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13 BEST Things to do in Washington DC in Winter

By Author Georgie Cunningham

Posted on Last updated: February 14, 2024

This post contains product affiliate links. These are mainly on items/hotels/tours that I personally endorse & love. I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase, but at no extra cost to you.

From watching the President light the National Tree to sledding down Capitol Hill, here are the best things to do in Washington DC in winter!

washington dc in winter

Washington DC won’t be the place that pops into your head when someone mentions the words ‘winter wonderland’. However, I’m here to tell you why travelling to the US capital city in winter is the perfect time to visit.

I love Washington DC. It’s got it all: cool neighbourhoods, great places to eat, plus it’s the cultural centre of the US. The history practically radiates from its walls. 

And look, summer is good, but it’s busy . The queues are long, the streets are packed full of tourists, and it’s so hot you genuinely need to sip water with every step.

things to do in washington dc in winter

Washington DC in winter is much quieter. It’s cold, sure, but that brings the chance of snow – which opens up so many more opportunities for awesome winter activities!

Sledding, snowball fights, cosying up in a cafe – the whole lot. And that’s before we even get started on the festive events around Christmas.

So without further ado, let’s get into it. Hopefully this blog post will help plan your trip to this incredible city!

Heading to Washington DC in spring instead? Check out my blog on the best activities. I’ve also got an extensive Washington DC itinerary for those planning a shorter trip to the city.

Weather in Washington DC in winter

winter washington dc

Washington DC is chilly in winter, and sees around a week of rain each month on average. 

Temperatures start out low in December, peaking at 9°C (48.2°F) and creeping down to -1°C (30.2°F). 

January is often DC’s coldest month, seeing highs of just 6°C (42.8°F) and lows that’ll see you shivering at -4°C (24.8°F). 

February is only slightly less cold: expect to be your warmest at 8°C (46.4°F), but remember to wrap up in the mornings and evenings – it’s not uncommon for it to reach -3°C (26.6°F). 

Are you planning an amazing holiday to Washington DC? If so, you may want to book your hotels and tours asap to ensure availability. Here are some links to quickly help plan your trip!

Best hotels and apartments in Washington DC:

  • The Hay – Adams (top rated 5* hotel)
  • Hotel Madera (top rated 4* hotel)
  • HighRoad Washington DC (top rated 3* hotel)

Best activities and tours in Washington DC :

  • National Mall Tour by Electric Vehicle (top rated tour!)
  • Taste of Georgetown Walking Food Tour
  • History Tour Pub Crawl

Things to do in Washington DC in winter

Watch the lighting of the national christmas tree.

national chirstmas tree

DC isn’t just home to any old Christmas tree lighting. Nope, this is the National Christmas Tree – that’s why its annual lighting is broadcast on CBS all over the USA . It’s also traditionally lit by the US president and first lady, so that’s something. 

As well as seeing the president up close and personal (or at least, as near as you’ll probably ever get), there are musical performances too and previous line-ups have included Shania Twain, H.E.R and LL Cool J.

Welcome in the Year of the Dragon at the Chinese New Year Parade

chinese new year washington dc

Washington DC is a great city to ring in Chinese New Year, and 2024 will be no exception as the Year of the Dragon begins.

Chinese New Year falls in early February next year, and there will be celebrations throughout the city. As well as celebrations in Chinatown, the city throws an annual Chinese New Year parade . This isn’t one to miss: expect large, decorative floats, Chinese folk dancers, firecrackers and more. 

Glide around the ice at Washington Harbour Ice Rink

washington harbour ice rink

Love getting out on the ice? You’re planning a trip to the right place. Ice skating is one of the best Washington DC winter activities by far.

There are a few different places to go skating, but the best by far is the Washington Harbour Ice Rink . It’s also the largest outdoor rink in the city, covering a whopping 12,000 square miles.

Take part in a snowball fight

winter activities washington dc

It doesn’t snow every winter in Washington DC. But when it does, it’s a proper treat.

So, if you’re lucky enough to visit when it’s snowing, make sure you join one of the city’s snowball fights! I’m not talking about joining some random people in the park – these are proper organised events hosted by the Washington DC Snowball Fight Association.

Yep, it’s a real thing. Make sure to follow their Facebook page for event announcements.

Explore the Downtown Holiday Market

downtown holiday market

I love a Christmas market. Tasty bites, warming drinks, quirky odds and ends on every corner. What more could you want?

DC’s Downtown Holiday Market has got all of that and more. With more than 70 exhibitors it’s a great place to do a bit of Christmas shopping. But it’s also a great place just to wander around, enjoy the music from live performers, and soak up the atmosphere.

Marvel at the Holiday Boat Parade

holiday boat parade

A different kind of festive parade than one you’ll normally see, don’t miss the Holiday Boat Parade when visiting Washington DC in December.

This event sees a succession of 60 brilliantly decorated boats sail along the Washington Channel, which you can view from the Wharf . It’s free to attend, and there’s tons of festivity on land too: from ornament (or face) decorating, to roasting s’mores, to sipping winter warmers.

Have the Christmas at Mount Vernon experience

mount vernon

Mount Vernon is actually in Alexandria, Virginia, but it’s a quick and simple trip from DC. Famous as the home of first US president George Washington and his wife, it’s one of the most frequently visited spots in the country.

At Christmas, this famous estate transforms into a winter wonderland with twinkling lights, festive activities and tours, even fireworks. 

Escape the cold at a museum

national portrait gallery, washington dc 1

Happen to be in DC on a day where temperatures reach the minuses? No problemo: this city has more than its fair share of museums to escape the cold in.

After all, with the Smithsonian Institute, you’re honestly spoiled for choice. Take your pick between the Air and Space Museum, the African American Museum, the Natural History Museum and many, many more. 

Or warm up in an art gallery

renwick gallery washington dc

If art is more to your taste, while away the time in one of the many galleries, also part of the Smithsonian Institute. Once again, there’s something for everyone: from modern art and sculpture at the Hirshhorn Museum to the African Art Museum or the Freer Gallery.

Outside of the Smithsonian, there’s the famous National Gallery of Art, home to pieces from Raphael to Leonardo da Vinci. 

Only in Washington for a few days? Check out my 3-day itinerary to pack in as many of the key attractions and landmarks as you can! 

Go sledding on Capitol Hill

washington dc in january

If – again, if – it snows on your trip, then this is an experience you won’t want to miss. Sledding from Capitol Hill is hands down one of the coolest Washington DC winter activities. I mean that literally and figuratively.

Now, even if it does snow, it’s not guaranteed you’ll be able to do this. Sledding at Capitol Hill is at the discretion of the AOC , but occasionally, if it snows enough, the West Front opens up during the day for wintery fun. Definitely keep an eye out!

Become a Human Hungry Hippo on Ice

hungry hippos washington dc

Ever played the Hungry Hippo board game? Well, here’s where you can bring it to life.

Taking place on the ice rink at The Wharf, Hungry Human Hippos is a tournament that takes place in January and February. Teams ride on inflatable tubes and compete to collect as many balls (representing food) as they can within their baskets.

You’ll need to be in the area for a while to actually compete, but definitely go and watch a game if you can.

Catch a classic at the Shakespeare Theatre

shakespeare theatre washington

First established in 1986, DC’s Tony award-winning Shakespeare Theatre has been reimagining the classics. It doesn’t just put on Shakespeare plays; it adapts and transforms them, sometimes so much so that they’re only Shakespearean in the deepest sense.

It’s pretty cool stuff. This December will see a 1960s rendition of As You Like It, so get tickets if you’re going to be around.

Commemorate Martin Luther King Junior Day

martin luther king jr day

Martin Luther King Junior Day takes place on the third Monday of January each year. It’s an important day in the USA’s cultural calendar, paying homage to one one of its most significant figures of all time.

Martin Kuther King Junior’s famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech was made from the Lincoln Steps in DC, so it’s particularly fitting to commemorate him here. The city does so accordingly with its annual Peace Walk and Parade, plus a service at the Washington National Cathedral.

Where to stay in Washington DC in Winter

Riggs washington dc .

where to stay in washington dc

Riggs is the hotel to head to if you want to while away your Washington winter in luxury. Named because it’s housed in the former building of the Riggs National Bank, guests enjoy opulent, spacious rooms and views out over Penn Quarter. 

washington dc hotels

Eaton DC is cosy and quirky, decked out in warm colours that’ll nicely contrast those pale winter skies. The hotel is home to on-site bars, restaurants and cafes, so there’s little need to venture back out into the cold after a busy day of exploring the city. 

hotel hive

Welcome to Hotel Hive, DC’s first micro hotel. With cosy, homey rooms, you’re all set for some downtime between exploring the city. As for the actual exploring part, it couldn’t be easier: landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial are just 900 metres from the front door.

Whether you’ve already visited Washington DC in the winter or you’re in the midst of planning a trip, tell me all about it in the comments!

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13 BEST Things to do in Washington DC in Winter

About the Author

Georgie Cunningham is a freelance content writer and strategist based in Bristol. When she’s not writing (or thinking about) content, she’s writing fiction, travelling, or chasing after her crazy cocker spaniel, Cosmo.

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25 Exciting Things to Do in Washington DC in Winter (+Tips for Visiting)

This post may contain affiliate links, view our disclosure policy .

Here’s our expert guide on the best things to do in Washington DC in winter! 

There’s something extra special about Washington DC in the winter as it’s transformed by beautiful, wintery landscapes and festive celebrations. 

In addition, the country’s Capitol Building and America’s most celebrated monuments look stunning under a blanket of freshly fallen snow.

In this post, we’ll guide you to the best winter activities in Washington DC as well as fill you in on tips for surviving Washington DC’s winter weather.

Look no further for a complete guide on the best things to do in Washington DC in winter!

The links on this page are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on the links and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Discover the best things to do in Washington DC in winter from top U.S. family travel blog, Travel With A Plan!

Table of Contents

Winter in Washington DC FAQS

A family trip to Washington DC is a  US bucket list destination  for many families, but you probably have some questions about visiting Washington DC in the winter.

Namely, “Am I going to freeze to death?”, “Are all of the popular Washington DC tourist attractions open in the winter”, and, “Are there any holiday activities in Washington DC that I should check out?”.

Those are all reasonable inquiries, so here’s what I can tell you…

How cold is Washington DC in the winter?

Winter in Washington DC lasts from the beginning of December to March 1st and is known to be very cold and snowy.

Washington DC’s winter temperatures range from highs of 48°F and sometimes drop to below 30°F.

The coldest month of the year in Washington DC is January, with an average low of 25°F and a high of 43°F.

In terms of snowfall, Washington DC averages 14 inches of snow per year ( the US average is 28 inches of snow per year ), with 75% of the city’s snow falling in January.

With that said, winter weather is hard to predict and it is crucial to be prepared with proper cold-weather clothing, including  base layers and  windproof/waterproof outer layers   (more on what to wear in Washington DC during winter at the end of the post).

Discover the best things to do in Washington DC in winter from top U.S. family travel blog, Travel With A Plan!

What Washington DC tourist attractions are open in the winter?

Generally speaking, all of Washington DC’s major tourist attractions are open every day in the winter, with the exception of being closed on December 25th (Christmas Day).

The National Mall (home of Washington DC’s monuments and memorials) is open to the public every day of the year, 24 hours a day.

Park rangers are on duty at monument and memorial sites from approximately 9 AM to 11 PM daily, except on December 25th.

The Smithsonian museums are open every day, except for December 25th, as well as the U.S. Capitol Building which is open every day except for Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Additional planning tip: DC tends to be unequipped to deal with large amounts of snow, so be prepared that certain transportation options and/or attractions may be closed due to inclement weather.

What holiday events are held in Washington DC?

There are multiple holiday activities held in Washington DC that you should check out if they match up with your visit!

Christmas in Washington DC welcomes The National Christmas Tree, holiday markets, one-of-a-kind light displays, and seasonal celebrations at Washington DCs most coveted attractions.

 Here are some of the best ways to experience the holidays in Washington DC.

Things to Do In Washington DC In Winter

If you’re planning a winter visit to Washington DC, there’s no limit on fun, winter activities available for the whole family to enjoy!

Washington DC transforms into a winter wonderland each year with lights, festivals, and family-friendly activities.

Make the most of your winter vacation with these 25 seasonal activities to enjoy in Washington DC!

*Along with discovering the best things to do in Washington DC in winter, check out our complete 7-day Washington DC family vacation itinerary that will help you plan your trip!

Looking for more winter travel content? Check out these related posts:

  • Things to Do in Estes Park in Winter (Adventures for the Whole Family!)
  • Best Warm Winter Vacations in the USA That You’ll Love
  • Chicago in Winter (Best Things to Do + 3-Day Itinerary!)
  • The Ultimate Winter Road Trip Packing List

Winter activities in Washington DC

1. Visit the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree

Each year, a different National Forest is selected to provide a 60-80 foot tree to appear on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol building for the holiday season. 

Beginning on varying dates in November, the tree’s journey can be tracked in real-time online at  capitoltreetracker.com as it makes its way to the Capitol Building.

Often referred to as “The People’s Tree”, the annual lighting of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is a time-honored tradition of more than 50 years.

Along with its dazzling lights, the tree is decorated with thousands of handmade ornaments from people of the state in which the tree came from.

The tree is lit from nightfall until 11 PM each evening through January 1st.

2. Go ice skating

One of my favorite things to do in Washington DC in winter is to visit a local ice skating rink for some nostalgic outdoor fun!

There are several public ice skating rinks that can be found in various neighborhoods throughout Washington DC, all of which provide rentals if you don’t have your own ice skates.

Here is a list of places to go ice skating in Washington DC:

  • National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Ice Rink
  • Washington Harbour Ice Rink
  • The Wharf Ice Rink

Washington DC’s outdoor ice skating rinks are open from late November until early March.

3. Experience Zoolights!

ZooLights is a free, ticketed event held at Washington DC’s Smithsonian Zoo from late November through the end of December.

It includes festive experiences such as live music performances, winter treats, and holiday shopping opportunities.

Plus, the zoo itself is illuminated in environmentally friendly LED lights and dozens of glowing animal lanterns making it feel like a true winter wonderland.

Do know, however, that ZooLights does not feature the zoo’s animals.

All indoor animal exhibits are closed to allow the animals to get a full night’s rest.

Additional planning tip: There is a flat-rate parking fee of $30/vehicle.

Visiting te National Christmas Tree is one of the best things to do in Washington DC in winter!

4. Admire The National Christmas Tree

The National Christmas tree is an actual, living tree planted in a 52-acre park called the Ellipse, located south of the White House. (This park is nicknamed President’s Park.)

Over the holiday season, this tree is decorated and a whole holiday extravaganza is set up around it including 56 smaller trees dedicated to each U.S. state and territory.

There is also a Santa’s workshop open at various times during the holiday season, as well as featured musical performances.

Another annual event, this one celebrating its 100th year, is the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony.

Free tickets to attend the National Christmas Tree Lighting in person are awarded through an online ticket lottery , however, it is also broadcasted on national television.

Visit The National Christmas Tree Lighting website for more information.

5. Visit the U.S. Botanic Garden

The United States Botanic Garden has beautiful exhibits year-round, though their holiday offerings are extra spectacular, in my opinion. 

From late November to January 2nd, visit their “Season’s Greenings” holiday exhibit for gorgeous poinsettia displays, circling model trains, and spectacular holiday decor. 

Additional planning tip: The gardens get extremely busy on weekends throughout the holidays.

For fewer crowds and a more tranquil experience, try visiting on a weekday. 

6. Have an epic snowball fight 

The Washington DC Snowball Fight is a hilarious tradition that takes place at random times throughout the winter on the lawn of the National Mall.

Put on by the Washington DC Snowball Fight Association, locals and tourists gather for a huge snowball fight with fun and competitive spirit as a common theme.

Additional planning tip: Check out the Washington DC Snowball Fight Association on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for their organized events as they do not have a website.

Washington DC in winter; visit the museums!

7. Visit the Smithsonian’s

If you’re looking for warm, indoor activities when visiting Washington DC in winter, be sure to explore one or more of Washington DC’s (always free!) Smithsonian Museums.

Open every day of the year, except for Christmas, this world-renowned museum and research complex consists of  17 museums and galleries  in Washington, DC, including the National Zoo.

Each year, Smithsonian Gardens’ staff designs and installs gorgeous trees and holiday decorations for the museums in true holiday fashion.

For additional entertainment, head to the National Museum of American History the first weekend in December to attend the Smithsonian Holiday Festival.

Here, visitors can enjoy free live music, food history demonstrations, book signings, and holiday treats.

Discover the best things to do in Washington DC in winter from top U.S. family travel blog, Travel With A Plan!

8. Shop at holiday markets 

There are plenty of opportunities to buy unique, handcrafted gifts at one of Washington DC’s Christmas markets.

Located in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery building, the Downtown Holiday Market is a great place to start in finding unique treasures and holiday treats. 

If you’re not all shopped out, head over to the Dupont Circle Chriskindlmarkt to browse their unique, artisan-made goods. 

This German-style Christmas market is a must-do if visiting Washington DC in the winter!

Other Washington DC Christmas markets ( many of which are only held for a weekend or two ) include:

  • Van Ness Holiday Pop-Up Shop (normally held the 2nd weekend in December)
  • GRUMP Holiday Market at the National Zoo (normally held the 1st weekend in December)
  • Four Seasons Holiday Market (every Friday-Sunday in December)
  • Upshur Street Craft Fair (normally held the 2nd weekend in December)

6. Experience DC Winter Restaurant Week 

DC Winter Restaurant Week , which is typically held in January, is an awesome way to sample local restaurants. 

Visiting patrons can enjoy multi-course set menus, wine pairings, take-out options, and more at some of the district’s most beloved restaurants. 

The event encourages locals and tourists alike to sample the best food that DC has to offer – so you know that participating restaurants are going to pull out all the stops to create amazing dining experiences. 

10. Visit important U.S. landmarks

Part of what makes Washington DC so interesting is all of the historic monuments that honor American history.

Even if visiting Washington DC in winter, be sure to spend time on the National Mall visiting some of the most important landmarks in the United States.  (Just be sure to bundle up when doing so, as they are all outside.)

Some must-see landmarks include:

  • Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial 
  • Korean War Veterans Memorial
  • Lincoln Memorial 
  • Jefferson Memorial
  • WWII Memorial
  • Library of Congress
  • United States Capitol
  • Washington Monument 

11. Enjoy a boat cruise

Celebrate the season on the water with a holiday boat cruise. 

DC has several boat tours and cruises available, like the Winter Lights Dinner Cruise .

View sparkling holiday lights amongst the district’s most famous landmarks on a cruise down the Potomac River.  

12. Attend winter events at The Wharf

The Wharf is filled with holiday cheer each December with plenty of events to keep the whole family busy. 

Go skating at their seasonal ice rink, watch the lighting of the Christmas tree, or view the district’s annual Holiday Boat Parade. 

One of the best things to do in Washington DC in winter is to visit Mount Vernon!

13. Experience Mount Vernon by candlelight

A trip to George Washington’s Mount Vernon is well worth the drive, especially during the holidays. 

Here, guests will enjoy a candlelit tour of the residence while learning about holiday traditions of the past in 18th-century Virginia. 

You’ll enjoy fresh-baked bread, spiced cider, holiday carols, and more along this very special tour. 

Something about Christmas is so nostalgic and celebrating it in this little time capsule seems appropriate. 

14. Be enchanted!

If you’re looking for a completely immersive holiday experience, be sure to visit Washington DC’s Enchant Christmas.

This event, where you can explore an amazing, story-themed light maze with lighted tunnels and Christmas trees, is held at Nationals Park (Washington DC’s major league baseball stadium).

There is also ice skating through the lights (skates provided!) and a huge Christmas village for you to tour. 

In The Village, you’ll find Christmas crafts, holiday food, and lots of festive spirits!

Kids will love meeting Santa, playing at the Little Elves Play Place, and listening to live music. 

15. Brunch with Santa

Visit the Kennedy Center for their annual Brunch with Santa event!

Families can celebrate the Christmas season with brunch at The Roof Terrace Restaurant.

Here, enjoy yummy eats amongst gorgeous holiday decor and jazz music. 

Kids will get to meet Santa and pose for a sweet photo memento. 

Additional planning tip: Brunch with Santa is a reservation-only event, so make sure to plan ahead!

16. Explore CityCenterDC

DC’s cosmopolitan downtown neighborhood, called CityCenter DC, offers a mix of exciting restaurant options, high-end shopping, and plenty of must-see museums.

It’s the perfect spot for an afternoon of shopping and exploration. 

This winter, enjoy City Center events , including live music and sugary pop-ups!

17. Experience ICE!

Visitors of ICE! at the Gaylord Resort will be transported into the world of “A Christmas Story” with their life-sized ice sculpture exhibit. 

Enjoy 10 scenes from this Christmas classic created from over 2 million pounds of ice!

18. See a live holiday performance

If you’re interested in making a really special holiday memory on your trip to Washington DC, I recommend that you see a live show!

Get tickets for the Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theater for Christmas entertainment you will never forget. 

This is one of the top things to do in Washington DC in winter because it’s both nostalgic and festive.

19. Enjoy the Chinese New Year Parade

Lunar New Year, a celebration known in China as the “Spring Festival,” begins on February 1st.

On January 22nd, you can watch the DC Chinese New Year Parade to celebrate the Lunar New Year! 

The parade includes a spectacular collection of performances, colors, and booming drums for an experience you won’t forget. 

There are also several other ways to celebrate the Lunar New Year happening around the city.

Find a full list of activities here. 

20. Celebrate Freedom’s Eve

This December, celebrate Freedom’s Eve with the African American History Museum . 

On December 31st, the museum celebrates the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation with educational activities. 

Additional planning tip: Participation is free though registration is required. 

21. Attend a Gingerbread Workshop

Tudor Place, a federal-style mansion previously owned by George Washington, hosts an annual gingerbread house workshop .

Guests get to enjoy a brief, kid-friendly tour of Tour Place before building their own house, cottage or mansion at the gingerbread workshop.

This event, along with the Tudor House Candlelight Tours, sells out fast, so do plan ahead.

22. Marvel at Georgetown’s GLOW

GLOW is a free , outdoor light art experience that is held annually from the end of November through the end of February.

Featuring national and international artists, GLOW features innovative light art installations that remain on display (for 8 weeks) throughout the Georgetown commercial district.

Cupid’s Undies Run is an annual 1-mile run/dancing party that raises money for people affected by NF, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on nerve endings.

Join thousands of runners from all across the U.S. as they run in their undies to support this great cause.

24. Go sledding down Capitol Hill

Since 2016, families have been allowed to go sledding down Capitol Hill during daylight hours.

Opt for sleds that are easy to control and steer as the hill can get busy, so being able to control your sled is important.

Also, be sure to listen to any directions provided by the United States Capitol Police who are monitoring the snow activities on the hill.

25. Take a winter hike

Surprisingly still busy in the winter time, head to local Rock Creek Park for a gorgeous winter hike.

This park, managed by the National Park Service, is open from sunrise to sunset every single day of the year.

What to Pack for Washington DC in the Winter

Winter weather is notoriously unpredictable, and vacationing in Washington DC is no exception.

Strategic layering will ensure that you stay dry (or dry quickly) and protected from the wind and snow, while still being able to explore comfortably.

When visiting Washington DC in the winter, we recommend wearing a  merino wool base layer  underneath your clothing every day during your trip.

Avoid non-insulating fabrics like cotton, and remember that natural fibers are pretty much always better than manmade textiles like polyester.

After your base layer, you’ll need to add on at least 1 additional layer before your outerwear, like a pair of pants and a pullover or sweater.

Also, don’t forget the following items when visiting Washington DC in winter:

  • Base layer  (as mentioned above)
  • Mid layers (i.e. fleece pullover, sweater)
  • Warm winter coat
  • Warm, waterproof walking boots
  • Merino wool neck gaiter
  • Warm winter gloves
  • Warm hat or headband

Best Places to Stay in Washington DC in Winter

If you want to stay within the city and potentially avoid having to rent a car, I recommend staying in a hotel that is within walking distance of the National Mall.

Convenient, family-friendly hotels in Washington DC include:

  • Residence Inn by Marriott at Washington, DC National Mall  – 5-minute walk to the National Mall, indoor pool, kitchens with full-sized refrigerators/freezers and microwaves, complimentary evening reception, and complimentary buffet breakfast.
  • Hampton Inn Washington DC/White House  – 10-minute walk to the National Mall, complimentary breakfast and an indoor pool, and several dining options nearby.
  • Holiday Inn Washington Capitol  – 5-minute walk from the National Mall, outdoor rooftop pool, and an onsite convenience store.
  • Washington Marriott at Metro Center  – 10- minute walk to the National Mall, heated indoor pool, onsite restaurants, and a Starbucks.

If you’re open to staying outside of the city and taking the Metro into the heart of Washington DC, consider staying in its surrounding cities.

Hotels near Washington, DC in these areas sometimes have free parking and are usually more affordable than those downtown.

  • Hotels in Alexandria, Virginia  (Home of the  free  King Street Trolley)
  • Hotels in Bethesda, Maryland
  • Hotels in Crystal City, Arlington, Virginia

Conclusion: Things to do in Washington DC in winter

Winter is such a wonderful time to experience a new city because you get to enjoy festive celebrations that are only available during the chilly months.

The weather is also wonderful for celebrating wintertime because it’s fairly mild, with the chance for snow to upgrade your festive outings!

Exploring Washington DC in winter is an incredible winter holiday that you and your family will talk about for years to come!

What are you most looking forward to about your winter getaway to Washington DC? Jen

* Before leaving, be sure to check our  Travel Resources Page  to find exclusive travel discounts and to book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours.*

washington dc places to visit in winter

Jen Brommer is a family travel expert. She has been featured as an authority on several notable travel websites and is a member of the Family Travel Association (FTA), Midwest Travel Network, and TravMedia global media network.

A prominent content creator and influencer on Instagram, Jen has over 150K unique monthly blog readers from countries all over the world. She has spent the last 16 years planning fun, and hassle-free family vacations for her family of 5.

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Washington DC in winter is a festive delight! From the National Christmas Tree to seasonal celebrations at iconic attractions, there’s plenty to do for the whole family. Plus, the city takes on a special beauty under a blanket of snow. If you’re planning a winter trip, be sure to pack your parka and walking shoes – you’ll be doing lots of exploring!

I am impressed to see plenty of things to do in Washington DC in winter. This Christmas tree in the US Capital building quite divine. The American Museum of Natural History is attractive as well. Of course, exploring the Christmas Market is also on my list.

Great! I’m so glad that you found this to be a helpful list! Happy travels!

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Ways to Make the Most of Winter in Washington, DC

The nation’s capital is full of winter whimsy with holiday celebrations, date night delights and plenty of free events and things to do..

Wintertime is always the right time to visit DC. When the temperatures drop, the District heats up with dazzling light displays, seasonal deals, warm and comforting drinks and so much more. Plan the best vacation ever and discover holiday magic in Washington, DC. 

Discover free things to see and do galore

There’s a wealth of free winter activities in the nation’s capital, making it a great destination to celebrate any winter holiday. From jaw-dropping displays to can't-miss shopping markets, DC features plenty of free events and things to do that are sure to inspire winter wonder.

The holidays mean can’t-miss events and light displays

The National Christmas Tree on Christmas Day in Washington, DC - Holiday Light Displays and Winter Events in DC

Richard Ricciardi

When the winter holidays roll around, DC might as well be the North Pole. A visit to the city from late November through New Year’s Eve isn't complete without a visit to these one-of-a-kind seasonal displays and events , including the National Christmas Tree, countless holiday markets and so much more.

Find the perfect gift at a holiday market

Downtown Holiday Market by Interstellar Studios

Shop ‘til you drop at all of the magical holiday marketplaces that can be enjoyed virtually and in-person this season. Find a special, thoughtful gift that the big retail stores can’t offer at the  Downtown Holiday Market  (through Dec. 23), peruse artisanal selections in Heurich House and DC Brau's online Hoptimist Holiday Market (through Dec. 11) and check out offerings from specialized vendors and savor hot chocolate at Victura Park at The REACH (through Dec. 20). 

Woo your boo with the perfect DC-themed date night

Putting together a special evening for Valentine’s Day (or any day, for that matter) is priority number one – and the nation’s capital shines as a  date night destination  with its scenic monuments, award-winning dining scene and outstanding attractions. Enjoy a wonderful  DC-themed date night , whether safely exploring the town or chilling at home.

Take advantage of seasonal deals in the District

DC hotels, attractions and restaurants are offering an array of seasonal deals for you to take advantage of this winter. Book an unforgettable  holiday hotel stay  and check out what  discounts and deals  businesses are offering during your visit.

Lace up your skates and triple axel 'round the District at these ice skating rinks.

National Gallery of Art Ice Skating

The National Gallery of Art

DC’s year-round temps are pretty moderate, but during the winter – when cold Canadian winds whistle down the Potomac and Anacostia rivers – Washingtonians bundle up for a day (or a night) on the ice. Public ice skating rinks can be found in multiple neighborhoods in DC proper, so check out the best places to hit the ice in the nation's capital. 

Snow day? Snow problem.

Winter sledding at the United States Capitol Grounds - Snow day activities and things to do in Washington, DC

Winter sledding at the United States Capitol Grounds - Snow day activities and things to do in Washington, DC

Even major blizzards don’t stop District residents and visitors from donning their snow gear and taking to the streets to play. Check out these snow day must-dos the next time you encounter a snowstorm in the nation’s capital – and remember to be careful when venturing out into the cold!

Check out what's going on during the week, weekend and month

Throughout the winter, make sure to read our rundowns of what to do during the  week ,  weekend  and  month . Options range from safe, in-person activities to wondrous, at-home entertainment.

Fires to cozy up to

@_kassi333 - Top of the Gate Rooftop Bar at The Watergate Hotel - Restaurants and Bars with Outdoor Fires in Washington, DC

@_kassi333

If you’re not fortunate enough to have a fireplace at home or space for a bonfire in the backyard, no worries – these bars and restaurants in the District have you covered with roaring fireplaces, warm wood-fired ovens and outdoor fire pits. So mosey on over to these prime spots for getting cozy , shake off the  brr  of fall and winter and warm up with an open fire and dishes and drinks sure to satisfy the appetite.

Attend a Washington Capitals Hockey Game

Alexander Ovechkin Celebrating Goal at Washington Capitals Hockey Game at Capital One Arena - Professional Sports in Washington, DC

Washington Capitals

Attending a  Washington Capitals  game is a time-honored tradition in DC's  Penn Quarter/Chinatown neighborhood . Thousands of fans flock to the  Capital One Arena  41 times between October and April, rocking the red to root on the Caps. In 2018, the team won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. As the team embarks on another quest for the Cup, check out our favorite reasons to attend a game. You can also  purchase specially discounted tickets  that come with a Capitals hat.

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20+ Fun Winter Things to Do In Washington, DC

Winter can be a little tough in DC between the holidays and cherry blossom season. But there are still plenty of events, fireside drinks, and places to explore. Here are 20 ways to have fun this winter!

Indoor Adventure

Lights Out: Recovering Our Night Sky : As we embrace longer nights for a few more months, now is a great time to learn more about the night sky. Head to the Natural History Museum for a look at how artificial light has impacted our view of the night sky throughout history.

The Botanic Gardens near the US Capitol Building is a great place to warm up this winter. Enjoy a beautiful green space, including the warm, tropical area with a canopy walk. Transport yourself to other warm-weather areas with plants from Hawaii and desserts from around the world.

Plant and Book Swaps at Atlas Brew Works : Atlas Brew Works in Ivy City will host a plant swap (January 7) and a book swap (January 14). Bring plants and gardening supplies (and books!) to trade with others. Look out for more events to be added in February and March. 

Tour the National Gallery of Art : Something about colorful art always warms me up. Enjoy tours of the National Gallery of Art almost every day and multiple times. Tours options include the West Building, the East Building, and specific collections and themes. Tours are free and run about 1 hour.

DC Mural Tours at Union Market : Explore the murals of NoMa every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 11 am to 1 pm. Tickets are $30 per person, $125 for a group of 5, and $200 for a group of 10. Grab your friends and explore the neighborhood!

Take a Tour of the Franciscan Monastery : Explore the Monastery church, learn the history, and see the Roman catacomb replicas! The Franciscan Monastery in Brookland offers tours year-round but since most of it is inside, winter is a great time to visit. Tours are offered Monday to Saturday at 1 and 2 pm plus Sunday at 12 and 1:30. Online reservations are highly recommended because the tour will not run if there are no online bookings. Tours are free but donations are appreciated.

Catch a Planetarium Show at the Air and Space Museum : Cozy up to learn about the night sky at the Air and Space Museum. Check out World’s Beyond Earth (every hour on the half-hour) and Dark Universe (every hour on the hour). Plus, learn about planets and stars visible in our area with The Sky Tonight at 10:30 am on the first and third Saturday of the Month (free). Take the kids to One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure at 10:30 am on Thursday and Sunday (free). You can check show descriptions and times on the website but tickets are only available in person.

Restaurant Weeks

DC Winter Restaurant Week : Winter Restaurant Week is scheduled for January 15-21. Find three dinner price points ($40, $55, $65) and brunch/lunch deals for $25 and $35. Look out for some deals that include wine pairings or a cocktail.

Alexandria Restaurant Week : Celebrate Winter Restaurant Week in Alexandria from January 19-28 with $30, $40, and $50 deals per person. Over 70 restaurants are participating and many offer heated, outdoor seating. 

Falls Church Restaurant Week : Falls Church has organized its first Restaurant Week with 40 restaurants! Look out for a variety of deals and celebrate the opening on 4 new spots in the area: Nue, Chasin’ Tails, Roll Play, and The Falls.

Savor Beth esda : Miss the January restaurant weeks? Head to Bethesda from February 16 to 25 for deals at $10, $20, and $30. This is a great time to try a new spot on a budget.

Cozy Spaces

Explore the Metropolitan Beer Trail: The Metropolitan Beer Trail has a variety of cozy spaces. Metrobar always offers a great list of mocktails but join them in January for a special Dry January menu. Plus, check out their calendar for more events like trivia, live music nights, and more. Then, head over to Dew Drop Inn for a cozy indoor space plus hot drinks during the colder months.

The Wharf : Head to The Wharf from Wednesday to Sunday in the evenings to roast marshmallows and build smores over a fire pit. Plus, enjoy the ice rink open through February 25. $13 per adult plus $8 for skate rentals.

Ice Skating and Parks

Sky Meadows State Park : Sky Meadows in Deplane, Virginia is a little over an hour from downtown DC. It is filled the hiking trails and places to enjoy a picnic that can be enjoyed in any season. Plus, the astronomy program continues through winter on January 13, February 3, and March 16. Start times vary depending on the sunset.  

Picnic at the National Arboretum : Bundle up and grab a picnic table in the Grove of State Trees at the National Arboretum. There are trash bins and plenty of parking and nearby. Pack your own food or stop at Roaming Rooster (3176 Bladensburg Rd NE) for chicken sandwiches on your way there.  Roaming Rooster lets you choose your spice level so it’s perfect for kids and picky eaters. After you finish eating, enjoy the Capitol columns or head over to the Asian Gardens which looks beautiful in any season. Plus, you can also enjoy views of the Anacostia River which can be hauntingly beautiful on a crispy winter day. 

Picnic on the National Mall : Enjoy monument views and thinner crowds on the mall this year. There are several places to grab food on your way over to the mall, but one of my favorite spots is Grilled Cheese DC right next to the White House. Enjoy many options for grown-up grilled cheese with loaded mac & cheese or tomato soup. It’s a perfect option for both kids and adults. Open Monday-Saturday 11 am to 7:30 pm. 

Ice Skating at the Sculpture Garden : Enjoy skating at the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art on the National Mall open daily through March 3. Skating times are 45 minutes long and start on the hour. Buy two sessions for $12 plus $6 skate rentals.  

Ice Skating in Reston : Enjoy outdoor ice skating in Reston through March as weather permits. 90-minutes of skate time can be reserved for $11 plus $7 for skate rentals. Advanced reservations are highly recommended. 

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All the things you MUST Do in DC this Winter

Tours, festivals, ways to stay warm.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Washington DC is a fun and family-friendly city to visit year-round. There are plenty of fun and free things to do all around the city, and this is your guide to enjoying the best of DC this winter.

  • 1. Take a Tour
  • 2. Join a Race
  • 3. Go to the Lantern Festival
  • 4. See a Show

5. Celebrate the Holidays

6. enjoy a game, 7. hit the ice.

  • 8. Visit the Botanical Gardens

9. Explore a Market

10. head indoors.

  • What to Pack
  • Holidays & Festivals

DC by Foot runs tours every day, year round - even in the snow (not that we get much). We visit museums and attend holiday events with our families and with tour guests! We'll share our own favorite things to do in Winter throughout the post.

TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN DC IN WINTER

1.   take a tour.

DC offers some amazing tours all around the city, especially our walking tours!

Our tours are a great way to explore the city's main attractions like Capitol Hill , the National Mall , and Arlington Cemetery .

Best Tours to Take in Winter:

  • Capitol & Library of Congress - most of this tour is indoors!
  • Holiday Lights & Georgetown Glow - these two tours only run in winter
  • National Mall - did you know crisp air makes for better photos?
  • Arlington National Cemetery - there are enough hills to keep you warm

Explore DC by Boat, Bus, Segway, and Bike

If you’re not up for walking, there are many ways to explore the city.

  • DC Boat Tours & Cruises
  • DC Bus Tours
  • Segway Tours

2. Join a Race!

DC loves hosting races, and you can join one this winter to warm up and work off those holiday treats!

Running a race in DC is a unique experience as you jog (or in my case walk) past the memorials and monuments.

All ages and abilities are encouraged to attend, and below is a list of some you can join:

  • Reindeer Romp 5K/10K
  • JFK 20K & 5K
  • Four Courts Four Miles

3. See the Lantern Festival

Tyson's Corner (a Washington DC suburb in Virginia) will host a Winter Lantern Festival. 

This free display will feature over 100 lanterns made up of over 10,000 LED lights, all made by Chinese artisans.

Featuring pandas, flamingos, sea creatures, tigers and dragons - this is fun event for all ages.

4. See a Show!

DC has a number of great shows throughout the year, and winter is no exception. As the weather dips and afternoons and evenings get a little chilly, retire into a theater for an incredible show.

With a number of amazing venues around the city, there are plenty of shows for every taste.

Here are some performances visiting Washington, DC this winter:

  • Ricky Skaggs | January 6th, 7th
  • Judy Collins | January 8th
  • Vonda Shephard | January 11th (Annapolis)
  • America | January 14th
  • Chaka Khan | January 15th
  • Kenny Lattimore | January 15th
  • Ben Rector | January 24th, 25th
  • Ne-Yo/NSO Pops | January 27th, January 28th
  • Slenderbodies | January 26th
  • Mandy Patinkin | January 28th (North Bethesda)
  • Jodeci | February 11th
  • Carrie Underwood | February 15th
  • The Judds | February 17th
  • Danny Ocean | February 18th
  • Shawn Colvin/Marc Cohn/Sarah Jarosz | February 19th
  • Morgan Wade | February 21st, 26th
  • Travis Tritt | February 21st, 22nd

For a list of more things to do at night in DC this winter, check out our Things to Do at Night post.

DC lights up for the holidays! We have a number of fun things to do around the city for all ages, no matter what holidays you're celebrating this winter.

Below are some other ways to spend the holidays in DC:

  • See the National Christmas Tree and Menorah lit up.
  • The District’s Holiday Boat Parade (Read our Christmas Lights in DC post for some tips about attending this event!)
  • Attend a kid-friendly New Year's celebration at First Night Alexandria.
  • Ring in the New Year with the  Chinese New Year Parade

Washington, DC has a number of great sports teams so there's one to cheer on no matter when you come to visit.

There are a number of winter sports that take place in DC, so grab a ticket and get out there and cheer them on!

Our Washington Capitals   hockey  team and  Washington Wizards basketball team play a number of games this winter at the Capital One Arena.

You can also catch a Washington Commanders   football game while visiting DC this winter!

DC doesn't get too cold in the winter, unlike more northern places like New York and Chicago.  This makes it the perfect place to ice skate during the winter!

There are a number of ice rinks around DC to enjoy this winter, on our map and post.

One of my favorite things to do in winter is ice skating at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. It's a past time winter activity in a beautiful setting. - DC Tour Guide Erica

8. Visit the United States Botanic Gardens Displays

Every year this free attraction gets into the local holiday spirit with all natural decorations.

The miniature train exhibit is popular with all ages but especially kids.

My kids would visit the Botanic Gardens every day in December if I let them. We have a great time learning about different farm practices from around the world in the train displays.

You'll also find replicas of landmarks like the US Capitol Building, White House, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Supreme Court and more made out of ecological materials.

DC has many great markets to explore.

Some are year-round, like Eastern Market and Union Market, and some are holiday pop-up ones.

I LOVE the Downtown Holiday Market outside the National Portrait Gallery. It is my favorite place to buy gifts for the holidays with all the unique local vendors. There is always live music and good snacks (Miguels Mini Donuts!!). - DC Tour Guide Dan

These are great for getting holiday shopping done, trying delicious foods, and warming up with some hot chocolate or cider! 

  • Eastern Market is near the Capitol , making it the perfect market to visit before or after your Capitol Hill tour .
  • Union Market is largely indoors, with lots of food options, the perfect place to grab lunch!
  • Downtown DC Holiday Market  is located near the National Portrait Gallery and will showcase over 180 vendors. 

Sometimes the weather in winter doesn't cooperate and heading indoors is the best bet.

Luckily, we have no shortage of museums in DC.

With the exception of Christmas Day and New Years Day, museums are open daily.

What happens when it snows? Museums WILL open if they have the ability to do so safely. I can only recall once or twice where none of the museums were able to open.

There are actually dozens, if not hundreds museums in DC, read about all of the museums in DC here. But some of the most popular:

  • National Museum of American History
  • National Air and Space Museum
  • National Museum of Natural History
  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • International Spy Museum
  • National Museum of African American History & Culture

Look into a Tourist Discount Pass 

Even though there are so many free things to do in Washington DC, some of the highlights do have admission costs.

To save money, we recommend purchasing a  tourist discount pass .

Some of the best things to do in this winter are included in at least one if not more of the passes:

  • Hillwood Estate & Gardens
  • Potomac River Cruise
  • Mount Vernon
  • Bike Rentals

Get free admission to our tours and many top DC attractions with a  Tourist Discount Pass.

PACKING GUIDE FOR WINTER IN DC

Packing to go to a city you've never been to can feel daunting- how much is too much? There's also the fear of meeting unexpected weather and not having packed something essential. Below are some FAQ about packing we want to answer for you:

  • Does it rain a lot in the winter?  DC sees few rainy days in the winter and only a few inches of snow. We recommend packing an umbrella in case you're caught outside on one of the few rainy days. 
  • What to pack:   We recommend packing a winter coat, like a peacoat, and comfortable, warm shoes like boots. You won't be seeing a lot of snow so no need for snow boots. We also recommend hats, scarves, and gloves! We have a post on  weather in DC  if you'd like to read more in-depth.
  • Be sure to bring a reusable water bottle with you.  Most memorials on the National Mall have bathrooms and water fountains that are perfectly safe to drink. Museums also have special fountains to make filling up reusable bottles easier. This is a much cheaper alternative to buying bottles of water wherever you go, as sometimes the kiosks on the Mall charge up to $3/bottle!
  • Going out for a drink or nice restaurant in the evening?  If you've been walking around outside all day it might be best to pack along a nice change of clothes, although most dining establishments DC are pretty casual. Still, if you're going to a more swanky place, dressing up a bit is best.

We have a  monthly post  section below if you want to read up more on the specifics of the weather to better decide what clothes to bring on your winter trip to DC.

HOLIDAYS & FESTIVALS

Winter in DC is full of festivals and holiday celebrations. There's a festival for everyone, for all interests and ages. Below are a list of our most popular winter festivals as well as links to Things to Do for winter holidays:

  • Christmas in DC
  • Hillwood Russian Winter Festival
  • Christmas at Mount Vernon
  • Lunar New Year
  • Official DC Cocktail Festival

MONTHLY POSTS

To learn more about what do to in specific months here in Washington, DC, click the links below:

  • December  ( weather )
  • January  ( weather )
  • February  ( weather )

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washington dc places to visit in winter

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Things to Do in Washington DC in Winter

WASHINGTON DC IS AMAZING IN WINTER! At this time of year, you’ll get to enjoy all the same sites of historic, cultural and architectural significance that you would at any other time… but with the added benefit of heaps of festive fun alongside. And if you’re lucky enough to visit when the city is blanketed in snow, as it usually is throughout part of January and February, you’ll find that some of the most famous places here are even more beautiful than you could have imagined. Walk along the National Mall after some heavy snowfall and you’ll soon wonder how it could ever be any other way. However, if you’d prefer to wait until spring, check out our  Springtime in Washington blog .

washington dc places to visit in winter

Beyond the boundaries of Washington DC itself, but still within easy driving distance, there are parts of Virginia that look absolutely breath-taking in winter. Our  Taste of DC/VA Tour  takes in major highlights from DC and Virginia, while the  Taste of DC/VA Twilight Combo Tour  showcases some of the area’s most impressive attractions as the sun is setting. In the winter, a twilight tour is an even more magical experience than at any other time of year.  

Here, we round up some of the sights and activities to look forward to on your winter trip to Washington DC. 

Holiday Lights in Washington DC

The fact it gets dark early in winter in Washington DC doesn’t matter a bit, as the daylight is replaced each evening by an array of twinkling fairy lights throughout the city.

One of the best places to experience the magic of these festive lights is The Ellipse. Each year, the official start of the holiday season is marked here by the lighting of the huge National Christmas Tree and the little trees (each one representing a different state) that surround it. Close by is the National Menorah, another impressive sight. The first candle is lit each year on December 12, with another candle lit each evening throughout Hanukkah. 

The Smithsonian National Zoo also puts lots of effort into its holiday lights. As well as the obligatory fairy lights, there are colorful light shows and live music events here in the winter evenings too. The zoo isn’t usually open in the evening, so these late openings are rare treats. 

Christmas at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Mount Vernon was the estate of the first US President, George Washington, and he and his wife Martha are buried here. The house and its grounds are appropriately grand for a place that has played such a crucial role in US history, and all kinds of events are held here throughout the year. In the run-up to Christmas, the estate hosts a special festive program, including fireworks shows and candlelight tours. And of course, the house is all dressed up in its finest Christmas clothes at this time of year, with traditional decorations, twinkling lights and a lovely tree making it look more inviting than ever.

Ice Skating in Washington DC

Outdoor ice rinks spring up across many cities during the festive season, and Washington DC is no different, with some great options to choose from. 

The biggest ice rink in Washington DC is the one at Washington Harbour. It’s open well into the evening all through the winter and doesn’t even close for Christmas Day. Various classes for kids and themed nights for everyone make this a fun place for skaters of all ages and abilities to enjoy the ice.

Another popular choice is the ice rink in the sculpture garden of the National Gallery of Art. Here, you can skate amidst artworks by the likes of Louise Bourgeois and Roy Lichtenstein, which make for a pretty novel (and pleasingly surreal) experience. And when you get too cold, you can warm up by heading into the incredible gallery itself. 

washington dc places to visit in winter

Christmas Events in Washington DC

One of the top Christmas events in Washington DC is the Downtown Holiday Market, where over a hundred local artisans come together to sell their work. Naturally, jolly Christmas spirit abounds, but a trip here is more than just a fun way of getting into the festive mood; it’s also a wonderful opportunity to pick up genuinely unique handmade gifts.

If you get the chance, it’s also well worth going to see a show during the festive season. There’s a rich array of theater to choose from at this time of year, from the traditional performances at the National Shakespeare Theatre to the more modern ones at the Warner Theater, and plenty in between.  

Of course, this is just a fraction of what’s on offer in Washington DC in winter.  Take a look at our tours  for further inspiration.  

washington dc places to visit in winter

10 Best Things to Do This Winter in Washington DC

What to do in the winter in washington, dc.

Washington, DC in winter is truly a wonderland with tons of things on offer for visitors, from skating rinks and holiday markets to pageants and boat parades. If you're looking for something unique and memorable to take your holiday to the next level, a trip to the U.S. capital is a great idea to consider.

Whether you're looking for a romantic getaway with your beloved or a family holiday trip, you're sure to find a way to make memories here to last a lifetime. Check out some of the best things to do this winter in Washington , DC to make the most out of your visit to the nation's capital.

Downtown Holiday Market

Shop tents full of holiday vendors.

washington dc places to visit in winter

The Downtown Holiday Market is held right in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and offers dozens of vendors with eclectic wares and live entertainment. You can catch local and national music acts performing Christmas music while you find that perfect gift for your beloved among aisle after aisle of tents filled with holiday treasures.

If you get hungry along the way, you can grab handmade mini-doughnuts and locally roasted coffee to snack on. This market is a core part of the District's holiday tradition and is a scene that's not to be missed. It's in Penn Quarter, just 5 minutes from central downtown Washington.

Location: F St NW &, 8th St NW, Washington, DC 20004, USA

photo by Elvert Barnes ( CC BY-SA 2.0 ) modified

The Pageant of Peace

Witness the lighting of the national tree.

washington dc places to visit in winter

The Pageant of Peace is a tradition that's gone on for nearly a century and features a wealth of entertainers and miniature decorated trees representing all 50 states. The entertainment festival highlight is the illumination of the National Christmas Tree, and the displays stay lit for several weeks. The celebration features musical acts, speakers, and even visits from Santa and his reindeer.

This family-friendly event is one of the biggest parties of the year. You can wander through the trees and get lost in the holiday spirit. It all takes place on the White House Lawn, and getting tickets requires entering a lottery that closes in October.

Location: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500, USA

washington dc places to visit in winter

US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC

washington dc places to visit in winter

10 Best Places to See Live Music in Washington DC

washington dc places to visit in winter

National Museum of American History in Washington DC

Sculpture garden ice rink, go skating among life-sized modern art sculptures.

washington dc places to visit in winter

The opening of the Sculpture Garden Ice Rink at the National Gallery of Art kicks off the ice-skating season and draws thousands to skate surrounded by works of modern art. The enormous and lifelike sculptures are created by some of the most notable artists around, including such names as Alexander Calder, Roxy Paine, Louise Bourgeois, among others.

You're sure to get in the holiday spirit as you glide around in the sculpture garden surrounded by the majesty of national monuments and museums. If you get in on the first weekend, you can even get a coupon for a free cup of hot cocoa. It's just about 10 minutes from the heart of downtown.

Location: Constitution Ave NW &, 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20408, USA

photo by AgnosticPreachersKid ( CC BY-SA 3.0 ) modified

Christmas at Mount Vernon

See how george and martha washington celebrated.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Christmas at Mount Vernon is an annual festival that lets you see how George and Martha Washington may have celebrated the holidays at their traditional home in the 1700s. The celebration goes on from late November through December with a wide range of activities, including a candlelit tour of the manor and discussion of 18th-century Virginia traditions, a Christmas illumination light festival, and more.

Mount Vernon is technically not located in DC, but in Virginia. It's about 35 minutes from downtown Washington by car, but it is very much worth the journey to see the historic home of the first U.S. president and learn about colonial and early U.S. holiday traditions.

Location: 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy, Mt Vernon, VA 22121, USA

Parade of Lighted Boats

Celebrate along the waterfront.

washington dc places to visit in winter

The District's Holiday Boat Parade celebrates the holidays with more than 60 illuminated, decorated boats parading down Washington Channel as you shop, eat, and celebrate on the shore. You can decorate ornaments at workshops, head to the fire pit and warm up with other parade-watchers, go ice skating on the rink, or head for the Waterfront Beer and Wine Garden for holiday-themed drinks. Naturally, it wouldn't be a holiday festival if Santa didn't put in a visit.

The parade takes place in early December every year and is a highlight of the District's holiday season celebrations. If you've never tried a waterfront holiday, this is certainly the one to start with, and you'll find it at the Wharf downtown.

Location: The Wharf, Washington, DC, 20024, USA

Holiday Movies at The Wharf

Catch a classic holiday movie outdoors.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Holiday Movies at the Wharf is a holiday tradition in Washington, DC, where folks gather at the waterfront on the Wharf for classic holiday-themed films on a 20-foot LED screen. You reserve a spot and you get your own fire pit that can seat up to 4 people to keep warm. No cooking at the pits is allowed, but if you get hungry, you can head over to the food vendors to grab snacks, drinks, and treats.

The exact schedule changes from year to year, but the event runs from Thanksgiving through the end of December and exhibits famous and iconic holiday films. Past features have included "Gremlins," "Home Alone," "Elf," "Miracle on 34th Street," "Die Hard," and many others.

Location: 970 Wharf St. SW, Washington, DC 20024, USA

photo by Daniel Lobo ( CC0 1.0 ) modified

Tudor Place Historic House & Garden

Tour an elegant neoclassical house.

washington dc places to visit in winter

The Tudor Place Historic House & Garden offers the opportunity to tour an elegant neoclassical house decorated for the holidays in authentic period fashion. The Tudor Place is open all year long, but during the holidays, the whole estate comes alive with beautiful decorations, wreaths, candles, Christmas trees, and live holiday music performances. Family fun activities abound here with children's craft activities and workshops. Light refreshments are also on offer for attendees.

The holiday festivals here have become a hit among locals and visitors alike. It's only about a 10-minute drive to the west of downtown.

Location: 1644 31st St NW, Washington, DC 20007, USA

photo by Matt Kieffer ( CC BY-SA 2.0 ) modified

ZooLights Express

Visit the smithsonian zoo after dark.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Zoo Lights is an annual holiday celebration held at the Smithsonian Zoo and featuring train rides, light displays, and unique ways to see your favorite animals. This free event is a wonderland for families that lets you see animals like pandas, orangutans, elephants, cheetahs, and others in the form of light-up lanterns. The festival turns one of the world's oldest zoos into a fairy-tale landscape of winter celebration that's a fantastic time for the whole family.

The event goes on all December and, best of all, the light display is completely eco-friendly in keeping with the responsibility we all have to the planet. The zoo is just a 9-minute drive north of central downtown.

Location: 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, USA

photo by Mike Maguire ( CC BY 2.0 ) modified

National Menorah

Celebrate the jewish holiday tradition.

washington dc places to visit in winter

The National Menorah celebrates the holiday tradition of the Jewish faith with the lighting of one of the largest menorahs in the world followed by a doughnut feast and music. While everyone talks about Christmas celebrations, Washington celebrates religious diversity by honoring the Jewish tradition as well. The lively music following the lighting is accompanied by dancing. Menorah kits and dreidels are also available for kids and family fun.

In keeping with tradition, 1 candle is lit on each of the 8 days of Chanukah. The celebration takes place on the White House Ellipse, right by the National Christmas Tree as a symbol of the unity of all faiths.

Location: 15th and, E St NW, Washington, DC 20500, USA

photo by Ted Eytan ( CC BY-SA 2.0 ) modified

STEP AFRIKA!

See a professional stepping company.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Step Afrika! is the first professional company celebrating the tradition of stepping and offers an annual holiday extravaganza of this unique African form of entertainment. The family-friendly performance combines stomping, clapping, stepping, and percussive, rhythmic dance, and it often features furry friends like penguins and polar bear twins. It's a celebration of diversity and life, and everyone is invited.

This is another holiday celebration in Washington, DC, that steps outside of the traditional and offers something truly different and unique. Step Afrika! performs all year long, but their Magical Musical Holiday Step Show is an experience not to be missed. It's held at the Joy of Motion Dance Center on High Street, just a 20-minute drive from downtown.

Location: 1333 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002, USA

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Momma Wanderlust - Curating Cultural Travels for Families

Momma Wanderlust | Family Travel

7 Best Things To Do in Washington DC in the Winter

Best Things To Do in Washington DC in the Winter by Momma Wanderlust

There’s something about Washington DC in the winter that is absolutely extraordinary.  The city turns into a winter wonderland with twinkling lights, life, and culture everywhere you go. You could bundle up in your favorite puffy coat and wander the streets for hours without getting bored, but just in case you prefer some direction—I’ve got your back.

As a DMV transplant and lover of our nation’s capital, I’ve got plenty of recommendations for the best things to do in DC during every season. Today, I’m sharing some of my all-time favorite things to do in the city during winter.

Here are 7 spectacular things to do in Washington, DC in the winter:

1. go ice skating at the national gallery of art..

 Best Things To Do in Washington DC in the Winter by Momma Wanderlust

Few activities scream winter more than ice skating. Each winter season, the National Gallery of Art transforms an area of its Sculpture Garden into a stunning ice skating rink. This has become a beloved winter activity for DC locals and tourists alike, all of whom look forward to skating while taking in the large-scale sculptures and museums that surround them. If you’ve never tried ice skating before, now is the time to change that.

2.  Spend the day at the museums.

 Best Things To Do in Washington DC in the Winter by Momma Wanderlust

As enchanting as the streets of Washington, DC are, during the winter, you’re going to want to add some indoor activities to your travel itinerary when it’s below freezing outside. Famous for its staggering amount of impressive museums —many of which are free to explore— DC has plenty to offer for those looking for a dose of culture. Some of my favorite DC museums include the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Frederick Douglass Historic Home at Cedar Hill.

3.  Take in a show at the Kennedy Center.

 Best Things To Do in Washington DC in the Winter by Momma Wanderlust

The Kennedy Center is a world-famous destination for the arts where theatrical productions and musical performances come to life. Known to be the busiest performing arts center in the country, the Kennedy Center hosts upwards of 2,000 events every year. No matter what kind of performance you’re looking for, you can find it here. Check out the Kennedy Center performance calendar to see what’s playing during your visit.

4.  Escape the cold at the US Botanic Garden.  

 Best Things To Do in Washington DC in the Winter by Momma Wanderlust

U.S. Botanic Garden (Courtesy: usbg.gov)

When you were thinking of things to do in Washington, DC in the winter, a botanic garden probably wasn’t the first thing to come to mind. From November to January, the US Botanic Garden is transformed into a jaw-dropping winter wonderland for visitors from around the globe.

It may be frosty outside, but once you step into the greenhouse, you’re welcomed into a tropical oasis of warmth and beauty. The diversity of plants from around the world is astonishing, with tons of bright colors from tropical blooms.

5.  Sip hot chocolate in Georgetown.

 Best Things To Do in Washington DC in the Winter by Momma Wanderlust: Shops along a street in Georgetown, Washington, DC

The historic neighborhood of Georgetown is basically the epitome of winter in DC. From the cobblestone streets to the diverse collection of shops and restaurants, this charming area is filled with exciting things to do in the winter.

I highly recommend grabbing a cup of hot chocolate from Baked & Wired and roaming around the neighborhood. Pro Tip: If you decide to grab a treat from the iconic Georgetown Cupcake, the staff has been known to bring free hot chocolate outside to the patrons waiting in line.

6.  Take in the sights on a DC dinner cruise.

 Best Things To Do in Washington DC in the Winter by Momma Wanderlust: Dinner Cruise

If you prefer to do your sightseeing from a cozy seat with a delicious meal, then a DC dinner cruise is the perfect winter activity for you. This is a great way to take in the sights without freezing your buns off in the cold.

 Best Things To Do in Washington DC in the Winter by Momma Wanderlust

7.  Stroll down U Street for a dose of culture.

 Best Things To Do in Washington DC in the Winter by Momma Wanderlust

Once known as the heart of black culture in Washington, DC, U Street has always attracted visitors from all over for its incredible music and nightlife scene. Nicknamed “Black Broadway,” this lively street served as a spiritual and cultural center for African Americans during the Jim Crow era. Today, U Street is home to a vibrant collection of bars, restaurants, murals, and live music.

For those of you who are planning a trip to DC this year, I hope this list of spectacular things to do in Washington DC in the winter helped you plan out your itinerary. Whether you choose your favorite item from the list or decide to go bold and do it all, I guarantee you’re going to have an incredible experience.

If you’re looking for more fun things to do in the winter , check out my other winter travel blog posts to help you plan your travels!

If you found this post on Things to do in DC in the Winter helpful, you might also like:

The Ultimate Family Guide to Visiting Washington, DC 

10 best hotels in dc for families, top family weekend getaways from washington, dc, top 15 family travel hacks, pin these things to do in washington dc in the winter for later:.

 Best Things To Do in Washington DC in the Winter by Momma Wanderlust

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Winter in DC - 40+ Things to Do in the DMV 2024!

Washington DC things to do

Winter in DC has a lot going for it: fewer tourists, pretty mild weather, and a near-endless list of free museums and beautiful parks! Below are top things to do in the DC area:

Table of Contents:

  • Family Visit to Washington DC
  • Northern Virginia Indoor
  • Northern Virginia Outdoor
  • Maryland Indoor
  • Maryland Outdoor
  • Holiday Light Displays open between Christmas and New Years

national gallery of art winter in dc

DC Winter Indoor Spots

  • Library of Congress: Details here and open daily except for Xmas day and New Year’s Day.
  • Great Museums for All Ages: Planet Word , American History Museum , Air and Space Museum , Museum of the American Indian (great play area!), US Botanic Garden (#2 on the Holiday Display blog )
  • Great Museums for Younger Kids: National Children’s Museum
  • Great Museums for Older Kids: Spy Museum (my 9 year old loved it but my 5 year old was a little scared), Museum on O Street , National Gallery of Art , NMAAHC , Hirshhorn , and the Kusama Exhibit!! (reel here )
  • As someone who has lived in Washington D.C. for 12 years, I've discovered that one of the city's greatest winter delights is exploring its array of free museums. On cold days, there's nothing better than stepping into the warm, inviting halls of institutions like the Smithsonian museums or the National Gallery of Art. Each visit is a new adventure for my kids and for me! From the ancient artifacts at the National Museum of Natural History to the inspiring exhibitions at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, there's always something fascinating to explore. It's a perfect way to spend a winter day, immersing yourself in the endless wonders these museums have to offer.
  • Viewpoints of the City : Washington Monument , The View of DC (in Arlington), Old Post Office Tower
  • Food Markets: Union Market , Eastern Market , Union Station
  • Indoor Ice Skating: Fort Dupont Ice Arena
  • DMV Bowling
  • DC Public Libraries
  • 20 Museums for Children in DC
  • 20 Best Bookstores in DC (Including Independent, Second Hand and Best Kids Sections)

winter dc wharf s'mores

Outdoor Winter Activities in Washington DC

  • The Wharf : S’mores by the river, dock swings, fire features, & walking around
  • Theodore Roosevelt Island Trails
  • National Zoo (put my formerly paid Guide all in this free blog!)
  • Yards Park : Light up bell swings, restaurants, walking around
  • National Mall: Bring bikes, scooters, kites…and hand warmers! Heated restrooms near the WWII monument
  • Ice Skating: Georgetown Washington Harbor, NGA Sculpture Garden, The Wharf
  • 33 DC Playgrounds with Top 14 here .
  • Tregaron Conservancy Walks
  • Fort Lincoln Park
  • 45 DC Parks on the DMV Database (select “DC only”)
  • If snow.... Best DMV Hills for Sledding !

US Capitol Winter in DC

Washington, D.C. Family Visit

  • Best Family Hotels in Washington DC for all Budgets
  • 4-Day Itinerary in Washington DC (with morning, afternoon, and evening schedules matched with great restaurants)
  • 30 Kid Friendly Restaurants in DC for Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch, and Dinner
  • 15 Best Playgrounds in DC

buddy ford nature center Alexandria winer spot

Buddie Ford Nature Center, Alexandria - FREE!

Northern Virginia Indoor Winter Activities

  • 45 Virginia Indoor Play (Soft Play Rooms, Roller Skating, Trampoline, Laser Tag, Bowling)
  • Nature Centers: Buddie Ford Nature Center in Alexandria, Hidden Pond in Springfield, Hidden Oaks in Annandale, Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington, Gulf Branch Nature Center in Arlington, Potomac Overlook in Arlington
  • Trampoline Parks (VA & MD)
  • Laser Tag (VA & MD)
  • Libraries: Arlington , Alexandria , Fairfax (Pohick, Lorton & Main have good kids sections, Prince William , Loudoun
  • (Nice!) Food Courts: Ballston Quarter , Galleria Tysons II Urbanspace
  • Indoor Ice Skating: Fairfax Ice Arena, Prince William Ice Center, Ashburn Ice House Skatequest, MedStar Capitals Iceplex

lubber run playground near dc in winter

Lubber Run Playground, Arlington

Northern Virginia Outdoor Winter Activities

  • Ice Skating: Pentagon Row, Reston Town Center, Cameron Run Ice and Lights, Harris Pavilion
  • 45 Best Nova Playgrounds
  • 20 Nova Hikes/Walks about half are stroller friendly!
  • 73 Virginia Parks on the DMV Database (select “VA only”)

Climb Zone Laurel

Climb Zone in Laurel

Indoor Winter Spots in Maryland (near DC)

  • Nature Centers: Meadowside Nature Center in Rockville, Locust Grove Nature Center in Bethesda, Robinson Nature Center in Columbia
  • Libraries: Montgomery County , Prince George’s County
  • Climb Zone Laurel - dozens of colorful and interesting climbing walls!
  • Indoor Ice Skating: Cabin John Ice Rink, Rockville Ice Rink, Wheaton Regional Ice Rink

winter in dc things to do

Great Falls Park!

Outdoor Winter Spots in Maryland (near DC)

  • Great Falls Maryland Side
  • 12 Best MD Playgrounds
  • Ice Skating: Color Burst Park, Quiet Waters State Park
  • 41 MD Parks on the DMV Database (select “MD only”)

Holiday Light Displays Still Open Dec 26 - Jan 2024 in the DC area

All the details on each here !

DC Winter Lights

  • ZooLights ends on December 30th
  • US Botanic Gardens Holiday Display & Trains ends January 1st
  • National Christmas Tree ends January 1st
  • Enchant DC ends on December 31, 2023.
  • Light Yards ends on January 7, 2024.
  • DC Main Streets Holiday Lights ends January 8, 2024.

Virginia Winter Lights

  • Meadowlark ends January 7, 2024.
  • Bull Run Drive Through ends January 7, 2024.
  • Cameron Run Ice and Lights ends January 1, 2024.
  • Tysons Winter Lantern Festival ends February 18, 2024! (staying open for Chinese New Year which begins on February 10 this year.)

Maryland Lights in Winter

  • Brookside Gardens ends December 31.
  • National Harbor Holiday Tree outside by the Ferris WHeel ends January 3, 2024.
  • Light Show inside the lobby of the Gaylord National Hotel ends December 30.
  • Winter Lights Festival at Seneca Creek ends December 31, 2023.
  • Watkins Regional Park Festival of Lights ends January 1.
  • Frederick Maryland Sailing Through Winter Solstice ends March 2024.

holiday light displays dc in winter

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  • Washington DC In Winter: A Guide To Help You Redefine Your Winter Vacation

27 Dec 2021

Winter is a wonderful time to travel the world as it is the most festive season. And, there is no better place to visit than the capital of the United States of America, Washington DC, where the cheer of the winter season is like no other. From the energetic Christmas spirit of the city to the snowy streets, there are many reasons to visit Washington DC in winter . If you are planning to visit this beautiful city in the winter season, read our detailed travel guide to find out all that you need to know before traveling to Washington DC:

Weather In Washington DC In Winter

Weather In Washington DC In Winter

Image Source

The weather in Washington DC during winter varies from year to year, but it can get as cold as 5 degrees Celsius. However, the streets are less crowded with tourists, and that can give you more freedom to explore the city with lesser hassles and shorter waiting lines. Plus, there’s nothing that warm clothing and a cup of a hot drink can’t fix.

Best Places To Visit In Washington DC In Winter

While are many spectacular places to visit in the US , Washington DC, one of the best ones. Which is why we’ve rounded up the top places to see in Washington DC in winter, that need to be on your itinerary when you visit the capital of the USA:

1. National Zoo

National Zoo

Put on your warmest clothes and head out for a full day filled with fun at the National Zoo in Washington DC. Winter is a great time to visit this park because of ZooLights, an eco-friendly light display that takes place annually during the winter season. Apart from the light display, you can also take a tour of the zoo, and see some exotic animals like tigers, lions, and snow leopards.

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2. U.S Botanical Garden

U.S Botanical Garden

Why not escape the snow and the cold for a while and get warm and cozy at the indoor botanical display at the U.S Botanical Garden in Washington DC? Apart from the decorated trees, you can also check out their Season’s Greetings Showcase, a top festive attraction. Another not to be missed thing is their train display – a treat for anyone.

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3. National Gallery Of Art

National Gallery of Art

If you’re an art lover, make sure to check out this amazing museum in the country’s capital. Featuring over 140,000 pieces of art, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and photographs, it is truly a sight to behold. Built in 1937 by an American financier who had a great passion for art, you won’t regret visiting this beautiful museum.

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Top Things To Do In Washington DC During Winter

There are many things to do in Washington DC in winter that will make your trip a memorable one for years to come. We’ve compiled a list of the top activities that you must definitely not miss out on during your visit to Washington DC.

1. Holiday Market: Shop till you drop!

Shop till you drop at the famous Holiday Market

This famous market comes alive during the winter season and is the best place to experience the festive spirit of Washington DC. If you are planning to celebrate Christmas in Washington DC, it would be the perfect season to find holiday gifts, listen to live Christmas carols and music, and also eat some delicious holiday foods like doughnuts and drinks like eggnog.

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2. Georgetown ice rink: Go skating!

Go skating at the Georgetown ice rink

Washington state in the winter is definitely a sight for sore eyes and the best activity during this season would be ice skating. There are many rinks all over the city, but among the best has to be the ice rink located in Georgetown. What makes this ice rink special are the snowflakes that twinkle after it gets dark, adding a magical effect to the place. After your skating session, you can pick up a steaming cup of hot chocolate from the Pavillion Café located nearby.

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3. Menorah: Witness the lighting on Hanukkah

Witness the lighting of the Menorah on Hanukkah

While much is spoken about Christmas in Washington DC, not many people are aware of the other big festival that happens during the winter, Chanukkah (Hanukkah). This festival begins with the lighting of the menorah, which is a candelabrum with nine branches. This is a fun event that is followed by a doughnut feast and cheerful music while dancing.

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What To Pack While Visiting Washington DC?

What Clothes To Pack While Visiting Washington DC In The Winter

The temperature tends to drop pretty low, so packing some warm clothes is a must. If you’re wondering what to wear in Washington DC in winter, pack some thermal wear, warm jackets, some sweaters, and winter shoes or boots. You can also purchase winter clothes in Washington DC after you land.

Here is a checklist:

1. Warm clothes and accessories like scarves and gloves are a must. 2. Pack warm and comfortable shoes. 3. Carry all your important IDs. 4. Make sure to have cash on you at all times. 5. Carry an umbrella in case of sudden rains.

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If all this information excited you, and with Christmas season just around the corner, there’s no better place to plan your winter vacation than to the US. To find out more about visiting Washington DC in winter and to check out the best US packages , contact us at TravelTriangle today!

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Frequently Asked Questions About Washington DC

Here are some of the most asked questions by tourists while planning a trip to Washington DC:

What is the best time to visit Washington DC?

While Washington dc is a year-round destination, there is no ‘best time to visit’, per say. However, it is best to visit either during summer or winter as per your preference.

What are the key attractions of Washington DC?

The key attractions of Washington DC are: 1. National Museum of American History 2. The White House 3. Lincoln Memorial 4. National Gallery of Art 5. National Air and Space Museum 6. National Museum of Natural History 7. The Washington Monument

Is it necessary to take a sightseeing tour of Washington DC?

It’s not necessary if you have a definite itinerary, but if you are a person who loves to get to know a city, then you would love taking a city tour of Washington DC.

Which are the most famous festivals celebrated in Washington DC?

The most famous festivals/events celebrated in Washington DC would be the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

How long a visit should I plan for Washington DC?

The length of any tour depends upon the Plan your visit for around 4-5 days to cover all the important places to visit and things to do in Washington DC.

How cold does it get in Washington DC?

Washington DC in winter weather can see a drop of -18 °C.

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Washington, D.C.   Travel Guide

Courtesy of Kevin Voelker Photography | Getty Images

washington dc places to visit in winter

29 Best Things To Do in Washington, D.C.

Not surprisingly, many of Washington D.C.'s main attractions relate to its principal enterprise: politics. These include the White House and the U.S. Capitol , of course, as well as monuments and historic sites dedicated to notable figures who

  • All Things To Do
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washington dc places to visit in winter

The Tidal Basin The Tidal Basin free

If you've never been to Washington, D.C. before, plan to spend some time along the Tidal Basin, an approximately 107-acre pond encircled by a 2.1-mile loop trail. Constructed to use the strong tides of the Potomac River to clear silt from the Washington Channel and to maintain steady water levels in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pools , it now also serves as the backdrop to some of D.C.'s best-loved sites. Every spring, the Tidal Basin bursts with color as cherry blossom trees (gifted to the city from Tokyo ) bloom into cotton candy-colored tufts, and they attract hordes of visitors. The cherry blossoms hit peak bloom (defined as when 70% of the cherry blossoms are open) on March 17 , according to the National Park Service. You can follow the path that leads around the basin, but recent visitors recommended testing the waters in a paddleboat. Paddleboats are available to rent from spring until fall for $28 to $40 per hour (depending on the day) for a four-passenger boat. You can pick up a paddle boat every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from the boat dock near Maine Avenue.

Even if you don't make it to town for the cherry blossoms, you won't want to miss the three major memorials that can be found along the Tidal Basin's shores: the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial . A memorial to Virginia Declaration of Rights author George Mason, also stands nearby.

washington dc places to visit in winter

The White House and the Washington Monument The White House and the Washington Monument free

Even if you're only in town for a short trip, visiting the Washington Monument and the White House – two marble symbols of the U.S. – is a must for any first-time D.C. visitor.

Standing just shy of 555 ½ feet, the Washington Monument was the tallest structure in the world at its completion in 1884. Nowadays, you can ride one of the monument's glass-encased elevators to the top observation deck to enjoy 360-degree views of the city, which invariably impress visitors. You can explore the attraction's exterior for free 24 hours a day, but National Park Service rangers are only available from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. to answer questions. The monument itself is open to visitors every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free timed-entry tickets can be reserved up to 30 days in advance via Recreation.gov . (There is a $1 nonrefundable service charge for each ticket.) Some same-day tickets are distributed daily on a first-come, first served basis. The ticket window opens at 8:45 a.m.; be prepared for a line. The Smithsonian Metro stop is closest to the monument. Visit the National Park Service's Washington Monument page for more information.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Lincoln Memorial Lincoln Memorial free

U.S. News Insider Tip:  The best time to see this monument is after dark when it's illuminated. You'll still contend with crowds, but it will be worth it. – Marisa Méndez, Senior Editor

Although the Lincoln Memorial is just one of the District's many monuments, the larger-than-life Honest Abe is also among travelers' favorites. History buffs might enjoy reading Lincoln's  two famous speeches – the Second Inaugural Address and the Gettysburg Address – which are both etched into the memorial's north and south walls, respectively. Meanwhile, art history and architecture aficionados will enjoy admiring the building's striking design by Henry Bacon, complete with 38 Doric columns, 36 of which signify the states in the Union at the time Lincoln passed away.

washington dc places to visit in winter

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washington dc places to visit in winter

World War II Memorial World War II Memorial free

U.S. News Insider Tip:  While it's pretty during the day, the memorial is incomparable at night. Visit after sunset. – Marisa Méndez, Senior Editor

The World War II Memorial was dedicated in 2004 to the 16 million American military members who served during World War II, including the thousands of individuals who lost their lives during the fight. A circle of 56 columns (representing the U.S. states and territories from the era) looks over the Rainbow Pool. At night, with lights shining, this memorial can be quite ethereal. The structure also has a wall of more than 4,000 gold stars – one for every 100 Americans who died in the conflict.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Vietnam Veterans and Korean War Veterans Memorials Vietnam Veterans and Korean War Veterans Memorials free

One of the most moving war memorials, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial – or "the Wall," as it's commonly referred to – is a long black granite wall with the names of more than 58,000 Americans who perished during the Vietnam War emblazoned on its surface. Recent travelers said their visits to the site were heartbreaking but thought-provoking and powerful, adding that even the toughest of individuals will find it hard to not become emotional while reading the wall's names. If you're looking for a specific person, keep in mind that the soldiers' names are ordered by the date they died, not alphabetically. Also, reviewers recommend using the attraction's name books and visiting during the day when there's ample sunlight.

When you're wandering along the eastern side of the Mall, venture to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Paying tribute to the 1.5 million who served in "The Forgotten War," this privately funded site contains 19 stainless steel statues of soldiers in combat. In a triangular area known as the Field of Service, soldier statues march toward an American flag. Next to the soldiers is a 164-foot-long granite wall that pays homage to the unnamed troops that fought in the Korean War. Another highlight of the memorial is the Pool of Remembrance, a tranquil place for reflection. However, some past travelers cautioned that the memorial lacks signage, so younger visitors may not understand as much as those who lived through the war.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial free

Located on the northwest rim of the Tidal Basin , this 30-foot granite memorial pays homage to civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Everything from its address at 1964 Independence Ave. (a reference to the year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed by Congress) to its design (which shows King emerging from a "mountain of despair," a reference to his "I Have a Dream" speech) are meant to reflect King's significant contribution to American history. What's more, this towering sculpture opened to the public in 2011, making it one of the newest memorials to open in the District. It is also the National Mall's first memorial dedicated to an African American.

Previous visitors raved about this memorial, adding that its powerful symbolism and beautiful design will give you chills. Plus, the sculpture's proximity to other memorials and monuments like the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the World War II Memorial make it convenient to reach. However, some reviewers wished there was more information on King's life, legacy and commitment to nonviolence around the statue.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum free

Note: Beginning in 2018, the museum embarked on an ambitious, multiyear, multimillion-dollar effort to renovate and reimagine all of its exhibits and put 1,400 new objects on display. It's reopening galleries in stages, but the IMAX theater is closed. Check the website to see what's on display before you go.

Attracting millions of people each year, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum contains a trove of celebrated aircraft, including Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Vega 5B, the Apollo 11 Command Module, Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis and Wilbur and Orville Wright's 1903 Wright Flyer, among others. Exhibits include flight simulators, an IMAX theater and the Einstein Planetarium. And parents beware: The gift shop is huge, so get ready for pleas from your kids. 

washington dc places to visit in winter

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture free

U.S. News Insider Tip: When hunger strikes, don't miss the Southern comfort offerings at Sweet Home Cafe, including fried chicken, collard greens and fish po'boys. The food is surprisingly delicious for a museum eatery. – Nicola Wood, Senior Editor

Designed to replicate the three-tiered crowns found in Yoruban art from West Africa, with bronze-colored latticework accents that honor the ironwork of enslaved African Americans, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture opened on the National Mall in 2016. More than 40,000 artifacts are displayed inside, including photographs of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists, boxing headgear and a robe used by Muhammad Ali, and a fedora once worn by Michael Jackson.

washington dc places to visit in winter

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washington dc places to visit in winter

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum United States Holocaust Memorial Museum free

You need to be in the right frame of mind to visit this sobering museum that focuses on the atrocities of the Holocaust. Through film footage, photographs and historical artifacts, it confronts subjects such as Hitler's rise to power, anti-Semitic propaganda and the horrors of the Final Solution. In addition to its permanent exhibition, "The Holocaust," the museum mounts several special exhibits. The facility also has a Hall of Witness, a three-story chamber beneath skylights; a Hall of Remembrance, a space with an eternal flame intended for individual reflection as well as public ceremonies; the Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center; a library and a reading room.

Past travelers felt moved by this powerful museum but cautioned that its graphic collection is not ideal for younger children. (Indeed, the museum itself has age recommendations for its exhibits, signaling that some material may not be suitable for kids.) Many were especially impressed with its informative, thorough and respectful displays, adding that you can easily spend a few hours perusing its halls.

washington dc places to visit in winter

National Gallery of Art National Gallery of Art free

U.S. News Insider Tip: There are two things you won't want to miss here: the rooftop terrace, which affords panoramic views of the city and a photo op with a giant blue rooster, and the only Leonardo da Vinci oil painting on permanent exhibition in the U.S. – Catriona Kendall, Associate Editor

If you're any kind of art connoisseur, you should make a stop at the National Gallery of Art. Composed of the East Building, which houses the gallery's more modern works (think: Henri Matisse and Mark Rothko), and the West Building, which contains the collection's older works (from Sandro Botticelli to Claude Monet), this museum has enough to fill an entire afternoon. Visitors often remark on the museum's large size and expansive collection. Pace yourself and maybe order a coffee, gelato or lunch at one of the gallery's five bars and cafes.

washington dc places to visit in winter

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

U.S. News Insider Tip:  Even if you don't have time to catch a performance, head to the rooftop of the Kennedy Center to grab a drink and see an incredible sunset from the terrace. The on-site REACH art gallery and sculpture garden (free) are also fun to wander around. – Erin Evans

Many travelers highly recommend a visit to The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, built and named for America's beloved Camelot president. The Kennedy Center houses the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington National Opera and hosts numerous other dance, theater and musical performances throughout the year. Although ticket prices can run a bit high, you can take in a performance for free on the Millennium Stage. The Kennedy Center debuted a new permanent exhibit in 2022: Visitors can explore the free "Art and Ideals: President John F. Kennedy" immersive exhibit to learn about the relationship between Kennedy's presidency and the arts. The facility also includes the REACH, an indoor/outdoor complex comprising an art gallery, sculpture garden, classrooms and studios, lecture halls, a video wall and more interactive spaces.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History free

With a collection of more than 147 million items, this robust Smithsonian museum on the National Mall attracts millions of visitors each year. Some of the museum's highlights include replicas of giant whales and other marine life in the Sant Ocean Hall. There's also a 2,000-pound, 52-foot model of a mega-tooth shark suspended above a dining area. In addition, you can venture to the Butterfly Pavilion for some fluttery fun with multicolored bugs. No stop at this museum would be complete without stopping by the David H. Koch Hall of Fossils – "Deep Time" exhibit features approximately 700 specimens, including Tyrannosaurus rex and triceratops dinosaurs. Other permanent exhibits explore human evolution, ancient Egypt and geology, among other topics.

Although this museum is especially appealing to families, past visitors said there's something for everyone here. However, the property can get quite crowded on weekends, holidays and during the busy summer season, so consider arriving on a weekday or in the offseason to avoid crowds. Recent museumgoers also suggested saving some time for the Hope Diamond, which is on display in the geology exhibit.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Washington National Cathedral Washington National Cathedral

U.S. News Insider Tip: Opt for a tour instead of exploring on your own, especially if you want to spot some of the cathedral's weirder gargoyles (like the famous Darth Vader). – Marisa Méndez, Senior Editor

Construction first began on this massive cathedral – the sixth largest in the world – in 1907, but it wasn't actually completed until 1990. (Though work on the building continues, including extensive and ongoing repairs after an earthquake damaged the structure in 2011.) Designed in the Gothic style, the Washington National Cathedral sits surrounded by gardens, creating a pleasant atmosphere for visitors. Take a stroll around the cathedral and peer at its high vaults and flying buttresses, keeping a close eye out for gargoyles (there's one of Darth Vader!). Step inside to admire the building's intricate stained-glass windows.

washington dc places to visit in winter

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washington dc places to visit in winter

Arlington National Cemetery Arlington National Cemetery free

Arlington National Cemetery sits in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. The cemetery spans about 1 square mile and serves as the final resting place for more than 400,000 service members, veterans and their families. Visitors should be sure to spend some time viewing the Memorial Amphitheater, the John F. Kennedy Gravesite and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Additionally, finding the grave of a notable veteran, family member or friend proves to be a powerful experience, according to visitors. The cemetery also has a downloadable app available to help you pinpoint the location of a grave.

Previous travelers appreciate the trolley tour from Arlington National Cemetery Tours, but they warn that the excursion is a bit pricey at $19.50 for adults, $10.75 for children ages 4 to 12 and $15 for seniors ages 65 and older. (There are discounted prices for service members, veterans and their families.)

washington dc places to visit in winter

Planet Word Planet Word

The world's first voice-activated museum, Planet Word strives to provide an immersive language experience through multiple exhibits and interactive galleries. Its word-centric exhibits span three floors and explore such topics as how people learn to speak, words’ origins, the world’s diversity of languages, famous speeches (which visitors can recreate using teleprompters), songs (which you can deliver karaoke style), jokes and how advertising uses language to persuade consumers. It also has a library, of course, as well as recording booths for listening to others reflect on the power of words and for preserving your story. Its Lexicon Lane contains multiple "puzzle cases" with themed word puzzles that can be solved using various clues deposited around the room. The museum, which opened in 2020, also has a restaurant and a gift shop.

Visitors frequently enthuse about this museum with adjectives like "clever," "creative," "fascinating" and "innovative." Many say its well-executed interactive activities make it an especially engaging place for families. Plan on spending at least a couple hours here.

washington dc places to visit in winter

U.S. Capitol and the Library of Congress U.S. Capitol and the Library of Congress free

Arguably the most magnificent building in Washington, the U.S. Capitol is where visitors go to witness politics in action. Inside, members of both houses of Congress debate and create national policy and law, while visitors explore the building's north and south wings and circular centerpiece: the Rotunda. This iconic hall houses paintings, frescoes and sculptures depicting famous scenes from American history, not to mention an iconic cast-iron dome added to the structure in 1868.

Touring the Capitol is free of charge, but you'll need to make your reservation well in advance to ensure you get a tour slot (you cannot see the Capitol without booking a tour). The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center welcomes visitors Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (with the exception of Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year's Day and Inauguration Day). The tour does not include the Senate and House of Representatives galleries. Though some travelers express mixed reviews on whether the U.S. Capitol warrants the time and effort spent (both making reservations and going on the actual tour), most agree the site is well worth a visit.

washington dc places to visit in winter

National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum free

The National Portrait Gallery most notably houses images of every previous president, allowing visitors to reminisce about each political figure as they progress through the hall of portraits. The presidential portraits aren't alone, though, as the National Portrait Gallery also houses artistic renderings of notable American citizens ranging from sports figures to civil rights leaders. Moreover, the National Portrait Gallery only takes up half of the building and shares the space with the Smithsonian American Art Museum. This museum showcases rotating exhibits, which have previously exposed visitors to work created in response to the Vietnam War, glasswork, native women artists and more. The Smithsonian American Art Museum also operates a separate branch, the Renwick Gallery, devoted to contemporary craft and decorative arts.

Previous travelers insist that you take a few minutes to enjoy the shared Kogod Courtyard; its glass-paneled roof protects visitors from the elements while maintaining an abundance of natural light. These visitors also recommend that you take a few hours to explore both the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, as there are a variety of interesting, small exhibits that are easy to miss if you're in a rush.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute free

More than 1,800 animals reside at the Smithsonian's 163-acre National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, from Asian elephants to cheetahs to sea lions. Look up every now and then as you stroll beneath the Orangutan Transport System (called the O Line): You may spot orangutans swinging along cables between steel towers. Or, if you're more intrigued by animals native to South America, head over to the Amazonia exhibit, home to creatures like titi monkeys and multiple frog species. The Great Cats exhibit features Sumatran tigers and African lions, among other feline predators. The zoo also has a playground and other attractions geared toward kids. If you time your visit for the holidays, swing by the zoo after dark for its ZooLights exhibition, when animal lanterns and lights bedazzle the park.

Recent visitors praised the zoo's pleasant surroundings and broad selection of species. Others warn future travelers to temper expectations: It's popular during the spring and summer seasons and there are long lines for (somewhat overpriced) food. Though some said the zoo could be more exciting and have a broader array of animals, keep in mind the more than 360 species are free to visit.

washington dc places to visit in winter

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washington dc places to visit in winter

U.S. National Arboretum and the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum U.S. National Arboretum and the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum free

Note: Due to the discovery of boxwood blight, the arboretum has closed its Boxwood Collection and adjacent Perennials Collection in order to prevent spread of the disease. It is closed until further notice.

Located northeast of downtown Washington, D.C., the United States National Arboretum rewards its visitors with beautiful outdoor spaces. The arboretum's outdoor collections range from dogwoods to azaleas to magnolias, but none of the plants are the area's primary attraction. Instead, most travelers make the trek here for the National Capitol Columns and the bonsai collection. The National Capitol Columns were built in 1828, decorated the Capitol building until 1958 and found their way to the arboretum in the 1980s. Now, the columns serve as an excellent place to snap photos or enjoy a picnic. The area's bonsai trees sit in the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, which boasts an astounding 300 miniature trees that staff members rotate through the museum's three pavilions and special exhibits gallery.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery free

The Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery combine to comprise the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art. Opened in 1923, the Freer Gallery showcases American paintings from the late 19th century aesthetic movement, plus art from China, Egypt, India, Japan, Korea and the Islamic world. The Sackler Gallery opened in 1987 in the adjacent building, and it displays Thai earthenware, a Tibetan Buddhist shrine, Iranian artifacts and a host of rotating exhibits.

Past visitors particularly appreciated the Peacock Room, a gilded blue and gold room filled with frescoes of peacocks and pottery. The Sackler Gallery's underground exhibits also serve as a boon for sweltering tourists during the District’s hot summer months, which delighted recent travelers. The general consensus is that there are some remarkable works of art here.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Rock Creek Park Rock Creek Park free

A large urban park extending from the Washington, D.C.-Maryland border to the Potomac River, Rock Creek Park is a destination for an expansive array of outdoor activities. It has more than 32 miles of hiking trails and 13 miles of horseback riding trails while bicyclists can use its paved trails and roads. It has a nine-hole golf course and tennis courts. Fishing and paddleboating on the Potomac River are additional options. The park also boasts plenty of built things to see, such as scenic bridges, fountains and statues.

In addition to its more than 1,750 acres of outdoor space, the park encompasses multiple noteworthy structures. The Nature Center features a book- and game-filled children's Discovery Room, displays of live turtles and snakes and an observation deck. It provides hiking information and serves as the starting point of the half-mile Woodland Trail. The Peirce Mill operated as a grist mill from 1829 to 1897, making the historical building the last one of its kind in the area. The Old Stone House, constructed around 1766, ranks as the oldest building on its original foundation in Washington D.C. Its former kitchen contains historical exhibits.

washington dc places to visit in winter

National Archives Museum National Archives Museum free

A treasure trove of the United States' founding documents, the National Archives Museum is high on travelers' to-do lists and almost always has long entrance lines. But once you do get inside, you'll see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, along with one of the surviving copies of the Magna Carta. Other interactive and kid-friendly exhibits fill the museum, which is located off the Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter Metro station on the Green and Yellow lines. Conveniently, the museum is also a popular stop on many of the city's best bus tours .

If you love history, you'll enjoy visiting this museum. Reservations are not required but are available. Reserving free passes on Recreation.gov's website comes with a service fee of $1.00 per ticket, but travelers say paying for advance tickets will save you from having to wait in a long line to enter. The museum encourages reservations during its peak season from March through Labor Day. Also, be aware that photography is not permitted anywhere inside the building.

washington dc places to visit in winter

9:30 Club 9:30 Club

U.S. News Insider Tip: If you're attending a concert at this venue, plan to arrive early, as the line can stretch around the block for popular artists. And if possible, avoid using the coat check (unless you want to be stuck waiting in line for hours after the show).  – Alissa Grisler, Associate Editor

The 9:30 Club has often been heralded as one of the best live music venues in America. The iconic club began earning its accolades around the time it opened in 1980, though, and has hosted groups like Nirvana, R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fugazi and Public Enemy, among others. While the 9:30 Club relocated and expanded over time, the club is still small enough to feel intimate. Its location near the bustling U Street corridor means that travelers will have no shortage of options for a pre-show dinner or a post-show drink (the staple Ben's Chili Bowl is just a few blocks away). Alternatively, the 9:30 Club offers a small menu of quesadillas, nachos and tacos if you want to eat there.

washington dc places to visit in winter

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Capitol Hill Walking Tour with US Capitol and Library of Congress

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washington dc places to visit in winter

Heurich House Museum Heurich House Museum

German-American immigrant and brewing entrepreneur Christian Heurich built the mansion that now bears his name in the late 19th century. Now, its stands as both an example of Richardsonian Romanesque residential architecture as well a testament to the business-owner's legacy. (It also, appropriately enough, serves as the headquarters of the District of Columbia Brewers Guild, a nonprofit trade organization serving the city's craft brewing industry.) The museum aims to preserve the building, its grounds and its collections while demonstrating the relevance of Heurich's version of the American dream to the modern day.

Visitors typically find the tour guides highly knowledgeable and enjoy seeing the fine period furniture and the well-preserved, intricately decorated structure.

washington dc places to visit in winter

National Building Museum National Building Museum

U.S. News Insider Tip:  The permanent exhibits are a bit technical, but special exhibits are accessible (and often hands-on!) for everyone, regardless of their knowledge of architecture. – Marisa Méndez, Senior Editor

Washington boasts countless examples of iconic architecture, but the National Building Museum fittingly stands out from the rest. The gargantuan former Pension Building, which completed construction in 1887, once housed the United States Pension Bureau as well as a variety of political events like inaugural balls. In 1985, the building completed its transition into a museum, and it was officially renamed the National Building Museum in 1997. Currently, the museum showcases various interesting intersections of architecture and design throughout American history and culture via approximately 100,000 photos, 130,000 architectural drawing and prints, and more than 20,000 objects ranging from building materials to toys.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site Frederick Douglass National Historic Site free

Like other parts of the South, the Washington metropolitan area – which includes Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. – was once home to numerous plantations that profited off the labor of enslaved African Americans. To learn more about one of the region's most famous former slaves, visit the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in the district's Anacostia neighborhood.

At this historical site, you'll learn all about Frederick Douglass, who had been born into slavery in 1818 who fled from Maryland to New York City in 1838. After becoming a free man, Douglass devoted his life to speaking against slavery, producing abolitionist newspapers and writing about his experience as a slave. In 1872, Douglass and his then wife, Anna, moved to Washington, D.C. The couple moved into the house known as Cedar Hill in 1878. After the death of his first wife in 1882, Douglass married Helen Pitts in 1884 and continued to live in the house until his death in 1895.

washington dc places to visit in winter

The Mansion on O Street The Mansion on O Street

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washington dc places to visit in winter

United States Botanic Garden United States Botanic Garden free

washington dc places to visit in winter

Small Group National Mall Night Tour with 10 Top Attractions

(1186 reviews)

from $ 99.00

Mount Vernon and Old Town Alexandria Day Trip from Washington DC

Mount Vernon and Old Town Alexandria Day Trip from Washington DC

(701 reviews)

African American History Tour with Museum Admission

African American History Tour with Museum Admission

(920 reviews)

washington dc places to visit in winter

International Spy Museum International Spy Museum

washington dc places to visit in winter

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The Perfect “Winter in Washington, DC with Kids” Itinerary

The Perfect “Winter in Washington, DC with Kids” Itinerary

Washington, DC in winter can be lovely. Yes, it can be rainy and a bit blustery but I forgot what a joy it is to visit a city in its off-season. Last spring we spent a weekend in Washington, DC during the cherry blossom festival…. which was crazy. I felt like we were fighting crowds much of the day.

This time around, we had the place to ourselves. I spent a fair amount of time before the trip making reservations and making sure we had a tight plan. Also, my Littles (currently 10, 8, and 6) are finally at the age where we can really do things. They all have a great tolerance for walking and museums. Two of them can fully read on their own which just makes life so much easier. All this to say, this may not be your perfect Washington, DC with kids itinerary.

Everywhere in Washington, D.C. has some level of security. To make your life easier, review Checking what is and isn’t allowed at each location before you depart.

Finally, if you want more photos or to see some videos from the trip head over to my Instagram .

Where we Stayed.

We stayed at the Embassy Suites in Old Town Alexandra . Jeff had a conference at the Gaylord at National Harbor. National Harbor is impossible to get to without a car. (Particularly in winter when the water taxis are not running.) We didn’t want to be trapped without access to the city.

washington dc places to visit in winter

The Embassy Suites is across the street from the King Street Metro station on the blue and yellow lines. You get a great view of the George Washington Masonic National Memoria l from the platform. (At the time of our visit, the yellow line was not working. It is scheduled to reopen in May of 2023.) We can easily get two double beds and a pull-out sofa, making it family-of-five friendly. The Embassy Suites has breakfast and happy hour plus a small pool. You can easily walk to many Old Town restaurants or pop into Whole Foods across the street. It was a great launching point for us and Jeff was able to uber to the conference each morning.

Day 1: Spy Museum, Wharf, Washington Monument

Launching Point: Metro to L’Enfant Plaza (Blue, Yellow, Green, Orange, Silver)

The general plan for the day was a visit to the International Spy Museum , a walk around The Wharf area, and going up to the top of the Washington Monument.

The tricky part of our first day was leaving the metro station. If you go the wrong way (which we did) you have quite a confusing walk ahead of you. Don’t be like us. Exit the metro station on D Street & 9th (L’Enfant Plaza Shopping Mall Concourse). If you see a large astronaut mural above the exit, it is the wrong one.

washington dc places to visit in winter

The Spy Museum requires an advanced ticket. (They do have some same-day tickets available, but appear to sell out, particularly for in-demand times.). We bought an opening time ticket in advance and walked right in when the museum opened.

The Spy Museum took us a full two hours . If you are with someone that wants to read and do every activity I would plan a full 3 hours. Every visitor gets a special card to complete a mission as they move through the museum. If your child cannot read well you are going to have to help them. I did not pick up a card and instead had each of the kids do one. The Little Little (6) needed consistent help but the Middle Little (8) and Big Little (10) were fine on their own. The museum is full of cool displays and hands-on activities. The boys all enjoyed it and won’t stop talking about our visit to the Spy Museum.

It’s a 5 min walk from the Spy Museum to The Wharf DC . It’s full of great shops and restaurants. There are plenty of great options here so it was an easy win with the kids. In the summer there is a splash pad park on 7th street. There is also a little duck pond and grassy area up 7th street. One of my favorite bookstores, Politics & Prose has a storefront at The Wharf that is worth popping into.

washington dc places to visit in winter

After lunch, we headed back toward The Mall, following a path along the water. It crosses under the large expressway and train bridges and pops out near the Tidal Basin. The Holocaust Museum will be on your right. This is a very easy walk.

We continued on the path to the Washington Monument. You need advanced tickets to go up to the monument. You can reserve these up to 30 days in advance on Recreation.gov . Tickets are free but have a $1 service charge per ticket. A few tickets are made available at 10 am for the next day.

I was able to easily get 2 pm tickets, 30 days in advance. The visit took about an hour. The most stressful part is going through a full security checkpoint in a very small space. Groups are small and once you are through security you head up in the elevator.

washington dc places to visit in winter

There are 8 windows (two in each cardinal direction) to look through for a panoramic view of Washington, DC. One floor down there is a tiny “museum” with a few displays about the construction, damage from lightning and earthquakes, and the state stones on the inside of the monument. You also catch the elevator going down on this floor. The elevator makes two stops so you can peer through the glass and see some of the state stones. Our visit took about 45 min. (There is a great Rock the Park about the Washington Monument if you want more info.)

Once out of the Washington Monument, it would be easy to pop into one of the Smithsonian Museums for an hour or walk to the other monuments. I pitched the idea of walking straight down the mall past WWII, Constitution Gardens, and Lincoln and hopping on the Metro at Arlington Cemetary. (It’s about 1.6 miles from the Washington Monument to Arlington Cemetary.) The littles were not having it. Instead, we backtracked a half-mile to the Smithsonian Metro stop and headed back to the hotel.

Day 2: National Mall Museums

Launching Point: Metro to Smithsonian (Blue, Orange, Silver)

The general plan for the day was to see a few of the museums on the National Mall. Some of the museums require advanced, timed, reservations. The museums on the Mall open at 10 am (generally speaking). We had a rough plan, but largely ended up sort of inefficiently moving around the mall to suit our fancy.

washington dc places to visit in winter

We started by grabbing coffee at the lovely coffee bar in the lobby of the Hirshhorne Museum . Grab a seat at one of the beautiful tables made of tree roots and glass or take your coffee and go explore the sculpture garden. You cannot take your coffee into the galleries. While we were there the Hirshorne was home to Yayoi Kusama’s “ One With Eternity” exhibition . Tickets are free but released daily at noon for the following day on the Hirshhorn’s webpage.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Next, we headed to the National Museum of American History . This museum is dense so its best to have a plan and know your audience. I knew we wanted to see the Star Spangled Banner, the new Entertainment Nation exhibition, and the American Presidency/First Ladies gallery. We also ended up in the American Democracy gallery and the littles enjoyed seeing all the election and voting memorabilia. We could have spent more in the National Museum of American History, but ran up against some hungry kids. The restaurant at American History is often regarded as one of the worst on the mall, so we headed elsewhere for lunch.

Next door, the National Museum of African American History & Culture is home to Sweet Home Cafe . The restaurant is renowned for continuing the storytelling of the museum through the rotating food menu. You need a timed ticket to enter the National Museum of African American History & Culture, so plan ahead and grab a lunchtime ticket. After lunch, don’t leave without checking out a few of the galleries. This is another museum you could spend a whole day exploring. There are History galleries, Community galleries, and Cultural galleries plus a host of current special exhibitions. The littles started to get loud, as they do … so we took the opportunity to take them outside to run.

washington dc places to visit in winter

We took a quick detour to explore the Smithsonian Castle. I’ll spare you the details because as of February 1, 2023, the Smithsonian Castle is closed for a 5-year restoration.

washington dc places to visit in winter

The kids still wanted to poke into the National Museum of Natural History . Last Spring we were in DC and stopped by but it was so crazy we didn’t get a chance to really enjoy the museum. On a winter afternoon, the museum was quiet. From the rotunda, we went right into the Mammal Hall and spent about an hour making our way around in a circle through Human Origins and into the Oceans Hall. The Oceans Hall took another half hour because it so beautifully fit into our Blossom and Root science study .

The plan was to have dinner with friends at their house. We walked a few blocks, popping into a CVS for a yogurt drink and dried fruit snack before catching a bus up to Capitol Hill.

Day 3: The White House & The Capitol

Launching Point: McPherson Square Metro

washington dc places to visit in winter

Our White House and Capitol Tour day came together miraculously and was largely the reason a few of our days in D.C. were left unplanned. We also had torrential rain this day.

washington dc places to visit in winter

You can read all about how to get a reservation for a White House tour here . You have to make your reservation at least 21 days in advance but no more than 90 days. Even with all the prior planning, you won’t know exactly what time or date your tour is until a few days before. They are typcially between 8:00 am and 12:30 pm. Complicating things, you can bring nothing with you on these tours. No bags. No nothing. Just your wallet and cell phone. Do not arrive too far in advance, but also don’t be late. You have to queue up on the street until exactly your tour time.

Our Littles were given a Jr. Ranger packet when they entered the White House. Use the packet for a kid-friendly self-guided tour. There are placards posted on the tour to read, but the info in the Jr. Ranger booklet was more detailed and kid-friendly. The tour takes about 30 min.

washington dc places to visit in winter

When you are done with the tour save time to head over to the White House Visitors Center. This is where they will finally give you a pencil to complete the activities in the book. You can earn two badges by turning in your booklet here – Presidental Park as well as The White House. The exhibitions here are also excellent and you do not need a reservation to visit.

We grabbed lunch just across Lafayette Park at Teaism .

During lunch we got a call from our congressman moving up our meeting time by 30 min, so after lunch, we hopped on an uber up to Capitol Hill. You could also easily metro from this area to Capitol South.

washington dc places to visit in winter

If you want to set up a meeting with your congressperson you should start arranging the meeting well in advance. I recommend submitting your request by e-mail but then following up with a phone call. If you know anyone that works in the Capitol you may also wish to go through them. Our Littles enjoyed a short meet and greet. The National Council for Social Studies has some great tips on how to arrange a meeting.

We had a bit of downtime between our meeting and our tour of the Capitol Building so we headed just across the street to the United States Botanical Garden . The gardens are warm and dry. You can ask at the desk for a kid’s guide to the gardens that include some activities.

Tours of the U.S. Capitol must also be made in advance. Tours include the public spaces and do not go into the House or Senate Chambers. You can book your public tour here . I grabbed some tickets for a public tour 90 days in advance knowing that the public tour was going to be challenging with the Littles.

washington dc places to visit in winter

I started pursuing the option of a private tour through a congressional office. This can be very hit or miss, particularly during the busy season. My sister had just left a job on The Hill and was able to make something work for us. Our friends who were at the same conference are from a smaller state and easily got their office to give a tour as well.

When considering which tour is best for you know that tours arranged through your Congressional Office are led by a staff member often an intern. They may not know as many details as one of the professional tour guides. We really appreciated the flexibility of the personal tour with the little ones, but it may not be a good fit for everyone.

The Capitol Visitors Center has a variety of displays and exhibits as well, so leave time to explore those.

It was still pouring rain when the tour was over so we hightailed it to the Capitol South Metro station and headed back to the hotel.

Day 4: National Mall Museums

Launching Point: Metro Center Metro Stop (Red, Orange, Silver, Blue)

washington dc places to visit in winter

The next day we found ourselves back on the National Mall. I pitched a few ideas to the kids, but they really wanted to go back to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History .

Coming from Metro Center you can enter the Museum of Natural History from the back. Security through here was quick. The museum was full of school groups. It was nowhere near as bad as during our Spring Break visit, but more crowded than our visit earlier in the week.

We spent over an hour making another loop through Geology, Gems & Minerals exhibition and finally ending with viewing the Hope Diamond. Then we went back downstairs to explore the Dinosaur Hall and Fossil Lab. At this point everyone was hungry.

We grabbed lunch at the Atrium Cafe which has your typical museum foods. Upstairs at the Ocean Terrace Cafe, a make-your-own grain bowl was perfect for me.

washington dc places to visit in winter

At lunch, I pitched the idea of heading over to the National Gallery of Art, but the kids wanted to continue to explore the Museum of Natural History. We headed upstairs to the Live Insect Zoo and arrived just in time for the Tarranutla Feeding. Once that was over, the kids needed some fresh air.

washington dc places to visit in winter

We set the kids free and steered them toward the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art. They have set up an ice skating rink on the fountain here. We did not skate but watched skaters and enjoyed some of the sculptures.

Our final stop for the day was the National Air & Space Museum . The museum is undergoing a renovation that started in 2018. Half the bidding is now open but you need timed tickets. Ticket distribution is on the hour. We arrived about 15 min early and were not permitted to enter. I easily grabbed 2 pm tickets on my phone and we walked in.

washington dc places to visit in winter

My advice though is to not arrive on time for your reservation. The guard told me that due to the ticket reservation system, they are crazy busy at the hour. So for less line waiting plan to come in 15 min or more after your ticket time. Whatever you do, don’t be more than an hour late or they will not let you in.

The National Air & Space Museum, while only half open, is beautiful. It once felt like a random collection of artifacts and now has some nicely organized stories supported by iconic pieces. We were most impressed by the Destination Moon exhibition. They also now have the Wright Flyer at eye level in a lovely gallery about the first flight.

washington dc places to visit in winter

We were completely exhausted at the end of the day. The kids somehow had the energy to run around just a bit more as the sun set behind the Washington Monument. We found our way to the Smithsonian Metro stop (though L’Enfant Plaza is equally as close) and took the Metro back to the hotel.

Day 5: Arlington Cemetary, National Archives, The Old Post Office, Library of Congress

Launching Point: Arlington Cemetary Metro Stop (Blue) / Federal Triangle Metro Stop (Orange, Silver, Blue)

Our final full day in Washington, D.C. and we still had a few things to check off our visit list.

washington dc places to visit in winter

The kids really wanted to see the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery . In the winter the guard changes every hour. (In the summer it is every half-hour.) The challenge to visiting Arlington National Cemetary is that the walk from the visitors center to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier takes a full 25 minutes. The walk from the metro to the visitors center is another 5 minutes. There are also a few graves you may want to visit (such as President Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Thurgood Marshall) and several memorials for national tragedies.

We spent about 1.5 hours here. We arrived just after the top of the hour and visited a few places on our leisurely walk to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Then after the ceremony, we headed straight back down and to the metro.

After a few stops on the Blue Line, we were at Federal Triangle. We walked a few blocks to the United States Navy Memorial . My kids have always loved playing on the large map etched into the plaza. We have spent countless hours watching them run around here. You can also venture downstairs into the memorial visitors center under the plaza to learn more about the U.S. Navy.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Tucked back near the exit is a kid’s room. It is full of great books and fun hands-on activities. The volunteers are full of ideas to do with the kids from completing a family tree to doing some research in the archival drawers they have right in the kid’s area. They had stencils of famous Declaration of Independence Signers. This is also the only place in the museum where you can take photos. (We did hear a rumor from a staff member that the kid’s room is going to be undergoing a renovation to add more technology and touch screens to the experience. I’m on the fence. So go check out this room now before it is gone.)

Just behind the Archives, one block toward the capitol from the Navy Memorial is a Potbelly’s sandwich shop. We popped in there for a quick and easy lunch.

The National Archives are across the street. A timed entry ticket is advised, though they do take walk-ins. We bypassed the other exhibits and headed straight into the rotunda to show the kids the founding documents. You can backtrack to the other exhibitions when you are done. Do not miss the “Public Vault.” There are several interactive displays here that are kid-friendly. I could have explored here for hours. There is an old census book – what page it is open to varies, but it always has someone interesting. The Emancipation Proclamation is displayed. There are also rooms for videos, emails, and other media that are kept in the National Archives.

Our next stop was The Old Post Office . The Old Post Office building was renovated to become the famed Trump Hotel. It is now a Waldorf Astoria. The entrance to visit The Old Post Office Tower is around the back of the hotel, off 12th Street NW. Tours are self-guided and require two elevator rides.

washington dc places to visit in winter

You enter the Old Post Office door and walk down a long hallway with exhibition boards. Take your time here as this is all the info you are getting. A ranger will meet you at the end of the hall and call the first elevator. Surprise, it’s a glass elevator that provides stunning views into the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria. Exiting the elevator you will find another Park Ranger who will tell you all about the Congressional Bells. You do not see the actual bells on the tour, but they have photos available to show you. The second elevator takes you to the 270-foot level where you get sweeping views down Pennsylvania Ave and beyond. There is another Ranger in the tower to answer all your questions.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Everyone loved visiting The Old Post Office. I would add this to your must-do list. Plus it’s easy to do as it doesn’t require a reservation. On your way down ask the Park Ranger at the bottom of the glass elevator for a Jr. Ranger packet. If they have any badges they will make up a little quiz and award a badge!

washington dc places to visit in winter

We hopped back on the metro at Federal Triangle and rode to Capitol South to visit the Library of Congress. You need a timed entry ticket to visit the Library of Congress. They allow a thirty-min window on either side of your timed ticket, making it very easy to arrive and be let in.

washington dc places to visit in winter

If you are with kids stop at the desk that is immediately after you go through security and ask for a scavenger hunt. It’s a great way to keep the kids engaged so you can soak in the architecture of the main gallery. You won’t want to miss going up the stairs to peek into the reading room. Also head into the exhibition gallery and back to the original Jefferson Library. Stop at the windows for a great view of the Capitol. Downstairs you can see the old office of the head of the Library.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Do not leave without taking your kids to the Children’s Reading Room. You may have to ask for directions because it is all the way down the hall. Here you will find a beautifully curated collection of books. They also had activity boxes and a puppet theater to engage the kids. We spent over an hour in the room reading and doing activities.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Exiting the library we headed away from the Capitol South Metro station so the kids could see the Supreme Court. We snapped a photo on the stairs. (phew… we got all three branches of government.) We walked from here to my sister’s apartment for dinner.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Day 6: Old Town Alexandria & Departure

This whole time we had been staying in Old Town Alexandria and barely ventured out into the city. It is one of my favorite places to walk and enjoy the stately houses that line the street. Plus, it makes for such great people walking.

washington dc places to visit in winter

We made a short walk down King street, across the waterfront, and back up Prince street. I grabbed a coffee on the walk. There are so many good options! If you want something more organized check out the City of Alexandria’s self-guided walking tours .

washington dc places to visit in winter

The Torpedo Factory Art Cente r is a great stop. (Yes, even with kids.) There is also lots of public art on the waterfront as well as a good car-free area for kids to run. There are plenty of parks to check out too. It just depends on how much time you have to spend and what the weather looks like.

We just needed a leisurely stroll before heading by Metro to the airport to head home.

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A woman inspects inventory in a display unit in a furniture store.

A local’s travel guide to Washington DC: what to eat, see and do in three days

Top sights in Washington include Capitol Hill Books, the Black Cat music venue and a top-rated Filipino restaurant

P eople love to be rude about Washington DC because it’s full of so many politicians, feds, and consultants who wear fleece vests and don’t take off their work lanyards when they leave the office. I get it. I myself had mixed feelings about my home town when I was growing up there. It didn’t seem as exciting as New York, or as glitzy as Los Angeles. But after a decade away, I came back, because time is circular, and also it turns out DC rocks and I love it! It has great restaurants, resplendent parks and free museums. Sometimes when I’m sad I’ll put on red lipstick and go wander around the National Gallery of Art for an afternoon, staring at gorgeous paintings and sulking in a way that I hope looks beautiful and intriguing to strangers. This city can be short on glamour, so sometimes you have to generate it yourself.

If you’re not feeling sad and dramatic, though, here are some other things we can do together.

Day 1: Rothko and rock’n‘roll

Let’s start at lunch. My parents started going to Zorba’s Cafe , a Greek restaurant off Dupont Circle, before I was born. My family comes so often that my mom and I once said that in the event of an apocalyptic global communications meltdown in which we couldn’t get in touch with each other, we’d meet at Zorba’s. That’s our idea, and you can’t copy it! Anyway, until then, just enjoy the food. It’s amazing. I like to get the dolmathakia, baba-ganouz, and the souvlaki plate with chicken.

When you’ve finished your meal, you can wander around the corner to the Phillips Collection , a private museum with an extensive collection of impressionist work. The Rothko room is my favorite. One time I went to see an exhibit at the Phillips and Nancy Pelosi stood next to me looking at the same painting.

A woman takes an escalator up underneath a grid-patterned ceiling.

I don’t generally enjoy shopping. It reminds me of going to the mall as a tween and fighting with my mom because she wouldn’t buy me a tank top that said “Spank Me” or whatever. But I could spend hours inspecting every inch of GoodWood and Delorean 88 Vintage . The U Street vintage furniture and clothing stores are a 20-minute walk or five-minute drive from the Phillips. They both represent aspirational versions of myself: at GoodWood, I am a sophisticated, cerebral aesthete who can instantly tell teak wood from walnut. At Delorean 88, I am someone with interesting opinions on music and who knows how to style an oversized T-shirt. I love taking friends to these places and seeing what they gravitate to.

On to dinner. DC has some incredible Ethiopian and Eritrean food, and Keren Restaurant is an Adams Morgan neighborhood staple. It’s delicious and affordable, and you rarely have to wait long to get a seat. My favorite dish, the veggie combo with injera, is only $12. It’s easily enough food for at least two full meals.

If you still have the energy, the music venue Black Cat is only a 15-minute walk from Keren. My boyfriend took me there on our first date. I can’t promise that seeing a show here will help you find love, but it won’t hurt!

Day 2: Fabergé eggs and Filipino eats

Let’s start off at Hillwood Estate , the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the late businesswoman and heiress. Perhaps you’ve heard about the other home she built: Mar-a-Lago. Hillwood is just as understated as its Florida cousin. Touring the mansion feels like walking through a carnival funhouse designed by Russian tsars. Post’s third husband served as ambassador to the Soviet Union in the 1930s, and the couple became enthusiastic collectors of Russian art. The home features portraits of Catherine the Great and Tsar Nicholas II, and two Fabergé eggs. Outside the mansion, the grounds include a rose garden, a Japanese-style garden, an orchid-filled greenhouse and a pet cemetery where you can pay your respects to dogs with names like Scampi. It’s a fun place to wander around, especially when the weather’s nice.

When you’re ready for lunch, pick up a sandwich or a slice from Vace Italian Delicatessen . A six-minute drive from Hillwood, it’s a perfect Italian deli on Connecticut Avenue. You can get a slice of pizza for $2.50 or an Italian cold cut sandwich for $6.50. It also has great homemade pasta, sauces and frozen entrees. My family and I used to get bags of their mushroom agnolotti and tubs of homemade walnut sauce. It’s a rich, heavy meal that one must digest over the course of four to six days, like a boa constrictor processing an ocelot.

An overflowing deli counter with workers in food service clothes.

Next up, I recommend a stroll through beautiful Rock Creek Park. The green, tranquil escape is the perfect place to go on a long walk and talk trash with your friends. Take your time, until you are ready to do some more eating. In 2023, Tom Sietsema, the Washington Post’s food critic, named Purple Patch the restaurant of the year , and it was well deserved. The Filipino-American establishment in Mount Pleasant has a bright, cozy atmosphere. I have vivid, passionate dreams about its ube pie.

Day 3: Books and board games

To begin: a two-hour unlimited brunch at Ambar . Personally, I could happily eat nothing but Ambar’s cheese and meat pies until they run out of pies and ask me to leave. But this Balkan restaurant on Capitol Hill has other gems on the menu too, like pork sausage and ajvar, a delicious roasted pepper and eggplant spread.

Just a 10-minute walk from Ambar, Capitol Hill Books is the kind of shabby, warm, overstuffed shop that would serve as the quaint backdrop for a meet-cute in a 90s romcom. There is no more perfect place to browse after brunch and to be wooed into thinking that maybe this is the copy of Anna Karenina you’ll actually finish.

A woman among shelves laden with hundreds of books.

A 10-minute drive south of the bookstore, Diamond Teague Park is a great place to stroll along the Anacostia River, or to sit in the grass and performatively read whichever books you picked up. Ideally, you’d buy an ice-cream cone at a nearby shop and enjoy that while you sat in the sun.

After lazing around the park, wander over to the Salt Line , an oyster bar right in front of Nationals Park. For two people, the perfect order is a dozen oysters (two each of their six selections) and one lobster roll to split. And to end the night, stop by Trusty’s Full-Serve . It’s my favorite dive bar in DC, and possibly on the planet. Trusty’s is the perfect spot to have a drink and gossip and maybe order a hot dog if you’re hungry. If you’ve run out of gossip, you can play one of the board games lying around: Tetris, Battleship, a battered box of old Trivial Pursuit cards. Everyone is so nice and they always remember my order (sparkling water and lime).

Question Time

Is three days in washington dc enough, what is the most popular tourist spot in washington, dc – and is it worth it.

The National Mall. And yes. It’s beautiful, lined by wonderful free museums, and you can see the Capitol and the Washington monument from afar, which is all you need.

Is it expensive to visit Washington DC?

It doesn’t have to be. The Smithsonian museums are free, and there’s good, cheap food if you know where to look.

When is the best time to visit Washington DC?

Spring and fall because that’s when the weather is the most mild (albeit unpredictable) and when the flora puts on the best show.

What’s the weather in Washington DC?

Cold and gray in the winter, hot and humid in the summer. Spring and fall are wild cards.

Madeleine Aggeler is the Guardian US’s lifestyle and wellness reporter. Her lifestyle is fine and she’s mostly well

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D.C. is seeing the least wintry years and decades it has known

Statistics of snowfall and freezing temperatures have sunk to historic lows after another mild winter in the area.

washington dc places to visit in winter

Aside from about one week in January, the D.C. area saw hardly any winter weather over the past several months. The lackluster season fits into a long-term trend toward shorter, warmer winters with fewer snowstorms.

After the area’s eighth mild winter in the past nine years, statistics show that Washington is in the midst of the least wintry years and decades that it has known.

Only 8 inches of snow fell during the winter, 5 inches below normal and less than predictions for an above-average season . Seasonal snowfall was below average for the seventh time in the past eight winters.

The snow total over the past five combined winters is the least in records dating to the 1880s. The same holds true for the combined totals over the past 10, 20 and 30 seasons.

The lack of snow is closely tied to the lack of cold weather. The temperature this past winter only dipped to freezing 32 times — the second-fewest on record, only trailing the 30 instances in the winter of 2011 to 2012. The winter of 2022 to 2023 had just 36 freezes, ranking third-fewest.

Trends in snowfall

While the 8 inches of snow that fell in Washington this past season was higher than many recent winters, it also easily ranks in the bottom quarter for snowfall in over 150 years of records.

Over the past five winters, only 27.6 inches of snow fell — the lowest five-year total on record and equivalent to what we should see in two winters. As a sign of how Washington’s winter climate is shifting south, the annual snowfall average of 5.5 inches over the past five years is comparable to what Raleigh, N.C., expects in a typical winter.

The last 10-, 20- and 30-year periods have also set records for low snowfall:

  • Over the past decade ending this winter, the 96.2 inches (or winter average of 9.6 inches, similar to Richmond) of snow was less than the previous record 10-year low of 111.7 inches for the decade ending in the winter of 2020 to 2021.
  • Over the past two decades ending this winter, the 247.5 inches (or winter average of 12.4 inches) was less than the previous record 20-year low of 251.9 inches ending last winter.
  • Over the past three decades ending this winter, the 400.8 inches (or winter average of 13.36 inches) was less than the previous record 30-year low of 406 inches ending last winter.

Trends in freezing temperatures

The decline in freezing nights in Washington is even starker than the decline in snow.

As this past winter and the one before saw the second- and third-fewest freezes on record; the two-season freeze total of just 68 freezes is the lowest ever observed. The freeze counts for the past five, 10 and 30 seasons — of 225, 480 and 1,718, respectively — are also record-setting.

Since 2015 to 2016, the number of freezes every winter has ranked among the top 10 fewest.

Washington probably won’t see more snow into April

There’s no sign of snow chances or freezing temperatures in Washington as we approach April.

Over the past 30 years, the final accumulating snow average in the District is Feb. 26. At Dulles International Airport to the west, the average last snow is March 4.

Accumulating snow in April hasn’t happened in Washington since 2007, when a coating of 0.4 inches fell on April 7. The last time more than half an inch of snow fell during that month was in 1924.

The average last freeze in the District is March 24. The latest in the past three decades was April 10, 2016 — so we can’t totally rule out a freeze, but projections suggest it’s unlikely.

While it’s improbable that we would have a freeze near downtown Washington now, suburban areas still have a reasonably strong chance to see freezing overnight temperatures. The average last freeze at Dulles Airport isn’t until April 19.

Snow, freezing temperatures likely to continue their decline

Climate change caused by both the burning of fossil fuels and urbanization are the primary drivers of these downward trends in snowfall and freezes.

By 2040, the area may see 14 fewer freezing nights per winter compared with now, according to data from the Climate Impact Lab , a nonprofit that aims to measure and communicate the impacts of climate change.

The reduction in cold temperatures means fewer accumulating snow events, especially early and late in the winter season when temperatures are only marginally cold enough for accumulation to begin with.

Jason Samenow contributed to this report.

washington dc places to visit in winter

washington dc places to visit in winter

14 Amazing Things to Do in Washington, DC

W ashington, DC, is one of my favorite places to visit. I love the vibe and attitude of the city. I make an effort to visit the location every few years. In this post, I'll list 14 activities to do in Washington, DC.

1. Monuments

You can't go to Washington, DC, without seeing the numerous monuments that are there. Some of the monuments I saw were the Washington Monument, The Lincoln Memorial, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. The atmosphere near the memorial was very calm and peaceful. Everyone should check out the Dr. King Memorial if they get a chance. He did so much for many people and gave the ultimate sacrifice so that citizens could have equality.

2. The White House

You can't go to Washington, DC, and not see the White House. The White House is the residence and workplace of the President of the USA. It is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I've had the opportunity to see the White House from a distance a couple of times. I haven't been able to take a tour yet. It takes months for your tour request to be approved or denied.

3. Washington Nationals Game

If you're an MLB fan, you must check out a Washington Nationals game. Nationals Park is a beautiful stadium. They are a team that plays in the National League East. There are a lot of good seats in Nationals Park that provide excellent views. Every ballpark isn't like that. They also have an area outside the stadium called Fairgrounds, with a bar and food vendors. It's a must-see if you like baseball.

4. U Street

This one is one of my favorite things to do in Washington, DC. U Street is one of the best places to go in the city for nightlife. There are several bars and restaurants to go to. Ben's Chili Bowl is a must-visit if you're ever in DC. They have great chili dogs and half-smokes. I try to go there every time I'm in DC. You may even see the owner, Virginia Ali, still doing some work.

5. Howard University

Howard University is one of the best HBCUs out there. The school was established in 1867. It is commonly referred to as the "Mecca" because of its success and diverse group of students. Also, five of the "Divine Nine" fraternities and sororities were founded there. If you are a fan of HBCUs, this should be on your list of things to do in Washington, DC.

6. Vietnam Veterans and Korean War Veterans Memorials

One of the most moving war memorials is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, or "The Wall."  It is one of the sites where it is hard not to feel emotional while reading the names on the wall of more than 58,000 soldiers who laid their lives in our nation's service during the Vietnam War. It is recommended to visit the site during the day with ample sunlight.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial is located in Washington, DC.'s West Potomac Park, southeast of the Lincoln Memorial and just south of the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall. It pays tribute to 1.5 million who served in the Korean War. It is a privately funded site displaying 19 stainless steel statues of soldiers in combat.

You can explore both memorials 24 hours a day; however, the site is only staffed by National Park Service rangers from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

7. The Tidal Basin

This is another one of my favorite Washington, DC, sights. If you visit Washington, DC, try to spend some time along the Tidal Basin. It is a 2-mile-long pond that was once attached to the Potomac River and regarded as the backdrop to some of DC's best-loved sites. Every spring, the Tidal Basin bursts with color as cherry blossom trees (gifted to DC from Tokyo) bloom into cotton candy-colored tufts and attract hordes of visitors. You can follow the path around the basin, but many recent visitors recommended testing the waters in a paddleboat.

8. Washington National Cathedral

The Washington National Cathedral is designed in a gothic style; it is the 6 th largest in the world. The construction of this massive structure started in 1907 and was completed in 1990. It is surrounded by gardens, creating a lovely atmosphere for visitors. Take a stroll around the cathedral, peer at its high vaults and flying buttresses, or step inside to admire its intricate glass-stained windows.

The cathedral's grand architecture and colorful stained-glass windows will leave you in awe. If you're religious, consider attending one of the free worship services offered every Sunday at 8, 9, and 11:15 a.m. Evening prayers led by the choir are available on Sundays at 4 p.m.

9. Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps, and manuscripts in its collections. The Library is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office.

The Library preserves and provides access to a rich, diverse, and enduring source of knowledge to inform, inspire, and engage you in your intellectual and creative endeavors. Whether you are new to the Library of Congress or an experienced researcher, we have a world-class staff ready to assist you online and in person. The Library of Congress comprises of three buildings and is open to the public Monday through Saturday, though each building maintains different visiting hours. There are no entrance fees for this attraction.

10. Arlington National Cemetery

The Arlington National Cemetery is the country’s largest military cemetery. It serves as the final resting place for more than 400,000 military veterans and their immediate families from the fronts of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as World Wars I and II, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, the Cold War, and America’s Civil War.

The grounds honor those who have served our nation and provide our guests with a sense of beauty and peace. Rolling green hills are dotted with trees that are hundreds of years in age, complementing the gardens found throughout the cemetery's 639 acres. This impressive landscape is a tribute to the service and sacrifice of every individual laid to rest within these hallowed grounds. The cemetery conducts between 27 and 30 funerals every weekday. The site is open to the public 365 days a year, with free admission for those who wish to tour the site and pay their respects.

11. Visit the Smithsonian Museum Air & Space Museum

If you are a lover of arts, culture, science, and some of the greatest inventions of the human race, then visiting the Smithsonian Museum is one thing you'd want to do while in Washington. The museum contains national treasures and is visited by millions of people annually. The Smithsonian is a national air and space museum containing some of the oldest aircraft ever made. It has a huge catalog which includes the Wright flyer made in 1903. If you want to go there with your kids, there is also a gift shop with huge antiques you can get for them while visiting.

It’s always best to visit the museum in the morning when it's less crowded, as it can get a little busy in the evenings, especially in the summer. The museum is free to visit, but you might have to pay for some services like the IMAX theater and the planetarium, but it just costs 9 dollars for adults and 7 dollars for kids. 

12. Cherry Blossom Festival

Next on the list of things to do in Washington, DC, is to participate in the Cherry Blossom Festival. Trust me, this is something you’ll want to experience, and it takes place in spring, around March. The four-week-long festival typically starts on the 20 th of March and ends on the 28 th of April. It is held to commemorate the gifting of the Japanese Cherry tree to the city of Washington DC by the Mayor of Tokyo city in 1912, Mayor Ozaki.

The festival features a huge display of colorful balloons, music, marching bands, shows, parades, and Japanese arts and culture. The cherry tree also blooms this season, covering parts of the city with its precious pink flowers. If you visit Washington, DC, in March, you will have a great time at the Cherry Blossom Festival.

13. Visit Adams Morgan

Adams Morgan is a neighborhood in Washington, DC, well known for its multiculturalism and vibrant nightlife. If you want to find Adams Morgan, take a walk by 18 th street at night, and you’ll find this neighborhood of nightly wonders. It’s hard to miss. It's got colorful houses lined up on its streets alongside cafes, lounges, clubs, and even shops open all night long for your entertainment. There is so much you can do at Adams Morgan if you're a night owl. It would be a shame not to visit it.

14. See the United States Capitol

Visiting the U.S capitol should also be on your list while you are in Washington. It is not just a place where laws are made but is also a wonderful display of architectural genius. It was built in the 1800s and houses both the house of reps and the senate.  The building also holds a part of history as it was destroyed by the British and rebuilt later.

The U.S. capital allows visitors to its several exhibits and gift shop. You could also get a tour of the building every day of the week except Sundays. You book a visit online or a tour on the premises.

What are some of your favorite things to do in Washington, DC?

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With a little planning, a trip to Washington, DC, will tick all your boxes © ©Julia Kim / Getty Images

Washington, DC , is surprisingly easy to navigate – this is, after all, America's first planned city, laid out according to a grid system and intentionally filled with leafy parks and town squares. That said, a little pre-trip planning goes a long way here, especially if you're hoping to check out its museums and government buildings, many of which have strict rules.

But don't get us wrong – this place is a dream to explore, and with the help of the following tips, it's one you're guaranteed to fall in love with.

1. Keep cool, calm and collected by considering the time of year

There are various reasons why the timing of your visit is an important factor. To start with, DC gets incredibly hot and humid during the later summer months. August and September are the warmest, while you'll enjoy cooler weather (and lower prices) in early spring and autumn. Another reason to visit in spring? The city's famous cherry blossoms have filled the city with color since 1912, when Japan gifted the American people Sakura trees as a symbol of friendship. These trees – many of which can be found on the National Mall – generally bloom between mid-March and early April.

2. Get the inside scoop on a coach tour

Washington, DC, is an incredibly walkable city once you've got your bearings, but it's also easy to underestimate just how hot and muggy it can get in the summer. Additionally, the sheer number of monuments, galleries and museums in DC can be a little overwhelming initially. Book a coach tour and you'll not only get a fantastic insight into the city, but you'll be ferried between its main landmarks in the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle. The hop-on, hop-off Big Bus tours operate five routes, including ones that focus on the National Mall. One-day tickets start from $54 for adults and $45 for children aged between three and 12 (children under three ride for free).

Vibrant sunrise over the National Mall in Washington DC, with people walking and running in the foreground

3. Pound the pavements longer with decent walking shoes  

America's capital has a neat, organized layout that is pedestrian-friendly, and this calls for a decent pair of shoes. Take the National Mall: it's easy to underestimate its size, but this monument-filled park is actually two miles long. Similarly, some of the city's museums are absolutely enormous, like the National Air and Space Museum , where exhibits – including the world's largest collection of historic aircraft – fill a building the same length as three city blocks. 

4. Save money by staying outside of the downtown area

DC is one of America's more expensive cities, but you'll get much more bang for your buck if you book accommodations outside the downtown core. Consider neighborhoods such as historic Georgetown or the waterfront Navy Yard district. Another option is to base yourself in Arlington, Virginia , an urban county just across the Potomac River. Hotel rooms here are much cheaper, and the city's fast, efficient metro network makes it easy to get to downtown DC via its yellow and blue lines.

A subway train passes commuters at the Dupont Station in Washington, DC

5. Embrace public transport

The US capital is largely flat, which is great news for walking enthusiasts, but it also has a fantastic public transport system. You'll see the city's DC Circulator buses everywhere, and routes include a dedicated National Mall circuit, along with ones that connect downtown DC with neighborhoods like Dupont Circle. Standard fares start from just $1, or 50¢ for passengers aged 65 and older, while kids under five ride for free. Getting to downtown DC from Dulles International Airport has never been easier, either. In 2022, the airport got its own metro station – simply hop on the recently extended Silver Line to get to the city center.

6. Pack sensibly to avoid falling foul of security rules

Bear in mind that most of DC's top attractions have strict rules relating to what you can and can't bring in, and most of these places will have metal detectors. If you're doing a tour of the White House, for example, the list of banned items includes all types of bags (and there are no storage facilities), e-cigarettes, liquid of any kind (including water bottles), cameras with detachable lenses, strollers and tablets. 

Rules at museums and landmarks like the US Capitol Visitor Center are generally less strict – although tripods, e-cigarettes and selfie sticks are almost always on the banned list. Backpacks will typically need to be stored in lockers, which is why it's worth carrying some loose change. Expect to pay between $1 and $5 per locker depending on its size and how long you'll be using it for.

People walk around the mammoth statue in the main atrium of the Natural History Museum in DC

7. Get your timing right to ensure access to your favorite landmarks

If museums and galleries feature on your itinerary, it's worth taking a second to think about what you want to see and when. Doing so can save you money, because although all Smithsonian museums are free to visit, other galleries and museums aren't. This includes the National Museum of Women in the Arts , which charges an admission fee of $16 per adult (although admission is free for anyone aged 21 and under). Visit on the first Sunday and second Wednesday of every month, however, and admission is free for everyone.

Additionally, many museums stay open late and will be less crowded during this time. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History , for example, is known for its fantastic Nighttime Adventures evenings, which finish at 11pm. Finally, remember that almost all of Washington, DC's monuments can be admired around the clock, making it easier to avoid both the crowds and the hottest time of day. A midnight crowd-free stroll along the monument-dotted National Mall? Sign us up!

8. Stay safe by being aware of your surroundings 

When it comes to safety, take standard precautions, keeping items such as wallets, cameras and iPhones out of view. Tourists are more vulnerable to street theft because they're more likely to be carrying items such as passport wallets, currency-stuffed purses and cameras, so in addition to keeping high-value items hidden, apply the same approach to telltale items such as maps, especially in crowded places such as DC's Union Station.

Keep planning your trip to Washington, DC:

Plan your itinerary with these capital picks Stick to your budget with  these free things to do Become a transportation whiz with these tips on how to get around Dive into abstract art at one of DC's best-kept secrets:  Glenstone

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Thomas Jefferson memorial with cherry blossom

Pink fireworks and cherry blossom cocktails: why spring is the best time to see Washington, D.C.

The capital is blooming with revitalised neighbourhoods and new attractions, from the culinary to the cultural — and there’s no better time to visit than spring, when it lets loose for all things cherry blossom

The eyes of the world are often trained on Washington’s political dealings, but for a few weeks each spring, state affairs fade into the background as the city succumbs to something uncharacteristically frivolous: cherry blossom fever. In the century since Japan gifted the capital 2,000 of its iconic sakura trees, the US capital has layered spectacle after spectacle onto the annual bloom; America, after all, doesn’t do things by halves.    

I arrive in April, just in time for the grand finale of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, where local bands perform on pink stages and pink fireworks dazzle over the Anacostia River. It’s a taste of the frenzy that’s swept the city for the past fortnight: parades, a pink-tie ball, a kite festival and the crowning of a cherry blossom queen are just a fraction of the events in the calendar. And, as I continue to explore over the following days, the mania shows no signs of subsiding. Fake blossom boughs adorn brunch spots and cherry blossom stickers are plastered across the metros. Every mixologist worth their salt, it seems, has a signature sakura cocktail on offer.

“I was doing cherry blossom products long before the festival became this big,” Kim Downes tells me at her stall of pink candles and pink bath bombs in Eastern Market, a 150-year-old hub for produce-growers and artisans in Capitol Hill. She’s dressed the part: pink trousers and accessories to match her pink hair. “They make perfect souvenirs if you’re visiting for the blossom,” she says of the display. “The funny thing people don’t realise is that cherry blossoms don’t have any scent, so I’ve created one using hyacinth!”  

Keen to better understand the collective craze, I hire a bicycle and head down to Tidal Basin, where most of the cherry trees are planted, weaving between the monuments, memorials and museums of National Mall park. This is the DC of postcards and first-timers’ travel guides — the Washington Monument at one end, the Lincoln Memorial at the other — but it’s by no means the city’s only attraction. In the five years since I last visited, revitalised neighbourhoods including NoMa, The Wharf and Southwest have come into their own, with new galleries, serious gastronomy and a young, hip energy drawing it all together.  

Nevertheless, I’m pleased to be pedalling through the most famous of DC’s 683 parks in the springtime sunshine, and it’s not long before I spot a profusion of frothy blossoms. This tree is one of the last still in bloom, and, as I get closer, its delicate, candy-pink buds have an unexpected effect on me. A breeze stirs a flurry of petals into the warm air, and I realise I’m converted. Cherry blossom parades, cocktails and bath bombs? Sign me up.  

What to see and do in Washington, D.C.

1. Artechouse A shock of the irreverent and cutting-edge amid a sea of venerable institutions, Artechouse (an elision of ‘art’, ‘tech’ and ‘house’) creates immersive digital installations in the bowels of a once-derelict theatre near The Wharf. The company have been merging art and art spaces here since 2017, collaborating with digital architects to one-up themselves year-on-year, even partnering with NASA on one of their latest projects.  

2. Monuments & Memorials Bike Tour This three-hour, two-wheeled city tour from Unlimited Biking is a particularly comprehensive option. It whisks riders down the National Mall and around the Tidal Basin, taking in as many landmarks and photo opportunities as the crowds allow. To have the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and others to yourself, opt for the night-time tour.  

3. Rubell Museum Don and Mera Rubell are contemporary art power players: the octogenarians have collected over 7,000 pieces since they married in 1964 and show no sign of stopping. Artists such as Keith Haring and Kehinde Wiley address searing issues here at their second museum, which opened in 2022 in the capital’s southwest — poignantly close to the country’s legislative seat.

4. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum The most popular of DC’s 17 free-to-enter Smithsonian museums, this temple to American engineering reopened in late 2022 with phase one of a vast renovation that is due to conclude in 2025. Launch yourself into the history of flight and space exploration with a collection — the largest of its kind in the world — showcasing planes, rockets and curiosities, including the original 1903 Wright brothers flying machine and Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit.

5. National Museum of Women in the Arts A two-year renovation saw the world’s first major institution dedicated to women artists reopen in October with super-swish, expanded galleries and a busy schedule of public programming, from workshops to talks with artists and educators. Standouts include works by Frida Kahlo and Mary Cassatt; discover them with the free collection tour held each Friday.

immersive art gallery

6. Key Bridge Boathouse Georgetown, the capital’s oldest and most charming neighbourhood, is on the Potomac waterfront, and you could easily spend a day bouncing between its high-end boutiques and fashionable restaurants. Instead, pack a picnic, rent a kayak and take to the river to unlock natural treasures such as Roosevelt Island or C & O Canal.

Where to eat

1. Union Market At the heart of revitalised NoMa is DC’s foremost food hub, a welcoming warehouse given over to 40 local culinary vendors, with ample outdoor seating. Diaspora cuisines are well represented: tuck into fragrant dumplings at Laoban; South Indian chutneys at DC Dosa; and dishes like Persian chicken salads or falafel bocadillo sandwiches at Immigrant Food, a start-up that advocates for immigration rights.  

2. Succotash The city takes dining seriously, but there’s a playful indulgence to the Southern menu at chichi Succotash, which opened in 2017 in the historic Penn Quarter. Salads dressed in buttermilk, tomahawk steaks with shrimp, and family-style platters of chicken and waffles are just some of the treats from James Beard Award nominee chef Edward Lee, while the long bar serves up unmissable bourbon cocktails.

3. Causa Located in Shaw, chef Carlos Delgado’s masterful ode to his native Peru is one of DC’s newest — and hottest — Michelin-starred joints. The ever-evolving, six-course prix fixe menu ($125/£100 per person) celebrates the Andean nation’s natural pantry and culinary traditions, with optional pisco flights or wine pairing.

Interior of restaurant and bar

Best places to stay

1. Union Market Hotel A funky addition to the city’s hotel scene since 2022, the 106-room property is targeted at younger crowds with street art creeping up the outside brickwork and industrial-chic co-working spaces inside. Rooms are plush and stylish for the price tag, with upcycled furniture and whimsical pops of colour.  

2. The Line Feeding off and into the fashionable vibe of Adams Morgan, home to some of DC’s best nightlife, this bolthole set in a former church dazzles with grown-up hipster style that stays just the right side of pretentious. Yoga classes and live podcasting events add buzz to the common areas, while, six years on from opening, the house restaurant is still a hot ticket.

3. Hotel Washington Hotels don’t come more central than this four-star abutting the White House’s east wing. Dating back to 1917, it’s hosted a who’s who of diplomats over the years in its classically styled bedrooms and panoramic rooftop bar. Design touches include lifts decorated with constellations showing what the night sky looked like on key political dates, from the Declaration of Independence to Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Like a local

1. Drum circle at Meridian Hill Park Held on Sundays at 3pm, this 60-year-old tradition is said to have begun as a response to the assassination of Malcolm X. It sees scores of rhythmic musicians — joined by jugglers, hula-hoopers and other street performers — strike up a free-to-all drum circle that offers uplift and catharsis for participants and viewers alike.

2. Busboys & Poets Now with nine locations in the wider Washington metropolitan area, this chain of bookshop-restaurants started out with the venue at 14th and V Streets in 2005. It’s a hub for activists — or travellers looking for a bite, a political talk or both. A mural on the wall quotes poet (and former busboy) Langston Hughes: ‘Let America be America again / Let it be the dream it used to be.’  

3. Municipal Fish Market The nation’s longest-running open-air collection of seafood vendors dates back to 1805 and has been smartened up in the ongoing revitalisation of The Wharf neighbourhood. Barges selling fish, shrimp, crab, clams and oysters from the Chesapeake Bay float alongside the pier, with sellers including Jessie Taylor Seafood tossing your selection into boiling water, seasoning it and serving it there and then.  

After hours

1. 9:30 Club Washington’s legendary concert venue got a new home at the eastern end of swinging U Street in 1996, but it still carries all the kudos gained during the 80s, nurturing emerging talent at 930 F Street NW. From sold-out shows by Bob Dylan and secret gigs by Radiohead to rising stars, this is the spot for a raucous crowd and electric sets.

2. Chicken & Whiskey Prohibition has been out since 1933, but DC never stopped loving speakeasies. A fake freezer door at the back of this South American cafe conceals a casual cocktail bar with hand-carved ice cubes and over 60 types of whisky. The concept may not be unique, but the venue has become somewhat of an institution in the nightlife district around 14th Street.

3. Red Bear Brewing Co America’s urban microbrewery boom hasn’t bypassed DC; there are more spots for a cold one here than weeks in a year. Among the best is this 100% gay-owned tap room in a former NoMa industrial space, with reclaimed wood benches and a board game library. To sample more craft beer bars, take a tour with   City Brew Tours , featuring 16 tastings and behind-the-scenes access.  

This story was created with the support of Visit Washington, DC .  

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Continuing Coverage

NBC4 Washington

The Weekend Scene: Enjoying peak bloom rain or shine, inside or outside

Cherry blossom fun, a concert at the washington spirit home opener and more for your weekend around d.c., by sophia barnes and tommy mcfly, news4 scene reporter • published march 22, 2024 • updated on march 22, 2024 at 11:58 am, subscribe to the weekend scene newsletter to get our picks delivered straight to your inbox — every wednesday.

Heavy rain may be in the forecast for Saturday , but that's not stopping us from reveling in the last days of the cherry blossoms' peak bloom.

Friday and Sunday will have nice weather for a stroll through cherry trees.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival's welcome area on the Tidal Basin is set to open Saturday with performances scheduled on the ANA Stage from noon to 6 p.m. daily through April 7.

We're making it easier for you to find stories that matter with our new newsletter — The 4Front. Sign up here and get news that is important for you to your inbox.

We've listed more than a dozen favorite places to see the cherry blossoms . That includes the U.S. National Arboretum , which offers a self-guided tour . Bonus: The Native Plant Sale is happening Saturday morning!

Before you head out this weekend, check the forecast and the social media pages for any events you're attending. We've already seen postponements, including Bloomaroo at The Wharf (now on March 30) and National Landing's Pink in the Park.

But there are lots of ways to celebrate the season indoors, as well.

Indoor activities for cherry blossom season

  • The Smithsonian American Art Museum's Cherry Blossom Family Celebration happens on Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. with performances, crafts, face painting and more.
  • The Northern Virginia Science Center in Fair Oaks Mall is hosting a cherry blossom festival on Saturday. It's included with admission ($15 for visitors age 2 and up).
  • Many bars are decked out for peak bloom! Check out Union Station’s 1908 Lounge , sweeping rooftop views at Ciel Social Club and themed drinks at Residents Café and Bar or Jack Rose Dining Saloon .
  • Something about cherry blossom season puts us in the mood for afternoon tea! Here are six terrific teas you can visit , including Bar Pendry’s boozy tea and an Alexandria tea house with river views.
  • Hundreds of LEGO cherry trees have sprouted up around the D.C. monuments depicted in brick form at the LEGO Discovery Center Washington, D.C. in Springfield, Virginia.
  • ARTECHOUSE, the immersive art space in Southwest D.C., recently debuted "ISEKAI: Blooming Parallel Worlds," a cherry blossom-themed experience inspired by manga and anime.  Timed tickets  are available now; they start at $27 for adults.

Ready to plan your perfect bloom-filled weekend? Check out our guide to the Tidal Basin , other stellar places to see blooms , cherry blossom-themed teas and our roundup of top events .

The most fun things to do and places to be in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

washington dc places to visit in winter

Where to see cherry blossoms in DC, Maryland and Virginia

washington dc places to visit in winter

Comedian Kevin Hart joins an elite group honored with the Mark Twain Prize for American humor

Top weekend picks.

Washington Spirit home opener Sat., 7:30 p.m., Audi Field 🔗 Details

Washington Spirit play Bay FC in their first home game of the season.

The festivities begin when gates open at 6 p.m. White Ford Bronco, the much-loved '90s cover band from D.C., will perform at the Spirit Stage next to gate A from 6-7:15 p.m.

Then, dance group JABBAWOCKEEZ will take the field before the game begins.

Metro’s Fleet of the Future Expo Through April 3 🔗 Details

Relive your “I love trains” phase and get a sense of what your future commute will feel like at Metro’s Fleet of the Future Expo , featuring a mock-up of 8,000-series rail cars.

Free pick Sakura Sunday Sun., 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., National Harbor 🔗 Details

Celebrate all things Japanese culture at National Harbor’s festival. Sword training, dance, storytelling and live music are just some of the performances scheduled for the main stage.

Visitors can also shop for Japanese crafts, goods and treats at the marketplace.

Concerts this weekend

Mclusky, 8 p.m. Saturday, Black Cat, $25/$28 (day of)

Incredibly heavy, edgy Welsh post-hardcore trio closes out its reunion tour in D.C. after its original 2022 dates were canceled due to health issues. Details . 

Unwound, 10 p.m. Saturday, 9:30 Club, $38

Another noisy, recently reunited, post-hardcore band — this one from Washington state. Unwound was a mainstay on the Northwest indie rock scene of the 1990s. Details . 

Laetitia Sadier, 7 p.m. Saturday, Songbyrd, $17/$20 (day of)

French musician and singer cofounded the highly influential neo-krautrock band Stereolab in the early 1990s, later leading dream pop band Monade. Details . 

Otoboke Beaver, 7 p.m. Saturday, 9:30 Club, $28

Hyperactive Japanese riot grrrl band whose frenetic style is reminiscent of their noise-rocking countrymates Melt-Banana. Details . 

Things to do in D.C.

Annual Paws & Petals Yappy Hour Fri., Embassy Suites Washington DC Convention Center, free

SHOP! The Square pop-up market Sat., 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., free entry

A Dabble of Scrabble Sat. and Sun. , begins at 10 a.m., Planet Word at 925 13th St., NW (Enter on K Street), free

Things to do in Maryland

United by Hockey Mobile Museum Fri., 3-9 p.m. and Sat. 12 -7 p.m., Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton, free

Six Flags America opens for the season Sat., Upper Marlboro, $40+

Things to do in Virginia

OmBaked Holi Festival Sat., noon to 4 p.m., Lake Anne Plaza in Reston, free

Egg-Ceptional Egg Hunt Egg-Stravaganza Sat., 10 a.m. to noon, Calvert Hills Park in College Park, free

Want to know what's up for your weekend? Sign up for The Weekend Scene , our newsletter about events, experiences and adventures for you and for your family around the DMV.

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What to see and do in Washington DC in spring

washington dc places to visit in winter

The capital is blooming with revitalised neighbourhoods and new attractions, from the culinary to the cultural — and there’s no better time to visit than spring, when it lets loose for all things cherry blossom Pink fireworks and cherry blossom cocktails: why spring is the best time to see Washington, D.C. The eyes of the world are often trained on Washington’s political dealings, but for a few weeks each spring, state affairs fade into the background as the city succumbs to something uncharacteristically frivolous: cherry blossom fever. In the century...

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washington dc places to visit in winter

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COMMENTS

  1. The Best Things to Do This Winter in DC

    Discover pure joy in Washington, DC this winter. A winter getaway to the nation's capital means you can dine by the fire at a cozy restaurant, attend a Washington Capitals or Washington Wizards game, pamper yourself at the spa for a day or enjoy warm drinks at a local restaurant. Also, the Metro's new Silver Line extension allows you to explore ...

  2. 13 BEST Things to do in Washington DC in Winter (2024 Guide)

    Escape the cold at a museum. Or warm up in an art gallery. Go sledding on Capitol Hill. Become a Human Hungry Hippo on Ice. Catch a classic at the Shakespeare Theatre. Commemorate Martin Luther King Junior Day. Where to stay in Washington DC in Winter. Riggs Washington DC.

  3. 21 Best Things to do in D.C. in the Winter

    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.

  4. 10 Magical Things to Do in Washington DC in the Winter (& Why You

    Here are a few frequently asked questions and tips to make the most of your visit to Washington DC in winter: How cold is Washington DC's winter? Washington DC winters are fairly mild: daily highs are usually in the upper 30s to low 40s and the daytime is usually quite pleasant. Nighttime is going to average about 10 degrees cooler, but while ...

  5. 15 Festive Things to Do in Washington DC in Winter (+ Tips!)

    Things to Do in Washington DC in Winter. 1. Spend Christmas at Mount Vernon. Home to first President George Washington and his wife Martha Washington, Mount Vernon is America's most visited historic estate and museum and it is located in Alexandria, VA. Christmas at Mount Vernon leaves this historic mansion embellished in wintry lights and ...

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    21. Attend a Gingerbread Workshop. Tudor Place, a federal-style mansion previously owned by George Washington, hosts an annual gingerbread house workshop. Guests get to enjoy a brief, kid-friendly tour of Tour Place before building their own house, cottage or mansion at the gingerbread workshop.

  7. 65 Things to Do This Winter in DC

    Yes, you can stay toasty during a winter swim. Things are heating up at these natural springs and spas, which offer year-round soaks in hot water. Berkeley Springs State Park. Berkeley Springs, W. Va. Drive time from DC: Two hours and 15 minutes. George Washington was a frequent visitor to this spa, which includes two bathhouses with 102-degree ...

  8. Your Washington, DC Winter Bucket List

    Numerous DC museums offer exciting programming and timely exhibits all winter long. Can't-miss destinations include the Hirshhorn Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the Phillips Collection, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Library of Congress, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of ...

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    The National Gallery of Art. DC's year-round temps are pretty moderate, but during the winter - when cold Canadian winds whistle down the Potomac and Anacostia rivers - Washingtonians bundle up for a day (or a night) on the ice. Public ice skating rinks can be found in multiple neighborhoods in DC proper, so check out the best places to ...

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    Stay safe and warm outside in D.C. this winter, and check out somewhere new with friends and family. Or, you know, grab a date and enjoy snuggling up by the fire. Snow is always a great excuse to cuddle. The Terraza at Officina. Top of the Gate at The Watergate Hotel. Bar Harbor at Hyatt Place National Harbor.

  11. Washington DC Winter Fun: 28 Wonderfully Seasonal Things to Do

    Washington Monument. There's something magical about Washington DC in the wintertime when iconic buildings and monuments like the Washington Monument (15th St. & Constitution Ave) can be surrounded by a blanket of soft snow. The monument, which is a towering tribute to George Washington, is the world's tallest stone structure at 554 feet ...

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    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 ...

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    Find fun winter things to do in Washington, DC after the holiday season. Chase away the winter blues of January and February with fun winter activities. ... The Franciscan Monastery in Brookland offers tours year-round but since most of it is inside, winter is a great time to visit. Tours are offered Monday to Saturday at 1 and 2 pm plus Sunday ...

  14. All the things you MUST Do in DC this Winter

    Washington DC is a fun and family-friendly city to visit year-round. There are plenty of fun and free things to do all around the city, and this is your guide to enjoying the best of DC this winter. Top 10 Things to Do in DC in Winter. 1. Take a Tour; 2. Join a Race; 3. Go to the Lantern Festival; 4. See a Show; 5. Celebrate the Holidays; 6 ...

  15. Things to Do in Washington DC in Winter

    The Smithsonian National Zoo also puts lots of effort into its holiday lights. As well as the obligatory fairy lights, there are colorful light shows and live music events here in the winter evenings too. The zoo isn't usually open in the evening, so these late openings are rare treats. Christmas at George Washington's Mount Vernon.

  16. 10 Best Things to Do This Winter in Washington DC

    Washington, DC in winter is truly a wonderland with tons of things on offer for visitors, from skating rinks and holiday markets to pageants and boat parades. If you're looking for something unique and memorable to take your holiday to the next level, a trip to the U.S. capital is a great idea to consider. Whether you're

  17. 7 Best Things To Do in Washington DC in the Winter

    Here are 7 spectacular things to do in Washington, DC in the winter: 1. Go ice skating at the National Gallery of Art. 2. Spend the day at the museums. 3. Take in a show at the Kennedy Center. 4. Escape the cold at the US Botanic Garden.

  18. Winter in DC

    Winter Lights Festival at Seneca Creek ends December 31, 2023. Watkins Regional Park Festival of Lights ends January 1. Frederick Maryland Sailing Through Winter Solstice ends March 2024. So much to do in the Winter in DC! I share over 40 Indoor and Outdoor activities in DC, Northern Virginia and Maryland from Ice Skating to Indoor Play.

  19. Washington DC In Winter: A Guide To Explore This Heaven

    Winter is a wonderful time to travel the world as it is the most festive season. And, there is no better place to visit than the capital of the United States of America, Washington DC, where the cheer of the winter season is like no other. From the energetic Christmas spirit of the city to the snowy streets, there are many reasons to visit Washington DC in winter.

  20. 29 Best Things To Do in Washington, D.C.

    The Peirce Mill operated as a grist mill from 1829 to 1897, making the historical building the last one of its kind in the area. The Old Stone House, constructed around 1766, ranks as the oldest ...

  21. 30 Fun Winter Activities Near Washington, DC for Kids and Families in

    Indoor Winter Activities Near DC for Kids and Families 12. Visit a Free Museum or Two (or Three!) There are so many free museums in DC to visit with kids, including the Smithsonian's 23 museums, galleries, gardens, and zoo. The National Air and Space Museum reopened in October 2022 after being closed since March, nearly four years into a seven ...

  22. The Perfect "Winter in Washington, DC with Kids" Itinerary

    Washington, DC in winter can be lovely. Yes, it can be rainy and a bit blustery but I forgot what a joy it is to visit a city in its off-season. Last spring we spent a weekend in Washington, DC during the cherry blossom festival…. which was crazy. I felt like we were fighting crowds much of the day. This time around, we had the place to ...

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    Top sights in Washington include Capitol Hill Books, the Black Cat music venue and a top-rated Filipino restaurant People love to be rude about Washington DC because it's full of so many ...

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    Over the past decade ending this winter, the 96.2 inches (or winter average of 9.6 inches, similar to Richmond) of snow was less than the previous record 10-year low of 111.7 inches for the decade ...

  25. 14 Amazing Things to Do in Washington, DC

    14 Amazing Things to Do in Washington, DC. Story by My Money Chronicles. • 1mo • 7 min read. Visit My Money Chronicles.

  26. 8 things to know before a trip to Washington, DC

    2. Get the inside scoop on a coach tour. Washington, DC, is an incredibly walkable city once you've got your bearings, but it's also easy to underestimate just how hot and muggy it can get in the summer. Additionally, the sheer number of monuments, galleries and museums in DC can be a little overwhelming initially.

  27. What to see and do in Washington DC in spring

    The National Cherry Blossom Festival takes place from 20 March to 14 April 2024. The city can get humid; spring and autumn are the most comfortable times to visit. The average summer high is 31C ...

  28. The Weekend Scene: 10 things to do in the DC area

    Things to do in D.C. Annual Paws & Petals Yappy Hour Fri., Embassy Suites Washington DC Convention Center, free. SHOP! The Square pop-up market Sat., 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., free entry. A Dabble of ...

  29. What to see and do in Washington DC in spring

    From The Center. The capital is blooming with revitalised neighbourhoods and new attractions, from the culinary to the cultural — and there's no better time to visit than spring, when it lets loose for all things cherry blossom Pink fireworks and cherry blossom cocktails: why spring is the best time to see Washington, D.C.