I lived in New York City through two different Christmas seasons. I thought that was the only town that knew how to do the holidays right. And then I went to experience the holidays Washington, D.C., checking into the Fairmont for the weekend, and the city’s grandeur threw down a steaming marshmallow-and-chocolate-filled gauntlet to the Big Apple.
It’s been five years since my last visit to the nation’s capital, which is shocking to me even, as it’s constantly on my travel radar. SVV and I both have close friends there and are big fans of the city’s walkability and tons of free attractions that capture our nation’s history. But after last weekend, I must say: If you haven’t gone to Washington, D.C. during the holidays, you’re missing out—it’s a whole different level of magic. Here are a few holiday offerings you simply can’t miss, whether traveling as a couple, with your family or by yourself.
See the National Christmas Tree
We arrived the morning following the annual tree lighting, so she was up in all her glory but still getting the final touches on scaled railroad tracks, gingerbread houses and stacks of presents. Our Georgetown hotel was conveniently located as everything we wanted to do was within a mile’s walk. We didn’t go inside the dressed-up White House for a tour, but we poked around the well armed grounds to look at the decorations before checking out the train sets that snaked their way around the National Christmas Tree.
Afterward, we took an hour to stroll along the gorgeously laid out National Mall, paid a visit to Lincoln and—of course—did a little acroyoga in front of the Washington Monument. As one does.
Ice Skate at the Fairmont Washington
So maybe it’s not real ice, but the Fairmont found a way to build a rink made out of synthetic plastic so that it’s sustainable (note: the hotel is working its way toward a LEED certification). For $5 an hour, you can rent a pair of skates and twirl around the rink. But the true stars are the mulled wine, fire tornadoes and hot chocolate service, both of which you should definitely take advantage of, particularly if it’s brisk outside.
Stroll Around Georgetown
We lucked out and hit D.C. during a warm patch, and it was perfect weather for walking around the neighborhood in which we were staying. We window-shopped, ate lunch and drank sour Belgian beer at Sovereign, channeled our inner Kennedy by sipping martinis at Martin’s Tavern, then filled our stomachs with delicious fare from Juniper Restaurant later in the evening (after Beetinis at our hotel, of course!).
Pay a Visit to CityCenterDC
My oh my, I wanted me a Christmas tree, and did I find one—right in the heart of CityCenterDC! We met up with my childhood friend, her baby and my NYC pal and had a delicious brunch at DBGB (also, decorated quite brilliantly!) before walking around and seeing downtown in all its glitz and garland.
Have Afternoon Holiday Tea
Did you miss the afternoon tea spread I consumed in gleeful gluttony on a lazy Saturday afternoon? It was one of the best tea services I’ve had, with custom tea blends made exclusively for the property by Lot 35 and an array of holiday-themed cakes and pastries all plunked down in a modern and classy lounge. The champagne service was the icing on the (tea) cake. Even if you aren’t a guest at the hotel, do yourself a solid and make a reservation for the modern afternoon tea.
Market Hop Around Town
There were so many Christmas markets taking place all around D.C. that I got a tad bit overwhelmed; the Downtown D.C. Holiday Market in front of the National Portrait Gallery, the German Market (Heurich House Museum Christkindlmarkt) at Dupont Circle, the Swedish Christmas Bazaar at House of Sweden—I wanted to do them all! Alas, we had limited time, so we prioritized. We met up with my cousin at the pet friendly and hipster filled Wunder Garten, which seemed the most “us” of the markets (German beer garden and brick oven pizza? yes, please!), and spent a blissful afternoon trying local brews beneath twinkling lights in this magical pop-up event space outside the REI that also has vendor booths, Christmas trees and crafts.
Going into the weekend, our list was lengthy, and I knew we’d have no time to check it all off. Other spots we didn’t get to but you might enjoy around the holidays in particular include: ZooLights at Smithsonian’s National Zoo, Union Station, the Wharf and U.S. Botanic Garden.
D.C. folks, what did I leave off this list of holiday magic in your town?
This project was in partnership with Travel Mindset and Fairmont Hotels.
My sister lives in DC and my parents go back for Xmas about every other year – they always go to ICE on the Harbor and seem to have a fabulous time!
I’m sad I missed all the harbor and wharf events, but I’ll just have to plan a return trip next holiday season!
Love it! DC is my home city and you captured it so well. I really hope you had a great time(:
Thanks, Jamie! Definitely a great place to be from =)
I love the idea of a holiday vacation in Washington D.C., particularly with kids. It’s so festive at that time of year — and much of what families do there is indoors, so it makes total sense!
This year, Knoxville; next, D.C.!
Great visit to my hometown! I’d love to check out the Fairmont. Georgetown Waterfront also has an ice skating rink in winter and some good restaurants nearby!
Nice! I bet that rink is a tad bit bigger than this one 😉
You DEFINITELY need to put the holiday tea on your to-do list sometime in the next two weeks!
I absolutely love this post! But it’s true. When I think of Christmas in the US, my mind draws to New York! I think it’s because of the European-like weather, the horse and carriage, and the bright lights!
Since watching “House of Cards” – which has Washington as a base – it has sparked an interest, and the Xmas decorations look great!
I’d love to go to the East Coast (is it part of the East Coast?), the next time I’m in America.
That’s funny that House of Cards has given you D.C. wanderlust! Scandal kind of did the same for me in a sense 😉
It is the East Coast! Well, not quite on the coast per se, but it’s considered East Coast territory at least.
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I think, having grown up near DC, I probably take for granted how lovely it is around the holidays. I would love to go to the National Zoo and see that all decked out, for sure!
I’m sad we missed that one, as it sounds amazing!
I need to learn how to take better food photos. I had such nice meals in Edinburgh this December, and all my photos are horrible. I like yours, as always!
Thanks, Dominique! It’s all about the lighting. Are you using a real camera or an iPhone? If the latter, there’s really no way to get nice images in low-light (unless you side-light it with someone else’s phone). At night or in dark space, I don’t even really use my DSLR for food photos; I use my smaller camera I keep in my purse as it’s got a great low-light setting: http://amzn.to/2Bvuoxc
I love DC! I can’t say I’ve ever really thought about visiting during the festive Christmas season though, I’ll have to add it to my list! Thanks for sharing (:
DC is so wonderfully festive during the holidays! Don’t let Congress or POTUS or politics fool you: we love the holiday season here!
I always think of NYC at Christmas but good to know D.C. is so festive. Would check out those markets and that holiday tea looks like the perfect afternoon activity. Cheers!
Mulled wine, fire tornadoes and hot chocolate – yes, that sounds like a good way to celebrate pre Christmas to me!
Gorgeous photos! This literally brings me back home. I was born & raised a few blocks from Union Station– I must say that next time I make it back home, it’s now on my list to head to afternoon tea with my mom. I went in Hong Kong and it was lovely; that spread form the Fairmont really brings me back.