Happy holidays from the nation’s capital!
On this special seasonal podcast, Rob is joined by Rebecca Grawl, a local tour guide, historian and museum educator. She also runs Top Things To Do DC on Instagram and YouTube. Rob and Rebecca discuss what visitors can expect when they come to Washington, DC in December.
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Washington, DC visitors will, of course, want to see the many Christmas trees that are on display around the city. The National Christmas Tree is located on the Ellipse on the south side of the White House. It’s a permanent tree that is covered in a frame and decorated with lights and ornaments. The First Family has a lighting celebration typically at the end of November and the tree stays lit through the end of the year. A mile down Pennsylvania Avenue, the Capitol Christmas Tree is chopped down in one of the 50 states and transported to the nation’s capital. The Speaker of the House leads the lighting ceremony, which typically happens about one week into December. The Capitol Christmas Tree stays lit through the end of the year.
One of the most popular holiday attractions for both locals and visitors is Season’s Greetings at the U.S. Botanic Garden. Each year the conservatory features plant-based recreations of places around America. The 2018 theme is named All Aboard! and showcases train stations from around the country. Past themes were Roadside Attractions (think Mt. Rushmore or the Hollywood Sign) and National Parks. If you’re going to be in DC on Christmas Day, save this for that day, as it’s one of the few sites actually open on the holiday. Another popular attraction is ZooLights. The National Zoo looks absolutely spectacular and there are no way words can do it justice; you have to see it with your own eyes. Since it’s completely free, expect heavy crowds, especially on the weekend.
A new Washington, DC holiday tradition is Georgetown GLOW, which is a massive public art exhibition featuring glowing lights. 2018 is the fifth year of GLOW and it’s quickly becoming a favorite holiday tradition. Walking around the neighborhood taking in the lights is completely free, but you can also sign up for a guided history or food tour to learn even more about the neighborhood. If you happen to be in town on the day of the Holiday Boat Parade at the Wharf, make sure to go! It’s a really cool display of lights on boats and a rare chance to see winter fireworks in DC. Across town in the Navy Yard Neighborhood, Light Yards features glowing objects set to music. Spend an evening in the neighborhood by checking out Light Yards, eating at one of the neighborhood restaurants and ice skating.
Speaking of ice skating, Washington, DC has public ice rinks all over the city. The best known rink is located inside the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. This is a favorite for visitors because it’s conveniently located on the National Mall near our amazing museums. It’s also a unique chance to ice skate next to famous works of art and with the National Archives towering in the background. In Georgetown, the Washington Harbour Ice Rink in Georgetown is the biggest in the city, even bigger than the rink at Rockefeller Center in New York. Over at the Wharf you can ice skate with amazing views of the Washington Channel. Rebecca calls this the “most hip” rink in the city. Lastly, for a true neighborhood rink check you can skate in the Navy Yard neighborhood. Grab a slice of pizza the new Wiseguy Pizza while you’re there.
Since it is the holiday season, you may want to do some shopping, either for yourself or a friend. The Downtown Holiday Market is a very popular spot to pick up local souvenirs. The vendors are all local artisans so anything you pick up you know is a true local souvenir, unlike the generic stuff you can find in any gift store. The market runs from Black Friday through December 23rd, but if you want to shop outside of those dates you can stop by the Shop Made in DC store which has similar local items. If you happen to visit the weekend of Christkindlmarkt, an outdoor local artisan market at the historic Heurich House, it’s definitely worth a stop.
If you’re a foodie, there are great places to eat in Washington, DC year-round, but a few worth noting during the holidays. Filomena in Georgetown goes all out for the holidays. Rebecca describes the decorations as a “Christmas explosion”. Old Ebbitt Grill, a popular spot near the White House, sets up their iconic nutcrackers outside during the holidays. If you’re looking for a nightlife experience, the Miracle on 7th Street pop up bar is such a popular place to be that lines for every night since so many people want to experience it. They open at 5pm so get there early to avoid the heaviest crowds. If you go to Archipelago, a Christmas tiki bar pop up on U Street, you might find Rebecca enjoying a seasonal beverage at the bar.
The holiday season comes to a close when we ring in the new year. The holiday season is great time to visit DC generally, but if you’re expecting a lot of New Year’s Eve festivities, we’re sorry to say you will probably leave disappointed. Even though in the 1980s DC dropped a postage stamp, we do not have any kind of drops or fireworks in the city anymore. If you want to go out on New Year’s Eve, pick a spot in advance. This is not a night for bar hopping as many bars close for special parties (that require a ticket, often an expensive ticket) or have a cover charge at the door. If you are traveling with kids, Noon Yards Eve is an event where the celebration happens at noon rather than midnight. Down the Potomac, First Night Alexandria is a family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration that does include a fireworks display.