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DC in December: How to Plan for Your Visit November 17, 2019

December is an excellent month to visit Washington, DC. The city is filled with holiday cheer and you might be able to find a great deal on a hotel. So if you’re the kind of person who likes to wear a Santa hat and sing Christmas Carols, DC in December is a great place to be. 

DC in December is More Affordable

Hotel rates in DC are driven heavily by business and conference travel. As a result, some months are more expensive than others. However, the last two weeks of December are relatively inexpensive when it comes to hotel accommodations. That’s because no conference organizer is going to schedule a big business event the week between Christmas and New Year’s. 

So similar to the week of Thanksgiving (that we mentioned in our video on November in DC), you can stay at a really nice hotel for relatively little. 

DC Weather in December

December marks the transition from fall to winter, so packing for December can be a little tricky. You probably need to bring your winter coat. Check the weather forecast before you leave to see if hats, gloves, and a scarf might be a good idea.

That said, December is generally much milder than January and Feburary.

  • Average daily highs are around 48°F.
  • Average daily lows are around 32°F. 

If you’re looking for more details about DC weather in December, this Trip Hacks DC podcast covers everything you could ever want to know about weather in DC.

This is also the month when it gets dark really early. Sunset during December is between 4:45 and 5:00pm, depending on the exact date. What does that mean for you? To offer an example, during our winter monuments tour, it’s completely dark the entire time—even though we start pretty early at 5:00pm. 

Holidays in December

There are a handful of religious holidays in December, including Chanukah. The National Menorah has been set up every year since 1979 near the White House and is now over 30 feet tall. However, there is only federal government holiday in December: Christmas.

I’m not going to go in depth on Christmas in this article, because we already have several Christmas-specific videos, as well as a holiday podcast.

One important thing to note is that most holiday festivities begin in late November. The one exception is the Capitol Christmas Tree, which has its lighting ceremony about one week into December. If you have your heart set on seeing that tree, plan to come a little later in the month. 

Some Sites and Restaurants May Be Closed

If you’re going to visit DC on Christmas Day, make sure you have your day planned in advance. This is the only day of the year that Smithsonian museums are closed. Many restaurants will be closed as well. To see which restaurants are open and to make a reservation, Open Table is a handy tool.

Christmas Eve is not technically a holiday, so most sites will remain open. The same goes for New Year’s Eve. Bear in mind, if you are coming to DC for New Year’s Eve hoping for fireworks or a big ball drop, spoiler alert: we don’t really do that here.

Things to Do in DC in December

There is an abundance of things to do in DC in December. This is a helpful Trip Hacks article on five things to do during the holidays in DC. We even have another on less “touristy” holiday activities.

Outdoor Activities

If you want to do some holiday shopping during your trip, you can head over to Georgetown, which has many great shops. Or if you want to support local businesses, I recommend going downtown to checkout the Downtown Holiday Market. Keep in mind that the market ends around Christmas Eve, so you won’t see it once Christmas has passed. 

December is also an excellent month for ice skating and we have several rinks around town. The rink at the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden is the most popular, but the Washington Harbour rink in Georgetown is the biggest. There are also rinks at the Wharf and in the Navy Yard neighborhood, which feel more like neighborhood rinks. 

Indoor Activities

Unsurprisingly, December is also an excellent month for indoor activities. Season’s Greetings at the U.S. Botanic Gardens is extremely popular. You can also check out the museums and experience them with smaller crowds than you’d find in the summer. 

December is also an excellent month to explore the theater scene at places like the National Theatre and the Warner Theatre.

And if you’re into sports, the NBA and NHL seasons are in full swing. You can buy  Capitals and Wizards tickets directly on Ticketmaster or check around on StubHub and Seat Geek for good deals or hard-to-find tickets.

Caroline D'Agati

Caroline is a writer and tour guide for Trip Hacks DC.

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