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Welcome to Washington DC during the festive winter season. There is much to see and do in the capital. Shopping, restaurants, activities: for a city not known as a winter getaway, we sure do love this time of year! My name is Terry, and I am a tour guide in Washington DC. I’ve lived in our nation’s capital city for many years. I am excited to show you around with tips on how to take advantage of DC during the winter in my Washington DC Holiday Season Guide

Join the Washington DC Holiday Lights Tour with USA Guided Tours!

Experience the magic of Washington DC, like never before by embarking on our sensational Washington DC Holiday Lights Tour. Picture yourself surrounded by the dazzling brilliance of festive decorations, the warmth of holiday spirit, and the joyous laughter of fellow travelers. This is not just a tour; it’s an unforgettable journey through the heart of the capital’s holiday wonderland.

Why choose our DC Holiday Lights Tour?

🌟 Spectacular Displays: Marvel at the most breathtaking holiday displays across the city, from the majestic Capitol Christmas tree to the enchanting lights of the National Harbor.

🎄 Expert Guides: Our passionate guides are not just experts in DC’s history; they are storytellers who will immerse you in the tales of Christmases past and present.

🚌 Comfort and Convenience: Travel in comfort on our climate-controlled buses, ensuring you stay cozy while taking in the winter charm of the city.

📸 Photo Opportunities: Capture every magical moment with our guides happy to snap your photos, creating lasting memories of your holiday adventure.

Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity to make your holiday season truly special. Seats are limited, and our tours are in high demand, especially during this festive time. Secure your spot now and create cherished memories with loved ones.

🎁 Book Your DC Holiday Lights Tour Today! 🎁

Beyond our tour, here are some recommendations to make December visits to Washington DC especially memorable. 

We always recommend a visit to Willard’s Peacock Alley and its lobby to see some beautiful holiday decorations and to have a drink in the famous Round Robin Bar.

The Downtown Holiday Market has returned for its 19th year and is open daily from noon to 8 pm. Over 70 merchants participate – local artisans, vendors, musicians, and fresh food and treats can be found. Some local artists showcase their work here – this is an excellent opportunity to buy paintings of local monuments and sites and to buy souvenirs made by craftsmen, not mass-produced.  

The market’s location is a block from the two of the Gallery Place metro station exits. It is on the block of F Street, between 7th and 9th Streets Northwest. The National Portrait Gallery/American Art Museum is in the same building – open Wednesday – Sunday from 11:30 am to 7:30 pm. 

The market’s location is a block from the Gallery Place metro station on F St NW. The market stretches right in front of the beautiful National Portrait Gallery. Located only 2 blocks north of the U.S. Navy Memorial, where our tours begin, the holiday market is a wonderful experience for those heading to our night tour or for those just finishing our popular full-day VIP tour. Be sure you wrap up your shopping and dining by about 6:45 pm so you can be ready to check in on the tours!  

At City Center DC, you can seamlessly blend shopping with enjoying the holiday lights. This upscale shopping district embodies the pinnacle of Washington DC’s retail scene, offering a wide array of high-end shopping opportunities. Moreover, you can relish fine dining experiences while leisurely strolling through the enchanting winter decorations.

Washington, DC Sightseeing

Washington DC Ice Skating  

If you like to ice skate, you’re in luck! Washington DC has several great skating rinks. One I recommend is the National Gallery Sculpture Garden rink. It is open every day until March 3. You can bring skates or rent them. The fee is $12 and skate rentals are $6. Enjoy the beautiful location across from the National Archives, next to the Natural History Museum, and along the National Mall. The hours are 11 am – 9 pm Sunday through Thursday and 11 am – 11 pm Friday and Saturday nights. The café is open until 5 pm most days. The nearest metro station is the Archives/Navy Memorial

The Wharf Ice Rink is more limited in its hours. It is open Wednesdays – Fridays: 4 pm – 10 pm, Saturdays: 12 pm – 10 pm, and Sundays: 12 pm – 8 pm. The location at 970 Wharf Street SW, Washington, DC 20024 is convenient for all the dining and shopping at the Wharf. Pricing is similar: $13 for admission and $8 to rent skates. 

Another great place to skate is at Georgetown Harbour. The rink is open daily from 11:30 am to 9 pm Sunday – Thursday and from 11:30 am to 11 pm Friday and Saturday. Pricing is as follows: Adults: $11, Under 12 and Seniors/Military: $9/ Groups $14. Skate rental is $7. Children of all ages can also rent penguins to push around the rink; this is especially great for beginning skaters finding their balance. 

While you are at the Wharf, you may wish to enjoy the food and drink as well as the scenery at the Wharf’s Snow Globe at Cantina Bambina.

We at USA Guided Tours always like to recommend businesses that have supported us. We celebrated our company’s 10th anniversary this summer at Officina, and we had a blast, so please make sure to check it out! There are over 60 restaurants in the Wharf area and beautiful views to enjoy. If you are in town on Saturday, December 2, you can see a fireworks show after the parade of boats to begin the holiday season. During Hanukkah, December 7 – 15, between 5 pm and 6 pm each night, guests can attend the lighting of the menorah at the Wharf. The menorah will be at District Square, near the Anthem Theatre.  

Washington, DC Sightseeing

Georgetown GLOW 

GLOW returns for the 9th season. These light artworks are illuminated nightly from 5 pm to 10 pm. This begins Friday, Dec 1, and runs through Sunday, January 7, 2024.  A map of the pieces is included on their website, along with artist biographies.  

Five artists are displaying their works this year. One of note is an illuminated clothesline featuring light works representing not only American-style clothes but also clothing worn by the many who have arrived in Washington DC seeking a better life in the past few decades.

The Watergate Igloos 

For a unique winter dining experience, you may wish to enjoy a meal at the Watergate’s Igloos

Operating Hours: 4:30 pm – 10:30 pm daily and 4:30 pm – 9:30 pm on Sundays. 

Rental fees vary by day starting at $50. Each igloo can hold 6 people. A variety of holiday-themed drinks (and everyday staples) are available. The “heavy appetizer” style menu includes Swiss fondue, Canadian (cheese and beef) poutine, crab dip, veal meatballs and pizza and chicken wings.  

US Botanic Garden 

US Botanic Garden is a must see at this time of the year. it is open daily from 10 am until 5 pm. 

The outdoor train exhibit runs early from 10 am – 5 pm and then until 8 pm on these 3 Thursdays: December 14, 21, and 28. 

The Conservatory Landmarks display is fascinating. More than 20 DC memorials and landmarks have been fashioned from plant parts. It is worth seeing this just to believe it!

Enchant Christmas DC 

The tickets for Enchant Christmas DC start from $32 for adults and “junior” tickets begin at $24. Two Canadians began this tradition in Vancouver, British Columbia in 2008. Several cities welcomed the opportunity to keep their baseball stadiums busy during the holiday season. Now it has become a North American outdoor festival. Features include a maze, an ice-skating trail, and thousands upon thousands of lights. The event is held at Nationals Stadium – giving baseball fans a new way to see the Nats’ home turf. There are many events for kids, drinks – kids’ and adult beverages alike – and many photo opportunities to be had. Kids of all ages will be spellbound during the Reindeer Games maze experience – inside a beautiful, outdoor light maze!  

Washington, DC Sightseeing


Christmas Cocktails at Downtown at Urban Roast 

Urban Roast is a family-owned cafe and cocktail bar that offers gourmet coffees, specialty alcoholic beverages, and a wide variety of contemporary shared plates. It’s located at 916 G St. NW, 2 blocks from US Navy Memorial.

A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre  

Watching a performance of Charles Dickens’ signature work has become an annual tradition worldwide. Written in only a matter of weeks, this play by Dickens revolutionized the holiday season, by making the holiday of Christmas a more family-centric, initiate occasion.

Previously, the holiday had been more of a large-scale, community festival. The idea of Christmas as a giving season also became more popular with this play’s production. We always recommend that our visitors take in a performance of the play at Ford’s Theatre. Ford’s is a historic theatre where Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot in 1865. History will be a part of your play experience for you will be able to see – but never sit in – the balcony seat where Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd took in the play “Our America Cousin” on that fateful and fatal night of April 14, 1865. 

Festival of Lights  

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon tradition) will once again hold its lights festival from November 30 to January 1. This is free and there is no need to buy tickets. There is a visitors’ center only Latter-Day Saints may not enter the Temple itself. Over 400,000 lights decorate the Temple trees and surrounding area. The lights are illuminated between 4:45 pm and 9 pm nightly.  

As someone who resides in this neighborhood, I have some personal favorites that I’d like to share with you.

Washington DC offers a wealth of holiday experiences, from city-wide attractions to the hidden gems of neighborhoods like Van Ness/Forest Hills. Whether you prefer to explore the city’s iconic landmarks or immerse yourself in the charm of a local community, there’s something for everyone to enjoy during the festive season.


Between Thursdays and Sundays through December 30 for $6/person over the age of 2 (and $30/car if people choose to drive to the zoo) it is possible to see the fun zoo lights display. Even though the pandas have returned to China, we never miss a chance to see the Zoolights. Please remember that the zoo animals are not part of the zoo lights show and all lights are outdoor. The operating hours are: 5 pm to 9 pm with the last admission at 8:30 pm. The Zoo is a leisurely walk from the Cleveland Park red line station, then we recommend walking downhill to the Woodley Park station to save you a trip uphill, especially if you have young ones in strollers.  

On the following weekends (Dec 1 – 2, 7 – 8, and the 17th), Mount Vernon offers candlelit tours with interpreters dressed in period costumes. Learn 18th-century dances and meet Aladdin, the Christmas Camel who will be eager to meet new friends. Since we offer Mount Vernon tours in the daytime, allow us to drive you there by night. You might want to enjoy a meal in the beautiful, 18th century style of the Mount Vernon Inn.

Washington, DC Sightseeing

Unique Local Experience – Van Ness/Forest Hills Neighborhood 

Let’s take a deeper dive into a charming neighborhood that offers a unique holiday experience: Van Ness/Forest Hills.

Located approximately 4 miles north of downtown Washington, Van Ness/Forest Hills provides a mix of urban convenience and woodsy charm with a relaxed vibe. This neighborhood extends north of the Van Ness metro station on the metro’s red line and is just south of Chevy Chase.

Local Favorites

As someone who resides in this neighborhood, I have some personal favorites that I’d like to share with you.

  • Politics & Prose Bookstore: This beloved bookstore, with its flagship location at 5010 Connecticut Avenue, is a fantastic place for holiday shopping. It offers a variety of books for all ages, stationery, music, and movies. You can also relax in the café while planning your shopping.
  • Comet Ping Pong: Despite surviving the “Pizzagate” conspiracy, this restaurant continues to thrive. It’s known for its award-winning pizza and provides a fun atmosphere for indoor and outdoor dining or takeout. Don’t miss their live music nights.
  • Little Red Fox: Located in the same block as other establishments, this spot offers a range of specialty goods and menu items. Their maple-glazed ham & cheddar biscuit is a must-try, and they have other delicious options, including vegan choices.
  • I’m Eddie Cano: This Michelin-awarded restaurant, in the neighborhood since 2018, offers delectable Italian dishes, including Pappardelle Cinghiale featuring wild boar ragu. Save room for dessert, especially the tiramisu!
  • Sfoglina: Another Michelin “Bib Gourmand” award-winner, Sfoglina, provides an elegant atmosphere for savoring Italian cuisine. Options range from squid ink lobster linguine to traditional pasta dishes. Reservations are recommended.
  • Bread Furst: Established by James Beard award-winning baker Mark Furstenberg, this bakery features a different freshly-baked bread every day. They also offer hot and cold meals, cakes, and pies. Enjoy a meal or coffee on their sidewalk on pleasant days.
  • Calvert Woodley Wines & Spirits: Whether you’re seeking food or drink, this shop has a wide range of options, and their expert staff can provide excellent recommendations.

Washington DC offers a wealth of holiday experiences, from city-wide attractions to the hidden gems of neighborhoods like Van Ness/Forest Hills. Whether you prefer to explore the city’s iconic landmarks or immerse yourself in the charm of a local community, there’s something for everyone to enjoy during the festive season.

We at USA Guided Tours can design and provide private tours to any local holiday spot. Just ask our concierge specialists and they will make your holiday even more special. They know the best places to see the lights, best places to eat, and best spots to attend candlelit holiday tours.

Happy holidays from all of us at USA Guided Tours!

Terry Cordaro | Washington DC Tour Guide

Washington, DC Sightseeing