There’s something about that time of year when the air gets chilly and everyone breaks out their heavy coats. From ice-skating rinks in almost every neighborhood to holiday light shows and attractions, there’s no shortage of places to feel wintry in DC.
To help you get the most out of the many seasonal sights the city has to offer, we’ve planned out an entire winter weekend from morning to night, just for you — hats and scarves not included.
Sip hot cocoa at Union Station
Get ultimate Love, Actually vibes at Union Station. Winter here feels like a classic holiday movie with all the trimmings, lights, and even a 30-foot tree donated by the Norwegian Embassy. Grab a coffee or hot chocolate at Blue Bottle and catch that warm, fuzzy feeling as people rush from the trains to reunite with loved ones. You can even follow the model holiday train as it winds its way through a wintry mini-landscape all around the station.
Shop at the holiday market
The Downtown Holiday Market runs from November 23–December 23, and is chock-full of gifts, trinkets, and even live performances. It’s open every day, so you could spend much more than just a morning here, and you’ll find unique items you won’t see in any department store. All that shopping is sure to work up an appetite, so pick up a doughnut from Migues and a jolt of caffeine at Vigilante Coffee Company.
Gaze at the National Christmas Tree
Whether you’re a recent transplant or you’ve lived in the District for ages, don’t let another winter go by without visiting the National Christmas Tree. This year, the lighting occurs on November 28, and on select nights, musical groups from around DC and across the country provide holiday entertainment against the backdrop of the lit tree.
Take a spin around the ice
Why go to an indoor rink when there are so many places around the city to breathe in that cold winter air and skate al fresco? Check out the Washington Harbour Ice Rink in Georgetown, the largest in DC, which is surrounded by restaurants and offers theme days like College Night Skate, where current students get $2 off the price of admission. Looking for a more romantic vibe? The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Ice Rink is perfect for date night, lit by a single string of white lights with the starry sky above. Or try The Watergate Hotel’s Top of the Gate, which has 360-degree views of the city, a skate-up bar, and fire pits to warm up with your sweetie.
Take a break at The Willard
Not far from the White House is the Willard InterContinental, a hotel with a breathtaking lobby all decked out for the holidays. Stop here before a show at The Kennedy Center for some spiked cider or a piping hot cup of tea at their Round Robin Bar, or to warm up after a viewing of the National Christmas Tree.
Get lit at Georgetown GLOW
When the sun goes down, the lights turn on in DC’s most historic district, Georgetown. GLOW is the region’s only outdoor curated light exhibit, with light art from both local and international artists. Stroll through glowing interactive and playful installations, and don’t forget to snap a colorful pic for Instagram before you leave.
Get wild at ZooLights
An annual winter tradition at Smithsonian’s National Zoo, ZooLights features live musical performances, tasty winter treats, and plenty of opportunities for holiday shopping. More than half a million environmentally friendly LED lights transform the zoo into a winter wonderland that acts as the dazzling backdrop for activities like snowless tubing, a classic carousel, and a trackless train that whisks you around the Great Cats exhibit.
Go see a show
From ballet to the symphony and beyond, DC’s theaters do not disappoint when it comes to seasonal entertainment. See one of dozens of performances of The Nutcracker at Warner Theatre and walk a few blocks for a post-show hot toddy at speakeasy Denson Liquor Bar. See a show at The Kennedy Center and finish the night with a drink at their Roof Terrace Bar with spectacular views of the twinkling city below. More into rock music? Catch Trans-Siberian Orchestra when they come through town on Christmas Eve (but hurry, because tickets will go fast).
Cozy up by the fire
There’s no better feeling in the winter than warming up by a roaring fire, and in DC, you have your pick of places to cozy up. The Wharf is quite a wintertime destination, and The Torch (a 14-foot gas-powered flame situated by the water) is a must-see this season. They’ve also got a fire pit that’s perfect for s’mores, as well as free winter games like curling and broomball. Local restaurants are also brimming with fireplaces, like Masseria’s patio fire pits or the fireplace in the main dining room at Plume, which is full of nooks and crannies made for snuggling.