Updated: Jun 12, 2022
From holiday events to staying warm, here are my favorite things to do in DC in winter—and they all cost $10 or less! Most of them are free thought because I’m all about finding the best things to do on a budget in DC.
I’ve lived in DC for years now. The number of things to do in this city never ceases to amaze me! Winter in DC is honestly no different. There are lots of winter-themed things to do, and if you’re here, it’s a magical time of year.
1. Check out the Zoo Lights at the National Zoo — free
The whole month of December, you can check out the different light displays all over the National Zoo, with special events going on throughout the whole month. Specific parts of the zoo stay open late, they sell warm drinks (alcoholic and not), and there is a festive slide to ride down. It is always a fun way to spend an evening. Plan ahead for parking or take the Metro because this is a really popular event happening every night!
2. Visit one of the Christmas trees around town — free
The White House, Union Station (pictured above), City Center, Capitol lawn, and more all have a Christmas tree! If you are lucky enough to be in town the last week of November/first of December, you can buy tickets to see the national Christmas tree lighting!
Many other trees have ceremonies, and you’ll want to check online for dates. The trees look so pretty around DC and are easy to find. You don’t have to be there during a tree lighting to enjoy them, and they are lovely.
3. Get a Christmas tree and do some shopping at Eastern Market — gifts for as little as $3
Eastern Market is full of delicious food, drinks, and awesome gifts for everyone at a great price. It’s the perfect spot to walk around on a Saturday morning and buy all those unique and fun gifts while you do. Plus, they have excellent Christmas trees for sale right outside. The Ritz in Georgetown also has a Christmas tree farm you can check out.
4. Head to City Center to shop and check out their fun display — free
CityCenterDC has an awesome display year-round, but their winter one is especially beautiful. The shopping there is pretty pricey, but there are some great shops nearby, and the display is worth the short walk.
5. Visit the Downtown Holiday Market or many others! — gifts as low as $3
I’m currently working on a post about holiday markets in DC, but the Downtown Holiday Market is definitely a spot to visit if you’re in DC in December! Tons of local shops, live music, and delicious bites are available. Spend an afternoon here, and when you get cold, head into the National Portrait Gallery right beside it to get warm and enjoy some gorgeous artwork.
I’ve also been to the holiday market at Union Market (one of my favorite food spots in DC), the Yelp Holiday Market (location changes every year), and more.
6. Go ice skating at one of the many spots around town — $8
I love going ice skating at least once every winter. 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 and in the 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!).
7. Here during a big snowstorm? — free
Sled on the US Capitol (tons of locals come out to enjoy sledding on the nation’s Capitol, you won’t want to miss it! Get something to sled on at the nearby Walmart on H Street.)
Go to a giant snowball fight (check the DC Snowball Fight Facebook Page for the location and details when a storm hits!)
8. Warm up with an espresso from Dolcezza or chili from Ben’s Chili Bowl — $3 – $6
Both these spots are DC institutions, with tons of delicious drinks and food. Dolcezza stores are located all over DC and never far from the most heavily trafficked places in DC. If you’re at Center City, head to the one right next to the lights! Ben’s Chili Bowl has two locations: one on U Street and one on H Street. U Street is the original, where you will find lots about the history of Ben’s in DC, but the H Street location has a full restaurant with a bar called Ben’s Upstairs. Either spot serves delicious and cheap chili in many forms.
9. Enjoy Chinese New Year in Chinatown — free
Each year, DC celebrates Chinese New Year with a massive parade, performances, and more. Make sure you check the website.
10. Get inside and enjoy one of the many museums! — free
Most Smithsonian museums have a coat check and heating. This makes them the perfect escape from the cold and something touristy and fun to do in the winter in DC! Plus, you don’t have to worry about walking very far between museums because they’re all so close!
11. Visit DC’s very own Holiday Bar Miracle on 7th Street — $10 – $12
I couldn’t make a list of things to do without adding this one to it. I actually didn’t have a great experience here but have some tips to help you enjoy it! First, get there as early as possible. Even on weekdays, people sometimes wait more than two hours. Then, when you order a drink, if something sounds like it won’t be very good, it probably isn’t! So stick to the basic winter drinks like cider with bourbon or hot chocolate and liquor. Some of their more fancy drinks were not worth the price!
12. Check out Georgetown Glow — free
Throughout December, Georgetown is covered in cool light displays created by different artists. Many are interactive and react to people’s movements, which makes it really fun! Georgetown is also full of shopping, coffee shops (Baked and Wired is my fave), and good food.
There is my list of the best things to do this winter in DC! No matter what season you visit DC in, you’ll have a blast! For more about DC, make sure you check out my other posts here or take a day trip from DC.