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20 Dazzling Holiday Light Displays & Events in Washington, DC
Get in the holiday spirit with these can't-miss holiday markets, Christmas light displays and seasonal events in the nation’s capital.
Sure, the District might be part of the Mid-Atlantic region, but it feels more like the North Pole during the holidays thanks to the National Christmas Tree, countless holiday markets, one-of-a-kind seasonal light displays and lots more. Here are some of the best, can't-miss ways to experience the holidays in Washington, DC.
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, where it's surrounded by trees decorated with handmade ornaments from 56 U.S. states and territories and is accompanied by nightly musical performances throughout the holiday season. The display is free to visit and open from 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. while the National Christmas Tree is lit each day from 4:30-10 p.m.
Indulge your wild side with an after-hours visit to the National Zoo during ZooLights, which illuminates the zoo with more than 500,000 environmentally-friendly LEDs, animated light installations, live music and more. Bid good cheer to various animals on display. ZooLights runs Nov. 23 – Jan. 1 (closed Dec. 24, 25 & 31). If heady craft brews would make your incandescent wonderland complete, mark your calendar for BrewLights on Nov. 29.
This year’s tree, which will come from the Willamette National Forest in Oregon, will go aglow in early December. 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.
Thanks to a rotating cast of crafters and vendors, hot coffee and sweets and holiday performances, this magical marketplace is worth multiple trips. Located at 8th and F Streets NW, the market holds down the area in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. At night, its bright lights bring Penn Quarter to life, providing a holiday spark to the neighborhood. But don’t worry, you can shop during the day too: The holiday market is open daily 12-8 p.m. from Nov. 23 – Dec. 23.
This stroll through DC’s most historic neighborhood will certainly make you light up as you pass by unique, illuminated artworks. Georgetown GLOW has proven to be such a hit that it’s now a month-long celebration (Dec. 1 – Jan. 1 from 5-10 p.m.). A group of artists, from locally renowned to internationally celebrated, will display works in outdoor spaces throughout the neighborhood. Afterwards, wander through a winter wonderland at The Washington Harbour, one of our favorite places to ice skate in the District.
Your George Washington-inspired Christmas awaits at the Founding Father’s Mount Vernon estate, Nov. 23 – Dec. 31. Walk through Washington’s iconic mansion and visit Aladdin the camel, a nod to Washington’s 1787 Christmas in which he paid 18 shillings to entertain guests with a camel. For a truly unique experience, see Mount Vernon by candlelight, Nov. 23-24 & 30, Dec. 1, 7-8 & 16, between 5-8 p.m., with a character-guided tour, 18th century dancing and fireside caroling.
Union Station is like its own self-contained holiday oasis. The shops are no secret, and you’ll find plenty of gift ideas there – even for edibles (read: Shake Shack gift card). And don’t disappear without glimpsing the holiday model train display and the Norwegian Christmas tree.
Walk under Palmer Alley’s signature stringed lights, stop by Centrolina and carbo-load on pastas made in-house, gorge on a holiday feast and shop to your heart’s content, all at this luxury shopping and restaurant destination. Starting in early December, fashion-themed ice sculptures, live music and warm drinks can be found throughout CityCenterDC. Our last piece of advice: don’t call it a night without admiring all of the holiday decorations, including one of the city’s best trees!
The U.S. Botanic Garden gets decked out for the holidays thanks to this annual exhibit featuring a model train exhibit running through classic train stations like New York City's Grand Central Terminal, St. Louis' Union Station and many more. Inside the Conservatory you'll also find the garden's collection of DC's iconic landmarks, including a model of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and a showcase of poinsettias. This year's edition is open from Nov. 22 – Jan. 1 (10 a.m. – 5 p.m.), and will stay open until 8 p.m. with holiday concerts most Tuesday and Thursday evenings in December.
The Willard InterContinental Washington offers a holiday tradition throughout December. You can enjoy afternoon tea from 1-4 p.m. in the elegant Peacock Alley every day of the month (except Dec. 24, 25 and 31). There will be seasonal decor, sandwiches, pastries and the beautiful sounds of a harp to accompany you as you sip on festive teas from one of DC’s most historic hotels.
Attend the lighting ceremony of the National Menorah on Dec. 2 at 3:30 p.m. on the White House Ellipse and enjoy live tunes, latkes and hot donuts. The event is free but tickets are required. You can also visit the menorah for the duration of Chanukah.
Decking the Great Hall of the Library of Congress' Thomas Jefferson Building each December, the tree can be visited from the First Street SE entrance between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. (the Jefferson Building is closed Sundays and on Christmas). We suggest you also read up on our guide to visiting the largest library in the world so you can properly explore!
Heurich House Museum's famed Castle Garden will host the Christkindlmarkt from Nov. 30 – Dec. 7. Tickets grant you access to the arts and crafts-laden market featuring goods from more than 40 vendors and the historic mansion, which will be decorated to the nines.
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. 16 – Jan. 1), an indoor winter wonderland featuring two million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures, ice slides, a live carving area and a retelling of A Charlie Brown 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.
Held at the House of Sweden, this annual DC tradition held on the first Saturday in December (Dec. 1) from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. features a Swedish marketplace with for-sale crystal glassware, artworks, food, plus more. Snack in the Swedish cafe, try to win prizes and stick around for the main event: the St. Lucia procession with traditional caroling.
No visit to the Brookland neighborhood during the holidays is complete without a stop at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The largest Roman Catholic church in North America dresses up with more than 50 Christmas trees, over 65,000 lights, halls decked with 500-plus poinsettias and two manger scenes. The Basilica is free and open to the public daily from 7 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Celebrate like it’s the 19th century during the Russian Winter Festival at the Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, which brings holiday cheer and Russian traditions to Upper Northwest, Dec. 8-9 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Meet Grandfather Frost (the Russian Santa Claus) and his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden. You can also make and wear your own traditional headwear and enjoy live performances as you explore the grounds of this historic estate. Admission ranges from free for children under six to $18 for adults; become a member and admission is only $12.
This historic house and museum celebrates the season with a variety of holiday teas, candlelight tours and wreath workshops. You can also enjoy Deck the Halls: A Family at Christmas (Dec. 1), which allows families to explore the mansion, write a letter to Santa, send cheer to a service member, sing with carolers, make Christmas crafts and nibble on holiday cookies. On Dec. 22, Tudor Place hosts Gingerbreadpalooza!, when kids can enjoy a tour of the mansion and craft their own gingerbread houses!
Beautiful lights, seasonal food and holiday-themed attractions and characters make up this annual Christmas event at Six Flags America. Running during weekends and select days from mid-November through the end of December, make the drive to enjoy the thrills of Six Flags accompanied by plenty of holiday cheer.
Each year, dozens of dazzling boats traverse the Potomac River from the waterfront in Alexandria, Va. to the The Wharf, DC’s newest recreational development on the Southwest Waterfront. You can observe free of charge, and there are even holiday festivities on both sides of the river to enjoy beforehand. Prizes will be awarded to the most beautiful vessels, which begin their journey at 5:30 p.m, and fireworks will cap off the parade at 8 p.m.