Best Things to Do in December in Washington

Don't be a Scrooge! Head to these top D.C. December 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 some of your favorite holiday characters made entirely of frozen water? 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 Enchant Christmas DC where Nationals Stadium becomes a village of bright bulbs.

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 Things to Do in December because: A great event to celebrate Scottish heritage and learn more about the country.

Gina's expert tip: If you want to attend the Taste of Scotland event, you will need to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 72 hours of event.

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 Things to Do in December 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 →

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 offers several programs to celebrate the birth of Christ. In the past, they have hosted performances of G. F. Handel's 'Messiah' performed by the Cathedral Choir and resident Baroque orchestra joined by renowned soloists from around the world. They have also hosted an annual live simulcast worship service with the cathedral congregation and the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, Palestine. Christmas Eve and Day offer beautiful services to attend featuring readings from Holy Scripture and instrumental music. METRO: Tenleytown/AU

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: A beautiful place to celebrate faith and take in some incredible musical 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 →

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 from 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 surely 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 Things to Do in December 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. 24 through Dec. 27, is recommended for ages 5 and up.

Read more about Ford's Theatre →

George Washington's Mount Vernon
Photo courtesy of Mount Vernon

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 holiday time? Their Christmas Illuminations show, set for Dec. 17 and 18, is not to be missed as wintry lights and sparkling fireworks bath the home in a beautiful array of colors. For an event closer to what George and Martha experienced, see the home by candlelight where tours are offered discussing holiday traditions during the 18th century. METRO: Huntington Station

Recommended for Things to Do in December 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 →

Enchant Christmas DC
Photo courtesy of Enchant Christmas

There will be no need to cruise around your neighborhood to see holiday lights after a visit to this event because all others will pale in comparison. Enchant Christmas, running from Nov. 26 to Jan. 2, features thousands of dazzling light displays geared around the story of a little elf who is looking for eight toys he lost and needs to return to Santa in time for the big night. Folks can ice skate along an illuminated trail, stock up on gourmet holiday treats in their village and meet the Big Man himself to convey your wishes for the holiday season in person. METRO: Navy Yard

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Those who are looking for some extra sparkle this holiday season can look no further than Nationals Park for this unforgettable event.

Gina's expert tip: Be sure to pay for parking when you are buying tickets. It is more expensive to pay when you arrive at the event.

Read more about Enchant Christmas DC →

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 remains closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic but they have decided to host an outdoor holiday display similar to their beloved annual Season's Greenings event. Running from Nov. 24 to Jan. 2, the outdoor gardens will feature G-gauge trains, festive decorations, lights and evergreens. 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 Things to Do in December because: Winter hits the D.C. region hard so get your fill of greens at this plant paradise.

Gina's expert tip: If inclement weather hits, be aware the train display may not be running.

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

National Chanukah Menorah Lighting Ceremony
Photo courtesy of National Hanukkah Menonrah

As a way to celebrate Jewish 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, this year set for Nov. 28, features musical performances as well as activities for the entire family to enjoy. METRO: Federal Triangle/Metro Center

Recommended for Things to Do in December 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 →

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 and lit the 48-foot Balsam fir. Today, the event, set for Dec. 2, 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 Things to Do in December 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 →

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. The 2021 theme is 'I Love Christmas Movies' which puts guests right in the middle of beloved scenes from five cherished films. Stand on the front porch of The Griswolds' festively lit home. Say hi to Mr. Narwhal from 'Elf' or see hot chocolate time aboard 'The Polar Express.' Be sure to check out the bevy of additional activities including 'The Greatest Story' stage show, a light show in the atrium, ice skating and bumper cars. Once you come, you will understand why participants are made up of both hotel guests and locals. METRO: Branch Avenue

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: A cornucopia of holiday events, this venue brings winter indoors for folks to enjoy.

Gina's expert tip: If you are planning on taking part in the colder activities such as ice skating and ice bumper cars, bring a hat and gloves to keep warm as those activities are outside.

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


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