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7 Reasons to Visit DC during the Holidays. Between now and New Year's Day, Washington, DC celebrates the season with free (and almost free) festivals, unique shopping, family-friendly theater, concerts and lights.Washington DC Snowy White House

DC is one of my favorite cities because of the abundance of remarkable experiences available for families of all ages. And perhaps because our daughter spent four years there and thus we have many great memories to recall. In the winter it is a fickle city sometimes appearing magical with a covering of snow and at other times simply crisp and clear. But transportation is easy and entertainment world-class.  Even better it is an easy city to enjoy on foot because the streets almost make sense, discounting closures for construction or un predictable motorcades. The city has a multi-cultural atmosphere which is eclectic and often edgy.  The District offers an array of uncommon experiences for families ensuring no two visits will ever be the same. One of the best resources for planning an urban adventure in DC is where you can view a full calendar of events all year long. 

I am passing along ideas and options for a family holiday which has the potential to uncommonly good. 

1. Enjoy the sparkle of trees and lights. A tradition since 1964, the Capitol Christmas Tree on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol will be lit in early December. The National Christmas tree in President’s Park on the Ellipse kicks off a month of nightly musical performances at the site at dusk through the end of the year. Not far from the Mall, Georgetown Glow, the city’s only curated exhibition of contemporary light-art installations dot the historic riverfront neighborhood in December.
2. Visit the Menorah on the Ellipse. The National Menorah will be lit on the Ellipse throughout Hanukah (beginning mid December). Bonus Points: Festivities on the first night include free menorah kits, dreidels, hot latkes, donuts and cider, and an appearance by Dreidel Man and the Maccabees.  Washington DC National gallery of Art Ice Skating

3. Ice skating possibilities abound. There are three outdoor rinks in the DC area which are open November-March, weather permitting. My favorite is the one is inside the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden and across the street from the National Archives (Constitution Ave. at 7th St. NW). In Georgetown Harbour (3000 K St. NW) it is possible to take a spin on the Potomac River-side rink where tykes can lean on a sturdy “penguin” as they learn to balance on blades. On the Capitol Riverfront there’s an elliptical 12,000-square foot rink in Canal Park (2nd & M streets SE). Bonus Points: This rink offers thematic sessions, learn-to-skate lessons, and a full bar at the Park Tavern for post-skate sips.National Zoo Washington DC ZooLights

4. Share holiday magic with Panda Claus at the Nationmal Zoo. I love this place not just because it is one of the oldest zoos in the United States but because the location is spectacular no matter the season. It is an urban refuge with dedicated staff and an array of programs designed to inspire. The innovative use of space provides resident animals with sanctuaries and visitors unique viewing opportunities. Each year ZooLights installations brighten the paths throughout the complex. Thousands of twinkling lights depict giant pandas, Asian elephants, gibbons, sea lions and other zoo residents. Themed crafts, ice sculpting demonstrations, traditional music, and storytellers and to the festive atmosphere. Bonus Points: As part of the Smithsonian Institution, does not charge admission which means ZooLights is FREE!). 

5. Go for the music and theater. Washington, DC’s cultural calendar is studded with concerts, ballets, and holiday-perfect plays and musicals sure to keep audiences in a holiday mood. The season brings a host of festive favorites: The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is alive with performances celebrating many traditions. A richly dressed Victorian version of A Christmas Carol will be performed at historic Ford's Theatre, a longstanding DC tradition. Bonus Points: One of my favorite DC traditions is The Washington Ballet's version of The Nutcracker starring George Washington as the heroic Nutcracker and England's King George II as the villainous Rat King.  Washington DC Free Winter Family Fun

6. Travel around the world and through time. The international atmosphere of DC is magnified with special events and programs during the holiday season. With more than 180 embassies and consulates, DC is a melting pot of global traditions. For example: Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens celebrates Russian holiday traditions with folktales, cultural performances, music, hands-on arts projects for kids and self-guided family tours of the museum's Russian art collection during the Russian Winter Festival in December. Also in December, stroll through Tudor Place, the mansion built by Martha Washington's granddaughter almost 200 years ago, and attend a gingerbread house-making workshop, recommended for kids age five and older. 

7. Browse the holiday market. In the spirit of a traditional European holiday market, the Downtown Holiday Market located at 8th and F streets NW in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery, is an annual DC tradition. It is populated by more than 150 regional artisans from the end of November to just before Christmas. It’s the place to find unique ornaments, one of a kind jewelry, delightful accessories, pottery, classic toys, handicrafts, clothing, paintings, and scrumptious food items. 

Make it happen. Get the insider scoop on cozy fireplaces, outdoor skating rinks and cool things to do on There’s also a real-time concierge service (1-800-422-8644 between 9am-5pm EST). Just in time for the holidays, users of the Emoji DC app will be gifted with 16 new stickers.  See the big picture and find special offers and vacation benefits at

Information and photos provided by and ZooLights. Comments by Nancy Nelson-Duac, Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files. Copyright updated 2017.