7 Reasons for your family to visit our nation’s capital over the holidays
A dusting of frost adds to the stately grandeur of Washington, D.C.’s many monuments and museums. Take a tour of the Mall this holiday season or delight in one of these other festive options around our nation’s capital.
Photo courtesy: The Smithsonian
1/Slide into the holidays at Gaylord National Resort
It’s an estimated 9°F inside this heart-warming holiday exhibition. ICE! features more than two million pounds of frozen H2O, hand carved to the delight of visitors. This year’s theme is A Charlie Brown Christmas. The icing on this holiday cake? The slides made of ice that stand two stories tall! Cost: Youth $24; Adult $32; discounts available if you go mid-week.
KidTripster Tip: The Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center is located in Maryland’s National Harbor along the Potomac River, about a 20-minute drive from D.C. There are restaurants and other attractions to enjoy here, including a Ferris wheel and carousel. You can even travel to the hotel via water taxi, if the Potomac isn’t frozen.
Photo courtesy: Gaylord National Resort
2/Walk the U.S. Botanic Garden
Our family has made a tradition of visiting the Botanic Garden during the holidays. Each year, the conservatory brightens the season with impressive plant-based re-creations of iconic historic places. A model train winds around the various replicas, ultimately landing at one of Washington’s largest indoor holiday tree displays. The exhibit starts Thanksgiving Day and continues through January 1. If you visit during a week in December, you may catch one of the free holiday concerts on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Cost: Free.
KidTripster Tip: Arrive early, but be prepared to wait in line - outside in the cold - to get into the exhibit. We’ve never waited more than 20 minutes, but wait times do vary.
Photo courtesy: U.S Botanic Garden
3/Stay up late at the National Zoo
Ever wonder what happens at the zoo after nightfall? When the sun goes down during the holiday season, our National Zoo becomes a dazzling display of lights. Giant lions, tigers, and pandas – oh my - are accompanied by exciting outdoor activities for the whole family, including a laser light show and snowless tubing. You can find warmth at indoor exhibits, where nocturnal animals will be waiting up for you. It runs from the day after Thanksgiving to January 1; closed on December 24, 25 and 31. Cost: Free.
Photo courtesy: National Zoo
4/See the National Christmas Tree & Menorah
The National Christmas Tree and the Pathway of Peace is illuminated nightly from dusk until 10 p.m. at the White House Ellipse. As you gaze at the lights, you’ll likely be serenaded by local musical groups. And don’t forget to find your state’s ornament. This year’s ornaments were created by middle and high school students from around the country. Tickets are required for the Lighting Ceremony on November 28, but the rest of the nightly events are free to the public.
The National Hanukkah Menorah is lit on the White House grounds at the Ellipse during the eight days of the Jewish holiday. While free, tickets are required for the Lighting Ceremony on December 2. Look for hot latkes and donuts!
KidTripster Tip: Want to see the White House decorated for the holidays? Unless you requested tickets far in advance, you’re out of luck. For more on how to tour the White House, click here.
5/Visit Union Station
Union Station may seem like an obvious choice for train lovers. But during the holiday season, it offers a dazzling model train exhibit compliments of Norway for everyone. Each year, our Scandinavian friends display giant handmade replicas of Norwegian trains that adorn Union Station’s West Hall before a backdrop that mimics Norway’s mountainous landscape. Don’t miss the decorated tree, symbolizing Norway's gratitude for American assistance during and after WWII. While you’re there, take advantage of some indoor holiday shopping. Cost: Free.
Photo courtesy: Union Station
6/Tour the National Mall
Look for concerts, movies, and family activities at the various national museums along the Mall.
Go for a skate at the Sculpture Garden behind the National Gallery of Art on the Mall.
Located at 8th and F Streets NW in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, shop at the open-air holiday market from November 23 to December 23.
KidTripster Tip: Don’t worry about walking in the cold! A holiday shuttle will loop around the mall every 10 minutes and delivery you to participating museums.
Photo courtesy: Washington.org
7/Attend a holiday performance
There’s no shortage of holiday entertainment in Washington, D.C. - some free, some at a cost.
The National Cathedral presents a shorter, family-friendly version of Handel’s Messiah on Decemebr 8. Cost: varies. The Washington Chorus presents a Candlelight Christmas at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall and the Music Center at Strathmore on December 7 through 28. Cost: $18-75.
If you happen to be staying at or walking by the Willard Hotel, stop in for free evening concert nightly from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Journalist Jocelyn Sigue lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and daughter, two proud native Washingtonians. While she's happy to live amid all that our nation's capital has to offer, Jocelyn' is native San Franciscan at heart.