When the final golden leaves have fallen off the trees in the nation’s capital, it’s time for Christmas in DC. From the lighting of the National Christmas Tree on the White House Ellipse to the colorful, frozen sculptures at ICE! at the Gaylord National, there are lots of Washington DC Christmas events for your family to enjoy.
For Christmas in DC, Fountains are transformed into places to ice skate, botanic gardens into grand light displays, and model trains chug through conservatories. The tallest and prettiest evergreen trees are brought in to decorate The National Mall, kicking off a season filled with fun! Updated for 2021
Christmas in DC- Washington DC Christmas Events
The Lighting of the National Christmas Tree & National Menorah at the White House
Families visiting Washington DC will want to make sure to stop by the Ellipse at the White House to experience one of the best holiday events in DC, the festivities surrounding the National Christmas Tree and National Menorah.
Within view of the White House and Washington Monument, there are nightly musical performances, a model train display, and trees representing each of the 50 states for families to enjoy.
While always a bit chilly, it’s truly special to see the National Menorah and Christmas Tree lit up at night.
The lighting ceremonies for the National Christmas Tree and the National Menorah are spectacular holiday events in DC which require tickets.
The National Christmas Tree is not the only Christmas tree worth seeing in the city during the holiday season. Don’t miss the trees in front of the US Capitol Building and at Union Station.
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Walk Through a Botanic Garden Illuminated in Lights
Like many zoos across the country, the National Zoo puts on a stunning display of lights for the holiday season. ZooLights at the National Zoo is free to walk through.
Grab a hot-cocoa or hot apple cider, enjoy a run on the zoo’s snowless tubing hill or take a spin on the carousel for a complete evening of holiday fun.
Note: ZooLights has been canceled for 2021 due to Covid-19.
Brookside Gardens in Maryland and Meadowlark Gardens in Virginia also offer intricate light displays for families to walk through during the holiday season.
Garden of Lights at Brookside Gardens runs November 19, 2021 through January 2, 2022 and advance tickets purchased online are required. Meaadowlark Winter Walk of Lights runs November 11, 2021 through Janaury 2, 2022. Advanced online ticket purchase is highly recommended.
Alternatively, if your family would rather stay warm in the car listening to Christmas music than wander around outdoors on an icy night, consider driving through a light display at the Bull Run Festival of Lights (November 11 – January 2), Festival of Lights at Watkins Park (November 26 – January 2) or the Winter Lights Festival at Seneca Creek State Park (November 26 – December 31) in Gaithersburg.
Gaylord National’s Christmas on the Potomac River
Just outside the nation’s capital in Maryland, the Gaylord National Resort hosts one the region’s best holiday extravaganzas, Christmas on the Potomac. Families can spend a full day or even a weekend enjoying the festivities at the resort.
There are so many incredible offerings during this holiday event. One of the highlights is “I Love Christmas Movies”, an experience wiuth several scenes from classic Christmas movies.
Kids love Snow Flow Mountain where they can sled down the slide or the hilly ice coast. They will also want to try the Ice Bumper Cars and get in a snowball fight with real snow from the Snow Factory.
You also won’t want to miss “The Greatest Story” stage show which is performance about the life and death of Jesus Christ.
There is also ice skating, gingerbread house decorating, Merry Snoopy Scavenger Hunt, Sugary Sweet Storytime, photos with Santa, milk and cookies with Mrs. Claus, and seasonal spa treatments for Mom and Dad.
There are various packages available so that families can enjoy all the activities that Christmas on the Potomac has to offer.
Outdoor Ice Skating
There are festive, outdoor ice skating rinks scattered all around the Washington DC metro area. Families visiting the nation’s capital for the holidays should not miss the opportunity to twirl around the ice at The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden’s Ice Rink (opens November 19). It is directly in front of the impressive National Archives building.
Watch the Model Trains at the United States Botanic Gardens
The popular, free Season’s Greetings holiday display at the United States Botanic Garden is another must-see for families.
Models of the city’s major landmarks such as the Smithsonian Castle, US Capitol Building, and Washington Monument are constructed out of plant material and displayed in the entrance to the conservatory. Note: The conservatory is closed due to Covid-19 but outside gardens are open.
There is also a model train for kids to enjoy. If your little ones just can’t get enough Christmas-themed model railroad fun, Brookside Gardens and Union Station also have annual model railroad exhibits on view for the holiday season.
There’s more transportation-themed fun for the little ones out at the College Park Aviation Museum. Come by the museum for their annual Santa Fly-In the first weekend of December or their model train exhibit brought in by the National Capital Trackers the third week of December.
Note: The museum has not yet updated its website with 2021 holiday offerings. It is possible they have cancelled these events due to Covid-19
For more family-friendly holiday activities nearby Prince George’s County, check out this list of places to Celebrate the Holidays in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
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Celebrate a Washington DC Christmas with These Holiday Classics
If your family enjoys ballet, Septime Webre’s all-American version of this classic tale danced by the Washington Ballet at the Warner Theater is a must-see. Appropriately, the Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker story is set in 19th century Georgetown. The Nutcracker runs November 27 – December 26, 2021.
The dancers portray the usual characters as well as historical figures, such as George Washington. After intermission, it’s not snowflakes that spin round the stage, but cherry blossoms in this unique production with a true local flavor.
The historic Ford’s Theatre is the setting for a classic production of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol November 24 – December 27, 2021.
The actors and actresses at this intimate theater venue tell the classic story of Ebenezer Scrooge on the stage just below where President Lincoln was assassinated 150 years ago.
While waiting for the theater to open, take the time to walk through the museum and pay your respects to one of the most respected presidents in US history.
Sing Along at the Wolf Trap’s Holiday Concert
Wolf Trap’s Holiday Sing-a-long is free and possibly the most remarkable annual holiday concert in the area. Highlights include performances by local choirs and the United States Marine Band. There is even a traditional candlelight processional at the end of the performance. Wolf Trap Sing-a-Long will be a streaming event due to Covid-19 in 2021.
The Washington National Cathedral also holds a Christmas concert especially for families, including a Christmas carol sing-a-long for children. The Kennedy Center also offers many holiday concerts during the month of December.
Taste the Gingerbread at the Christmas Village & Stroll Along 34th Street in Baltimore
Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is converted into a traditional German Christmas Market annually during the winter holidays. This holiday market event features more than fifty vendors, two Christmas trees, and plenty of activities for the children.
The Christmas Village is also the perfect place to grab a tasty meal or snack while enjoying other winter activities around Baltimore.
The Ice Rink at the Inner Harbor Amphitheater and a 4-D showing of a holiday movie at the National Aquarium are two more items not to be missed.
While you’re in Baltimore, don’t miss checking out some of the city’s best neighborhood light displays. An entire block of Baltimore’s famous row houses traditionally goes all-out with an impressive display of lights. It is a certainly a must-see for families visiting Baltimore for the holidays.
The light display is located on the 700 block of 34th Street between Chestnut Ave and Keswick Rd in Hampden. It is often referred to as “Miracle on 34th Street” due to its location on 34th Street.
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Take a Drive Out to Antietam National Battlefield
On the first Saturday of December every year, 23,110 luminaries are lit at Antietam National Battlefield to signify the soldiers who died, lost or injured in one of the bloodiest one-day battles in American history.
While not a traditional holiday event, the Illumination at Antietam occurs during the holiday season every year. This unique event is a great opportunity to take a drive into Maryland to experience some local Civil War history with the family.
For a lighter-spirited event out in Frederick County, consider the Walkersville Southern Railroad’s annual Santa Train. After the ride, hot chocolate and cookies are served up back at the train depot.
Check out this list for more unique holiday events in Washington County and Frederick County Maryland.
Celebrate the Holidays with a Stroll Through Historic Downtown Annapolis
Most families think of visiting Annapolis, known for its sailing and seafood, during the warmer months of the year. However, my family visited Maryland’s capital city in December. We found a charming town decked out with Christmas trees, holiday lights, and festive shop windows.
During the holidays, the Maryland State House has dozens of Christmas trees decorated by each county in Maryland. Yes, only in Maryland will families find Christmas trees decorated with crab and oyster shells in the State House.
Further down Main Street, there are plenty more lights and decorations. For the second year, one of the alleys across the street from the super kid-friendly Chick & Ruth’s Delly has become “Snowflake Alley,” a narrow street decorated with twinkling snowflakes.
Just a few blocks away, one of the most beautifully decorated storefronts in the city belongs to the Annapolis Bookstore. Our entire family fell in love with this bookstore.
Visiting Annapolis in December? Check out this list on Celebrating the Holidays in Annapolis. Planning a weekend getaway to Maryland’s Capital? Here’s An Itinerary for a Family-Friendly Annapolis Weekend Getaway.
Ring in the New Year in Old Town Alexandria
The beautiful streets of Old Town Alexandria are even more festive during the holiday season. Be sure to check out the annual Holiday Boat Parade of Lights on December 4, 2021. More than 50 lighted boats cruise the waterfront to the delight of onlookers.
On Christmas Eve, watch Santa Claus taking the Potomac on his water skis. Kids love seeing Santa zooming across the water on his skis with his reindeer and Frosty.
Old Town Alexandria hosts one of the best family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebrations in the region. Lasting from 2pm until midnight, First Night Alexandria is the largest family-friendly New Year’s Eve party in the region.
Finally, at midnight, a fireworks finale rings in the New Year with a colorful display over the Potomac River.
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Going to Williamsburg this Christmas season? Check out Trekaroo’s guide to enjoying the Holiday Season in Williamsburg, VA