The holidays are a wonderful time to visit Washington, DC. We have several blog posts with ideas for holiday things to do, less touristy Christmas activities, and an entire podcast on the holiday season in DC, so be sure to check those out.
However, this article is specific to one single day: Christmas Day in DC. Christmas Day deserves its own post because it’s one of the only days of the year when a significant number of things in DC are closed, so you need to be strategic with your plans.
How to Get Around DC on Christmas Day
Let’s start with transportation. Metro runs 365 days per year, so it will be open and operating on Christmas day. However, Metro will reduce the service down to holiday levels, which means there can be long waits for trains. But, on the plus side, there probably won’t be any track maintenance, so it will likely be more reliable than on a typical weekend day.
You can still hail a cab, Uber, or Lyft; there will always be some drivers who elect to work on Christmas day. As another option, Capital Bikeshare also operates every day of the year. And of course, if you’re staying downtown, you can still walk to your destination if you’re up for it.
Where to Eat in DC on Christmas Day
Next, let’s talk about where you’re going to eat. Start by assuming that most restaurants will not open at all on Christmas Day. That said, there will be some Starbucks locations that will open, so you can check the Starbucks app or website to find one. But for sit-down restaurants—or even fast casual restaurants—most of them will take the day off.
With that in mind, I recommend going on OpenTable and Resy a few weeks before Christmas to see who is open, then make reservations as soon as you can. Also, so you’re aware, some restaurants will switch to fixed menus on Christmas to make things easier for their kitchen staff. That means you may not see every dish on the menu, but there could be some fun holiday specials.
What to Do in DC on Christmas Day
Smithsonian Museums are open 364 days per year (barring a government shutdown, pandemic or weather emergency). In other words, every day except this one. The same goes for the National Gallery of Art and most other museums. Likewise, the Capitol and Library of Congress will be closed, as will many other federal sites.
One big exception is the U.S. Botanic Garden, which hosts the awesome Seasons Greetings exhibit. However, be warned: this attraction does get pretty crowded. Since everyone in town is looking for something to do on Christmas Day, most of them wind up here.
If you have transportation to Northern Virginia, Mount Vernon, George Washington’s Home, is open on Christmas Day and a very festive place to be. Keep in mind that Mount Vernon is a private historic site, so it charges an entrance fee, but it’s well worth the price of admission.
The Benefits of Being in DC on Christmas
Back in the city, monuments and memorials on the National Mall are always open. If you’re a photographer, this is a chance to get photos with almost no bystanders in the way—or just enjoy the sites with much less traffic.
Unfortunately, most tour companies usually don’t operate on Christmas. Trip Hacks DC tours take the day off for the holiday. But there are a handful of companies that still operate, so if you really want to do one, you can check their operating calendars or contact them in advance.
Lastly, Christmas is a great day to just stroll around some of DC’s neighborhoods and enjoy the city in peace while no one else is out and about.