Christmas in Washington D.C.

Christmas in the Capital: How to Do the Holidays in Washington, D.C.

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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.

Ice Skating During the Holidays in Washington, D.C. at the Fairmont

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.

Ice Skating During the Holidays in Washington, D.C. at the Fairmont

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.

National Christmas Tree: Holidays in Washington, D.C.
National Christmas Tree: Holidays in Washington, D.C.

National Christmas Tree in Washington D.C.

National Christmas Tree in Washington D.C.
National Christmas Tree in Washington D.C.

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.

Exploring the National Mall in Washington D.C.

National Christmas Tree in Washington D.C.
National Christmas Tree in Washington D.C.

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.

Ice Skating in Washington D.C. at the Fairmont

Ice Skating in Washington D.C. at the Fairmont
Ice Skating in Washington D.C. at the Fairmont

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!).

Christmas in Georgetown

Sovereign Beer Bar in Georgetown
Sovereign Beer Bar in Georgetown

Christmas in Georgetown

Christmas at Martin's Tavern in Washington D.C.
Christmas at Martin's Tavern in Washington D.C.

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.

CityCenterDC at Christmas.
CityCenterDC at Christmas

CityCenterDC at Christmas

CityCenterDC at Christmas
CityCenterDC at Christmasn

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.

Holiday Tea at the Fairmont in Washington D.C.
Holiday Tea at the Fairmont in Washington D.C.

Holiday Tea at the Fairmont in Washington D.C.

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.

Wunder Garten Market in Washington D.C.
Wunder Garten Market in Washington D.C.

Wunder Garten Market in Washington D.C.

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.

Why You Should Visit Washington D.C. at the Holidays

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.

 

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Doing the Holidays in Washington, D.C.
Doing the Holidays in Washington, D.C.
Doing the Holidays in Washington, D.C.
COMMENTS
  • December 11, 2017

    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!

    • December 16, 2017

      I’m sad I missed all the harbor and wharf events, but I’ll just have to plan a return trip next holiday season!

  • December 11, 2017

    Love it! DC is my home city and you captured it so well. I really hope you had a great time(:

    • December 16, 2017

      Thanks, Jamie! Definitely a great place to be from =)

  • December 11, 2017

    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!

    • December 16, 2017

      This year, Knoxville; next, D.C.!

  • December 11, 2017

    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!

    • December 16, 2017

      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!

  • December 13, 2017

    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.

    • December 16, 2017

      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.

  • December 13, 2017

    Hi! My name is Milica and I’m writing travel blog called THE PASSPORT STAMP. I’ve nominated your blog for Liebster Award. Here is the link to my blog post where you can read more about it!

    https://thepassportstampblog.wordpress.com/2017/12/13/im-nominated-for-the-liebster-award/

  • December 15, 2017

    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!

    • December 16, 2017

      I’m sad we missed that one, as it sounds amazing!

  • December 15, 2017

    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!

    • December 16, 2017

      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

  • December 16, 2017
    Katy

    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 (:

  • December 16, 2017

    DC is so wonderfully festive during the holidays! Don’t let Congress or POTUS or politics fool you: we love the holiday season here!

  • December 16, 2017

    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!

  • December 18, 2017

    Mulled wine, fire tornadoes and hot chocolate – yes, that sounds like a good way to celebrate pre Christmas to me!

  • December 18, 2017
    Max

    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.

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