Living in the DC Metro area means that we have easy access to one of the biggest tourist destinations in the United States.
Doesn’t mean we have time to enjoy it like we wish we could.
Work, kid activities, and the hassle of dealing with traffic and tourists swarming the most popular attractions mean that we really don’t have a ton of time to get into the city during the year.
While DC is a great place to visit year round because there are always plenty of things to do with kids in DC, we just really love the holidays in DC.
The kids are out of school, the decorations are all strung up, and everyone is in a festive, it’s-okay-to-brave-the-crowds mood.
We are planning to hit the city the day after Thanksgiving and hopefully once after the National Tree is lit too.
If you’re planning to visit DC this holiday season, here are some must-see’s while you’re visiting the spectacular nation’s capital.
The Holidays in DC: 10 Fun Things to Do in DC with Kids During the Winter Holiday Season
Free Things to Do in DC With Kids During the Holidays
D.C. has so many free attractions it almost doesn’t’ make sense to pay for anything. Here are a few free things to do in DC with kids that we know you’ll love.
National Zoo. 11/25-1/1
Enjoy Zoo Lights and the illuminated animals at The National Zoo. Free entry, Metro accessible, and full of wildlife. Be sure you pack your walking shoes, you’re gonna get a workout. The holiday event boasts over 500,000 environmentally friendly LED lights. Plus enjoy live music performances, tasty winter treats, and plenty of opportunities for holiday shopping.
The Smithsonian Holiday Festival
Various Smithsonian Properties in DC. 12/3-12/4
Get in the holiday spirit at The National Museum of Natural History for the Smithsonian Holiday Festival. This is the Dudes’ favorite museum to visit. From the notorious wooly mammoth to the dinosaur wing and the Hope Diamond, they love seeing every element of the space and we discover something new each time we visit. During the holiday festival you can experience holiday themed joy at a number of Smithsonian properties, we just like this one the best. They are rolling out holiday treats, musical performances, trunk shows, kid activities, and more at the following Smithsonian properties: National Museum of American History, National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of Natural History, Sackler Gallery, National Museum of the American Indian, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, National Museum of African American Art, and The Smithsonian Castle.
Visit The National Christmas Tree
President’s Park, White House Ellipse. 12/1-1/1
Unless you got tickets via the lottery back in October, you’re probably not going to the official, star-studded tree lighting ceremony. What you can do is plan to visit the National Christmas Tree, located in President’s Park on the Ellipse, once it is lit on December 1st. They have nightly musical entertainment and the tree is truly a sight to see -hands down one of our favorite things to do with kids during the holidays in DC.
Shop at the Downtown Holiday Market
Between 8th and F Streets NW, 11/25-12/23
This outdoor holiday bazaar with over 150 vendors is a great place to stock up on unique gifts for all of your out of town buds (and your in town buds too). The Downtown Holiday Market will feature tons of vendors, live music and entertainment, food, warm drinks –everything you need to get in the holiday shopping spirit. So even if your kids are all noooooooo when you mention holiday shopping, even the most unwilling shoppers will find something to smile about here.
Historic Georgetown. 12/2-1/1
I can’t see going to the Georgetown Glow with my kids JUST for the sake of seeing the Georgetown Glow with my kids. What I can see is planning to go to dinner, or some other event in the area when it is on because it is truly an enjoyable sight that they will oooh and ahh over like the mini-art critics they are probably not. It’s basically an art light exhibit splattered all over the historic Georgetown area. You can’t miss it if you’re there and you should try to get there so you don’t.
Visit the Holiday Train
West Hall Union Station. 11/25-1/1
It is massive and it is beautiful and if you’re traveling by train or just nearby Union Station you must venture in to check out the Holiday Trains. Be sure to set aside at least an hour for you and your kids to enjoy the intricacies of the display.
Not Free But Still Cool Things to Do in DC with Kids During the Holidays
See The Nutcracker
Warner Theater. 12/1-12/24
It’s a tradition, right?! Or, at least one you’d like to start. You can check out the Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker at the Warner Theater and give your kids a classy way to celebrate the season.
Hit the Ice Slides
Gaylord National, National Harbor. 11/19-1/1
Christmas on the Potomac and Gaylord National ICE! is a fun winter adventure for families. We have had the pleasure of enjoying this event every year since its opening, and I can’t say my kids are over it yet. It’s a celebration of world cultures in ice –basically, the frozen version of It’s a Small World. My Dudes love seeing the ice sculptures and donning the blue overcoats to slide down the massive two-story ice slides. I just go for the hot chocolate. Outside of the ice land, there are tons of other fun, family events on site, including gingerbread house building, rides, and an Elf on the Shelf Scavenger Hunt.
Holiday in the Park at Six Flags America
Six Flags America. 11/19-1/2
For families that love roller coasters, Six Flags America’s holiday event is as thrilling as it is festive. You can ride the rides while marveling at the holiday decorations throughout the park. Take in some holiday themed shows, indulge in holiday themed treats, and you can even visit Santa while you’re there.
Go Ice Skating
National Gallery of Art. 11/19-3/12
There are a number of outdoor ice skating options during the holiday season in DC, but our favorite and most festive is the National Gallery of Art skating rink. Technically it is open beyond the holiday season (and it’s kind of less crowded later in the season too), but it is nice to go down, when the area is all decorated, and skate like the holiday reveler you’ve always dreamed of being.
Where to Stay in DC for Families
Lodging is a huge part of a family vacation –it sucks up your budget and it can make or break your trip.
For families with more than two kids, finding comfortable and affordable accommodations is like finding a needle in a haystack.
One of our favorite, family friendly locations to stay is Avenue Suites.
Converted into a hotel from an old apartment building, the rooms at the Avenue Suites are spacious enough to accommodate larger families than many of the other locations we’ve visited. The venue located in Georgetown is perfectly situated to give you a unique DC experience while also allowing easy access to the Metro to get you to the more touristy locations you came to enjoy. They also have an on-site restaurant that will please parents and kids alike.
Check out these other DC hotels for big families if you need help locating lodging.