Washington DC

Washington DC’s Christmas Activities

Washington DC’s Christmas activities will make anyone feel festive, regardless of whether you are a shopper, theatergoer, walker, or ice skater. Here is my list of the Top 10 Things to Do in the nation’s capital. Holiday magic abounds for visitors as well as residents.

A Christmas Carol

While you might want to say Bah Humbug to seeing A Christmas Carol at the Ford’s Theatre, ignore your Ebenezer Scrooge inclination. After losing the city’s beloved live play due to the pandemic for the 2020 season, I couldn’t wait to see the physical production.

Opening night for A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre

The play began with the actors coming on stage to deliver a heartfelt speech about their joy to come together as a company. I attended the play’s opening night on the eve of Thanksgiving. You could feel the electricity in the air as the audience members leaned forward to listen to actor Craig Wallace welcome us back.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year …”

Charles Dickens

While billed as “A Ghost Story of Christmas,” A Christmas Carol is a perennial reminder that Christmas lives in our hearts.

Downtown Holiday Market

Conveniently located just blocks from Ford’s Theatre, the Downtown Holiday Market features small businesses and entrepreneurs across the region selling their wares. I like to just wander from stall to stall to smell the candles and soaps and browse gifts.

According to the organizers, there are “70 exhibitors including Black-owned and minority-owned businesses from the DC Department of Small and Local Business Development’s (DSLBD).”

The 17th Annual Downtown Holiday Market runs daily from Nov. 19 thru Dec. 23 . Hours of operation are 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. The city closed an entire block on F Street NW between 7th and 9th Street. The main grand entrance is located on the sidewalk in front of the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum. Several “selfie stations” are set up to pose with loved ones (human or furry friends).

No purchases are necessary as DC’s outdoor shopping village is free. But there are six vendors selling food and hot beverages. Buy a donut and then find a seat in the pavilion to watch singers and musicians perform on the live stage.

After you finish your shopping, head over to Jaleo’s to enjoy tapas and sangria. Seating is provided outside in a covered area festooned with holidays decorations.

Or you choose among three other restaurants operated by ThinkFoodGroup in the Penn Quarter. They are Zaytinya, China Chilcano, and Oyamel Cocina Mexicana. After you finish your cocktail and a small bite, button up your coat and head down to the U.S. Capitol.

Capitol Christmas Tree

Known as “The People’s Tree,” the Capitol Christmas Tree looms large on the West Lawn in front of the august building. Since 1970, the U.S. Park Service procures the Christmas tree from different national parks for Christmas in Washington. Over the last decade, the species of the tree include Nobel Fir, Engelmann Spruce, Sierra White Fir, and Lutz Spruce (the first tree from Alaska).

This towering tree stands in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol—which is “a symbol of the American people and their government, the meeting place of the nation’s legislature” (www.VisitTheCapitol.org).

The 2021 tree came from the Six Rivers National Forest in California. Its name is Sugar Bear. The selected theme of “Six Rivers, Many Peoples, One Tree.” This is only the fifth time a Capitol tree has been harvested from California, and the first time a tree has been selected from the Six Rivers National Forest.

In Eureka, California, North Coast residents were invited to help create 15,000 ornaments for the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree. The 2021 Christmas Tree lighting occurred on Dec. 1.

U.S. Botanical Gardens

If you managed to wake up before sunrise, you can enjoy the U.S. Capitol Tree shimmering in a glow of red, yellow, green, and white lights. It is then a short walk across the circle to the U.S. Botanic Gardens. The Architect of the Capitol also lights the trees in front of the entrance. Last year, the lights rotated between different colors. I was bathed in purple, blue, and red lights. (I also recommend visiting at sunset.)

Holiday lights adorn trees

But this year, a beloved event returns to the U.S. Botanical Gardens. An outdoor train display can be visited in the gated outdoor gardens during these dates between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Tickets are not required. I visited the train display with Parker (my Golden Retriever puppy). He was fascinated by the black Santa Fe train rushing across the bridge.

Parker explores the holiday train display at the U.S. Botanic Gardens.

The train display is located in the gated outdoor gardens. It also features Patrick Dougherty bicentennial stickwork sculpture, Rose Garden, and Regional Garden of native plants, and more). It is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily

Festive adornments, winterberries, lighted trees and shrubs, and conifers and greenery are placed throughout the Botanical Gardens through Jan. 2, 2022. It is closed on Dec. 25.

Canadian Embassy Christmas Tree

Within view of the U.S. Capitol is the Canadian Embassy. It is located on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Each year the Canadian Embassy decorates a huge outdoor Christmas tree inside the Rotunda of the Provinces & Territories.

Canadian Christmas Tree

At night, the columns glow red and black. The majestic tree can be seen by all who drive or walk down Pennsylvania Avenue NW. It is definitely worth a detour.

Capitol Hill Neighborhood

Roaming through the streets of the Historic Capitol Hill neighborhood is one of my favorite jaunts during the month of December.

Neighbors compete to create Christmas tableaus featuring cartoon characters, reindeer wearing red light necklaces, hedgehogs in LL Bean hats, and chubby gnomes. There is even an inflatable Christmas monster. My favorite is Snoopy lying on the roof of his dog house. It is decorated with a string of Christmas lights.

Christmas in Washington DC is a Snoopy display.
A Charlie Brown Christmas

Usually, near Christmas Eve, a few houses on A Street NE will hang a string of colored lights and giant red Christmas ornaments on the stately trees. Check out my YouTube video: https://m.youtube.com/shorts/KpANZ2Olt9o

National Christmas Tree

Not to be confused with the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree, the National Christmas Tree adorns the northeast quadrant of The Ellipse. According to the National Park Service, “the tradition of the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse began with President Calvin Coolidge over 90 years ago when he lit a 48 foot Balsam Fir from Vermont decorated with 2,500 electric bulbs in red, white, and green on Christmas Eve 1923.”

The 2021 National Christmas Tree opens to the public on December 4. But the ceremony, which featured LL Cool J, H.E.R., Juanes, and Chris Stapleton, took place on December 2.


The Heurich House in Dupont Circle organizes an annual Christmas market German-style (December 4-5) in Washington D.C. Held in the walled garden, the market features artisans selling gifts.

Heurich House

Consumers can sip on a “Senate” brand beer or consume mulled wine (“gluhwein). The market features handmade gifts, such as candles and jewelry as well as chocolates. A ticket costs $2-$19. The “Christmas Cheer” ticket includes an adult beverage as well as an entrance to the market.

Willard Hotel

The term lobbying is reportedly derived from businessmen who congregated in the lobby of the Willard Hotel during the Lincoln Administration during the Civil War. While you will still see business people, the Willard Hotel also attracts well-heeled tourists.

During Christmas, the Willard Hotel is decked out with a giant Christmas tree as well as poinsettias. In the evening, the hotel features local singers who perform in the lobby. Hum along with Michael Buble’s version of It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas everywhere you go . . .

“There’s a tree in the Grand Hotel, one in the park as well . . .”

Meredith Wilson

Located at 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, the Willard Hotel is an easy walk to the Metro Center shopping district as well as restaurants. Opened in 1818, this luxury hotel is known as the “Residence of Presidents.”

Kennedy Center

No holiday celebration is complete without seeing a holiday concert at the Kennedy Center. This year, the calendar of events includes “Noeda Conducts Handel’s Messiah (Part I) and Bach’s Magnificat” on December 17-18. NPR’s “A Jazz Christmas” is always a sellout. The National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) Pops will stage “A Holiday Pops” with Ingrid Michealson in mid-December. In addition, the Millenium Stage North features free tickets (requiring ticket reservation in advance) for 6 pm shows, such as The Peace Ringers and Carol Ringers from St. Matthew’s UMC. The NSO also will take its programming on the road. The Anthem will feature the NSO’s Ugly Sweater Holiday Concert on December 8.

“Joy to the world.”

Santa Giraffe in historic Capitol Hill neighborhood
US Capitol Christmas Tree
Nativity scene
Light display at US Botanic Gardens

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    December 4, 2021 at 9:12 am

    I have never watched or listened to a Christmas Carol in person. I would love to do that one day.

    • Terri
      December 4, 2021 at 4:49 pm

      I hope you can see a good production of A Christmas Carol. This is a classic in Washington DC.

  • Megs
    December 4, 2021 at 11:05 am

    Looks like a magical place to celebrate Christmas! Enjoy xx

    • Terri
      December 4, 2021 at 4:50 pm

      Washington DC is magical with all the monuments and memorials. Both the US Capitol Christmas Tree and the National Christmas Tree are near the National Mall. I love it so much. Thanks for reading.

  • Malin Razali
    December 4, 2021 at 11:36 am

    Great post. Washington looks so lively with all the Christmas celebrations going on.

    • Terri
      December 4, 2021 at 12:44 pm

      I didn’t even begin to list all the fun activities. My list should be Top 25 Things To Do at Christmas. I will keep adding to the article as events occur.

    • Bea
      December 5, 2021 at 1:53 am

      Who would have thought that there is so much to do in Washington DC during the holidays! And I love how Parker was mesmerized by the holiday train! Adorable!

      • Terri
        December 6, 2021 at 7:29 am

        This is my first Christmas with my Golden puppy. I love to take him to see all the decorations on our long city walks.

  • Maaike
    December 4, 2021 at 12:12 pm

    It sounds like there’s still lots going on, even though we’re in the midst of the pandemic. DC sounds like a great Christmas destination for the whole family!

    • Terri
      December 4, 2021 at 12:40 pm

      Yes there are a lot of activities which returned in 2021 including the train display. We are so glad to return to the theater. It was dark for a long time in DC!

  • Ella
    December 4, 2021 at 4:22 pm

    Thanks for sharing a cozier, lighter hearted side of D.C. Very inviting!!

    • Terri
      December 4, 2021 at 4:48 pm

      I love Washington DC. It is a walker’s dream. And at Christmas, the entire city is decorated. I could walk for miles with my puppy just exploring all the decorations. Thank you for reading my post!

  • Carly
    December 4, 2021 at 6:06 pm

    My fave is the Canadian Embassy (though to be fair I might be biased!). Happy holidays!

    • Terri
      December 4, 2021 at 8:51 pm

      Deservedly so! The outdoor Christmas tree at the Canadian Embassy is glorious. I love to walk past it every day on my walk with my puppy. Thanks for reading.

  • Sue
    December 4, 2021 at 6:35 pm

    This has really put me in the Christmas Spirit (Bah Humbug!). Washington looks like an amazing place to prepare & celebrate the festive season. Great post!

    • Terri
      December 6, 2021 at 7:28 am

      I am so glad the lights and decorations of a Washington Christmas put you in the mood for the holidays. Thank you for reading! Ho ho ho