Everything You Must Do in DC This Holiday Season

We got you a gift, but don’t worry -- you don’t have to get us anything in return. We’re bringing you seasons greetings in the form of festive events that will help you deck the halls instead of decking your extended family. When you’re looking for a little holly jolly, go shop local at a craft market, marvel at over-the-top lighting displays, sing your heart out at a concert, or cheer on a merry parade. Here’s everything you need to do in DC this holiday season.

Get lit with holiday lights around the region

Friday, November 8 - Sunday, January 5
Various locations
There are so many seasonal light displays to choose from, but we have a few favorites. Meadowlark’s Winter Walk of Lights is a stunning half-mile of lights through the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. Zoo Lights transforms the National Zoo into a sparkling wonderland complete with a field of lights, tube slides, and train rides. Georgetown GLOW illuminates the neighborhood with light art exhibits. 
Cost: Prices vary

Chill out at Gaylord National Resort’s ICE!

Friday, November 15 - Monday, December 30
Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center
The story of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas comes to life at the Gaylord in two million pounds of colorful ice. Don a blue parka to admire sculptures of the scenes from the holiday tale and zip down four massive ice slides. Elsewhere in the resort, guests can go ice tubing or indoor ice skating, admire a gingerbread tree-house village, and catch a 25-minute gravity-defying show, Cirque Dreams Unwrapped. 
Cost: $17.99-$33

ice skating sculpture garden dc
Ice skating at the Sculpture Garden | Courtesy of Christina Brown

Skate in the Sculpture Garden

Friday, November 15 - Sunday, March 15
The National Gallery of Art Ice Rink
Perhaps the most picturesque outdoor skating rink in DC is the one at the National Gallery of Art. The rink opens November 15, so you can skate surrounded by impressive sculptures, museums, and monuments all winter long. During opening weekend, skaters get a free hot chocolate. 
Cost: Skating fees are $9. Skate rentals are $4.

Check off everyone on your list at a multitude of holiday markets

Friday, November 22 - Monday, December 23
Various locations
Whether you’re shopping for yourself or for someone on your never-ending gift list, holiday markets are the place to be. The biggest and longest-running is the Downtown Holiday Market, with more than 150 regional artisans. Other great markets to buy from local vendors include the Alexandria Makers Market at Port City Brewery on November 24, the Brau Holiday Market hosted by DC Brau & Think Local First DC on November 30, Unique Markets at Dock 5 on December 1, and Upshur Street Craft Fair on December 14. For some international flavor, hit up the Heurich House Museum’s German Christkindlmarkt from December 6-8, or the Swedish Women’s Educational Association’s Julmarknad on December 7.
Cost: Entry is free except for Unique Markets ($5 GA, $15 VIP) and Christkindlmarkt ($15)

Enchant Christmas dc
Enchant Christmas

Let Christmas Enchant you

Friday, November 22 - Sunday, December 29
Nationals Park
Enchant Christmas is turning Nationals Park into a giant Christmas light maze that tells the story of the search for Santa’s loose reindeer. The experience includes an ice skating trail, live entertainment, a Christmas market, and more. 
Cost: Tickets start at $19.99 for adults, $14.99 for children

Ring in the holidays at the Kennedy Center

Wednesday, November 27 - Tuesday, December 31
Kennedy Center
The holiday season at the Kennedy Center is stacked with shows, including The Nutcracker by the Atlanta Ballet; The Second City’s holiday rom-com parody, Love, Factually; NPR’s A Jazz Piano Christmas; a holiday National Symphony Orchestra Pops show with Leslie Odom, Jr.; and more.
Cost: Prices vary

thanksgiving dinner gravitas dc
Thanksgiving dinner from Gravitas | Courtesy of LeadingDC

Leave the turkey to the pros

Thursday, November 28
Various locations
The holidays are stressful enough without having to prepare a Thanksgiving feast, so it might be wise to let someone else cook the bird this year. Various restaurants host Turkey Day feasts, but here are our picks for dining in style. 
Cost: Prices vary

Tour gardens across America at the US Botanic Garden

Thursday, November 28 - Sunday, January 5
U.S. Botanic Garden
This year’s Season’s Greenings holiday show “America’s Gardens,” showcasing plant-based recreations of conservatories, fountains, and sculptures in botanic gardens from Hawaii to Maine. On select Tuesday and Thursday evenings in December, there will be live holiday music in the Conservatory.
Cost: Free

Shop small on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday

Friday, November 29 - Saturday, November 30
No one likes to fight the crowds in big box stores. Take your business to local boutiques in Alexandria instead. On Black Friday, more than 40 independent shops will offer deals starting at 6am, plus promotions like gift-wrapping and giveaways. On Small Business Saturday, stores are offering special activities like meet-and-greets, free treats, caroling, a scavenger hunt, and more. 
Cost: Prices vary

See Christmas past in Christmas present at George Washington’s estate

Friday, November 29 - Tuesday, December 31
Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon brings the holidays of yore to the curious visitors in modern day. Festive events include candlelight tours, fireworks displays, a wreath workshop, a topiaries class, chocolate making demonstrations, and a chance to meet Aladdin the camel. 
Cost: Admission is $20 for adults and $12 for kids. Certain programs have additional ticket fees. 

Experience an idyllic Christmas in Middleburg

Friday, December 5 - Sunday, December 8
There’s no better place to find the magic of Christmas than a charming small town like Middleburg. Sing carols during the tree lighting; have breakfast with Santa; watch horses, riders, and hounds strut through town during the Hunt Review; shop at the craft fair; and indulge in a progressive food and wine tasting.
Cost: Free admission

Gather around the National Tree

Beginning Thursday, December 5
The White House Ellipse
The lighting of the National Tree takes place on December 5 this year, with the roster of musical performances still to be announced. After the ceremony, the tree will be lit nightly to be enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.
Cost: Free

Wear your best tartan for the Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend

Friday, December 6 - Saturday, December 7
Old Town Alexandria
Kilts and tartan take over Old Town during this Scottish heritage weekend. There’s a lively parade with bagpipes, dancers, and Scottie dogs, plus a heather and greens sale, a holiday tour of historic homes, and a Scotch tasting event.
Cost: The parade is free; tickets for the Holiday Homes Tour are $40; tickets for Taste of Scotland start at $110

Spread cheer at Wolf Trap’s annual holiday sing along

Saturday, December 7
Filene Center at Wolf Trap
Buddy the Elf said it best, so be sure to sing loud for all to hear during this concert with the U.S. Marine Band. They’re joined by local choir and vocal groups to lead Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs. Bring your bells and a candle for “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night.”
Cost: Free

boat parade alexandria
Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights | Courtesy of Evan Michio/Visit Alexandria

Watch the boats go by during two holiday boat parades

Saturday, December 7
Waterfronts at The Wharf and Old Town Alexandria
From either side of the Potomac River, you can see brightly lit boats cruise along the water, and then take part in dockside festivities. Alexandria’s parade starts 5:30pm, with activities before and after, like a pop-up beer garden, giveaways, crafts, food, drink, and more. The District’s parade begins at 7pm, and also features activities before and after, including music, crafts, a photobooth, a balloon artist, ice skating, and fireworks. Get your photo with Santa at either event.
Cost: Free admission

Learn how to celebrate Kwanzaa

Saturday, December 14
Alexandria Black History Museum
The Alexandria Black History Museum hosts an annual workshop on how to celebrate Kwanzaa. Learn about the history, principles, symbols, and activities related to the holiday, and get inspired to plan your own celebration. 
Cost: $5

Celebrate Kwanzaa with music and dance

Saturday, December 14 - Sunday, December 15
Dance Place
Dance Place is celebrating Kwanzaa with a performance by Coyaba Academy, Coyaba Dance Theater, and special guests to embody the seven principles of Kwanzaa.
Cost: Tickets start at $15

Get in the spirit with two holiday shows at Capital One Arena

Monday, December 16 and Monday, December 23
Capital One Arena
During the holiday season this year, the Capital One Arena is hosting the HOT 99.5 Jingle Ball (with Halsey, Khalid, Charlie Puth, Niall Horan, French Montana, Lewis Capaldi, and Why Don't We) and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas Eve show.
Cost: Prices vary

Feel the Joy of Christmas in a cathedral

Saturday, December 21 - Sunday, December 22
Washington National Cathedral
The majestic National Cathedral will host its annual concerts with jubilant tunes and carols performed by a chorus, organ, and brass. Expect Christmas favorites and a festive carol sing-along.
Cost: Tickets start at $25

Help light the National Menorah

Sunday, December 22
The White House Ellipse
This year’s lighting ceremony includes Dreidelman and the Macabees and the U.S. Marine Band. Plus you can take home a free dreidel or purchase hot latkes and donuts. 
Cost: Free tickets are required for admission

Spend Chanukah On Ice

Sunday, December 22
Pentagon Row
At this family-friendly community event, you can ice skate, watch the lighting of a giant menorah, enjoy hot latkes, and revel in the spirit of Chanukah.
Cost: Tickets start at $10 and include skate rentals; food is sold separately

Witness a waterskiing Santa on the Potomac River

Tuesday, December 24
Old Town Alexandria Waterfront
Looking for a unique way to spend Christmas Eve? Go watch Santa waterski. Mr. and Mrs. Claus and the crazy elves take to the Potomac River to put on an exhilarating show. Afterwards, the whole merry crew is available for photo ops.
Cost: Free

Mix and mingle at MatzoBall

Tuesday, December 24
Now in its 33rd year, this Jewish single’s event is always an unforgettable night. Dubbed the most epic one-night-stand of the year, this is one party you don’t want to miss.
Cost: Tickets start at $30

Feast like the Italians on Christmas Eve

Tuesday, December 24
Various locations
Many restaurants around the DMV offer the chance to partake in the Italian holiday tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Look for special menus and events at some of our favorite spots in town.
Cost: Prices vary

Start 2020 with a bang

Tuesday, December 31
Various locations
There’s no shortage of places around the city to ring in the New Year. You could throw it back to the ’90s by catching cover band White Ford Bronco at The Anthem or partake in an open bar and midnight whiskey toast at Duffy’s Irish Pub. Many other bars, restaurants, venues, and neighborhoods in the area are throwing New Year’s bashes -- keep an eye out for updates as the big night approaches. 
Cost: Prices vary

Resolve to never drink again over a comforting brunch

Wednesday, January 1
Various locations
Champagne hangovers are a special kind of pain, but thankfully New Year’s Day brunch waits with open arms. Plenty of the most carb-filled brunches around the city will be offered on Wednesday to make the transition into 2020 a little easier. 
Cost: Prices vary

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Lani Furbank is a freelance food writer. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @lanifurbank or read her work at