A reader recently asked about good places to visit on Christmas day, when so many US destinations and businesses are closed. 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 DC area, 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
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 should be 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 including the Capitol, Smithsonian Castle, and the Washington Monument, all made from plants and surrounded by poinsettias and greens.
Children will love watching model trains navigate the elaborate train display, also made with natural materials, and accessed from a separate entrance. Lines to enter the train area should be manageable on Christmas day.
After you check out the special displays, spend time wandering through the rest of the garden. We especially love the jungle-like views from the catwalk inside the conservatory.
After your visit, you could stroll over to check out the U. S. Capitol Christmas Tree, a more natural display than it’s famous counterpart, the National Christmas Tree.
With government offices closed for the Christmas holiday, parking is plentiful and crowds are light—the perfect recipe for a day or evening tour of the DC monuments and memorials.
We recommend a long stroll around the Tidal Basin, to visit the Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorials.
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.
All of the monuments are accessible around the clock and are beautifully lit at night.
Mount Vernon is open year-round, and on Christmas day you can see the mansion decorated with period seasonal decor, with access to the usually closed 3rd 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 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, 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 his private and public life, and also tell the stories of the workers and enslaved people who lived at Mount Vernon. The Visitor Center includes extensive displays and movies, plus a museum and classroom that bring the beginning of the United States to life.
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 your visit allows, we highly recommend a long walk on the streets throughout the cemetery, with a stop to watch the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown.
In winter, you’ll generally enjoy few crowds, and haze-free views of DC.
The George Washington Memorial Parkway was designed to link sites that commemorate important episodes in American history, and to preserve habitat for local wildlife. Originally conceived as a route along the Potomac River’s edge from Arlington to Mount Vernon, Congress authorized its extension to include Great Falls Park in 1929.
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, but here are some of the interesting options for a Christmas day visit:
- Hike along the Potomac at Turkey Run Park
- Visit the Marine Corps Memorial
- Explore Theodore Roosevelt Island
- Honor fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery (see #4 for more details)
- Visit DC’s southern corner at Jones Point Park
- Relax by the river at Lady Bird Johnson Park
- Explore Dyke Marsh and the Mount Vernon Trail
Bonus: Take a Hike
Here are a few more of our favorite hikes 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 will be closed on Christmas, but the park is open.
- Potomac Heritage Trail in Great Falls for a hike and a little history along the Potomac River.
- Great Falls Loop Hike for beautiful views along Difficult Run and the Potomac even when Great Falls Park is closed for the holiday.
What’s your favorite destination for a Christmas Day outing?