35 Awesome Things To Do In DC Over Thanksgiving

The nation’s capital comes alive for the holidays, and it all starts with Thanksgiving.

It starts with the White House’s annual Pardoning of the Thanksgiving Turkey and it’s all uphill from there. Washington, D.C. embraces the holidays wholeheartedly and the entire district comes together with lights and decorations, holiday markets, parades, and more. Join in on the merriment while you already have family and friends gathered for Thanksgiving!

Washington DC Thanksgiving

Get into the Washington Christmas Spirit

Some of you may think that it’s too early, but really, when isn’t there a right time for Christmas lights and holiday music?

Zoo Lights

3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008 | Website

The National Zoo in Washington, D.C. has been putting on their annual Zoo Lights event for years now! It’s a family favorite because you can combine seeing some of your favorite furry friends in the day and stick around to view the LED animated light displays at night.

The zoo is illuminated with over 500,000 lights, LED animal displays, two laser shows, and holiday music! There are even special attractions, rides, and live performances by different bands and choirs. The best part? The entire experience is free.

Wunter Garten

1101 First St NE, Washington, DC 20002 | Website

Inspired by the beer gardens of Germany, Winter Garden is a charming beer garden with a large selection of beers. It’s a great spot for friends and family to gather during Thanksgiving weekend and throw back a few!

They transform in the winter to include cabanas and tents, fire puts, board games, DJs, and live entertainment. They have tons of signature events including their night of onesies and s’mores.

Holiday Markets & Pop-Ups

Seasonal markets and pop-ups always put me in the holiday mood, probably because of their decor and the addition of mulled wines. There are a couple in and around Washington, D.C. with unique independent vendors, local small businesses, arts and crafts, food and drink, and more.

Some popular ones are:

Holiday Market at Union Market (Dock 5)

1309 5th St NE, Washington, DC 20002 | Website

You’re sure to walk away with something from one of the many designers selling one-of-a-kind ornaments and gifts.

Holiday Marketplace at DC Brau

3178 Bladensburg Rd NE Suite B, Washington, DC 20018 | Website

Vendors selling everything from D.C.’s own Mumbo Sauce to locally made jewelry. There are also lots of snacks, food trucks, and of course, beer.

Downtown Holiday Market

F St NW &, 8th St NW, Washington, DC 20004 | Website

This mini holiday village pops up every year and the streets are lined with vendors selling food, drink, art, jewelry, and more.

Reston Town Center Holiday Parade

11900 Market St, Reston, VA 20190 | Website

The Reston community starts celebrating the day after Thanksgiving and it lasts well past Christmas. While there’s an official tree lighting ceremony and the North Pole where you can visit Santa Claus and sing carols with Mrs. Claus, it’s the holiday parade filled with all your favorites that’s really a crowd pleaser!

And don’t miss the Silver Spring Thanksgiving Parade!

Give Back to the Community

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to reflect on your blessings and show thanks outward. Lend a hand at these institutions that give back to the community all year long.

Clean up Rock Creek Park

1755 S St NW, Washington, DC 20009 | Website

Blue Planet DC has many similar events scheduled throughout the year but also has an annual morning cleanup post-Thanksgiving. Wear comfortable clothes, grab your gloves and a couple of trash bags, and help keep the neighborhood clean!

Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen

There are several charitable organizations where you can help prepare and serve holiday meals in DC. Some popular local charities you can reach out to are:

Get Sporty

Work off those extra calories by getting active post-Thanksgiving! It’s the perfect time to embrace seasonal activities like outdoor ice skating and the Turkey Trot.

Ice Skating at Gaylord National

201 Waterfront Street, National Harbor, Maryland 20745 USA | Website

Gaylord National knows about the holidays! They have so many classic holiday activities you and your family could participate in like building snowmen, sledding, decorating gingerbread houses, watching Christmas plays, reading favorites with Mrs. Claus, and of course, ice skating!

More ice skating in Washington, D.C

Biking

Yes, it’s a little cold this time of the year but once you start pedaling around the Tidal Basin, you warm up quickly! It’s a great time to hop on a bike and explore the National Mall and its surroundings; the weather is crisp, the views are beautiful, and you can work off Thanksgiving Dinner!

There are tons of spots to rent a bicycle there so don’t worry if you’re from out of town or don’t feel like packing up your own.

Turkey Trot

There are lots of different kinds of trots, runs, and walks hosted around Thanksgiving weekend. Not only can you get active, but you’ll be able to get sponsors and raise money for a good cause! Here are a couple that I like to get involved with:

U.S. Botanic Gardens

Take a walk while still staying warm in the U.S. Botanic Gardens greenhouse. Their annual Season’s Greetings: America’s Gardens holiday show has wonderful displays of greenery, live seasonal music, replicas of some of the most famous buildings and monuments in DC, and even an extensive operating model train exhibit.

Attend a Concert or Catch a Play at a D.C. Theater

Unwind after a hectic time of preparing a meal and making sure everyone in the family stays amicable with a concert or play.

The Kennedy Center Opera House

Their holiday season lineup is incomparable and past performances include The Nutcracker; is the holiday season even complete without a rendition of Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy?

The Hamilton

From a Charlie Brown Christmas to live, intimate performances by local artists, you’ll find it all at The Hamilton.

DAR Constitution Hall

DAR Constitution Hall has hosted their annual Christmas Open House for years and it’s a wonderful time to join in the holiday festivities and witness performances by local choirs and artists.

Embrace the Black Friday Sales in Washington DC

Black Friday starts on Thanksgiving night and lasts throughout the weekend in most places! Get started with your Christmas shopping instead of waiting till the last minute! Here are a couple of malls and shopping centers in DC where you can get a bargain on Thanksgiving weekend.

  • Potomac Mills Mall
  • Tanger Outlets at National Harbor
  • CityCenter DC
  • Washington Square
  • Pentagon City Mall
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