The weather is turning colder and holiday music is in the air. If you are looking for festive fun, Washington, DC has so much to offer. With temperatures generally in the 40’s and 50’s and mostly sunny days, I think it’s perfect weather for some of the unique outdoor activities that happen during the month of December, like the Downtown Holiday Market. For those that prefer to be warm and cozy, there are also plenty of indoor options for holiday fun. I've offered a bit of both with these 6 ways to experience DC during the holidays.
1. Stroll Through the U.S. Botanic Garden. Most people who visit DC are familiar with the popular attractions like the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum or the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall, but don’t realize that the U.S. Botanic Garden sees more than a million visitors per year. Last year I had an opportunity to visit in December and was amazed by all the natural creations in the National Parks and Historic Places exhibit. This year, Season's Greenings features Roadside Attractions, and it was exciting to see plant-based models of iconic places like Cadillac Ranch in Texas and South Dakota’s Corn Palace. The exhibit runs between November 23, 2017 and January 1, 2018, but you can expect crowds during peak holiday times. We arrived 20 minutes prior to opening on a Sunday morning and the line grew quickly. Learn more about what to expect when visiting the United States Botanic Garden in December. Tip: If the line at the Model Train entrance just seems too long, it’s still worth entering through the Conservatory to see the rest of the garden.
2. Take in a Show. New York City has the Rockettes, but DC has the long running A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre. It’s a Washington favorite that has been showing for over 35 years. Throughout the city and surrounding suburbs, you can find plenty of other holiday musical presentations. For a different perspective on a holiday favorite, the Kennedy Center is offering Second City’s Twist Your Dickens, the comedy take on the classic A Christmas Carol on select dates in December. It’s recommended for older teens and adults. Or take advantage of the free shows offered everyday at 6 p.m. on the Millennium Stage. Another unique place to enjoy festive holiday music is the beautiful Washington National Cathedral, which offers several special choral presentations during the month of December.
3. Shop at an Outdoor Holiday Market. Grab your scarf and head outside for some holiday shopping. It’s the 13th year for the Downtown Holiday Market, which will be open from noon to 8 p.m. daily, starting with opening day on November 23rd and running through December 23rd. It’s a festive place to find unique gifts or just get into the holiday spirit. I’ve enjoyed shopping there for the last three years and it always puts me in the holiday spirit! Be sure to try Migue's Mini Donuts, the perfect warm snack on a wintry day. Located at 8th and F Street, N.W., it’s easy to get to via the Gallery Place metro stop.
4. Enjoy Holiday Trees & Light Shows. Visit the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse, which is open to the public on December 1st. Nearby you’ll find 56 state and territory trees that are each decorated with unique handmade ornaments. Check the website for the schedule of nightly entertainment, which runs for a two week period in December. If holiday light shows are your thing, the DC area has many choices, but ZooLights at the National Zoo is a local favorite. This free event is happening from November 24 to January 1st (except for December 24, 25, and 31). Another favorite is the half mile stroll through the Winter Walk of Lights at the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia. If you don’t have a car, take the Metro to the Spring Hill Station in Tysons Corner, where it’s just a short 10 minute ride to the garden.
5. Strap on A Pair of Ice Skates. If outdoor ice skating is on your holiday list, there are several options to explore when the weather gets cold. One to check out is the new ice rink at The Wharf. We had a chance to visit The Wharf about a month ago, and I can tell you there are plenty of restaurant choices to warm up and grab a drink afterwards. Other options for outdoor skating in DC include the popular Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery, and the ice rink at Washington Harbour. New this year you’ll find a unique experience, probably best suited for older teens and adults, at the infamous Watergate Hotel. Rooftop ice skating, with a fabulous view along with a skate-up bar, will be available select hours Wednesday through Sunday.
6. Visit Arlington Cemetery. Just a short walk across the Memorial Bridge from DC brings you to the entrance of Arlington National Cemetery. On December 16th, thousands of volunteers will descend on Arlington to pay their respects as part of National Wreaths Across America Day. Our family has volunteered on several occasions, and it is always an honor to be a part of the laying of Remembrance wreaths during the holidays. It’s a humbling sight to see the dark green wreaths contrasted against the thousands of white headstones that cover the rolling hills across the cemetery. While you are there, visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and experience the Changing of the Guard ritual. Volunteers are always welcome, especially when the wreaths have to be removed in January.
No matter how you celebrate the holidays, it’s the perfect time to experience Washington, DC in a whole new light!