Enjoy unforgettable holiday festivities, captivating indoor spaces and performances, and cozy eateries
See the Holiday Lights and Other Festive Displays
While many destinations seem to go into hibernation during the cold weather months, DC comes alive in the most joyous and festive of ways. Holiday decor and lighting ceremonies are among the most dazzling of them!
For visual delights that know no bounds, attend the National Christmas Tree and National Menorah lighting ceremonies in the President’s Park on the White House Ellipse. The National Christmas Tree is encircled by smaller trees decorated with ornaments made by Americans representing every U.S. state, territory, and the District of Columbia. Don’t worry if you miss the actual events, though—these monumental holiday displays remain aglow throughout the holiday season.
And there’s a whole lot more to see beyond these celebratory icons. The District offers another majestic conifer—the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building (every year, the tree comes from a different national forest and is decorated with ornaments from its home state), as well as spectacular holiday displays at Union Station, DC’s iconic train depot, including breathtaking wreaths, garlands, and lights.
Get in the Giving Spirit at DC’s Shopping Meccas and Holiday Markets
Gift shopping is a must during the holiday season and DC’s grand malls, neighborhood boutiques and unique markets make the experience especially fun and satisfying. The Downtown Holiday Market, an outdoor winter wonderland in the heart of the District, rounds up more than 70 small businesses and entrepreneurs that purvey a vast array of products along with plenty of great food, drink, and live entertainment. Also look into Heurich House Museum, which typically hosts a German-style market in December.
Museum shops are great places to discover unique gifts, and given the abundance of specialty museums in DC, you may be able to find the perfect item for everyone on your list (that includes you!) by visiting several—from crafts, books and toys to posters, jewelry and more. And don’t forget to browse the District’s neighborhoods; they feature every type of shopping outlet, from casual indie and luxury boutiques to national and international retailers. Check out this quick guide to the hip, funky, vintage, cutting-edge, and luxe among them.
And while you’re filling your bags, look into the Shop Made in DC retail stores (located in the Wharf, Georgetown, Capitol Hill, and Dupont Circle), too. They only feature products from Made in DC businesses, meaning items made in Washington, DC by local artisans and makers. Talk about perfect mementos of a DC trip! And these black-owned businesses expand the options for hunters of the rare and special even further.
Escape to the Great Indoors
DC enables you to warm your bones and expand your mind in various iconic spaces. The White House is a must-see when visiting the city. Once White House tours resume, you’ll need to plan your tour well in advance of your visit by requesting a time slot through your member of Congress. If you can’t arrange an indoor experience, head to Pennsylvania Avenue NW at Lafayette Square and view the White House exterior and the South Lawn from the Ellipse.
The Library of Congress, housed in three separate buildings, is the largest library in the world as well as a magnificent museum. You can’t help but be wowed by the Thomas Jefferson Building’s masterful Gilded Age architecture—the design is simply jaw-dropping. New well-marked themed paths through the Jefferson Building allow self-guided explorations of the building and its exhibitions and provide additional sources of inspiration.
DC’s museums are also a great way to spend time indoors during your wintertime visit. The nation’s capital has more museums than you can imagine (the Smithsonians are free!), and every one of them provides unparalleled mental and visual stimulation. Whatever your interest, be it art (of any period, any style), black culture, women’s issues, building and design, gardens and landscaping, espionage, space or history—there’s probably an excellent institution in DC with exhibits that cater to it. Learn more about the amazing museum options available to you here.
Savor Mouthwatering Seasonal Dishes and Drinks in Cozy Surroundings
You definitely won’t feel left out in the cold by DC’s amazing restaurants and bars. With menus designed for the season (read: warming, delectable dishes that rely on fresh ingredients) and room features geared to making you feel warm and toasty, many of the District’s eateries will envelop you in comfort food and comforting spaces. So, gather ‘round the outdoor fire pits, open-flame kitchens and wood-fired ovens that pepper the neighborhoods and dig into memorable dishes concocted by top chefs. Here are just a few examples:
- Showstopping Michelin-starred Maydan serves Middle Eastern cuisine cooked in a roaring copper-topped, oak-fired hearth. The signature fresh-baked flatbread (and various condiments), lamb hummus, fire-roasted turnips and Ora king salmon kababs are standouts, but everything on the menu is delicious and worth a try—including the cocktails flavored with exotic spices like cardamom and sumac.
- The Dabney, a Michelin-starred farm-to-table restaurant in Shaw, cooks classic Mid-Atlantic dishes that rely on seasonal ingredients over embers in a wood-fired open hearth.
- Dirty Habit, a restaurant and bar in Chinatown (located across the street from the Capital One Arena), is a film-noir inspired venue housed in a classical National Historic Landmark—the 1841 General Post Office. It features an “urban campfire” in an open-air courtyard along with an enclosed patio. Try the Baked Crab Handroll, Watermelon Tartare and Truffle Fries—three newer highlights of the extensive globally and seasonally inspired menu.
- It goes without saying that tea is one of the all-time great comfort drinks. Take Afternoon Tea at The Willard InterContinental Hotel to up your sipping game—the tea service here is spectacular any time of year, but the Holiday Afternoon Tea is one of the most beloved holiday traditions in DC and shouldn’t be missed. You’ll be seated in the grand Peacock Alley amid festive holiday decor and soothing harp music, which are sure to boost your spirits even before the teas, sandwiches and pastries arrive.
Find more great spots to meet your need for warmth and your craving for a soul-satisfying meal here. But if it’s just a warming cocktail or cider you’re looking for, you can refer to this list of libation ‘hot’ spots; they deliver boozy flavor and coziness in equal measure. Or, if you’d rather skip the alcohol and sip a cup of hot chocolate instead, DC offers plenty of awesomely tasty concoctions that fit the bill.
Washington, DC’s performance spaces range from large modern concert halls and historical theaters to more intimate nightclub stages—and winter is an ideal time to tap into the enthralling entertainment they provide. Whatever the venue type or style of performance offered you can be sure the talent will be top-notch.
On the classical front, check out The Washington Ballet’s The Nutcracker—a celebrated holiday classic brought to life with period costumes, incredible set designs, and over 100 dancers.
Commemorate Black History Month
DC has a rich and fascinating African American heritage that has not only had a huge local impact but also shaped national history, culture and cuisine. To explore this heritage that is such an essential aspect of DC’s identity, check out the many museum exhibits (the National Museum of African American History & Culture is a must-visit) and sites relating to formative events, traditions and the legacy of notable figures. If you visit DC in February, which is Black History Month, you’ll have additional opportunities to expand your insight, commemorate and celebrate through special events and performances held at that time. Seek them out here.
Explore the African American Heritage Trail, to immerse yourself in sites of importance to local and national history and culture. They include U Street, aka Black Broadway; the Shaw neighborhood, where jazz great Duke Ellington once lived; the Howard Theatre, where many black music legends performed; the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial honoring the great Civil Rights activist; and the spot on the Lincoln Memorial steps where King delivered his famed “I Have A Dream” speech. Also sample the superb Creole, Caribbean, Ethiopian and local cuisine served in DC’s Black-owned restaurants and created by Black chefs.