Nine Reasons to Spend the Christmas Holidays in Washington, D.C.
Renee Sklarew, coauthor of The Unofficial Guide to Washington, D.C., shares nine good reasons why you should spend the Christmas Holidays in Washington, D.C.
What could be better than celebrating the winter holidays in the Nation’s Capital? Where else can you see the National Christmas Tree and 55 fir trees decorated in honor of our states and territories? How fun is it to go ice-skating on the National Mall, or enjoy a Smithsonian Museum without any crowds? It’s all here; best of all, hotel prices are definitely lower in the winter. So go ahead: Start a new tradition, and take your family to Washington, D.C., for the Christmas holidays.
- The Halls are Decked—Pretty much the entire city is lit up and glowing between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. One especially festive part of town is City Center, with a golden tree that lights up the courtyard. Take a walk through the seasonal display of Zoolights at the National Zoo, or see the Festival of Lights at the Washington, D.C., Mormon Temple in Kensington, Maryland. Also, the Parade of Lighted Boats is a vision: On December 3rd, decorated pleasure boats light up the Potomac River from Alexandria to the Washington Channel.
- Washington, D.C., Hotels are Discounted—It’s true that many rates are lower than usual, thanks to slower convention and tourism business. So take advantage and splurge at one of the many luxurious hotels like the Willard Hotel and Ritz Carlton. Most will be decorated and have special rates and events.
- See a Holiday-Themed Show—The classic A Christmas Carol is playing at the historic Ford’s Theatre November 19th-December 31st. MetroStage in Alexandria is also hosting the Dickens tale but with a comedic version called A Broadway Christmas Carol. See the famous Nutcracker Ballet at the Kennedy Center, performed by the Joffrey Ballet. The Washington Ballet reprises Tchaikovsky’s classic dance at the Warner Theatre. Songbirds will love the National Cathedral’s “The Messiah.” The family-friendly opera Hansel and Gretel is showing at the Kennedy Center too. The Hip Hop Nutcracker is back at the Strathmore on December 16th. With all these shows, it’s best to get tickets in advance because many sell out.
- Go Shopping—The Downtown Holiday Market is an outdoor sidewalk sale on F Street, next to the Portrait Gallery in Penn Quarter. The Smithsonian hosts a European-style Christmas Market on December 6th, and there are multiple crafts shows at the Maryland and Virginia fairgrounds too.
- Do Something Fun—If you visit, you can’t miss the Gaylord Resort’s fabulous ICE! Show. Every year, the National Harbor constructs a huge tent filled with ice sculptures. Some are big enough to slide down, but all will mesmerize. The annual Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend is on December 5th this year, featuring a parade of kilt-wearing Scotsmen playing the bagpipes.
- Go on a Candlelight Tour of a Historic Home—Historic mansions like George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Georgetown’s Tudor Place offer regular nighttime candlelight tours with seasonal music, holiday décor, and storytelling.
- Participate in the Pageant of Peace—The lighting of the National Christmas Tree is the most popular of all D.C. Christmas traditions. After the initial lighting presentation hosted by President Obama and multiple entertainers on Thursday, December 1st, at 4:30 p.m. (this year it’s Reese Witherspoon, Kelly Clarkson, and Chance the Rapper), for the remainder of the month, visitors can walk around the grounds of the White House to see a circle of sparkling Christmas trees representing all 50 U.S. States and five Territories. There’s also a miniature train and nightly music performances by local choirs (free).
- Surround Yourself with Nature—Visit the United States Botanic Garden, open every day, to see the Season’s Greetings exhibit, featuring a replica of the White House. This year, the theme is “National Parks and Historic Places,” and you won’t believe how these artists can make everything using real plant materials! There’s also an adorable model train exhibit, a warm and toasty Conservatory, and a wide array of decorations to enjoy.
- Celebrate with a Festive Meal—Many of D.C.’s best restaurants host special dinners on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day. Some of the best in the past have included The Plume at The Jefferson Christmas Dinner, The Willard’s Christmas Brunch, and the Hay Adams’ Top of the Hay’s Christmas Feast. Contact your hotel for reservations and to find out what they’re offering this year.