The best things to do in winter in Washington DC don’t disappoint: When the weather drops, the fun really starts here. Holiday festivities, like Miracle on 7th Street, a pop-up bar, or Georgetown Glow, an outdoor art exhibit and more, make the season one of the best times of year to visit town. Swing by to drink hot chocolate, eat holiday cookies, take in the seasonal spirit, visit the monuments or museums, and shop till you drop. When the new year rings in you can prepare yourself for the DC Record Fair, but don’t forget to see what else our nation’s capital has to offer in the meantime. ‘Tis the season, right? Or just after… so here are the best places to spend the season and the best things to do in winter in Washington DC.
Both children and adults will be mystified at the sight of the Smithsonian National Zoo illuminated with LED light installations and accompanied by live music. Various attractions include the likes of the Glow Zone, a play area for children with LED lights, Grump Holiday Market, and Space4, a mobile art gallery.
Holidays vibes are always strong at this marketplace right outside the National Portrait Gallery. Catch up on some last-minute Christmas shopping with vendors selling jewelry, pottery, clothes, antiques, ceramics, and artwork. You can’t forget the food, of course. Get a hot chocolate or coffee from Vigilante Coffee, or an empanada from Alexa’s Empanadas.
Miracle on 7th Street is a newer tradition, but has managed to accumulate tons of buzz as one of the best things to do in winter in Washington DC. This Shaw pop-up bar offers Instagram-ready holiday decorations, a ceiling full of Chinese-take out containers, and seasonal cocktails. Its drinks menu offers creative options with fun names like You Go Glen Coco with Jack Daniels, hot chocolate, and whipped cream, and a Nog Shot of Baltimore eggnog. It’s becoming one of the premier spots to check out if you’re looking to go out drinking during the season.
This outdoor exhibit lines the street of the historic neighborhood with installations that feature LED lights with chromatic rings and interactive landscapes. Featured artists are both locally- and internationally-recognized, and all guests are encouraged to engage with the exhibits. It offers one of the only times in your life that you’ll actually get to touch the art you’re seeing.
Change it up a bit and come to the Russian Winter Festival to meet Grandfather Frost. This fest gives DC residents the opportunity to learn about Russian traditions. You can create and wear traditional headwear and find out what the upcoming year holds for you through one of the fortune tellers. Explore the Hillwood Estate property, listen to some live folk music, and enjoy.
On Christmas eve at 1 p.m., watch gleefully as Santa and his elves cruise along the Potomac River to entertain adults and children. Afterward, they’ll even come and mingle with everyone there. There’s nothing better than getting up-close-and personal and starting a tradition of your own with your family or friends.
Don’t miss your chance to see the interior of the Botanical Gardens completely decked out and decorated beautifully. Every year, the U.S Botanical Garden hosts Season’s Greetings, an exhibit that features a model train and recreations of classic attractions. Check out plant-based models of Corn Palace in South Dakota, Lucy the Elephant from New Jersey, the Coney Island hot dog stand, and much more. Come here on a Tuesday or Thursday and you’ll even get to hear some live holiday music.
Hosted at Gaylord National Resort, ICE is an indoor winter wonderland with tons of fun and wacky sculptures made out of frozen liquid. You’ll find two million pounds of carved ice, ice slides, and a dramatic retelling of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Grab some hot chocolate or cookies and then you can head over the live carving station to watch the magic unfold before your eyes. Afterwards, you can check out the view of the tree from the top of the Capital Wheel.
Tudor Place hosts a winter blowout that’ll leave kids insanely happy and adults nostalgic for their childhood. Every year during December, the mansion is decked out with holiday wreath, teas, and other decorations, and during Gingerbread Palooza, kids can tour the property and build gingerbread houses. There’s also story time and other kid-friendly activities for the whole family to enjoy.
When’s the last time you went crate digging? The DC Record Fair in Penn Social is the best place to start if you want to increase your vinyl collection. It happens every year in February and has 40 vendors with assistants ready to help you rummage through the collections. There’s also a DJ that spins music and some beer for you to enjoy. Don’t get too distracted, though, because if you really look hard enough you could end up leaving with some rare and vintage classics, even if you did have to partake in some friendly competition.
Go deeper on the best things to do in winter in Washington DC with help from the following guides:
Assistant editor Christina Elia is currently pursuing her BA in Art History Communications at Fordham University, and writes about various topics ranging from arts and culture to practical tips and how-to advice. She has been published on online platforms such as The Odyssey. You can follow her on Twitter via @stinaelia