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10+ Dazzling Holiday Light Displays & Events in Washington, DC
Get in the holiday spirit with holiday markets, Christmas light displays and seasonal events in the nation’s capital
Sure, the District might be part of the Mid-Atlantic region, but it feels more like the North Pole during the holidays thanks to the National Christmas Tree, holiday markets, one-of-a-kind seasonal light displays and lots more. Here are some of the virtual and in-person ways to experience the holidays in Washington, DC. And remember: please wear a face covering and maintain social distance when out and about in the city.
The National Christmas Tree is DC’s claim to fame during the holidays, and for good reason. The gorgeous conifer lives in President’s Park on the White House Ellipse, where it's surrounded by trees decorated with handmade ornaments from 56 U.S. states and territories and is accompanied by nightly musical performances throughout the holiday season. The display is free to visit and open from 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. while the National Christmas Tree is lit each day from 4:30-10 p.m. This year's lighting ceremony takes place on Dec. 3.
Smithsonian’s National Zoo is taking its popular holiday installation on the road this year. ZooLights Express features a 24-foot truck, festively decorated with light displays and “Panda Claws”, that will travel all over the District through Dec. 19. The Express will visit one ward in DC each Friday and Saturday from 6-8 p.m. For a full schedule and routes through each ward, visit the Zoo’s website.
Fridays & Saturdays, 6-8 p.m. | Free admission
This free-to-frequent downtown bazaar has expanded its space this year to account for social distancing. Centrally located in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, the beloved market stretches across two blocks of F Street between 7th and 9th streets. Scope out eclectic wares from dozens of pop-up tents with seasonally flavored music performed live in the background. Locally roasted coffee and crafted-before-your-eyes mini-doughnuts inspire a cold-weather appetite, creating a holiday atmosphere you won’t find anywhere else in DC. Please make sure to read the market’s safety information before your visit. There will be one entrance at 8th and F streets and guests will walk one-way through the market.
12-8 p.m., daily | Free admission | Safety guidelines
F Street between 7th and 9th Streets NW, Washington, DC
This year’s tree, which will come from the Grand Mesa, Ucompahgre and Gunnison National Forests in Colorado, will go aglow in DC on Dec. 2. You can visit the tree on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Follow the tree’s Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and updates, including a tracker of its tour across the U.S.
George Washington’s estate will be washed in ambient light in this special holiday illumination that can be enjoyed from Dec. 11-13 and Dec. 26-28. The upper garden and greenhouse at Mount Vernon will sport blue and lavender lights, patterns will grace Bowling Green and lanterns will guide the way through the Historic Area. Your journey will also be graced with holiday music and chats with soldiers at a recreated 18th century winter encampment. Aladdin the Camel will be on-hand and artisan-made goods will be on sale, as will food and holiday drinks. Please make sure to review Mount Vernon’s COVID-19 protocols before you plan your visit.
5:30-8:30 p.m. | Tickets
George Washington’s Mount Vernon, 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, VA 22121
Victura Park at The REACH has transforms into an outdoor holiday market with local artisans, craftspersons and an array of specialized vendors from Nov. 27 – Dec. 20. Masks are required, hand sanitizer is available and space heaters will be placed throughout the park. Expect a menu featuring light snacks, grilled items, beer, wine, spiked cider and hot chocolate. Enjoy some holiday spirit at this family-friendly destination that is free to enter.
Fridays: 4-8 p.m. | Saturdays & Sundays: 12-8 p.m. | Free admission
Victura Park at The REACH, 2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20566
Transit Pier at the Wharf hosts a 20-foot, outdoor LED screen specifically for screening holiday classics this December. You can have your own fire pit with seating for up to four people. Cantina Bambina will offer drinks and snacks and each seating will include a special stocking filled with offers and treats from vendors all over The Wharf. The lineup includes beloved flicks such as Home Alone, Elf, A Christmas Story, The Polar Express, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and many more. Seating begins 30 minutes before show time.
Screenings at 2 p.m. & 6 p.m. | Tickets
Transit Pier at The Wharf, 970 Wharf Street SW, Washington, DC 20024
The Willard InterContinental Washington offers its wondrous holiday tradition on weekends throughout December. You can enjoy afternoon tea in the elegant Peacock Alley and on Dec. 13 and 20, the hotel will take the event to its spacious Crystal Ballroom. There will be seasonal decor, sandwiches, pastries and the beautiful sounds of a harp to accompany you as you sip on festive teas from one of DC’s most historic hotels. Standard, vegetarian, vegan and children’s menus will be offered and a 90-minute dining restriction will be applied for all reservations. Afternoon tea is also available to-go and for private groups – visit The Willard’s website for more information.
Seatings at 1 p.m. & 3 p.m. | Reserve
Willard InterContinental Washington, 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004
Neighborhoods throughout the nation’s capital are adorning their “main streets” with colorful lights this December. Additionally, vendors in each neighborhood are offering holiday specials and promotions throughout the month to encourage shopping locally. You can enjoy this holiday cheer in Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant, Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, U Street and Woodley Park, among other locales. Votes can be cast for the best decorated corridor!
Chanukah kicks off with this Dec. 10 lighting ceremony of the world’s largest menorah on the White House Ellipse, which greets all with latkes, doughnuts, menorah kits and dreidels. Music from the United States Navy Band will add a soundtrack to the scene. As is the custom, a new candle is illuminated on each of the eight days of Chanukah. Special measures will be in effect due to COVID-19, with limited seating available. Please wear a mask if you plan to attend.
4 p.m. (gates at 3 p.m.) | Free admission | Tickets required
White House Ellipse, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500
DC’s Step Afrika!, the first professional company dedicated to the tradition of stepping, puts on a holiday extravaganza every year. The 2020 edition of the family-friendly show, which combines clapping, stomping and stepping for a dazzling array of percussive dance, will be a free, virtual experience held on Dec. 16. Recorded at the Hylton Performing Arts Center, the show will feature furry friends from the animal kingdom, including Popper the Penguin and polar bear twins, and enough rhythm to have your whole living room rockin’.
7:30 p.m. | Free – Registration required
For the fifth straight year, Yards Park offers a festive light installation at its Sundeck. This year, Australian-based light design sculptors Amigo & Amigo have brought “Stars” to DC. Made from metallic mesh, the stars feature dancing lights, play festive music and provide a space for an illuminated, socially distant stroll. The stars are lit each night from 6-10 p.m. through Jan. 10, 2021. Nearby restaurants will have specials to pair with the activation, which is free to enjoy.
Held at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ Washington D.C. Temple (located just outside of the city in Kensington, Md.), this annual Festival of Lights will have a safe, drive-through format for its 43rd edition. From Dec. 11-28, the Temple grounds will feature more than 400,000 lights, two outdoor, life-size nativities and Christmas music that you can listen to while tuned to 101.7 FM in your car. For more information and directions, visit the event website.