Explore the winter wonderland that is DC with free activities, holiday displays, unforgettable events and much more.
The nation’s capital is filled with free winter activities and gorgeous holiday displays, serving as a great destination to celebrate Christmas, New Year’s Eve or any winter holiday. From festive events to holiday markets, Washington, DC features plenty of free things to do that are sure to inspire winter whimsy. Check out some of our favorites below.
Warm up by the fire(s) at The Wharf
This dining, shopping and entertainment hot spot is a great wintertime destination. The Wharf features The Torch, a 14-foot gas-powered flame situated by the water that is a marvel to see and stand by. There’s also a fire pit for visitors to gather around and make delicious s’mores, as well as free winter games like curling and broomball – just check out The Wharf’s upcoming events.
Don’t miss your chance to stand next to the National Christmas Tree
The National Christmas Tree is DC’s claim to fame during the holidays, and for good reason. The gorgeous conifer lives in President’s Park on the White House Ellipse and is accompanied by nightly musical performances throughout the holiday season. Planning your visit? The National Christmas Tree will be lit daily starting at 4:30 p.m. from Dec. 5 through early January.
Find fascinating light art installations during Georgetown GLOW
From Dec. 6 – Jan. 5 (5-10 p.m. nightly), you can stroll through DC’s most historic neighborhood and marvel at Georgetown GLOW‘s stunning artworks as part of this curated exhibition of outdoor light art installations. The event has quickly become a holiday tradition in the nation’s capital, gathering work from artists both locally known and internationally celebrated.
Discover winter wonder at Washington Harbour
Washington Harbour is a crown jewel of Georgetown, a waterfront destination that can be appreciated without spending a cent. Admire views of the Potomac River and the largest ice skating rink in DC (which only charges $10 for adults and $9 for children from mid-November to March) while walking the Harbour’s illustrious pier. There’s at least one dynamite Instagram photo just waiting to be snapped.
Experience the conifers on the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree
This year’s tree, which will come from the Carson National Forest in New Mexico, will go aglow in DC in late November. You can visit the tree on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Follow the tree’s Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and updates, including a tracker of its tour across the U.S.
Witness the District’s Holiday Boat Parade
Each year, dozens of dazzling boats traverse the Potomac River from the waterfront in Alexandria, Va. to the The Wharf. You can observe free of charge, and there are even holiday festivities on both sides of the river to enjoy beforehand for this year’s parade on Dec. 7. Prizes will be awarded to the most beautiful vessels, which begin their journey at 6 p.m., and fireworks will cap off the parade at 8 p.m.
Catch Christmas spirit at National Harbor
An action-packed holiday schedule is the norm at National Harbor, a shopping, dining and amusement park-like landmark located just 20 minutes south of DC. Step inside the Gaylord National Resort for ICE! (Nov. 15 – Dec. 30), an indoor winter wonderland featuring two million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures, ice slides, a live carving area and a retelling of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Since you’re at National Harbor, you’ll also want to view the tree from atop the Capital Wheel, shop for gifts at the Tanger Outlets and experience unique weekend events like holiday markets, performances and movie screenings.
Cozy up by the fire at these restaurants
Even during the coldest days of the year, the District’s bars and restaurants heat up with roaring fireplaces, warm wood-fired ovens and outdoor fire pits. So shake off the brr of winter at these prime spots for getting cozy and warm up with dishes and drinks sure to satisfy the appetite.
Experience the magic of Enchant at Nationals Park
Enchant Christmas is a beloved light maze, billed as the biggest in the world, that will make its home in DC for the first time at the gorgeous Nationals Park. Throughout the holiday season there will also be ice skating trails and a large holiday market offering products from more than 60 vendors, including local businesses and international brands. Expect plenty of Instagram-friendly settings and holiday spirit at this one-of-a-kind festival.
Lace up your skates and hit the ice
Washington, DC is home to some of the most unique ice skating rinks in the country. How many people can say they’ve skated under twinkling Edison bulbs on the National Mall, on the waterfront in a neighborhood 40 years older than DC itself or on the rooftop of The Watergate Hotel? There’s no better time to triple axel ‘round the District than this winter, so make sure to check out the city’s best ice skating rinks.