Washington DC

Holiday Magic in Washington, DC

U.S. Botanic Garden features holiday lights in exterior gardens.

Holiday magic transforms the U.S. Capitol Grounds in Washington DC into an illuminated park in December.

Holiday lights are also blooming on the U.S. Botanic Gardens (USBG) grounds . . . along with hardy winter flowers and bushes.

U.S. Botanic Gardens

From November 23, 2020, through January 10, 2021, the USBG turned its outdoor gardens into a spectacular holiday venue.

Mostly, I delighted in the festive adornments, greenery, winterberries and lights placed in the Terrace Gardens and Bartholdi Park.

In late November, I talked to a gardener at the USBG during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. I interrupted him as he busily hung up strings of lights on the fir trees. I was so happy he could take a moment to chat with me. He told me that USBG employees would deck out scores of trees in holiday lights.

I wanted to come back that night to see the trees lit up. But other activities detained me.

Then it rained for two solid days in Washington DC. I couldn’t exercise outside. But on Wednesday, I managed a long walk before work before sunrise.

Capitol Holiday Magic

To my sheer joy, I saw a Winter Wonderland at the USBG. Multiple large fir trees were strung with delicate white lights. They sparkled like diamonds at the front of the USBG building. I could see these glittering lights from as far away as the Capitol reflecting pool.

Quickly I walked toward the complex. To minimize visitor traffic, the USBG installed a fence around its exterior gardens. But since I was the sole visitor at 6:15 a.m., I didn’t have any problem gaining entry. I delighted in the free holiday light show. (This is particularly important this year as Georgetown GLOW is cancelled. It is my favorite holiday illumination show in Washington DC.)

U.S. Botanic Gardens feature holiday magic.

In the boxed garden near the entrance, a lavender light strobe changed the color of the plants. Also blue blinking lights flickered on one tree. Since it was pitch black, the lights twinkled and glowed. It is mesmerizing but I must be on my way.

So I weaved in and out of the gardens to see the light show from different perspectives. But I still had a big surprise ahead.

Holiday Window Displays

Like Bloomingdale’s department store sets up its awe-inspiring NYC holiday store displays, the USBG created a Holiday Washington DC Landmarks exhibit in the building’s windows. The four window displays will certainly delight all who love a “Capitol Christmas” and holiday magic.

The Smithsonian Museum is featured in the USBG holiday display.

The creative execution also fulfills the USBG’s mission:

“The U.S. Botanic Garden is committed to creating and offering extraordinary exhibits that delight, educate and inspire the public to become more active stewards of the plants that support life on earth.”

If the pandemic means that the USBG cannot allow visitors inside the facility for a holiday extravaganza, then the institution will decorate its windows with holiday flowers and D.C. landmarks.

Washington Landmarks

I can just picture the toddler with her nose glued to a window. She wants to touch the miniature Washington Monument that seems within a hand’s reach. Next to it sits the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of African American History & Culture Museum. White and red poinsettias cover the floor around the grounds.

National African American Museum in on display at USBG in Washington DC.

The miniature museums on the National Mall are spread across three large window displays. In addition, the Union Station, USBG Conservatory and the U.S.S. Porpoise ship stand guard.

The only disappointment for the thousands of families who pack the USBG each year is the loss of the holiday model train exhibit. I have watched countless children over the years race around the large room, pointing and yelling as the model train runs around the elongated tracks. It is particularly sad that this holiday train cannot run its course in 2020 since this is the USBG’s 200th anniversary.

2019 USBG Exhibition

In case you didn’t get to see DC last year during the holidays, the USBG put on quite a show. The 2019 exhibition—entitled Season’s Greetings: America’s Gardens—featured the elaborate model train room. Conservatories, fountains and sculptures were created out plants.

Moreover, visitors delighted in gardens scenes—Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Japanese torii gate, Franklin Park Conservatory & Botanical Gardens’ flamingo topiaries, Missouri Botanical Garden’s famous conservatory, and Huntsville Botanical Garden’s Rocket Garden featuring NASA space nodes and rockets!

Bartholdi Park

You have to cross over Independence Avenue to visit Bartholdi Park. It is the part of the USBG complex that serves as a home landscape demonstration garden. And is a favorite Washingtonian “secret garden.” (I just discovered it this year during the pandemic.)

“Part of the USBG campus since 1932 when it was created, Bartholdi Park is a two-acre garden that showcases innovative plant combinations in a variety of styles and design themes.”

At any time of the year, Bartholdi Park is a favorite for lunchtime picnics. But during the holidays, it is extra special. In fact, I think Santa’s elves were kept extra busy decorating for days.

Bartholdi FOuntain features twinkling red holiday lights.

Bartholdi Fountain

For example, USBG trimmed the trees surrounding the Bartholdi fountain in bright red lights. Purple lights bathe the intricate sculpture. Across the avenue, red, green and white lights decorate the evergreens in front of the conservatory.

For more information on USBG’s activities, visit their website. The USBG will offer expanded online programming and limited holiday decorations this year. This includes online cooking demos and online concerts in December.

U.S. Capitol

On December 3, the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree’s annual lighting on the West Lawn revealed the magnificent specimen from the state of Colorado.

The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree brief ceremony included representatives from the Colorado Delegation, Architect of the Capitol, USDA Forest Service and the Speaker of the House.

This Christmas tree traveled to DC from the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests in Colorado. The tree is on display and lit every evening at dusk through January 1, 2021.

Holiday magic can be found at the US Capitol grounds.

I loved viewing the Capitol Christmas tree at daybreak.

Moreover, 10,000 handmade ornaments decorate the tree. Themes include Smokey the Bear, uniquely Colorado, places we love, wildlife, plants/flowers, recreation, mining, water, dinosaurs and fossils. GMUG also contributed 70 smaller trees. They adorn offices throughout Washington, DC for the 2020 holiday season.

If you enjoy this article, you can subscribe to my weekly email:

Holiday Magic DC at USBG


You Might Also Like

  • Neha
    December 5, 2020 at 5:53 am

    DC is great during Christmas. Love the huge National christmas tree. Haven’t visited Botanical Garden though, will try to next time.

    • Terri Markle
      December 5, 2020 at 6:42 am

      The Botanical Gardens are a must see if you visit Washington DC. And admission is FREE!

  • Charu Goyal
    December 5, 2020 at 6:55 am

    These botanical gardens looks so beautiful, and I love that Christmas tree! I would really like to visit DC during the holiday season one time- it looks magical.

    • Terri Markle
      December 5, 2020 at 8:36 am

      The Capitol tree is gorgeous. You should read my blog about Georgetown GLOW. It is a curated light show. But it was cancelled this year due to the pandemic.

  • Holidays from Hels
    December 5, 2020 at 8:15 am

    Beautiful lighting! I’d love to see this at in the snow at Christmas one day!

  • Alexandra
    December 5, 2020 at 1:53 pm

    I love the Botanical Gardens! We go almost every year! Totally worth it.

    • Terri Markle
      December 6, 2020 at 6:41 am

      USBG are incredible right? I am so lucky that it is just a mile from my condo in DC so I walk there almost every day. It is my little nature escape in the city. Thanks for commenting Alexandra.

  • Michelle
    December 5, 2020 at 2:31 pm

    It’s always fun to see how different cities decorate for the holidays! I hadn’t seen much from DC so this was a cool virtual visit.

    • Terri Markle
      December 6, 2020 at 6:40 am

      You just made me so happy Michelle. I did want to get my readers a virtual visit of DC decorated for the holidays. I also taped several YouTube videos at the USBG and the Capitol.

  • Megan
    December 5, 2020 at 3:04 pm

    I love when cities are lit up so beautifully! Looks like DC needs to be added to the Christmas list!

    • Terri Markle
      December 6, 2020 at 6:39 am

      Definitely schedule a visit to DC. In 2021, Georgetown GLOW will return!

  • Katherine
    December 5, 2020 at 3:21 pm

    I wonder if those USBG employees then go home and think “I just spent all day stringing lights in trees at work, I don’t want to do it at home as well”. The gardens look lovely all lit up for the winter 🙂

  • Carol G
    December 5, 2020 at 4:17 pm

    I haven’t been to DC in too long. A December trip next year may be just the ticket.

    • Terri Markle
      December 6, 2020 at 6:39 am

      DC is absolutely fun, especially when touring the unique neighborhoods. Read my post on e Biking in DC. It will give you ideas.

  • Nisha
    December 6, 2020 at 4:48 am

    It’s looking great! The light decorations always fascinate me.

    • Terri Markle
      December 6, 2020 at 6:38 am

      I feel the same way. I always get excited seeing gardens, houses, buildings etc. decorated with lights during the holidays.

  • Sharyn
    December 6, 2020 at 5:51 am

    I’d love to visit Washington, it must be so magical at Christmas time.

  • Ummi Nadrah
    December 7, 2020 at 7:24 am

    That looks so magical! Good to know that even during this time when so many things are closed or cancelled, we can still enjoy something like this for free at the botanical gardens.

    • Terri Markle
      December 7, 2020 at 7:11 pm

      I absolutely agree. Thank goodness for our parks and botanical gardens during this pandemic.