Winter is a great time to visit Washington, D.C., especially with kids off for mid-winter holidays. Once the holiday celebrations end, the Downtown Holiday Market packs up and the tree disappears from the White House Ellipse, it may seem like there is nothing going on, but the Nation’s Capital delivers.
From concerts to parades to just general fun, post-holiday wintertime offers all the fun of the city without holiday crowds. Check out our list of some of the best things to do in Washington, D.C. in the winter.
Ring in the Year of the Rat in Chinatown
D.C. is rich with Chinese culture, especially during the celebration of the Chinese New Year. But the celebrations don’t stop in Chinatown. The city throws a D.C. Chinese New Year Parade the last weekend of January filled with firecrackers, Chinese folk dancers, large floats, and other attractions.
At the end of January, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art hosts a Lunar New Year celebration that showcases Asian art, live musical performances and authentic food.
At the beginning of February, the Smithsonian American Art Museum hosts a kid-friendly Chinese New Year family celebration that offers crafts, an acrobatic troupe and a scavenger hunt.
Celebrate Winter with Washington’s World Series Champs
The Washington Nationals are holding their annual Winterfest the second weekend of January at Nationals Park. The park transforms into a baseball and winter wonderland and offers behind the scenes access to parts of the stadium that are usually closed for visitors. There are even options to meet members of the team and coaches.
Purchasing tickets beforehand is a must so check out their website beforehand.
Test your Spy Potential During Spy Fest at the International Spy Museum
Explore the International Spy Museum to a new extent on the third Tuesday of January at Spy Fest. Test your ability to decode messages, beat lie-detectors and maybe even try out some sick new ninja moves. Spy Fest is sure to have something for the whole family—even demonstrations by expert spies. Access to typical museum exhibits is included with the price of museum admission.
Tickets are required, and be sure to read the age limits for the event.
Get Inked at the D.C. Tattoo Expo
Here’s your chance to finally get that ink you’ve been dreaming about. Held at the Crystal Gateway Marriott, this festival features more than 400 tattoo artists from all over America! Visitors can get a new tattoo or piercing, or just join the party. Tickets are $30/day, or save with a three-day pass for $60.
Grab tickets here.
Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day
To celebrate MLK in the exact place he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech seems only appropriate. Luckily for you, there are numerous activities the city puts on in order to remember him properly. The Peace Walk and Parade happens on MLK Day starting at 11 a.m. It features the Ballou Marching Band and representatives from the area’s Asian, Jamaican, Bolivian and African American communities.
In addition to the parade, the Washington National Cathedral hosts an annual MLK Day service which includes poetry readings and live musical performances from local community members. The cathedral also hosts a commemorative pilgrimage called “Rosa and Martin, Martin and Rosa” which explores the relationship between Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.
Become a Hungry Hippo for the Day at The Wharf
This is your chance to become a hungry hippo and “eat” as much as you want at The Wharf’s ice rink. Teams of four players each compete to collect as much “food” (balls) as they can with baskets while riding on inflatable tubes. Top teams advance to the championship round in this tournament-style competition. There are typically events in January and February each winter, and the cost is around $30 per person.
Check out their facebook page to register and for more information on dates.
Partake in a Snowball Fight
From its small beginnings in 2009, the city’s resident-organized snowball fight has grown into something much bigger. It takes place at iconic city landmarks such as the Dupont Circle fountain and the monuments on the National Mall. While it can be difficult to predict just when it will snow, follow the Washington, D.C. Snowball Fight Association’s Facebook page to see when the next all-city snowball fight will happen. Or if snowball fights aren’t your thing, there are plenty of places to bring the sleds and hit some city slopes, such as Capitol hill itself.
Check the website for more information on upcoming snowball fights.
Explore the City with the Amazing Scavenger Hunt Adventure
Solve riddles, complete challenges and find clues while exploring the city’s rich political and cultural history. Held the second week of January at the Smithsonian Castle, this scavenger hunt turns the city into a giant board game with an interactive smartphone map. The hunt can be completed at your leisure and takes you through the National Mall to the White House and the Lincoln Memorial. It’s a great opportunity to educate kids about the city while exploring it in a new way.
Tickets are required and need to be bought online ahead of the event. Prices are $30-$50 depending on the size of your scavenger hunt team.
Eat Your Way Through D.C. Restaurant Week
The annual Metropolitan Washington Restaurant Week is held the second or third week of January and offers specially priced multi-course dinner, lunch and brunch menus. Numerous new and old restaurants participate, so it ‘s a nice opportunity to try those restaurants you’ve been eyeing. The event runs from Alexandria, Virginia to historic Georgetown, to Montgomery County, Maryland. Now is the time to explore the full DMV area all while eating some of the best food in the city.
Check out its website for a full list of participating restaurants and their respective menus.
Visit the Hirschorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
From this contemporary museum’s ever-changing exhibits to its unique architecture, there is always a reason to see what’s new.
The Hirschorn also offers a free story time for kids. Stories typically coincide with art pieces in the museum. While not every kid may not be fascinated with the theory behind the color pink like you may be, they are sure to love a story time that features a hands-on activities. Admission is free.
See a Musical Hit at the Kennedy Center Opera House
The Kennedy Center is a “living memorial” to President John F. Kennedy’s passion for the arts. The dazzling opera house has 2,364 seats and even a glittering chandelier that was a gift from Austria. Catch a musical (or ballet or opera) here to beat the winter blues.
Purchase tickets beforehand online.
Watch a Tarantula Feeding at the National Museum of Natural History
Watch as eight creepy crawling legs are fed at the Insect Zoo at the National Museum of Natural History, one of the many free Smithsonian museums in D.C. The event happens three times a day at the museum unless otherwise noted, and features a Q&A with museum volunteers.
Admission is free, but check the website for an exact schedule of daily times.
Indulge Yourself at the D.C. Chocolate, Wine and Whiskey Festival
Do you love chocolate, whiskey AND wine? Who doesn’t! Check out the annual D.C. Chocolate, Wine and Whiskey Festival the second week of February. There are dozens of presentations of chocolate in all forms, from truffles to fondue to classic chocolate bars. In addition to the multitude of candy and other desserts available to sample, there is an expansive bar for tasting all kinds of wine, whiskey, craft beers and other yummy alcoholic beverages. Though the kids may be excited about a festival devoted solely to chocolate, this event is limited to those who are 21 and over.
Tickets range from $45 to $70 and must be purchased ahead of time on the festival’s website.
Enjoy a Drink at The Official D.C. Cocktail Festival
With live music, great food and cocktails to sample from some of the best bars in the city, the D.C. Cocktail Festival offers a lot for those over 21. There are 15 cocktail samples to try from mixologists from around the city. The event is held at the National Union Building at the end of February. This is a great group activity for those who love to try new drinks.
Review the website for a complete schedule of the event and to purchase tickets ahead of time. Everyone entering the event must have a ticket, regardless of if they plan to drink or not.
See a Play at the Shakespeare Theatre Company
Located in Penn Quarter, the Shakespeare Theatre Company presents both updated and classic versions of Shakespeare’s timeless plays. Catch a show, or even brush up your acting chops at an acting class—all levels of experience welcome. Kids can check out Camp Shakespeare, which has one, two or three week sessions for young actors ages 7-18.
Visit the website for shows, camp registration and acting class times.
Get Toasty with Frederick’s Fire & Ice Festival
A little ways outside of the traditional D.C. city limits is Frederick, Maryland. At the start of February, Frederick hosts its most popular winter event: Fire & Ice! The streets of classic downtown Frederick are filled with ice sculptures, delicious snacks and live entertainment. You are sure to have many Instagram-worthy moments.
No tickets are required. The event runs from early afternoon to evening. Visit the website for more information.
Washington DC Tours
Catch a Show at Ford’s Theatre
This iconic theatre is the site of President Lincoln’s assassination, and its productions celebrate the President’s legacy and American heritage. Past plays have included classics like Death of a Salesman and Into the Woods, but the theatre also commissions new works.
See what’s new here.
Ice Skate at Washington Harbour
Located in Georgetown, Washington Harbour is home to the largest ice skating rink in Washington, D.C. The rink borders the Potomac River, which means it also has incredible waterfront views. Skating is open from mid-November to March, and costs around $10.
Visit their website for more information on ticketing and hours.
Catch a Free Movie Screening at the Library of Congress’ Pickford Theater
The Library of Congress holds a specially-themed movie series in its Pickford Theater during the month of February. All of its screenings are free, but you will need to reserve tickets beforehand.
To reserve tickets for this film series, visit their website.
Show it All for a Good Cause at Cupid’s Undie Run
Half underwear party, half fun run, this charity event benefits research for a cure for neurofibromatosis (NF), a genetic tumor disorder that affects 1 in every 3,000 births. It is held at Penn Social the second weekend of February. While running a mile run in your undies may sound daunting, it’s for a good cause, so this run is a chance for everyone to bear it all and throw caution to the wind. The cost of the race is $40, which includes some fun prizes and party favors.
Register in advance for the race online on their website, where you can also fundraise money for the event.
Celebrate Mardi Gras at the French Embassy
Mardi Gras falls just in time to liven up those bland winter days. The embassy transforms into an elaborately decorated Riviera-style venue, with numerous attractions and shows. There is authentic French food, Monte Carlo style roulette games, dancing, a fashion competition and enough carnival decorations to make you feel like you really are in France celebrating the holiday.
The dress code is cocktail attire or Carnival attire, but be sure to check the website to purchase tickets and find out more details.
Looking for a Washington DC Hotel? Check out the following!
- Hotel Hive – Affordable, trendy, pet-friendly hotel
- Eaton Hotel – Stay in the heart of DC
- Four Seasons Hotel Washington DC – DC luxury at it’s best
- Kimpton Hotel George – Great for families and pets
- Willard InterContinental Washington – Historic hotel right near the White House
Need a car? Get the best rental car rates HERE.
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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.
This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking one of those links we will receive a small commission.