Each winter, neighborhoods around the country fill with glowing holiday cheer. No matter where you look, you’ll find beautiful LED displays and quirky fixtures in parks, malls, and on private properties. While some cities’ holiday lights are modest, the D.C. Christmas light displays are extravagant—some even include over 500,000 LED lights and a few roaring tigers!
In Washington, D.C., holiday displays include more than just lights. You may also find food, live music, and vendors. Many D.C. light displays are free, and some aren’t even holiday-oriented. From art exhibits and massive installations to Christmas trees and ice skating extravaganzas, there is sure to be something to add to your “Winter in Washington, D.C.” bucket list.
The Georgetown GLOW month-long, free art installation is one of the most anticipated local winter events. It is why many of us feel like the city is better at night during the holidays (and even into January) than it could ever be during the day.
Instead of Christmas trees and snowmen, here you will see neon bent to the will of the artists, sometimes in abstract and intriguing forms. Cloud swings and snow cones, pom poms out of a Dr. Seuss book and herons sweeping under the C&O Canal are just a few of the pieces you may see when you visit.
New artists are featured each year, which is what makes this event so special. D.C. locals and visitors always have a reason to head to Georgetown in December, even if they don’t celebrate Christmas.
Embrace the holidays with a little window shopping at CityCenterDC. Here, the window displays are just as amazing as the goods inside. The shopping center decor is on point, with string lights across the arcade, two massive reindeer flanking the entrance, and ice sculptures reminding you that despite the weather (or the occasional mid-Atlantic December warm front), it is still Christmas.
The Wharf Holiday Boat Parade of Lights
The Wharf has become the place to be during Christmas in D.C. Kids can decorate ornaments or relax by the fire pit with hot cocoa in hand. Wave to the captains as the Annual Holiday Boat Parade floats past you— each ship is decked out and glowing for the holiday season. Grown-ups can sip on a few adult beverages at the Waterfront Beer and Wine Garden before the firework show begins.
Visit the Smithsonian National Zoo for their annual holiday celebration! For one month out of the year, ZooLights brings glowing animal lanterns, Instagram-worthy exhibits, and 500,000 LED lights to this popular animal sanctuary. Walk to the Elephant Community Center to see a spectacular laser light show, or the reflecting lights at the new “Entre les Rangs” exhibit. There’s so much to see at ZooLights, and you might need more than one night to see it all!
ZooLights offers plenty of food, including holiday treats, food trucks, and BBQ dishes. You’ll also find children’s rides and virtual reality experiences, including a popular slide near the tiger and lion exhibits. It’s hard to believe that this elaborate event is free!
Get more information on ZooLights HERE.
Enter the world’s largest light maze at Enchant Christmas, a rain-or-shine holiday festival in D.C.’s Nationals Park. Within the 90,000-square-foot maze, you’ll find mind-blowing light fixtures, including a 100-foot-tall Christmas tree. The festive ice skating trail features even more lights, and is included in the cost of admission. There’s a reason people have proposed to their loved ones at Enchant Christmas: this attraction is truly magical! Food and beverage vendors serve festive snacks and offer customers the option to “enchant” their orders. What does that mean? You’ll have to order to find out!
Buy tickets HERE. Prices vary by date, so be sure you’re getting the best deal before you buy your tickets!
Christmas Trees in Washington D.C.
Washington, D.C. is home to incredible Christmas tree displays. After the annual lighting ceremonies, you can see sparkling Christmas trees at almost any capitol landmark. The National Christmas Tree and decorated trees from each U.S. state can be seen on the Ellipse at President’s Park. On the U.S. Capitol’s West Lawn, find the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree— it’s selected from a different part of the country each year!
You can also find lit-up Christmas trees at Union Station, the Willard, Fairmont Washington D.C., the Canadian Embassy and the Library of Congress.
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
The largest Catholic church in North America showcases beautiful holiday lights each year! In addition to 65,000 lights, you’ll see over 50 Christmas trees and 500 live poinsettias. With over one million visitors each year, Americans make pilgrimages to the National Shrine on guided tours. Schedule a free tour this winter to see the Basilica at its liveliest!
Since the National Shrine is an active place of worship, be mindful of prayer schedules when visiting. Tours might not be offered when certain services are in session.
Get more information on the National Shrine HERE.
Neighborhoods Decking the Halls
Georgia Avenue NW
On Georgia Avenue NW between Street and Barry Place, businesses compete to win awards based on their holiday light displays. They can win in seven different categories, including “Best Use of Merchandise,” “Most Creative Use of Lights,” and “Most Colorful.” For passersby like you, this competition is a great opportunity to see some holiday lights!
If you view the light displays at every business, you can earn prizes, too! Print out the official BINGO card to get it punched at each display. Turn in your full card to win prizes from some of those businesses. Second Story Boutique, Walls of Books, Call Your Mother Deli, and dozens of others are displaying holiday lights in 2019.
If you love GLOW in Georgeotwn, then you will fall over when you see Light Yards, the interactive light installation at The Yards in Southwest D.C. In 2019, Airship Orchestra dazzled visitors and locals alike. Every year is different, and you don’t want to skip it (ever). The installation is open 5pm-10pm from December 6 to 23rd. Families are encouraged to visit, and there is plenty of food, and even ice cream, close at hand.
Fine out more details about this year’s display HERE.
Upshur Street NW
Petworth is lit up for the entire month of December. In addition to the lights, they have a street craft fair with more than 50 vendors, and a pop-up lounge. Find it on the 800 block of Upshur Street NW.
Just outside of Washington, D.C.
While many think that the National Harbor is in Washington, D.C., it is actually just over the line in Maryland. Don’t worry, there is still plenty of fun to be had. The Capital Wheel is lit up for the holidays, along with a massive tree overlooking the Harbor.
Bring your cameras, as there are multiple photo ops in this shopping district, including a carousel. We heard that Elsa from Disney’s Frozen sometimes shows up around the holidays.
And of course, there is ICE! at Gaylord National, filled with 2 million pounds of colorful ice sculptures and hand-carved scenes. Plus, there are enough Christmas trees around the hotel to satisfy even the most particular Mr. Christmas in your family.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: Festival of Lights
For over 40 years, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has hosted a holiday light festival. Explore the temple grounds to see more than 400,000 lights and Christmas trees from around the world. To add to the holiday cheer, up to two live musical acts perform at the festival every night! Typical performers include children’s choirs, bell ensembles, and local orchestras. All of these musical acts are in an indoor theater, so there’s no need to stand outside in the cold.
Although you’ll need to grab tickets in advance, admission to the Festival of Lights is free. Get your tickets HERE.
Brookside Gardens: Garden of Lights
Brookside Gardens has a light display with over one million lights! See hand-crafted light fixtures that resemble flowers, plants, and animals at this natural conservatory. Marvel at the glistening tree forms, sparking water fountains, and winter scenes that make this light display a must-see.
At the conservatory’s visitor center, warm up with some complimentary hot chocolate and a nightly musical act. You’ll come for the elaborate light display, but be sure to stay for the jazz and folk performers!
Get more information on tickets to the Garden of Lights HERE.
Pro tip: bring some extra cash for the on-site caterer, who serves soups and sandwiches.
Bull Run Festival of Lights
This 2.5-mile stretch of holiday lights is best enjoyed from your car. As you drive along the festive road, enjoy the glowing awnings, candy canes, and scenes as you head towards a holiday village. Once you reach the village, grab some s’mores and hot chocolate before taking a photo with Santa!
The Bull Run Festival of Lights charges per vehicle, not per person. Get more information HERE.
Find Even More Lights Across the D.C. Area
- Annmarie Garden in Lights, Solomons, MD
- Winter Lights at Seneca Creek State Park, Gaithersburg, MD
- Winter Festival of Lights at Watkins Regional Park, Upper Marlboro, MD
- Merriweather Symphony of Lights in Columbia, MD
- Eastport Yacht Club Lights Parade, Annapolis, MD
- Lights on the Bay at Sandy Point State Park, Annapolis, MD
- Holiday Magic Light Show at Six Flags America, Bowie, MD
- Ice and Lights Winter Village at Cameron Run, Alexandria, VA
- Winter Walk of Lights at Meadowlark Gardens, Vienna, VA
- North Pole Winter Wagon Ride, Lake Fairfax Park, Reston, VA
- Celebration Station, Burke Lake Park, Fairfax Station, VA
- Christmas Town at Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, VA
- WinterFest at King’s Dominion, Doswell, VA
- Lighting of the Lawn, UVA, Charlottesville, VA
- Lewis Ginter Botanic Garden, Richmond, VA
- GardenFest of Lights, Lewis Ginter Botanic Garden, Richmond, VA
While you can catch a holiday light display anywhere in the United States, Washington, D.C.’s light displays go beyond most people’s expectations. Whether you’re looking for a quick activity or a full-blown winter festival, the U.S. capital region has many options to choose from. Don’t forget to bring a camera—your smartphone may not be able to capture this many lights!
PIN IT FOR LATER!
Washington, D.C. Travel Resources
Your Washington, D.C. vacation doesn’t have to be stressful. We’ve got the resources you need to plan your trip and make the most out of your time in the city and surrounding area. If this is your first time to the capital region, check out our Washington, D.C. trip planner and itineraries.
For transportation, check out our D.C. driving guide and our guide on how to ride the metro. For those flying in, you’ll want to read our guides to BWI, DCA and IAD airports.
Dive into our things to do in D.C., which is always being updated and evolving to make sure you have the latest and greatest activities to fill your checklist of things to do. Don’t forget about food, the real reason we all travel, right? Our Washington, D.C. restaurant guide will get you started and lead you into neighborhoods full of delicious treats.
For more resources, check out our pages on Baltimore, Richmond and beyond.
Where to Stay in Washington, D.C.
Budget: When it comes to Washington, D.C. budget hotels, prices vary depending on the season. In the middle of October, a four-star hotel could be under $150, while in December it may be over $400. At any given time of year, though, Hotel Hive is a safe bet for value when it comes to resting your head. If you are looking for a hostel, Hi Washington D.C. Downtown is well located for exploring all of the D.C. museums, restaurants and bars at the fraction of the price of a hotel. Check rates and availability here.
Mid-range: Every USA hotel chain can be found in Washington, D.C., but stay at the St. Gregory Hotel when you want a local touch. The modern, light-filled rooms will welcome you to the city, whether you are in a studio or suite with wraparound terrace. The hotel is walking distance to Georgetown, the National Mall and Embassy Row, making it easy to explore without a rental car. Check rates and availability here.
Luxury: You are spoiled for choice when it comes to luxury hotels in Washington, D.C. We love cozying up at the Graham Georgetown, a sweet little boutique hotel in one of the hottest neighborhoods in the city. Check rates and availability here. Major hotel brands like The Fairmont, Mandarin Oriental, Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons Hotel Washington D.C. and St. Regis Washington D.C. all have outposts here as well. If you want something a bit more historic, we recommend The Jefferson, Washington D.C. Ninety-nine rooms in this luxury boutique hotel bring together an attentive staff, petite spa, and the Michelin-starred Plume restaurant with all of the history you could hope for when you are in the nation’s capital. Check rates and availability here.
Family-friendly: We always gravitate towards the Kimpton hotels whenever we are traveling with kids. Kimpton Hotel Monaco Washington D.C., once the General Post Office building, is located in the Penn Quarter neighborhood just four blocks off the National Mall near the National Gallery of Art. Price point is mid-range, depending on the time of year you visit. Parents will love the nightly wine events and evening nightcap perks as well as complimentary coffee and a tea bar each morning. Kids will love that they can borrow a fish friend for their stay, and that there is always a treat on hand that they can enjoy, and the robes are just their size. Kimpton also has adult and child-size bikes to borrow so you can cruise around town during your stay. Check rates and availability here.
Planning a Trip to Washington, D.C.? Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
Whether you are traveling domestically or coming from an international destination, travel insurance is a must for anyone coming to Washington, D.C. You will be exploring both inside and outdoors; hiking may even happen if you get adventurous. You could find yourself on a Segway or bike tour. The city is highly populated and accidents and crime do happen. This is not to scare you, but to prepare you for what could occur when you are checking out the free museums, exploring neighborhoods, finding the best food and learning about the local street art. Should something happen, travel insurance has you covered. Check rates and availability here.
We recommend and use Allianz Travel insurance. Our family is covered under a household plan, but their individual plans are just as robust if you are a solo traveler or a couple looking to get away. I’ve been a customer for more than five years and have always been in good hands with the Allianz team.
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