Washington DC is a bustling hub of historical importance, world-class attractions, iconic buildings and landscapes, all around fun things to do. It’s the perfect destination to visit any time of year, but especially as the holiday season approaches. From the White House to the Smithsonian and everything in between, you’ll see some of the most iconic American landmarks lit up in the holiday spirit.

We’ve put together a list of the top 5 things to do during the holiday season when visiting Washington DC that go beyond the typical tourist itinerary.

#1. Shop around the Downtown Holiday Markets & visit the Smithsonian

This magical holiday market is worth visiting more than once.

Open daily during the holiday season, the market boasts a rotating lineup of crafters and vendors. From a carefully crafted cup of artisan coffee to a homemade, Christmas cookie-scented candle, the Downtown Holiday Market is the perfect place to pick up one-of-a-kind gifts.

The market is held right outside of the famed Smithsonian American Art Museum, so a trip to the market really serves as a two-in-one sightseeing experience. The Smithsonian was the first-ever museum of American art and is still home to some of the greatest collections in the world. It’s an absolute can’t-miss for every traveler visiting DC.

Tip: Smithsonian American Art Guided Tour tickets are included on the Washington DC Explorer Pass.

#2. Christmas at Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon is the ideal destination for travelers in DC looking to find holiday delight mixed with the rich history of the capital.

Mount Vernon stands as a testament to the life and legacy of America’s first president, George Washington, and is one of the most iconic landmarks in the entire country. Once a thriving plantation in the eighteenth century, the expertly-preserved home and gardens are now full of antiques, artifacts, and more.

Visiting during the holidays adds a special flair to the historical experience. The mansion and grounds will be decorated in celebration of Christmas, complete with exquisite trees, grandiose ornaments, and tinsel from top to bottom.

Tip: George Washington’s Mount Vernon tickets are included on the Washington DC Explorer Pass.

#3. National Christmas Tree & Menorah Lightings

Of course, no holiday trip is complete without checking out the local celebrations.

In celebration of Christmas and Hanukkah, the National Christmas Tree and the National Menorah will be lit in December at The Ellipse outside the White House.

Enter the ticket lottery for the National Tree Lighting Ceremony at The Ellipse to watch the tree lit up with gorgeous ornaments and golden lights. Enjoy live music, snacks, and an abundance of Christmas spirit as the gigantic tree comes to life for the season.

Gather round to see the larger-than-life menorah shine for the first time of the season. The celebration will be complete with cider donuts, live music, and latkes. The National Menorah stays on display throughout the month, showing brightly morning, noon, and night.

#4. Explore the snow-covered National Mall

The National Mall is home to some of Washington DC’s most famous attractions and landmarks. See the US Capital Building, the Supreme Court building, the Library of Congress, and more all in one spot.

Forget the height of summer (when the grass is dead anyway), now is the time for your best pictures of the monuments. You’ll get some stellar shots of these magnificent monuments and statues that are well worth that Instagram action.

Enjoy awe-inspiring views of the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool as it glistens in the shining white snow. Make sure to explore the surrounding museums and make a stop outside the US Capital Building to snag a picture of the exquisite Capital Christmas tree.

Tip: Politics & Pints Capital Hill Tour tickets are included on the Washington DC Explorer Pass if you’d like to take a walking tour of the National Mall and the surrounding areas.

#5. Washington Walking Tour

Washington DC may seem like an overwhelming beast to tackle, considering all the monuments, historical figures, and attractions that call the place home. But not to worry, the Washington Walking Tour solves all your problems.

Experience DC like the locals do and journey around the incredibly walkable city, stumbling upon everything from hole-in-the-wall pubs to iconic landmarks. You’ll have your choice of two-hour walking tours that cover a range of topics like Hamilton’s DC, Embassy Row, Abraham Lincoln’s Washington, or the Georgetown tour.

Whichever option you choose, you’re bound to enjoy the informative narration of your seasoned tour guide and find plenty of great photo opportunities along the way.

Tip: Washington Walking Tour tickets are included on the Washington DC Explorer Pass.


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