Updated: 5 days ago
UPDATED FOR 2023
Christmas has to be one of the best times of the year in DC! Whether you’re new to the city or you’ve been here for years, there are new things going on all over to celebrate Christmas in Washington, DC each year. I’ve been exploring for six years and am sharing my favorite ways to celebrate Christmas in DC with you!
Christmas in Washington, DC has something for everyone. Every year, I update these posts and share the new things I explore to bring you the best of the area. I’ve got so many guides on Washington, DC and I hope you find them helpful!
PS if you’re looking for more info about visiting DC, I have a ton of information for you! Check out my DC archives for all your trip-planning needs.
There are so many different Christmas markets to check out around town. They start in early December and will run all the way through the month. The most popular by far is the Downtown Holiday Market which is also the one set up most often. My favorite is the free one that happens at Union Market (check their website for changing dates). You’ll find that Embassies also hold Christmas markets and the ones at the European markets tend to be the most popular! They are really fun as well.
Lucketts Holiday House, November 9-December 10, $25 timed-entry ticket
Maryland Christmas Show,November 17-19, 24-26, $10
Heurich Christmas Markt, December 1-3, $12
Norwegian Festival, December 1-2, free but registration recommended
Del Ray Artisans’ Fine Art & Fine Craft Holiday Market, December 1-23, free
Winter Festival and Christmas Tree Sale, December 2-3, free but registration recommended
Silver Spring Christmas Market and Holiday Craft Fair, December 3, free
Old Town Alexandria Christmas Market and Holiday Craft Show, December 9, free
Unique Market, December 16-17, $12+
Procrastinator’s Holiday Market, December 16, free
2. Eastern Market
Saturday 7 am – 6 pm, Sunday 9 am – 5 pm, 225 7th St SE
Eastern Market is a year-round food, flea, and local goods market open Saturdays and Sundays (the actual historic market is open daily 7 am – 7 pm, no outdoor vendors). Around Christmas, there are tons of special festivities happening like special musical performances and fresh-cut Christmas trees for sale. It’s a great way to spend a Saturday walking around and grabbing a few gifts (and maybe a few things for yourself).
3. City Center
10 am – 8 pm, 10th & H St NW
City Center is known for its different displays year-round, but every year they do something fun and unique at Christmas. One year, they did a giant igloo, another a ball pit, this year it’s an ice maze! Every year the events change, but there’s always a Christmas tree and merriment to be found.
4. Dog Pictures with Santa
If you’ve got a furry friend, there’s no better way to celebrate Christmas in Washington, DC than pictures with Santa. Charities all around DC have special dog pictures with Santa that happen throughout the month. Here are some of the places to get a picture of your pup with Santa this holiday season.
5. Union Station
6 AM – 12 AM (shops hold various hours), 50 Massachusetts Ave NE
Union Station is Washinton, DC’s main train station and beautiful year-round. The Christmas tree and holiday shopping here are definitely a great way to enjoy the season right downtown. It may just be my favorite Christmas tree in DC!
6. Botanical Gardens at US Botanical Gardens
10 am – 5 pm, 100 Maryland Ave SW, Washington, DC 20001
The U.S. Botanic Garden (USBG) will offer a gardenwide “Season’s Greenings” holiday display this year, running from Thursday, Nov. 24, through Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. As part of the festivities, G-gauge model trains will run between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. each day in the gated outdoor gardens and the Conservatory will feature poinsettias, holiday decor, and D.C. landmarks made from plants.
The Capitol you see above? It’s made of plant parts! How amazing is that? There are other important buildings made of plant parts as well as large poinsettias places all around the main corridor. On weekends prepare to wait a long time in line (often outside) in order to experience the amazing displays. Go on a weekday if you can to skip the lines.
Every year, a different national forest is selected to provide a tree to appear on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol building for the holiday season. The tree takes a tour across the US before making it to the Capitol and does have a large ceremony each year. You can also visit later throughout the month of December.
11 am – 1:30 am, 1264 Wisconsin Ave NW
A few years ago my now husband showed me this charming pub located right in Georgetown. It’s always decorated perfectly for the holidays with great cocktails to complement the season. I also love this spot because John J. Kennedy along with many other presidents and politicians enjoy visiting this cozy place. History is always charming to me and they do a great job making it look wonderful for Christmas in Washington, DC.
WunderGarten is a really cool beer garden located in the NoMa neighborhood of Washington, DC. During the holidays, it’s decorated with different holiday decor, has fire pits, smores, and specialty beers to get you into the holiday spirit. It’s a great spot to cuddle up around a fire and enjoy a good local holiday beer! Definitely a favorite non-touristy spot in DC.
The ZooLights are a free, ticketed event that happens at the National Zoo every December. Light displays are throughout different parts of the zoo and it stays open late for visitors. You’ll also find a giant slide (perfect for adults too I promise), hot drinks (alcoholic and not), and indoor spaces open. On weekends there are special events for families during the day so check out the zoo’s website for details.
ZooLights includes live music performances, tasty winter treats and plenty of opportunities for holiday shopping. Environmentally friendly LED lights and dozens of glowing animal lanterns transform the Zoo into a winter wonderland.
11. National Christmas Tree President’s Park
The tradition of the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse by the White House began with President Calvin Coolidge over 90 years ago when he lit a 48 foot Balsam Fir from Vermont decorated with 2,500 electric bulbs in red, white, and green on Christmas Eve 1923. Today, the tree lighting remains a beloved holiday event in Washington, DC.
Each state decorates and provides a Christmas tree. You can walk the Pathway of Peace site and see every state and terriroty’s tree decorated.
It’s open to the public in early December through January 1, 2022. Hours are 10:00 am-10:00 pm Sunday-Thursday, and 10:00 am-11:00 pm Friday and Saturday.
I love going ice skating at least once every winter in DC. I’m not that coordinated, but it’s fun. There are lots of locations to choose from, but my favorites are the ice skating rink in the Sculpture Garden (closed in 2020) and in Navy Yard at the Capitol River Front.
There are also chances in Georgetown on the waterfront and on top of the Watergate Hotel (there’s a bar on the rooftop too!). They’ve also got igloos you can drink in there, but they require a promise to spend over $50-$75 or more per person on your tab so be prepared.
This event is confirmed in DC for the next three years and I honestly hope that it continues! Enchant Christmas is the biggest light maze in the US and located inside Nationals Stadium. Tickets are anywhere from $28-$39 depending on the dates and you’ll want to buy in advance for the best price. Spend a few hours here to see the lights, meet Santa, enjoy a holiday cocktail, and shop at the Christmas market. It’s a fun way to spend the evening!
14. Scottish Christmas Parade and Holiday Boat Parade
Every year on the first Saturday of December, Old Town Alexandria hosts a day full of holiday events you won’t want to miss. In the morning is the Scottish Christmas Parade where you’ll see plenty of kilts, bagpipes, and Santa! The parade has been a tradition for 50 years and is such a fun way to spend a Saturday morning. I’ve never seen so many people playing the bagpipes before!
After this parade, in the evening around 5:30 pm, the boats begin to fill the harbor in Old Town. Boats are welcome to come to the harbor all lit up with lights to celebrate the holiday season. There’s also a light parade that happens after dark that is fun to enjoy too! Doing both is definitely a long day, but both events offer something different and unique to enjoy.
If you’re looking for a spot that’s perfectly decorated for Christmas, look no further! The Willard is located next to the White House and each year is decorated inside and out for the holidays. Inside you’ll find an incredible gingerbread display, beautiful Christmas decorations, and a round hotel bar that is famous for the senators and dignitaries that regularly visit.
The holiday spirit is all around in this hotel, but if you want to stay here during the holiday season, be prepared to pay $250 or more to stay there depending on dates!
Glen Echo National Park is the only National Park that also acts as a theme park! The holiday colors pop here on the buildings and art deco buildings, but they’ve also got a Christmas Market, social dances, and performances all winter long that will help feel you with the holiday spirit. Their website with upcoming events is linked above!
17. District Boat Parade
Similar to the boat parade in Old Town Alexandria, DC hosts it's own holiday boat parade in the Wharf. Watch more than 60 beautifully decorated boats pass by the Wharf at this iconic annual DC holiday event. Other activities include ornament decorating, family photos with Santa, and live music.
Christmas in Washington, DC is pretty magical and after spending so many Christmas seasons here, I can tell you there is something extra special about DC around the holidays!