Actually Cool Things You Can Still Do This Winter in Washington DC

There’s plenty to do this winter, we swear.

Washington Union Station
Washington Union Station | JL IMAGES/Shutterstock
Washington Union Station | JL IMAGES/Shutterstock

We get it—you’re probably beyond tired of hearing about how we’re living in unprecedented times. You may also be tired of rewatching Netflix specials on Saturday nights instead of hitting the bars. The silver lining? All that time spent at home is helping to #flattenthecurve and keep people safe, which means the more of us that live cautiously and follow safety guidelines now, the sooner we’ll all feel safe once the city is fully reopened for business. 

Right now, the number of COVID-19 cases in DC are continuing to rise. In response, Mayor Muriel Bowser has imposed an increase in restrictions such as new limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings, reduced restaurant hours and capacity, indoor workout classes will be suspended, and more. 

Luckily, there’s also plenty of fun things to do in the nation’s capital this season—even if you might be participating from home. So, from socially distanced holiday markets to online cocktail classes, here are some actually cool things to do in DC right now.

Shop small at local holiday markets

Multiple locations
Ditch your Amazon cart this holiday season in favor of supporting local artisans and business owners. The Downtown Holiday Market is back again for the 16th year, this time with 60 booths and a half-dozen food and drink stands that span two entire city blocks to make more room for social distancing. Victura Park at the Kennedy Center is also putting on their own holiday market complete with spiked cider and hot chocolate to sip on while you browse the local vendors.  Plus check out our list of holiday events in the DC area. 

Stroll the grounds of the National Cathedral

Cathedral Heights
Those who spend most of their time on Capitol Hill or downtown might not think to venture north to the National Cathedral, so we’re here to tell you that it’s worth the trip. While the cathedral itself is still closed for public safety reasons, the 59 gorgeous acres surrounding it are now reopened to the public, from dawn until dusk each day. Bring a date, some friends, or even your pet and take a scenic walk through areas like the Bishop’s Garden and the Olmsted Woods.

Learn about history the fun way with Profs and Pints

These talks are nothing like the snooze-inducing lessons you sat through in school. Profs and Pints brings renowned college faculty members online (as well as into bars, cafés and other off-campus venues during non-quarantine times) to give fascinating talks and instructive workshops on topics like the treason of Benedict Arnold or the history of witches and witch hunts. 

Become a “hoptimist” at this boozy virtual holiday market

The Heurich House Museum has run their German-style Christmas market in-person for the past eight years, but this year they’ve teamed up with local brewery DC Brau for an online version called the Hoptimist Market. Snap up anything from barware to Christmas tree ornaments, all from dozens of local vendors. 

Watch local comedy online or take a class 

Crack open a cold one and give the news a rest tonight with a live online comedy show put on by local comedy club, DC Improv. They have a packed calendar of virtual shows, from their popular pun competition to cringe and laugh-packed discussions about relationships and single strife. You can even sharpen your own comedic skills by signing up for one-on-one coaching from their stand-up comedy instructors, which are all conducted via video conferencing.

Great Falls National Park
Great Falls National Park | Andrei Medvedev/Shutterstock

Hike to an icy waterfall for magical winter views

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 views are made even easier to take in by three safe observation decks.

Hone your cocktail-mixing skills 

Finally tired of cracking open mango White Claws after work? Your partner probably is, too. Luckily you can now level up your cocktail game complements of Carlie Steiner, the restaurateur and cocktail savant behind Himitsu, Pom Pom, and Dos Mamis. Sign up for her online classes that’ll help guide you around your bar cart and give you the cocktail mixing skills you need to impress your pod this holiday season.

Paint and sip from the comfort of your home

We’re always up for a good paint and sip class, but letting us participate in our pajamas? Even better. Check out local Dupont studio ArtJamz which is dedicated to making the world a more creative place. They’ve got a full roster of live virtual painting experiences taught by talented artists—all you need to do is order one of their At-Home Paint Kits and sign up for a class that sounds fun to you. 

Grab some grub (and a Christmas tree) from Union Market

Union Market
Everyone’s favorite food hall is open for pick up, which means that you can now grab 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), then head outside to their tree farm and get ready to deck the halls for the season. Washingtonians with cars can also head back once the sun goes down to catch a movie at the drive-in theater

Make your indoor jungle flourish

We know you’ve probably gotten much closer to your house plants since the start of stay-at-home orders. Now you can bring them home a stylish friend from local plant shop Rewild, and give yourself a fun evening activity in the process. They’ve joined up with Rock Paper Plant for an ongoing series of botanical workshops, like learning how to mount and care for jungle-y hoyas and staghorn ferns.

Tap into mindfulness with the Freer Gallery of Art

We could all use a little bit of meditation and mindfulness in these trying times, which is exactly what you can get four times per week from the Freer Gallery of Art. Tune in online to access regular event programming that’ll help you channel some much-needed inner peace for 30 minutes each session.

Find a new (stack of) books to read

If you’re missing the leisurely fun of perusing the stacks at the bookstore for an undiscovered treasure, you’re not alone. Capitol Hill Books luckily has the answer to your woes, and is now mailing out “Grab Bags” of books daily during the pandemic. Just fill out their form, including your budget and authors or genres you like, and they'll send over a picture of a proposed stack of books. Thrill seekers can even go with a blind stack for what they call “the full mystery effect.”

Go winter bird watching at Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens

You’ve already completed your mastery of sourdough breadmaking and even created a TikTok, so it’s time to level up your socially distanced pandemic activities and pick up birding. In DC, there’s no better place to do so than at Kenilworth Park, where you can find beautiful lotuses in the summer and an array of migrating birds in the winter. There, 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. 

Get educated with think tank discussions

This is the nation's capital, after all, and that means that many smart people make it their business to discuss and communicate their smarts here. Think tanks like the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace have plenty of upcoming online talks and informative discussions scheduled, helping to keep you educated on topics big and small. 

Watch famous artists take the Kennedy Center’s digital stage 

Already made it through your Discover Weekly on Spotify? Check out some of the most extraordinary performances from the Kennedy Center, which is releasing new videos daily. From special series and original stories to performances from world renowned artists such as John Legend and Beyonce, these are the next best thing to catching a live performance at the historic venue. 

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Austa Somvichian-Clausen is an LA native turned DC resident. During the day, she works for National Geographic Partners on their digital news team. By night, she is a freelance food writer with a particular proclivity for restaurants that source locally, and loves a good happy hour. Over the weekend she loves hiking, exploring the city, and traveling. Follow her on Instagram.
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