Winter is a lovely time to explore Washington D.C. In December the District puts on a variety of holiday activities. The rest of the winter is a great time to explore museums and historic locations with far fewer crowds than in the Spring and Summer months.
Whether you are looking to take in some holiday cheer, live like a local or explore an exceptional museum in the off-peak tourist season, D.C. has you covered.
Table of Contents
- 1 Check out one of DC’s Free Museums
- 2 Walk Through United States Botanic Gardens
- 3 Have Afternoon Tea at The Willard
- 4 Explore Ford’s Theater
- 5 Watch “The Nutcracker” at the Webster Theater
- 6 See a Show at The Kennedy Center
- 7 Catch a Capital’s Game at Capital One Arena
- 8 Eat Dim Sum In Chinatown
- 9 Go Antiquing at Miss Pixies and Logan Circle
- 10 Ice Skating in DC
- 11 Get Swept Away at Enchant Christmas at Nationals Park
- 12 Have a Spa Day at One of DC’s Iconic Hotels
- 13 Check out Thomas Jefferson’s Library in The Library of Congress
- 14 Kramers Books and Dupont Circle
- 15 To Be, Or Not To Be, at Folger Shakespeare Library
- 16 Downtown Holiday Market
- 17 Be Dazzled at GLOW in Georgetown
- 18 Have Lunch at Union Market
- 19 Enjoy The Eastern Market Farmers Market
- 20 Dine At One Of the Historic Restaurants in DC
- 21 Eavesdrop Over a Nightcap
- 22 Warm Up With Ben’s Chili Bowl and Explore the U street Corridor
- 23 Bonsai Trees and Evergreen collection at the National Arboretum
- 24 Municipal Fish Market for Chowder
- 25 Dumbarton Oaks On A Snowy Day
- 26 More Winter Activities near me in DC
Check out one of DC’s Free Museums
One of the best things about Washington D.C. is the great variety of world-class museums it offers. Even better, most of them are free.
All 17 Smithsonian museums, and the National Zoo are free every day of the year (when they are open at least).
Walk Through United States Botanic Gardens
If you plan to visit the Capitol Building in the winter, make sure you visit the United States Botanic Gardens, the Nation’s oldest continuously operating botanic garden.
Enjoy a winter stroll in the outdoor garden or warm up inside the conservatory, a beautiful glass structure bursting with tropical foliage, orchids and vibrant blooms.
Have Afternoon Tea at The Willard
Afternoon Tea at Peacock Alley inside the Willard InterContinental Hotel is a must for anyone who enjoys the English tradition of afternoon tea. The tea presentation is spectacular and one to look forward to each year.
Offered on Saturdays and Sundays only, it books up quickly, so be sure to make a reservation well in advance.
Explore Ford’s Theater
The historical Ford’s Theater is most famous for being the location where President Lincoln was shot. The theater still puts on theatrical productions throughout the year, including “A Christmas Carol” during the holiday season.
Watch “The Nutcracker” at the Webster Theater
The Nutcracker is a timeless classic, and the Warner Theater is as well. The Warner is a 1920s theater with gold leaf interiors and chandeliers. The Washington Ballet performs “The Nutcracker” from the end of November through the end of the holiday season.
See a Show at The Kennedy Center
The Kennedy Center for the performing arts is possibly the most iconic theater in the District. The Kennedy Center is actually a cluster of theaters, with a constant variety of events. From comedy to opera and everything in between – there is something for everyone here.
Catch a Capital’s Game at Capital One Arena
The district has several famous sports teams, including The Nationals (baseball) and The Washington Football team.
In the winter, it is Capitals season at the Capitol One Arena, located in the heart of Downtown D.C. The Capitals have been a very competitive NHL team in recent history, and they even won the Stanley Cup in 2018.
Eat Dim Sum In Chinatown
Right next to Capital One Arena you will find Chinatown, where a variety of markets, shops and restaurants are ready for you to explore. In the winter, nothing seems to hit the spot quite like dumplings.
Go Antiquing at Miss Pixies and Logan Circle
Logan Circle has recently become a dining and retail mecca in the heart of The District. Several of the city’s most popular eateries and retail shops line 14th street. Try taking a self-guided cultural walking tour through this ever-changing neighborhood (there are signs at all the numbered locations).
Best of all, make sure to slip into Miss Pixies for some warmth and to shop some of the eclectic furnishings at this staple in Logan Circle.
Ice Skating in DC
The Nation’s Capital has no shortage of ice skating rinks to choose from in the winter months. You can enjoy this winter activity at many indoor and outdoor locations (find out full list here).
Some of the most festive locations include the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden, Washington Harbour Ice Rink, and Enchant Christmas at the Nationals Park.
Get Swept Away at Enchant Christmas at Nationals Park
Enchant Christmas at Nationals Park is an elaborate holiday spectacular that occurs each holiday season. Filled with lights, music and even an ice-skating trail, this is a great way to spend a holiday evening with the family.
Have a Spa Day at One of DC’s Iconic Hotels
If a break from the cold winter air is what you need, look no further than one of Washington D.C.’s many spas. D.C. boasts some of the most renowned hotels, including The Four Seasons, Fairmont Washington DC, Mandarin Oriental and even The Watergate.
All of these luxury hotels, and more, have wonderful spa and wellness centers. Treat yourself to a day of pampering and relaxation. You deserve it, especially after the busy holiday season.
Check out Thomas Jefferson’s Library in The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress may just be the most stunning building in Washington D.C. From its beautifully painted ceilings to its intricate mosaics and the iconic reading room – this building is a wonderful site to behold.
Inside the museum you will also find Thomas Jefferson’s Library and several museum curated collections—perfect for when you want to stay out of the cold wrapped around DC in winter.
Kramers Books and Dupont Circle
Kramers is a bookstore and cafe located in the popular Dupont Circle neighborhood. Browse the book store, which includes many LGBTQ+ authors. Once you are done shopping for books you can dine at the All Day cafe, which is located within the bookstore.
To Be, Or Not To Be, at Folger Shakespeare Library
The Folger Shakespeare Library holds the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare in the world. The library also puts on a variety of Shakespeare-themed events and performances. The Library is currently under a multi-year renovation, with improvements wrapping up in 2023.
Downtown Holiday Market
Every Christmas season a festive holiday village pops up just outside of The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. The Downtown Holiday Market runs from the end of November through December 23 each year.
This market has a wide variety of local small business owners and entrepreneurs selling their goods. Grab fun and unique holiday gifts for everyone on your list.
Be Dazzled at GLOW in Georgetown
Hop over to historic and trendy Georgetown for GLOW, a free outdoor light experience. There are a variety of light art installations on display through the holidays, all with Georgetown as the background.
Make sure you grab a map each year as the installations can be found throughout the neighborhood, not just on M Street.
Have Lunch at Union Market
Union Market is a large restaurant and retail gathering place located in the historic Centre Market building. Centre market was the District’s largest market when it opened in 1871, and now houses many new and delicious eateries in this newly-revitalized neighborhood.
Our favorites? We never miss a chance for Takorean or a Peregrine coffee, but with so many vendors, everyone can find something to fill their bellies.
Enjoy The Eastern Market Farmers Market
Every Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday Eastern Market hosts an open-air farmers market. A large variety of local vendors from all over the DMV come to sell their produce and goods.
This is a great place to find locally-grown fruits and vegetables, as well as meats, prepared foods and other local products.
Dine At One Of the Historic Restaurants in DC
Washington D.C. has some wonderful dining options. There is no lack of delicious cuisine from all over the world. If you like your dinner with a side of history check out one of DC’s historic restaurants.
From The Monocle to Old Ebbitt Grille, there are all sorts of eateries to enjoy while getting swept away by historic feels.
Eavesdrop Over a Nightcap
The wheels of government are always turning in D.C. and lips get loose after an old fashioned or two. Sit at any of the Capital’s famous bars, like Off The Record, and you never know what interesting stories you may overhear while you sip on a crafted classic cocktails.
Warm Up With Ben’s Chili Bowl and Explore the U street Corridor
The U Street Corridor was once referred to as Black Broadway. This area is going under continued evolution, and remains a hub of Black culture in D.C.
And of course, this is also the location of the famous Ben’s Chili Bowl, which is not to be missed by anyone who enjoys a chili dog.
Bonsai Trees and Evergreen collection at the National Arboretum
The National Arboretum is a wonderful place to walk around throughout the year. In winter, be sure to take in the evergreens around this park.
There is also an extensive indoor bonsai tree collection. Marvel at these miniature ancient giants on a cold winter day.
Municipal Fish Market for Chowder
The Municipal Fish Market is a Washington D.C. landmark located at the tip of the newly rejuvenated Wharf area. This fish market boasts several seafood kiosks as well as some delicious chowder, which pairs perfectly with a chilly winter day.
Dumbarton Oaks On A Snowy Day
If you are lucky enough to experience Washington D.C. on a day that snow actually sticks to the ground, try and snag tickets to Dumbarton Oaks. Located in Georgetown, this giant estate is part museum, part garden and part research institute.
The gardens are beautiful all year round, and truly magical with a fresh dusting of snow. And if you are still in the mood for gardens, check out Hillwood Estate just north in Rock Creek Park—another historic estate with magnificent gardens and a mansion filled with art to explore.
More Winter Activities near me in DC
- Join a 5k or 10k run
- Take a bus tour (where it is warm!)
- Snow tubing in Maryland and Virginia
- Skiing and Snowboarding in Virginia
- Sledding in D.C.
- Sled down the Lion/Tiger Hill at the National Zoo
- Go to the lighting of the Menorah
- Attend the Russian Winter Festival at Hillwood
- Splash around in the local indoor water parks
- Visit the wineries in Virginia and Maryland (or a D.C. tasting room)
- Check out the D.C. brewery scene