Here are 8 great places to visit on Christmas day in the Washington DC area, whether you are entertaining visitors, or just enjoying a relaxed outing on your own.
Many US destinations and businesses are closed on Christmas day. When a reader asked for suggestions on things to do in the DC area on Christmas we decided to compile a list. Fortunately, there are plenty of fun things to do even on major holidays.
Maybe you don’t celebrate Christmas, or you’re on your own, or you’re looking for a new destination to share with visitors. Fortunately for those of us in the Washington DC region, there are some wonderful options for a Christmas day outing, especially if you are a fan of nature and history.
1. U.S. Botanic Garden, Washington DC, CLOSED in 2020
UPDATE: In 2020, the conservatory and gated gardens are closed. There is no model train display. However, the Terrace Gardens and Bartholdi Park are decorated with festive lights and adornments from Nov 23 – Jan 10. Free holiday concerts will be live-streamed.
The U.S. Botanic Garden is one of our favorite holiday stops in DC, and it’s open every day, including Christmas. The crowds should be small, and free parking is available in the lot in front of the Capitol.
During the holiday season, the Garden Court, just inside the main entrance, is decorated with models of D.C. landmarks. The U.S. Capitol, Smithsonian Castle, Washington Monument, and Smithsonian museums are all created from plants and natural materials. Poinsettias and greens surround the models, offering plenty of great photo spots.
In another area, a huge, multi-level train display delights both children and adults. The train theme changes every year but featured models are always built with natural materials. There is a separate entrance for the train room, and lines are often long. The crowds should be more manageable on Christmas day.
After you check out the holiday displays, spend time wandering through the rest of the garden. We especially love the jungle-like views from the catwalk inside the conservatory.
2. US Capitol Christmas Tree
Just across the street from the garden is the U. S. Capitol Christmas Tree. The Capitol tree is perfect for family photos that combine Christmas and the Capitol Building. The decorations change every year but are always more rustic and natural than the National Christmas Tree. The tree is lit from dusk to 11:00, so you can get a great photo day or night.
With government offices closed for the Christmas holiday, parking is plentiful and crowds are light. It’s a perfect recipe for a day or evening tour of the DC monuments and memorials. All of the monuments are accessible around the clock and are beautifully lit at night.
Another good option is to explore the area around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, including the Lincoln Monument and the Vietnam, World War II, and Korean Memorials. There is a hidden gem across the street from the Vietnam Wall—the Albert Einstein Memorial. The giant bronze statue makes an excellent group photo spot.
Mount Vernon is open year-round, and on Christmas day you can see the mansion decorated with period seasonal decor. In 2020, Christmas season mansion tours only include access to the 1st floor. You’ll also have a chance to visit with Aladdin the Christmas camel. Fun fact—George Washington paid 18 shillings to bring a camel to Mount Vernon for the enjoyment of his guests at Christmas.
The Mount Vernon Estate preserves the mansion, furnishings, gardens, and outbuildings that were so beloved by Washington. George and Martha Washington lived at Mount Vernon before and after his time as a General in the Revolutionary War and his two terms as the first President of the United States.
Inside the mansion you’ll see the bed shared by George and Martha, where he died in 1799. You’ll also tour his private study, and the public rooms where he entertained other founding fathers, foreign leaders, and countless friends and admirers.
Tours give an in-depth look at Washington’s private and public life. They also tell the stories of the workers and enslaved people who lived and worked at Mount Vernon.
If the weather is chilly, plan to spend extra time in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center to explore the extensive displays. In 2020, the 4D movie theater and interactive Be Washington exhibit are closed.
Plan your visit: Fun Things to Do at George Washington’s Estate in Mount Vernon Virginia.
Arlington National Cemetery is a special place, solemn and heart-breaking, but beautiful and inspiring too. Christmas day is an ideal time to honor our nation’s fallen and think about the servicemen and women who must celebrate the holidays far from their loved ones.
At Christmastime, each tomb is decorated with a wreath, making the rows upon rows of markers even more moving.
If you only have a short time, or your group has mobility issues, you can visit the major sites by bus. If time allows, we recommend a long walk on the streets throughout the cemetery. Allow time to watch the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown.
UPDATE: In 2020, the Welcome Center, Tomb of the Unknown, and Arlington House are closed so you can not watch the Changing of the Guard.
In winter, there are usually fewer crowds at the cemetery, and the views of DC are haze-free.
The George Washington Memorial Parkway links sites that commemorate important episodes in American history and also preserves habitat for local wildlife. The road’s original route followed the Potomac River’s edge from Arlington to Mount Vernon. In 1929, Congress authorized its extension to include Great Falls Park.
The roadway offers panoramic views above the Potomac in the north, and of the monuments of DC across the river in the south. There are so many stops on the 25-mile parkway that you’ll need multiple trips to see them all. Here are some of the interesting places to visit on Christmas day along the GW Parkway. Note that Great Falls Park is closed on Christmas Day.
- Visit the Marine Corps Memorial
- Explore Theodore Roosevelt Island, site of one of our favorite boardwalks in Northern Virginia
- Honor fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery (see #5 for more details)
- Relax by the river at Lady Bird Johnson Park
- Explore Dyke Marsh and the Mount Vernon Trail
7. Places to Visit on Christmas Day with Holiday Lights
Two of the best Northern Virginia area holiday light displays are open on Christmas day. These displays make fun family outings and are perfect for entertaining out of town guests. Click the link for details, hours, and tips for each display.
8. Take a Christmas Day Hike
Here are some of our favorite winter hikes in Northern Virginia that are open and accessible on Christmas day:
- Mason Neck State Park for birding and hiking along the marshes and bays of the Potomac.
- Manassas National Battlefield for a historic drive or hike. The Visitor Center is closed on Christmas, but the park is open.
- Potomac Heritage Trail in Seneca Regional Park for a hike with a little history along the Potomac River.
- Difficult Run and Great Falls Hike for beautiful views along Difficult Run and the Potomac River. You can access this hike even when Great Falls Park is closed.
- Scott’s Run Waterfall Hike for a short but sometimes steep hike to a pretty waterfall.
- The trail around Burke Lake for pretty water views and birding.
Further away but worth the drive, Shenandoah National Park is open on Christmas day. Visitor Center, restaurants, and lodging are closed by late November, but trails and overlooks are open year-round. Check for closures of Skyline Drive if there winter storms are forecast.
Whatever activity or event you choose, we wish you a fun and happy Christmas day outing.
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This article was published in 2015 and updated in 2018, 2019, and 2020.