Lincoln Memorial at night, DC

5 Fun DC Area Places to Visit on Christmas Day

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.

US Botanic Garden Capitol model DC

US Botanic Garden model of the DC Capitol building


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.


Smithsonian Castle model Botanical Garden DC

Smithsonian Castle model, US Botanic Garden DC


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.

Holiday train display Botanical Garden DC

Holiday train display US Botanic Garden DC

Caterpillar Train, Botanical Garden DC

Caterpillar Train, US Botanic Garden DC


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.

Jungle plants at US Botanic Garden

Jungle plants at US Botanic Garden


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.

US Capitol Christmas Tree

US Capitol Christmas Tree


2. Washington D.C. Monuments and Memorials

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.

Jefferson Memorial, DC

Jefferson Memorial, DC


We recommend a long stroll around the Tidal Basin, to visit the Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorials.

MLK Memorial

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial


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.

Lincoln Memorial at night, DC

Lincoln Memorial at night, DC


All of the monuments are accessible around the clock and are beautifully lit at night.

3. George Washington’s Mount Vernon

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.

Mount Vernon tour

Mount Vernon tour


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.

Washington family at Mount Vernon

Washington family at Mount Vernon


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.

Swearing in of George Washington

Swearing in of George Washington


4. Arlington National Cemetery

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.

Arlington NC Washington Monument

Arlington National Cemetery


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.

Arlington Cemetery Tomb of the Unknown

Arlington Cemetery Tomb of the Unknown


In winter, you’ll generally enjoy few crowds, and haze-free views of DC.

5. George Washington Memorial Parkway

George Washington Memorial Parkway

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.

Roosevelt Island bench boardwalk

Theodore Roosevelt Island bench boardwalk


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:

Bonus: Take a Hike

Trailhead Seneca Tract

Trailhead to Potomax Heritage Trail in Great Falls Seneca Tract


Here are a few more of our favorite hikes that are open and accessible on Christmas day:

What’s your favorite destination for a Christmas Day outing?

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  2. Holiday Lights in the Northern Virginia and Washington DC Area - October 29, 2018

    […] The Botanical Garden is one of our favorite holiday stops in DC and should not be missed. The holiday fun includes an elaborate model train display; a large display of DC memorials and monuments made from natural materials; and holiday topiaries and plants. The theme in the model train display changes every year. In 2018, the theme is “All Aboard.,” featuring iconic train stations from across the United States. entry to the garden and all of the displays are free. Open daily 10:00 – 5:00 with evening hours Tuesdays and Thursdays in December. The US Botanic Garden is open every day, including Christmas. […]

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