12 Cool Things to Do in DC This Winter

Cozy bars, hikes to check out an icy waterfall, and more winter fun.

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? That sound means wintertime is once again approaching the District, so make sure to bundle up before you head out the door for some of our best cold-weather recommendations.

We get that winter isn’t everyone’s favorite season—thanks to the shorter, colder days and all. But one of the best ways to beat the wintertime blues is by spending time exploring the city with friends and loved ones. So from festive pop-up bars to a trippy new museum, here are all the most fun things to do that you should be adding to your social calendar this winter.

Downtown Holiday Market
Downtown Holiday Market

Penn Quarter
Get all your holiday shopping done (and nab a treat for yourself) from the Downtown Holiday Market, back again in all its glory for the 18th year. The open-air market is the perfect place to secure one of a kind gifts for your friends and family, all while supporting local makers and having way more fun than if you were to slog through the crowded mall. Until December 23, the market will fill up two blocks of F Street NW, from 7th to 9th Streets—steps away from Capital One Arena and the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

If you’ve taken up the relaxing hobby of birding, you’re not alone. In DC, there’s no better place to bird-spot than at Kenilworth Park, where you can find beautiful lotuses in the summer and an array of migrating birds in the winter. Check out the River Trail or the boardwalk, where you can find a variety of new feathered friends such as great blue herons, Canada geese, kingfishers, woodpeckers, and bluebirds.

Pentagon Row Outdoor Ice Skating Plaza
Pentagon Row Outdoor Ice Skating Plaza

National Mall
There are tons of options when it comes to ice skating in the District—at the Georgetown waterfront, The Wharf, and even on the fancy illuminated ice skating trail at Nationals Park. Nothing beats the experience of hitting the ice alongside the Potomac River or surrounded by sculptures and monuments on the National Mall. And luckily, no matter where you are in the city, chances are there’s an ice skating rink near you.

City Center
City Center has a new addition, and it’s pretty mindblowing. The Museum of Illusions officially opens its doors on December 13, offering a trippy yet educational (and Instagrammable) experience to visitors. Strolling through the museum, you’ll encounter more than 50 exhibits, including illusionistic rooms, optical illusions, and a playroom with games and puzzles.

Photo courtesy of Miracle

Warm up at a festive pop-up bar

Multiple locations
‘Tis the season to drink a cocktail out of a mug that looks like Santa’s head. You can do so at multiple festive pop-ups around the city, like Miracle at Death Punch, which is currently in its third year at that location. Floor to ceiling decorations will pummel you with Christmas cheer as you sip on a “Christmapolitan.” Tiki lovers can head to Archipelago, whose beloved Sippin’ Santa pop-up is back with more festive flair and rum than ever, or, if you’re feeling a more apres ski atmosphere, the Ciel Chalet at Ciel Social Club’s rooftop is back open with all the Aspen vibes and hygge—including a Veuve Clicquot-orange snowmobile and plenty of bubbly.

McLean, Virginia
Great Falls is already one of the most stunning hikes in the area, and it’s made even better once winter rolls around and the frost sets in. Take a short walk along the River Trail to reach the frozen waterfalls of the Potomac and Mather Gorge, whose stunning views are made even easier to take in by three safe observation decks.

Union Market District
Union Market District

Union Market
There’s tons happening this season at everyone’s favorite food fall. Fuel up on fusion tacos from Takorean, an acai bowl from South Block, and a burger from Lucky Buns—all at the same time if you’re feelin’ it. During the holiday season, you can also grab your Christmas tree and some decorative garlands from local producer Nall’s in front of the Market on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays leading up to the big holiday. On December 17 and 18, there will also be a holiday marketplace with more than 70 local sellers, in case you haven’t ticked everyone off your gifting list yet.

Cozy up with a drink at a fireplace bar

Multiple locations
There’s something so comforting about sipping a cocktail by a roaring flame, and winter is the perfect time for spending a long evening doing just that. DC has tons of options for fireside imbibing, from the romantic Irongate in Dupont Circle to the 130-foot-tall hearth in the lobby lounge of The Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown. Other favorite fireplace bars include the intimate speakeasy-esque 600T in Shaw, the lobby of Dupont’s Tabard Inn, and Georgetown’s Le Bar à Vin by Chez Billy Sud.

Torpedo Factory Art Center
Torpedo Factory Art Center

Alexandria, Virginia
A quick train ride will have you traveling from Union Station to Alexandria, Virginia in less than 30 minutes, leaving the whole day open for cute winter activities with a hot cup of coffee in hand. Venture around the cobblestone streets of Old Town, picking out your favorite historic homes and shopping on King Street—the main road in town, full of charming independent boutiques, quaint cafes and restaurants. Make your way down to the waterfront for sunset, and don’t forget to check out the Torpedo Factory Art Center to see what works of art they have on view.

Multiple locations
That unshakeable feeling of dread we all seem to feel heading into a new week of work can creep up at the most inopportune moments. We’ve found the best way to get a leg up on them is to make the most of our Sundays—starting with multiple rounds of mimosas or Bloody Marys at bottomless brunch. DC is a brunching city through and through, with tons of incredible cozy options. Make your Sunday morning decision even easier by checking out our list of favorites.

The DC Improv Comedy Club
The DC Improv Comedy Club

Dupont Circle
A romantic dinner in Dupont is a classic date night, but we challenge you to get a little more creative next time by catching a post-dinner show at DC Improv. Date or not, a chilly night spent inside enjoying a comedy show is a great way to spend an evening. They even have a holiday special going on, so you can get a $10 bonus to spend on yourself with the purchase of a $50 gift card.

Shop (and eat) your heart out in Georgetown

Despite being DC’s oldest neighborhood, Georgetown remains one of the best areas of the city to spend time in—especially on a bright winter day. Grab your morning brew at Grace Street Coffee Roasters or enjoy brunch at the euro-centric Kafe Leopold before strolling your way down M Street for some quality shopping. As you stroll down the festive, historic streets, you can find storefronts from big retailers like Urban Outfitters and J.Crew to boutique shops like Take Care and Relish.

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Austa Somvichian-Clausen is a contributor for Thrillist.