Ultimate Guide to Christmas in Washington, DC

Despite all the scroogey politicians, America’s capital city doesn’t disappoint around the holidays. Here’s everything you need to know about where to eat, what to see, & how to make the most of the holidays in Washington, DC.

Traditional Holiday Sites

The National Christmas Tree is high on every visitors’ list during the holiday season. Located on the south lawn of the White House, the nation’s official Christmas tree is certainly a sight to be seen. Surrounded by smaller trees representing each of the states and territories, the display also includes a giant menorah, what could likely be declared the world’s largest Yule log, &, on special nights, Santa Claus himself.

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Want to get inside the White House to see the decorations & the famous Blue Room tree? Get in touch with your Member of Congress as soon as you book your trip to DC. Requests can be made up to six months in advance & must be in at least 21 days ahead of your anticipated visit. If you’re coming from a foreign country, you can make the request through your embassy in Washington. You will probably have to get up early, & I can guarantee it will be crowded, but seeing the inside of the White House all ready for Christmas is an awesome experience.

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Right next door to the White House is the famous Willard Hotel – what I would consider the prettiest hotel in all of Washington during the holidays. Pop your head in the beautiful lobby to see their stunning Christmas tree & huge Capitol gingerbread house. On December 23, B & I always go on a date to see the tree & pop into the Willard’s Round Robin bar afterward to curl up in the corner with a mug of spiked hot chocolate.

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Just down the Mall in the shadow of the looming Capitol Dome is the Capitol Christmas Tree. I actually like this tree better than the official White House tree, since it’s strung with real strands of lights & ornaments (vs the White House tree which is decorated with a netting of lights). This year’s Capitol Tree is decorated with ornaments handmade by children in Minnesota – where the tree came from! This year the Dome is undergoing restoration & is covered in scaffolding, making an interesting look for the iconic structure.

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While you’re over by the Capitol, stop by Union Station, which features three giant lighted wreaths on the outside & several model train sets inside. The Station is currently undergoing restoration & renovation, but that doesn’t detract from the beauty of this majestic historic train station.

Down at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s stately mansion, Mrs. Washington welcomes guests as part of their Christmas by Candlelight. We’ve done this several times & always enjoy touring the mansion, sipping on some hot cider around the fire & even seeing Washington’s famous Christmas Camel.

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A Little Holiday Shopping

One of my favorite places to shop year-round, but especially at the holidays, is Eastern Market. The indoor market itself isn’t huge, but the surrounding streets fill up with booths & vendors selling fresh wreaths & Christmas trees, homemade arts & crafts, & trinkets perfect for stuffing stockings. Make a morning out of it & stop by Market Lunch for their awesome blueberry pancakes.

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Downtown a small holiday market pops up in early December in the Penn Quarter neighborhood. Located on F Street between 7th & 9th Streets, this little market sells art, jewelry & homemade wares along with some killer mini donuts. The large Macy’s store in Metro Center also decorates their store windows a la their famous flagship store in New York City.

If you want to get out of the city, I suggest an afternoon shopping in Old Town Alexandria. The walkable, shop-able 16 blocks of King Street from the Metro station to the waterfront will allow you to check everything off your list in one stop. Some of my favorite shops include Hooray for Books! for children’s books, An American in Paris for cute accessories & handbags, & a stop at Killer ESP for a espresso & giant piece of pie. One of the best things about shopping in Old Town? The homes, many from the 1800s, are beautifully decorated for the holidays.

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A Holly, Jolly Show

There are several holiday productions in the DC-area which are worth checking out. My personal favorite is the Signature Theatre’s Holiday Follies. This Tony-award-winning community theater in the Northern Virginia suburb of Arlington puts on a fun cabaret of holiday songs every year.

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Other notable productions which we’ve previously enjoyed include A Christmas Carol at historic Ford’s Theatre, the Washington Ballet’s annual performance of the Nutcracker at the Warner Theater (complete with George Washington Nutcracker!) & Handel’s Messiah, sung beautifully at the National Cathedral.

A Holiday Nosh – & Burning Off Those Holiday Calories

Nothing says holidays to me like a special, fancy holiday meal & DC has no shortage of restaurants to fit the bill. Right by the White House, Old Ebbitt is a perennial holiday favorite, with its giant soldier nutcrackers standing guard out front. Bastille, a French bistro in Old Town Alexandria, serves up the best traditional bûche de Noël in the area. Co Co. Sala, a chocolate bar (literally – a bar that makes decadent chocolate drinks) serves up holiday beverages with a kick – I love the Fetish.

December in DC tends to be pretty mild, with ample opportunity to get out & enjoy yourself. DC is a very walkable city, with many of the sites on this list able to be seen on foot. For a little extra calorie burning, check out the ice skating rink in the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Gallery (warning: it can get super crowded, so aim to visit during an off-peak time). There are also skating rinks in Georgetown & along the waterfront right by the Nationals stadium.

The Meaning of Christmas

Take a moment in all the hustle & bustle of the holidays with a stop at Arlington National Cemetery. This year, for the first time ever, every single grave in America’s national military cemetery will have a wreath placed at it. It’s a moving site & a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas.

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Have you been to Washington, DC around the holidays?
Any holiday favorites I missed in this post? Leave them in the comments below!

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About christina

Christina is a 30-something D.I.N.K. travel writer & photographer who travels the world often wedged into the middle seat. Follow her on Twitter & Facebook.

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4 Responses to Ultimate Guide to Christmas in Washington, DC

  1. Lauren Bassart December 16, 2014 at 10:49 am #

    The lights and decorations are all so festive. I’ve never been to DC during the holidays, but I may need to remedy that. It’s so pretty.

  2. Vanessa December 16, 2014 at 11:17 am #

    I love visiting any capital city during the holidays. Here in Ottawa we have tons of lights up as well and downtown shops get into the spirit of things with wreaths and other decorations.

  3. A Cook Not Mad (Nat) December 16, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    Enticing photos, everything looks so happy and Christmasy.

  4. Jenna December 20, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

    Great list of things to do–I love traveling around Christmas and seeing all the decorations! We went to Washington DC a couple years ago for Christmas and had a wonderful time. One of our favorite stops was the United States Botanic Garden–it was all decked out and festive! Thanks for bringing back some good memories!

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