Don't Be A Scrooge! Head To These Top D.C. Holiday Attractions

The nation's capital is bathed in different shades of red, white and blue throughout the year (especially during campaign time) but once the holiday season approaches visitors will find every color of the rainbow featured in lights, ribbons and ornaments.  

Starting in November and lasting until the New Year, holiday happenings are everywhere in Washington, D.C. The best part is the huge variety of attractions to see. So while you are whittling down your shopping to do list, make sure to check out these holiday events that are sure to put you in the holiday spirit.

What's the holiday season without a viewing of the Charles Dickens' classic tale 'A Christmas Carol'? Instead of watching a movie, be sure to catch the Ford's Theatre production and take in some history at the memorable venue. How about careening down slides made entirely of ice and seeing a fountain show choreographed to holiday favorites? Check out Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center's Christmas on the Potomac celebration.

If you enjoying seeing thousands of twinkling lights, try your luck at winning a lottery ticket to watch the First Family flip the switch at the National Christmas Tree Lighting or go to the National Zoo to see your favorite animals, reptiles and amphibians aglow during Zoo Lights.

To welcome in the New Year, head over to Virginia for First Night Alexandria which features fireworks on the Potomac River, kid friendly events and live entertainment.

Don't be a Scrooge! Grab the coat, scarf and hat and head to these top D.C. holiday attractions!


Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend and Parade
Photo courtesy of Scottish Christmas Walk

Old Town Alexandria's history is rich with Scottish heritage. As a way to pay tribute, the town hosts an annual Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend filled with activities everyone can enjoy. Take the kids to the George Washington Masonic Memorial Temple in the morning for Deck the Halls, an event featuring arts and crafts, music and a visit from Santa. Come back in the evening for a Scottish tasting menu featuring beer, wine and light fare. The biggest draw is the parade which features more than 100 marching units filled with tartans of Scottish clans, the haunting cries of the bagpipes, and re-enactment groups. METRO: King St.- Old Town

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: A great event to celebrate Scottish heritage and learn more about the country.

Gina's expert tip: The children's event, Deck the Halls, sells out fast so buy your tickets online.

Read more about Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend and Parade →

First Night Alexandria
Photo courtesy of First Night Alexandria

Washington, D.C. no longer has an official New Year's firework celebration. (We are still scratching our head over this one.)Fear not because a nearby Virginia town has answered the call to see those bright colors burst in the sky. First Night Alexandria is one of the best family friendly celebrations around. Local venues turn their buildings into performance venues to showcase local and regional talent. More than 100 performances including musicians to artists will take place before the spectacular fireworks display on the Potomac River at the foot of King Street. METRO: King St.- Old Town

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: New Year's Eve without fireworks is like Christmas without a tree. While several other cities have wonderful displays, Alexandria's is not to be missed.

Gina's expert tip: The fireworks are free but if you want to see the performances you will need to pay admission and get a First Night Badge.

Read more about First Night Alexandria →

Ford's Theatre
Photo courtesy of Ford's Theatre

All of these joyful holiday events are enough to drive Ebenezer Scrooge mad so come see him transform his mean, old ways thanks to visits from the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future in Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' presented at Ford's Theatre. The musically-infused play, a theatre tradition for more than 35 years, would surly bring a smile to even Scrooge's harsh face. While taking in the annual holiday show, make sure to explore the history of the venue which was the site of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination in 1865. Metro: Gallery Place, Metro Center or Archives/Navy Memorial.

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: Seeing 'A Christmas Carol' is a holiday tradition. Why not see it in person instead of on television?

Gina's expert tip: The two-hour show, running from Nov. 16 through Dec. 31, is recommended for ages 5 and up.

Read more about Ford's Theatre →

Washington National Cathedral
Photo courtesy of Washington National Cathedral

With Neo-Gothic design harking back to centuries long ago, the Washington National Cathedral is a beautiful structure to behold especially during the holidays. The church has a number of programs to celebrate the birth of Christ. Don't miss the Dec. 1-3 performances of G. F. Handel's 'Messiah' performed by the Cathedral Choir and resident Baroque orchestra joined by renowned soloists from around the world. Be a part of the annual live simulcast worship service with the cathedral congregation and the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, Palestine on Dec. 16. Christmas Eve and Day offer beautiful services to attend featuring readings from Holy Scripture and instrumental music. METRO: Tenleytown/AU

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: A beautiful place to celebrate faith and take in some incredible music performances.

Gina's expert tip: Passes are required to attend several of the events around Christmas so plan accordingly.

Read more about Washington National Cathedral →

Season's Greenings U.S. Botanic Garden
Photo courtesy of US Botanic Garden

Once you see poinsettias, you know the holiday season is upon us so why not head to a place that knows how to make beautiful plant displays? The U.S. Botanic Garden's annual Season's Greenings features a showcase of the holiday flowers, one of the largest indoor decorated trees in the district and trains meandering through unique displays. If you have a Thomas the Train fan in your house, you can usually find him or one of his friends huffing and chuffing down the tracks. Patrons will also see smaller versions of familiar landmarks like The White House, Capitol and Lincoln Memorial but be sure to look close because they are made out of plants. METRO: Federal Center

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: Winter hits the D.C. region hard so get your fill of lush greens at this tropical paradise.

Gina's expert tip: While they encourage people to take pictures, tripods are not allowed in the exhibit due to the high volume of visitors.

Read more about Season's Greenings U.S. Botanic Garden →

In 1787, George Washington brought a camel to Mount Vernon to entertain his guests. During the Christmas season, patrons will be able to meet a camel at Old Hickory's home. How many other places offer that during the holiday time? Take in the beautiful decorations including 12 Christmas trees and watch historical chocolate-making demonstrations. Guests will also get a rare look at the mansion's third floor and learn how the Washington family celebrated Christmas more than 200 years ago. If you can't make it during the day, the candlelight tour with fireside caroling is not to be missed and Christmas Illuminations offers fireworks before without having to stay up to midnight. METRO: Huntington Station

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: In an area that cherishes history, Christmas at Mount Vernon is a fun event to see how the holiday was celebrated more than 200 years ago.

Gina's expert tip: You can take oodles of pictures around the estate but put those cameras away once you step inside George and Martha's house. Photography is prohibited in their home.

Read more about George Washington's Mount Vernon →

Woodley Park

The National Zoo features mammals, reptiles and amphibians from all across the world. Thanks to ZooLights, guests can see favorites like the giant pandas, Asian elephants and sea lions in person and represented in thousands of dazzling lights as well. Besides the lights, the zoo offers several activities including winter-themed crafts, getting pictures with costumed characters, listening to story tellers, and watching ice sculpture carvings. Warm up by going into the indoor houses or grab some hot chocolate for sale. The best part of the event? Admission is free. METRO: Woodley Park

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: The National Zoo is a great place to go during the day but seems almost magical with the twinkling lights at night.

Gina's expert tip: Parking at the zoo fills up fast so go early or take the Metro.

Read more about ZooLights →

National Chanukah Menorah Lighting Ceremony
Photo courtesy of National Hanukkah Menonrah

As a way to celebrate heritage and religious freedom, The White House welcomes thousands of people to the Ellipse on the first day of Chanukah to witness the lighting of the world's largest menorah. The Jewish holiday, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a celebration honoring the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. A candle is lit on the menorah each night for eight days. The event features musical performances as well as activities for the entire family to enjoy. METRO: Federal Triangle/Metro Center

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: The lighting is one of the most prominent public Chanukah programs in the world.

Gina's expert tip: Tickets are free but you must register for them in advance.

Read more about National Chanukah Menorah Lighting Ceremony →

Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center Christmas on the Potomac
Photo courtesy of Gaylord National Resort

The hotel and convention center annually presents this festive event featuring a bevy of activities that will get you in the holiday spirit. ICE! offers participants the opportunity to careen down slides over two stories tall made entirely of the solid liquid. Each year has a different theme which they incorporate into over a million pounds of - you guessed it - ice. This year's theme is the beloved 1964 television classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Check out the Brightest Star Fountain Show featuring choreographed water and light dances to modern and classic Christmas songs. It's no wonder that participants are made up of both hotel guests and locals. METRO: Branch Avenue

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: Combined with a bunch of different activities, the hotel is the only place to get indoor snow and huge ice slides.

Gina's expert tip: Wear snow pants if you plan to careen down the ice slides and pay attention to the rules. No going down head first or on your belly.

Read more about Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center Christmas on the Potomac →

National Christmas Tree Lighting
Photo courtesy of The Obama White House

The lighting of the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse dates back nearly 100 years. In 1923, First Lady Grace Coolidge allowed the District of Columbia Public Schools to erect a tree on the White House lawn. On Christmas Eve, a crowd watched as President Calvin Coolidge pressed a button a lit the 48-foot Balsam fir. Today, the event has evolved into a huge event complete with big name performers on hand to sing holiday favorites and a countdown used to light the live tree which is maintained by the National Park Service. If you can't make it to the show, don't worry. You can still see the tree on President's Park throughout the holiday season. METRO: Federal Triangle/Metro Center

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: The National Tree, along with the 56 smaller trees surrounding it known as the Pathway of Peace, is a sight to behold.

Gina's expert tip: You can't just go to this event. You have to enter a lottery and hope for the best. Good luck!

Read more about National Christmas Tree Lighting →


Meet Gina Gallucci White

Gina Gallucci White is an award winning freelance writer with articles appearing in such regional publications as Frederick Magazine, The Daily Record, Montgomery Magazine and The Gazette. She...  More About Gina