Best Washington D.C. Christmas Activities
Washington D.C. is a wonderful place to spend the holiday season. There are beautiful decorations, lights, and displays in addition to all the attractions that are already here. Additionally when you visit during winter, you will enjoy many of the museums and sights with far fewer crowds than in the summer. We loved being in Washington DC at Christmas time. The city is very festive and there are so many special holiday events to keep the whole family entertained. Here are the best Washington DC Christmas activities!
U.S. Botanic Garden Christmas Decorations
The U.S. Botanic Garden Christmas decorations are a fun place to visit to get that festive feeling! The botanic garden is great all year long, but at Christmas, it really is above and beyond! Come see the displays of all the monuments made out of plant materials. They also set up a room with a miniature train that goes through different landmarks from around the country.
We have been multiple times, and the kids were always enthralled in everything to see there. The botanic garden also has plant passports you can take around while you look for different stations throughout the garden. Stamp your passport at each station and enjoy the scavenger hunt.
Besides all the beauty of the plants and Christmas displays, it's warm in the gardens! Pop in for a little bit to warm up after you've visited the Christmas tree at the Capitol just across the street.
This event has become quite popular, your best bet is to visit midweek because the line for the train room can be ridiculous on the weekends! Check the schedule because they also do evening jazz concerts during the season as well.
US Botanic Garden Parking:
You can try to park on the streets nearby the garden. Make sure you have the ParkMobile app installed and set up on your phone. Sometimes you might get lucky and find a spot right on Independence Avenue. Pay careful attention to the parking signs because it is not uncommon for parking to be allowed only during certain hours of the day. If nothing is available on Independence Avenue, try parking on one of the side streets (7th, 6th, 4th, or 3rd). Don’t try to park by the Capitol, all that parking is reserved and you don’t want the ticket or the car to be towed.
The other place you can try to park is on Jefferson Dr. which runs along the south side of the National Mall. I would try to park near the Air and Space Museum or the National Museum of the American Indian.
You can also reserve a parking spot in advance through the app SpotHero. I usually find this to be a more expensive option, but it does give you a guaranteed spot to park without having to drive around and hunt for a spot.
US Botanic Garden by Metro:
The closest stop is Federal Center SW Metro serviced by the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines.
US Botanic Garden Price:
FREE! It doesn’t cost anything to visit the garden or see the Christmas Display!
Botanic Garden Hours:
Typically the garden is open every day from 10 AM-5 PM. It’s always a good idea to check the website to verify the hours to make sure there aren’t any special closures that may affect your visit.
If you’re visiting D.C. with children, READ THIS for a big list of the best kids’ activities!
Visit the Christmas Trees
There are a few notable trees around town you may want to visit. The first one is the National Tree at the White House. You can find it outside the gates of the South Lawn.
(Just an honest caveat here, don't go expecting the tree at Rockefeller Center. This tree is not as grand.)
But with a view of the Washington Monument behind, it is still worth seeing. Check the schedule for the Tree Lighting ceremony and try to get tickets if you will be in town.
There is also a tree outside the Capitol Building. This one is a bit bigger and more decorated than the National Tree. It will be on the National Mall side of the Capitol building. Taking a tour of the Capitol building is a great thing to do any time of year in DC as well. It is best to reserve your tour in advance but you can also try getting a same day tour at the visitor center. Tours are free and I highly recommend taking one!
If you're at the Capitol, you can also pop into the Library of Congress to see their tree! The Library of Congress is just behind the Capitol and is one of the most beautiful buildings in D.C. Adding in the Christmas tree makes it is even more gorgeous.
The Library of Congress, Capitol, and U.S. Botanic Garden are conveniently located to each other and could be done all in one day. Also drop by City Center for some high-end shopping, another gorgeous tree, and the seasonal decorations.
FREE! You can visit each of these trees and not have to pay a thing!
White House East Wing Christmas Tour
This one takes a little bit of prior planning and luck. If you know you are visiting D.C. at this time of year, apply early for an East Wing Tour of the White House. This self-guided tour (more of a walkthrough) is in high demand at this time of year, and for good reason.
The decorations are absolutely beautiful and change each year. The East Wing staff works tirelessly on them and enlists the help of volunteers to help get all the decorating done.
The tour is family friendly, you can bring children and babies. We did a night time tour and the final cherry on top was a choir singing Christmas carols just before you exit. See the video below-it was magical. I would do this EVERY YEAR if I could!
FREE! Going on a tour won’t cost anything, you just need a little luck to get a ticket. You can see more information on requesting a tour through this link.
To read more about visiting the White House including the Easter Egg Roll, Halloween, West Wing, and bowling alley, READ THIS!
Arlington National Cemetery Wreath Laying
Arlington National Cemetery is a stunning and humbling place to visit at any time of year. However, I think Christmas is the most beautiful time.
Every year there is a wreath-laying event put on by Wreaths Across America. I attended one year with my mom and we both thought it was such a wonderful experience.
Anyone can come and lay wreaths, and people will come out in droves to do it! Plan to arrive early and for it to be crowded. It might sound like a somber event and not kid-friendly, but the atmosphere is actually very uplifting and joyful.
There are many families there showing their children what it means to serve and sacrifice. I would not hesitate to bring my children. If you won't be in town for the actual wreath-laying, still stopping by to see the headstones with the wreaths is worth the visit. I can't think of a more beautiful time of year to see the cemetery.
FREE! You can visit the cemetery for free and participate in the wreath-laying without any cost to you.
If you won't be in Washington D.C. but would like to participate in a similar event near your hometown, click here to see where you can lay wreaths at a cemetery near you. And click here to donate a wreath ($15) for the wreath-laying.
Ice Skating at the Sculpture Garden
In the winter the National Gallery of Art Outdoor Sculpture Garden turns its fountain into an ice skating rink! What better place to go ice skating than at the National Mall?! The cafe here is also lovely and serves up good food and warm drinks, better than most of the other museum cafes on the Mall! The sculpture garden is pictured below in spring.
Sometimes the ice rink at the sculpture garden can be crowded. If you’re little one is intimidated by the crowds, there are several other ice rinks around town. You can also try ice skating at the Wharf, Canal Street Ice Rink, the National Harbor, MedStar Capitals Iceplex in Ballston, and Fairfax Ice Arena. Fairfax and the MedStar Iceplex are where we took our kids the most as it was the most affordable. But these rinks are indoor so they are less atmospheric.
[This post may contain affiliate links. Affiliate links are no extra charge to you, but I may earn a small commission if you chose to make a purchase. See disclosures for more details.]
Wolf Trap Singalong
This one is a bit outside of DC, but it is worth the journey! Wolf Trap is an outdoor amphitheater and every year they put on a holiday singalong.
The “President’s Own Marine Corps Band” provides the music along with other local choir groups, and everyone enjoys singing along to their favorite holiday songs.
It’s a very fun, celebratory atmosphere. The crowds show up wearing festive attire, bringing coolers of snacks, and everyone has a genuinely good time!
Be sure to arrive here early and bring your jingle bells, as seating is first-come, first-served. If you can’t find seats, there are some grassy areas at the back. You may not see the musicians as well but you can still hear the music and the kids will have some room to dance and play.
Free! Isn’t DC great?! So many free things to do!
Best DC Day Trip at Christmas
If you have a car and are able to drive out of the city to Leesburg, Virginia you will find the cutest antique shop called Old Lucketts Store. It’s a mixture of vintage finds and shabby chic decor but they also set up several holiday displays that make the BEST photo backdrops!
If you want cute photos for your holiday cards, this is such a good place to take them! On the weekends they sometimes have live music and food trucks as well. You should expect to see other families out there with photographers.
Check out this event page that says their holiday vignettes will be up as early as November 1. It can get quite crowded on the weekends, so if you can visit during the week it will be less crowded.
Other D.C. Events to Check Out:
-Zoolights at the National Zoo
-Night Time Monuments Tour: Washington D.C.’s monuments take on a whole different feeling at night! Don’t miss seeing the city all lit up at night.
-Georgetown Food and Walking Tour: Georgetown is one of DC’s best neighborhoods. Plenty of history and good eats to keep your group entertained!
-Dupont Circle Farmer’s Market sometimes has festive live music during the holidays. It’s not a Christmas market, but the market is fun, full of good food, and always a fun spot. (DC does have a Christmas market, but I wasn’t very impressed by it which is why I’m not recommending it here).
-And always check KidFriendlyDC.com when traveling here with kids! She always posts all the events going on and has great information on what to do with kids!
Where to stay in Washington d.c.
Hotels in Washington D.C. can be very expensive. The good thing about D.C. is that it is fairly well connected, so you don’t have to stay in the city center. You can stay a little further away and then use public transportation to get where you’re going. Here are some options for hotels when visiting Washington D.C.
Canopy by Hilton The Wharf- The Wharf is a great location because of all the restaurants, shops, and proximity to the National Mall.
Phoenix Park Hotel-This hotel has great reviews and is in a great location for visiting the Capitol and Botanic Gardens. It’s also conveniently located near Union Station which is a metro and train hub.
Courtyard Marriott Rosslyn-This hotel is just over the river from D.C. in Arlington, Virginia. It’s very close to the metro station making it easy to hop in and out of the city while saving some money.