 to 7:30 PM each night between December 1 and December 23, the Willard Hotel will host complimentary caroling performances in the lobby.

There will even be a pop-up bar with seasonal cocktails.


8. Main Street Holiday Lights


Travel down the various neighborhood Main Streets to enjoy lights, window displays, and shopping.

Neighborhoods have a lot to offer, especially during the Holidays.

There are 14 different participating neighborhoods around Washington, DC participating in this year's Holiday Lights from November 18, 2022 – January 8, 2023.

In select neighborhoods, you can even take a self-guided tour written by us to explore some of the historic sites and favorite stops.

Vote for your favorite holiday display at https://dcholidaylights.org/


9. Mormon Temple Festival of Lights

December 01, 2022- January 02, 2023 Dusk - 9 pm

Just outside the city in Kensington, MD, is the Mormon Temple. If you drove on 495 north of DC, you probably asked "what is that building?"

Each December, the temple grounds is decorated with over 400,000 lights and Christmas trees. There are musical performances and the chance to go inside to see nativities from around the world.


Honorable Mentions

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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