Winter Activities in Washington, DC

The weather forecast indicates that Washington, DC expects to see its first snowfall this coming week, which means that winter weather is going to hit the District early this season. Don’t let the frigid temperatures deter you from enjoying your visit and stay in Washington, DC, however, because there are more than enough Washington DC winter activities to keep you occupied for the entire duration. Here are some suggestions.

Washington DC Winter Activities

The National Christmas Tree

Miniature Trees by the White House. Washington DC Winter Activities
Miniature Trees by the White House

Your first Washington DC winter activities stop ought to be at President’s Park where you’ll get to see the National Christmas tree. Lit every year by the sitting President of the United States, the tree is usually tall enough and bright enough that visitors can see it shine from several blocks away. It lightens up and is a delight to see in the otherwise dim and barren section of downtown DC.

In addition to the National Christmas tree, visitors can also watch several sets of model miniature trains operate around the base of the tree. The sets were constructed by members of the National Christmas Tree Railroad volunteers and have been a prominent feature since 1994.

The Christmas Markets

Downtown Holiday Market. Washington DC Winter Activities
Downtown Holiday Market

Another one of the favorite Washington DC winter activities occurs from late November through the end of December. During this period, several Christmas markets start popping up in and around the District. The biggest and likely most popular one stands in downtown DC, right in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. The DC holiday market has a couple of dozen miniature chalets featuring local artists selling their crafts, live caroling and resident food vendors offering hearty and aromatic snacks that help put Washingtonians and visitors alike, get into the Christmas spirit.

A couple of other Christmas markets sit across the river in Virginia. One is in Rosslyn and another in Old Town Alexandria.

Local tip: make sure you don’t miss the churros dipped in chocolate or dulce de leche. It’s definitely a highlight for everyone in the family.

The Christmas Bar

Decorations at Miracle on 7th. Washington DC Winter Activities
Decorations at Miracle on 7th

If standing in the cold, shopping and listening to carols isn’t quite your cup of tea, no worries because the so-called Christmas bar will surely put you in a festive mood. The Miracle on 7th St, as it is officially known, is a recent addition to the list of winter activities in Washington. Located in the buzzing neighborhood of Shaw, this pop-up bar turns a trio of restaurants (Mockingbird Hill, Eat the Rich and Southern Efficiency) into a winter wonderland, filled with ornaments, holiday decorations and Christmas motifs that will make even the grumpiest of people feel jolly.

The menu offers holiday-themed cocktails, local beers and wine and a couple handfuls of food options and snacks. Keep in mind however, that this is 21 and over only establishment. Bouncers outside check for identification so make sure you bring yours if you plan to stop by.

Ice Skating

Skating at the Sculpture Garden,national gallery, Washington DC Winter Activities
Skating at the Sculpture Garden and National Gallery: Image on Flickr by Brett Davis / CC BY-NC 2.0

Whether you’re a kid or simply a kid at heart, there’s something magical about ice-skating. And for many visitors (and locals), gliding along artificial ice is one of the must-do winter activities in Washington. Fortunately, there are several locations to choose from, with rinks at both Washington and National Harbors and the Capitol Riverfront, all of which have excellent views of the Potomac River.

Undoubtedly, one of the best spots however is at the Sculpture Garden. Located near the National Mall, the centerpiece of this outdoor park adjacent to the National Gallery of Art gets turned into an ice rink from November through March (weather permitting). The eye-popping sculptures surrounding the rink as well as the towering building of the National Archives provide a serene yet festive ambiance.

Local tip: you can bring your own skates if you have them.

Holiday Performances

Nutcracker Ballet at the Kennedy Center. Washington DC Winter Activities
Nutcracker Ballet at the Kennedy Center

Most people don’t realize this when they visit the District, but it’s a great place to hear live music. All-year round, jazz quartets, local cover bands and various live stage show artists perform at venues such as the John F. Kennedy Center so it’s not surprising to hear that another one of the best winter activities in Washington is to watch holiday performances. Choirs from around the country, well-known artists like the Trans Siberian Orchestra, and military servicemen can be seen performing concerts at public circles and churches. Of course not every one of them is free of charge, but there are certainly plenty to choose from.

About Iris A


Born in the Philippines, but grew up in Texas, Iris has been traveling and writing about her experiences for well over a decade. Her work has been published on well-known travel sites like Hipmunk (#hipmunkcitylove) and D Magazine Online Travel Club. She has been all over Europe, the US, and has recently started exploring Latin America. She loves trying local cuisine and visiting UNESCO deemed World Heritage sites. Her favourite city is New York, with London, following a close 2nd. You can follow her on Twitter @sundeeiris or through her travel blog, Traveling With Iris.

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