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!
My favorite every year varies but the District Boat Parade at the Wharf is one of the most fun (maybe because you can also get smores? Chocolate makes everything better!) My kids like this one too but we make sure we visit the Botanical Gardens train display every year!
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
There are dozens of holiday trees around the city, many neighborhoods have their own and sometimes these lighting ceremonies can be more enjoyable because of smaller crowds and a more neighborly atmosphere.
The main ones are the BIG trees - National Christmas Tree, Capitol Tree, CityCenterDC, the Wharf and a hidden gem at the Canadian Embassy.
Of these trees, the history behind the National Christmas tree makes it my favorite. The decoration theme changes each year but the tradition and the stories behind how it began make it one of the best.
Though the CityCenterDC tree is next to the Tiffany's store and they have some glitz that cannot be beat! They started doing a really pretty giant Tiffany's ornament decoration that has been a big Instagram hit.
NATIONAL CHRISTMAS TREE
Lighting Ceremony: Nov 30, 2023. | Tree Open to Public starting December 2, 2023
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.
CAPITOL CHRISTMAS TREE
Lighting Ceremony: Nov 28, 2023 5pm
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 2023 tree was chosen from Monongahela National Forest and will tour the country before arriving in DC.
CITY CENTER TREE
Lighting Ceremony: Nov 25, 2023 5pm- 7pm
A much newer addition to D.C.’s Holiday tradition is the City Center Holiday Tree.
UNION STATION NORWEGIAN TREE
Lighting Ceremony: Dec 7, 2023 6pm
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.
CANADIAN EMBASSY TREE
Located in the rotunda of the Canadian Embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, you can see this tree usually decorated with red lights.
The tree is always brought down from a farm in Canada!
The ceremony here is usually a private embassy function and the tree is usually light by the first weekend of December.
2. District Boat Parade
On December 3, 2023, 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.
This is a favorite of my family and you'll find us there every year (or in Alexandria- because it takes place on the same day as the Old Town Alexandria boat parade!)
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 7, 2023
4. Enchant Christmas
Visit Nationals Park to enjoy Enchant Christmas from November 24, 2023 to December 31, 2024.
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.
Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk Parade takes place on the morning of December 2, 2023 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, 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 17, 2023 – January 7, 2024.
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, 2023- January 02, 2024 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.