10 Magical Things to Do in Washington DC in the Winter (& Why You Should Spend Christmas in Washington DC)


Washington DC in the winter travel guide to help you plan a trip to spend Christmas in Washington DC!

Psst: Please be sure to follow all local regulations, social distance, and wear a mask to keep yourself and others safe. Also: this post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through them, we may receive a small commission (for which we are deeply grateful) at no cost to you.

Twinkling Christmas trees on the White House lawn. Ice skating over a glittering wharf. Sipping a martini in an igloo at the Watergate Hotel. Winter in Washington DC is a snowy playground of politicians, partisans, and spies. It’s as full of history and intrigue as it is culture and inspiration – and holiday cheer, of course.

Along Washington DC’s storied and historic streets you’ll discover remnants of the United States’ colorful and chaotic history. There’s the largest museum complex in the world, which houses everything from dinosaur bones to the moon rocks to the Star Spangled Banner. The long, grassy National Mall is the beating heart of the democractic experiment, showcasing America’s most famous historical monuments including the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the U.S. Capitol.

But more than that, Washington DC is a place where people from around the world have forged a community, dining and drinking in the shadow of monuments. 

Washington DC is a federal district at the center of American democracy, but it’s a bit of a conundrum: it’s technically neither considered a state nor a city. Instead, it’s sort of a weird, confusing in-between that also happens to be the most important not-city, not-state in the country.

The idea for this weirdly defined federal capital comes directly from the Constitution: the founding fathers wanted a place for governing to happen that was isolated from state politics. But it took seven years of impassioned debate before they settled what this nebulous “federal district” should entail – and where it should be located. (Hamilton fans: yep, we’re talking about what happened in “The Room Where it Happens.”)

In the end, President George Washington chose a strategic location along the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers (where Maryland and Virginia meet today) meant to serve as a bridge between northern and southern states, protected from attack along the coast while connected to major waterways.  Washington DC was officially founded in 1790.

Christmas in Washington DC is the most magical time of the year, when the city is covered in twinkling lights and Christmas decorations! We tapped a local to give us the inside scoop: Rebecca Fachner is a historian and tour guide based in Washington DC, with over a decade’s experience guiding visitors around the Nation’s Capital. Take it away, Rebecca!

Psst: Looking for more wintery travel inspiration? Take a look at some of our other blog posts:

We also have another local’s guide to things to do in Washington DC!



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