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Holiday Activities in the DC Area

Lights decorating trees

The DC area has a multitude of events and spectacular light displays scheduled during the 2017 Holiday Season…here are some of our favorites:

Not-to-miss events to put on the calendar!

  • The IceLounge, The Park at CityCenter: December 1
    CityCenterDC will open a life-size, modern ice igloo in The Park at CityCenter called the “Ice Lounge”. It will be open to the public during the weekend of December 2-3, from 10a – 6p.
  • Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk: December 2
    During the Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend, hundreds of Scottish clansmen parade with their bagpipes through Old Town Alexandria. The family-friendly holiday event is a traditional favorite of the Northern Virginia community and a great day for visitors to spend the day exploring the charming historic town. In 1749, the city of Alexandria was officially established by three Scottish merchants and named after its original founder John Alexander, also of Scottish descent.

    Plenty of other activities bookend the Scottish Christmas Walk Parade, such as the Holiday Boat Parade of Lights from Alexandria Marina to The Wharf in Southwest DC, starting at 5:30p. Dozens of dazzling boats traverse the Potomac River from the waterfront in Alexandria, Va. to The Wharf, DC’s newest recreational development on the Southwest Waterfront. You can observe free of  charge. Prizes will be awarded to the most beautiful vessels, and fireworks will cap off the parade at 8 p.m.

  • Greater Manassas Christmas Parade: December 2
    Old Town Manassas, Virginia celebrates the Christmas season each year with a weekend of old-fashioned family fun at the “Merry Old Town” celebration. The festivities include a Christmas tree lighting ceremony on December 1, the Manassas Christmas Parade on December 2, a gingerbread contest, ice skating and lots of holiday activities for all ages. Located just 30 miles from the nation’s capital and a short ride from the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains, the charming historic town is home to a variety of shops, museums, galleries and restaurants.
  • The Christkindlmarkt in the Castle Garden at the Heurich House Museum: December 1-3
    Visit over 40 vendors in the Castle Garden and tour the historic mansion, decorated for Christmas.
  • Swedish Christmas Bazaar: December 2
    The Swedish Christmas Bazaar, held at the House of Sweden, is a Swedish marketplace with a variety of items for sale – crystal glassware, artwork, food, and more.
  • Smithsonian Holiday Festival: December 2-3
    Each December, the Smithsonian hosts a two-day holiday festival with special events  in Washington DC. The 2017 event will be held at the National Museum of American History on the National Mall and will feature family-friendly entertainment including a wide selection of festive events, exhibits, movie screenings and activities as well as seasonal décor and festive food. Musical performances by U.S. Air Force Band High Flight. Other highlights include chocolate sampling during a demonstration by Mars Heritage Chocolate and explore the Children’s Television Holiday display showcasing popular childhood characters such as the Howdy Doody marionette, and more.
  • Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination: December 2, 6:00 p.m. to midnight.
    The Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination is held each December in honor of the soldiers who fell during the Battle of Antietam. At twilight, 23,110 luminaries will be lit, one for each soldier who was killed, wounded or missing during the bloodiest day of the American Civil War. The free 5-mile driving tour is the largest memorial illumination in North America. The first Illumination was held in 1988. The event is held at the beginning of the holiday season to remind us of the sacrifices made by members of our military and their families. It is a very popular event, with long waits to enter. It is strictly a driving tour – there is no walking the route allowed.
  • Eastport Yacht Club Ligts Parade, Annapolis: December 9, 6-8pm
    Annapolis, the state capital of Maryland, celebrates Christmas in style with the Eastport Yacht Club Parade of Lights, an annual holiday tradition with boat owners showing off their Christmas light decorations through the Annapolis Harbor. This is one of the most popular seasonal events and a fun way to spend time with family and friends. Be sure to arrive early to stake out a good viewing spot and be sure to dress warm for this outdoor event. Many of the downtown bars and restaurants will offer specials to entice visitors to stay after the event to enjoy some holiday cheer. With a backdrop of the scenic City of Annapolis, this evening filled with sparkling lights is a special way to ring in the season.
  • Russian Winter Festival, Hillwood Estate: December 9-10, 10am-5pm.
    Meet Grandfather Frost, Russia’s Santa Claus, and his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden in a fun family play, based on traditional Russian stories, produced by Flying V Theatre. Enjoy lively music performed by Samovar Russian Folk Music Ensemble and festive dances performed by Kalinka Dance Ensemble.
  • Christmas Illuminations at Mount Vernon: December 15-16, 2017, 5:30-9 p.m.
    Mount Vernon will open its doors for an evening of holiday-themed fireworks and special programs. Before the fireworks show begins at 8:45 p.m., watch colonial artisans make chocolate, meet re-enactors from the First Virginia Regiment, enjoy cider by a bonfire, and learn 18th century dance moves from costumed guides. Visitors can take a tour of the first and second floors of the mansion, enjoy performances by local choirs and musicians playing 18th century tunes, and end the evening with a sparkling fireworks display set to holiday music and overlooking the Potomac River. Special tickets are required to attend this event.

    Note: Washington Photo Safari has a special safari to Mount Vernon’s Christmas Illuminations scheduled for December 16 ~ learn how to photograph the fireworks over Mount Vernon, as well as other night-time scenes. Admission Tickets are included in the price of the safari.

  • Downtown Holiday Market: November 24 – December 23
    Held at 8th & F Streets, NW, in front of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and the National Portrait Gallery. The market is open daily from 12-8pm. Worth multiple trips!

There are plenty of light/holiday displays to visit throughout DC during this holiday season, too! 

  • The National Christmas Tree: November 30 – January 1
    The National Christmas Tree in President’s Park on the Ellipse – the tree is lit each day from 4:30-10pm. It is surrounded by smaller trees decorated with handmade ornaments from 56 U.S. states and territories. The tree lighting ceremony takes place on November 30.
  • ZooLights! at the National Zoo: November 24 – January 1 (closed on Dec. 24, 25, & 31)
    500,000 environmentally-friendly LEDs illuminate the National Zoo. There are animated light installations, live music and more.

    Note: Washington Photo Safari will have a safari at Zoolights on December 14, from 7:00-9:30pm

  • U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree – West Lawn of the Capitol: December 6 – January 1
    Called the “People’s Tree,”  the 79-foot Engelmann spruce which weighs 15,000-pounds, and has a 30-inch-diameter trunk, is from Kootenai National Forest in Montana. The tree lighting will be on December 6, at 5pm.
  • Tudor Lights: Garden Lights: December 5 – 14, 6:30-7:30pm
    Take a candlelight tour at Tudor Place – see the grounds lit for the holidays and enjoy a guided tour of the elegant mansion.
  • Georgetown Glow:  December 8 – January 7, 5-10pm
    This display is now a month-long celebration, due to its popularity. A group of renowned and celebrated  artists – local as well as international, will display illuminated works in outdoor spaces throughout Georgetown.
  • 40th Annual Festival of Lights at the Mormon Temple: November 30 – December 31
    The Temple grounds a aglow with over 650,000 lights! There are nightly performances in the indoor theater. The Visitors Center is open to the public. In it are Christmas trees are decorated in international themes. In addition there is an exhibit of crèches from around the world, and a life-sized outdoor nativity.

    Note: Washington Photo Safari has a safari scheduled for the Festival of Lights on December 28

  • Winter Walk of Lights at Meadowlark Botanical Garden: November 10- January 7
    The Botnaical Garden in Vienna, Virginia is transformed into a half-mile walk of lights. There are perennial favorites such as the animated Lakeside Lights, the Fountain of Lights, and the Holiday Nature Walk, but also new displays each year. The Winter Walk of Lights is open on all holidays—that’s Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve & Day, and News Eve & Day – Last year, the Winter Walk of Lights received 75,000 visitors!
  • Union Station
    Large illuminated wreaths adorn the arches, and inside, is the holiday model train and the Norwegian Christmas Tree
  • CityCenterDC:
    Enjoy the dazzling 75 foot holiday tree, two resident 25-foot reindeer, and the return of the Palmer Alley overhead holiday display!
  • U.S. Botanic Garden: November 23 – January 1, 10am-5pm.
    The annual exhibit of 45 plant-based models of iconic roadside models, including a model train which runs through the display will be open from  In addition to the usual DC iconic landmarks which are on display in the Conservatory, this year there is a new model of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History.

    Note: Washington Photo Safari has a safari scheduled for the Botanic Garden on December 23:

  • Library of Cngress: A two-story Christmas tree will be on display in the Great Hall at the Library of Congress, decorated with ornaments from each of the 50 states and book covers.
  • Gaylord National’s ICE!: November 18 – January 1
    At the Gaylord National Resort at National Harbor, visitors step inside a winter wonderland created entirely of 5,000 BLOCKS of ice weighing 2 MILLION POUNDS! hand-sculpted by 40 international artisans and kept at a chilling nine degrees Fahrenheit. Produced exclusively for Gaylord Hotels, the attraction is fully interactive, allowing guests to roam inside, around and on-top of holiday scenes.

If you attend (and photograph) any of these events, send your best photos to Washington Photo Safari, and we will put them up on our Facebook page!

Happy Holidays!

Photo Credit: Sherryl Belinsky

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