Family Travel

10 Must-See Holiday Events in Washington, DC

This is our first holiday season living in the Washington, DC area, and to say I’m excited is an understatement. We feel very lucky to live in an area where there’s always something to do (and often those things are free), and we’re making it our mission to see and do as much as possible while we’re here.

There are hundreds of holiday events in the DC area, but I’ve made a list of our top 10 must-see events. I’m not sure we’ll get to all ten items this year, but you can bet I’ll be trying to get as many checks crossed off of the list as possible.

I was going to call it our “Holiday Bucket List”, but I’m not planning on kicking the bucket before Christmas is over, so a must-see list seems more appropriate.
Must-See Holiday Events in Washington, DC

Must-See Holiday Events in Washington, DC

1. Attend a Service at The National Cathedral:


We’ve already secured tickets for the Friday night Carols and Lessons service. I am so excited to attend a Christmas service in such a historic, and beautiful cathedral. We chose Friday over Christmas Eve service so we can stick closer to home on Christmas Eve. Next year, we may try the 10pm Christmas Eve service. I’d also love to see the performance of Handel’s Messiah one year.
2. Experience Christmas on the Potomac:
I had completely forgotten we live so close to a Gaylord property! I’ve watched my friends experience ICE! at Gaylord Palms for years now, and I’ve always wanted to don one of the blue parkas and check it out for myself. It’s a good thing we still have all of our warm winter gear from Buffalo!
3. View the Lights at the Mormon Temple:


I’m a sucker for Christmas light displays, and I’ve heard this is one of the most beautiful. There’s also a life-sized Nativity and several concerts and performances taking place during the event.
4. Participate in Wreath Laying at Arlington National Cemetery:
Wreaths Across America Arlington
On December 17th, hundreds of volunteers will lay thousands of wreaths on the graves at Arlington National Cemetery. We are planning on volunteering. Registration is not required to volunteer and everyone is encouraged to take the Metro due to parking lot closures.  This is one activity I hope to continue participating in for as long as we live near a participating location. It’s truly a privilege to help honor our national heroes, and an experience I hope my children will always remember.
5. Zoo Lights at the National Zoo:


I’ve marked our calendars for December 2nd for Military Night. They’re granting military families access to the elephant building, providing complimentary refreshments, and discounts in the zoo shop. We haven’t visited the National Zoo yet, but this is a perfect excuse for our first visit.
6. See The National Christmas Tree and Menorah:


Tickets for the actual tree lighting were distributed via lottery in October. I entered, but did not win a ticket. However, we’ve been told the taping evening is very long (and cold), so we’re happy with simply stopping by to view the tree and menorah. We can’t pass up seeing the national tree, you guys.
7. Old Town Christmas:
Have I ever mentioned how much I adore Old Town Alexandria? I got all teary-eyed seeing the Christmas decorations going up this weekend. We’re planning on checking out the Scottish Walk and Boat Parade of Lights this year.
8. Attend a Performance of The Nutcracker:
Can you believe I’ve never been to a national ballet performance? Sure, I’ve attended local Nutcracker performances over the years, but I’ve never been to a professional performance. This is the year I’d like to change that streak. Tuesday, December 6th is Military Appreciation Night and tickets are 15% off for military families.
9. Drive Through the Lights at Bull Run:
Like you’re surprised there’s another Christmas light display on this list? The Bull Run lights are drive-thru, but there’s a carnival and holiday village to explore. Christmas lights and funnel cake? I’m there!
10. Christmas Town at Busch Gardens Williamsburg:
Ok, so this one isn’t in the immediate DC-area, but it’s not a very long drive. We used to go to Christmas Town every year when we lived in Hampton Roads and it was always one of the highlights of the holiday season. The park looks simply gorgeous all lit up for the holidays, you can ride certain roller coasters in the dark, AND there’s delicious food and drinks all over the park. Pair this up with Colonial Williamsburg’s Grand Illumination, and you have the perfect holiday weekend getaway.

So there it is, our 10 Must-See Holiday Events in Washington, DC. I’m sure we could add a million more events to this list, but it’s a good start for our first Washington, DC holiday season!

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