Things to Do in Washington DC in Winter

WASHINGTON DC IS AMAZING IN WINTER! At this time of year, you’ll get to enjoy all the same sites of historic, cultural and architectural significance that you would at any other time… but with the added benefit of heaps of festive fun alongside. And if you’re lucky enough to visit when the city is blanketed in snow, as it usually is throughout part of January and February, you’ll find that some of the most famous places here are even more beautiful than you could have imagined. Walk along the National Mall after some heavy snowfall and you’ll soon wonder how it could ever be any other way. However, if you’d prefer to wait until spring, check out our Springtime in Washington blog.

Beyond the boundaries of Washington DC itself, but still within easy driving distance, there are parts of Virginia that look absolutely breath-taking in winter. Our Taste of DC/VA Tour takes in major highlights from DC and Virginia, while the Taste of DC/VA Twilight Combo Tour showcases some of the area’s most impressive attractions as the sun is setting. In the winter, a twilight tour is an even more magical experience than at any other time of year.  

Here, we round up some of the sights and activities to look forward to on your winter trip to Washington DC. 

Holiday Lights in Washington DC

The fact it gets dark early in winter in Washington DC doesn’t matter a bit, as the daylight is replaced each evening by an array of twinkling fairy lights throughout the city.

One of the best places to experience the magic of these festive lights is The Ellipse. Each year, the official start of the holiday season is marked here by the lighting of the huge National Christmas Tree and the little trees (each one representing a different state) that surround it. Close by is the National Menorah, another impressive sight. The first candle is lit each year on December 12, with another candle lit each evening throughout Hanukkah. 

The Smithsonian National Zoo also puts lots of effort into its holiday lights. As well as the obligatory fairy lights, there are colorful light shows and live music events here in the winter evenings too. The zoo isn’t usually open in the evening, so these late openings are rare treats. 

Christmas at George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon was the estate of the first US President, George Washington, and he and his wife Martha are buried here. The house and its grounds are appropriately grand for a place that has played such a crucial role in US history, and all kinds of events are held here throughout the year. In the run-up to Christmas, the estate hosts a special festive program, including fireworks shows and candlelight tours. And of course, the house is all dressed up in its finest Christmas clothes at this time of year, with traditional decorations, twinkling lights and a lovely tree making it look more inviting than ever.

Ice Skating in Washington DC

Outdoor ice rinks spring up across many cities during the festive season, and Washington DC is no different, with some great options to choose from. 

The biggest ice rink in Washington DC is the one at Washington Harbour. It’s open well into the evening all through the winter and doesn’t even close for Christmas Day. Various classes for kids and themed nights for everyone make this a fun place for skaters of all ages and abilities to enjoy the ice.

Another popular choice is the ice rink in the sculpture garden of the National Gallery of Art. Here, you can skate amidst artworks by the likes of Louise Bourgeois and Roy Lichtenstein, which make for a pretty novel (and pleasingly surreal) experience. And when you get too cold, you can warm up by heading into the incredible gallery itself. 

Christmas Events in Washington DC

One of the top Christmas events in Washington DC is the Downtown Holiday Market, where over a hundred local artisans come together to sell their work. Naturally, jolly Christmas spirit abounds, but a trip here is more than just a fun way of getting into the festive mood; it’s also a wonderful opportunity to pick up genuinely unique handmade gifts.

If you get the chance, it’s also well worth going to see a show during the festive season. There’s a rich array of theater to choose from at this time of year, from the traditional performances at the National Shakespeare Theatre to the more modern ones at the Warner Theater, and plenty in between.  

Of course, this is just a fraction of what’s on offer in Washington DC in winter. Take a look at our tours for further inspiration.