Our list of the best free holiday activities in Washington, D.C.

If you click on the links in this post, we may earn money from the companies mentioned in this post, at no extra cost to you. You can read the full disclaimer here.

Sharing is caring!

There are so many festive activities and holiday celebrations in the District of Columbia and many of them are free.  Our nation’s capital has an array of events, tree lightings, performances and festive gatherings that are sure to get you in the Christmas spirit.

Holiday Boat Parade At The Wharf

This District of Columbia event takes the Christmas celebration out on the water.  The Holiday Boat Parade will have more than 60 boats that will be covered from bow to stern in colorful Christmas lights, tinsel and garland.  Watch them glide by the Wharf with the lovely colors reflecting in the water.  Prizes will be awarded to the most beautiful boats.

Get into the spirit of the holidays with ornament decorating and holiday karaoke by the Recreation Pier.  There will be a musical performances by The Royals and Too Much Talent Band.

You can roast s’mores at the Camp Wharf fire pit.  See the lighted, beautifully decorated 45 foot Christmas tree.  Bring your ice skates and skate at the Wharf Ice Rink on Transit Pier.  Santa will be there, so bring your camera.

Hot cocoa and cider can be purchased for the kids while parents can get an adult beverage from the Waterfront Beer & Wine Garden.  The evening will end with a big fireworks show.  This will be happening on December 2, 2023, from 6 pm to 9 pm.  It is open to the public and admission is free.

The National Christmas Tree

Free tickets to the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony are given away in an online lottery.  This year’s tree is a 45 foot Norway spruce from Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia.  It is located in the Ellipse, just south of the White House.  Be sure to go to see this beautiful tree, if you can,

U.S. Capitol Tree

The United States Capitol Tree is often twice as tall as the National Christmas Tree.  It’s decorated with over 10,000 ornaments and is beautiful.  You can see it on the West Lawn of the U.S., Capitol.  

Union Station Trains

Washington’s Union Station is one of the country’s busiest train stations.  At Christmas, in addition to a giant Christmas tree, you’ll find a model train display.  It’s located in the West Hall and the train engines and cars are handmade replicas of real Norwegian trains.  This is free and open to the public.

Lighting of the National Menorah

Chanukah begins with the December 7th lighting ceremony of the National Menorah.  Located on the White House Ellipse, it is the largest menorah in the world.  Music for the lighting will be provided by the United States Navy Band.  A new candle will be illuminated on each of the eight days of Chanukah.

U.S. Botanical Gardens

The U.S. Botanical Gardens has perfectly beautiful holiday displays of pine, poinsettias and mistletoe.  It features Washington landmarks made from plant materials.  The highlight of their holiday season is the outdoor garden railway with its intricate, imaginative designs.  This year’s display will highlight pollinators and their related plants.  Admission is free.

Downtown Holiday Market

Christmas shopping doesn’t have to be a chore.  It can be a real treat at the Downtown Holiday Market.  It is located in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery.  More than 150 vendors and craftspeople will be there selling artisan goods.  Shop at pop up tents with seasonal live music performances.


Celebrating its 10th anniversary in D.C. will be Christkindlmarket at the Heurich House Museum.  50 local small scale craftsmakers will have their wares for sale here.  This will be happening on December 1, 2 and 3, 2023.


Powered by Pepco, ZooLights is a free event, running from November 24, 2023, through December 30, 2023.  Smithsonian’s National Zoo is transformed into a winter wonderland by LED lights and glowing animal lanterns.  There will be live seasonal music, delicious winter treats and holiday shopping galore.

D.C. Holiday Lights

Neighborhoods throughout Washington, D.C., are decorating their “main streets” with holiday lights between November 17, 2023, and January 7, 2024.  Stores in each neighborhood are offering holiday sales, specials and promotions to encourage shopping locally.  Enjoy the D.C. Holiday Lights in Dupont Circle, U Street, Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, Woodley Park, Mount Pleasant and Logan Circle.  You can cast your vote for the best decorated neighborhood.

District of Columbia Hotels

If you’d like to visit Washington, D.C., for the holiday festivities, you should consider the following hotels.  They are all offering discounted rates that can save you money on your stay.

  • Viceroy Washington DC: 35% Discount
  • Hotel Zena, a Viceroy Urban Retreat: 35% Discount
  • The Poppy Georgetown: 33% Discount
  • The Dupont Circle Hotel: 30% Discount
  • Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown: 30% Discount
  • Club Quarters Hotel in Washington, DC: 30% Discount
  • Phoenix Park Hotel: 30% Discount
  • Kellogg Conference Hotel at Gallaudet University: 24% Discount
  • Grover Park – Georgetown: 21% Discount
  • Hyatt Place Washington DC/US Capitol: 20% Discount
  • ARC Hotel, Washington DC, Georgetown: 20% Discount
  • Moxy Washington DC Downtown: 20% Discount
  • The St. Gregory Hotel: 20% Discount
  • Hotel Washington: 20% Discount
  • Selina Union Market: 20% Discount
  • Hyatt Place Washington DC/Georgetown/West End: 20% Discount
  • Kimpton Banneker Hotel, an IHG Hotel: 20% Discount
  • Washington Plaza Hotel: 20% Discount
  • Embassy Suites by Hilton Washington DC Chevy Chase Pavilion: 20% Discount
  • The Royal Sonesta Washington DC Capitol Hill: 20% Discount
  • Hilton Garden Inn Washington DC.U.S. Capitol: 20% Discount
  • The Westin Washington, D.C. City Center: 20% Discount
  • citizenM Washington DC NOMA: 15% Discount
  • The Watergate Hotel: 10% Discount
  • Global Luxury Suites at Ravel: 10% Discount

Other Washington D.C. Activities

While you’re in our nation’s capital, here are some activities you might enjoy.  These aren’t free but you can use our links to see how you can save money on them.