5 Reasons to Visit Washington, DC, in the Winter

Beat the crowds and catch the United States capital decked out in festive finery by timing a visit during the city’s low season.

Dec 23, 2014
  • National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Ice Skating
  • CenterCityDC 70-foot Christmas Tree
  • Eno Wine Bar in Washington DC.
  • The Dupont Circle Farmer’s Market
  • United States Botanic Garden’s Seasons Greenings Program - Model Train
Take a spin on the ice at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Ice Rink, located on the National Mall.
Photography Elvert Barnes
CityCenterDC, a high-end shopping and dining complex, shines during the wintertime with Christmas lights and a 70-foot (21-metre) Christmas tree.
Photography Daniel Swartz, Revamp
Wine lovers will enjoy ENOversity at ENO Wine Bar next to the Hotel, a monthly class that pairs select wines with seasonal dishes.
Photography courtesy Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
The Dupont Circle FRESHFARM Market carries fresh produce year round, as well as crafts and ornaments during the holidays.
Photography courtesy FRESHFARM Markets
Don’t miss a trip to the United States Botanic Garden for the Season’s Greenings exhibit, complete with model train displays and live music.
Photography courtesy United States Botanic Garden

Savvy travellers visit the U.S. capital city from November to March, when restaurants, monuments and museums are far less crowded than in the spring and summer. The District comes alive in December with events such as the National Christmas Tree and Capitol Christmas Tree lighting ceremonies, and performances like The Nutcracker from the Washington Ballet. But the festivities don’t end with the holiday season. Washington, DC’s off-season offerings extend well into the New Year, with myriad indoor and outdoor activities available for the whole family.

Skate across the city

Several outdoor ice rinks dot the historic landscape in DC, each with its own appeal. At the Washington Harbour Ice Rink—just a 10-minute walk from Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC, and open until March—skaters glide around a circular rink framed by stunning views of the Potomac River and the centre’s restaurants and shops. Check the event calendar for deals (the rink offers two-for-one admission on Tuesdays) and special themed skates. To skate amid enchanting architecture and large-scale sculptures by the likes of Louise Bourgeois and Roy Lichtenstein, lace up at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Ice Rink on the National Mall. The rink is located within eyeshot of the United States Capitol Building and lies at the foot of the Pavilion Café, where Mom and Dad can warm up with a cup of peppermint hot cocoa as the kids cruise the ice.

Seasoned shopping and dining

Washington’s newest neighbourhood, CityCenterDC, offers high-end shopping and dining within an outdoor plaza environment in the heart of downtown. During the holidays, discerning shoppers can window-shop luxury brands such as Longchamp, Kate Spade and Burberry while admiring a 70-foot (21-metre) decorated tree and enjoying live music. In early 2015, Louis Vuitton, David Yurman and Carolina Herrera will join the selection of shops. To stay energised during a day of power shopping, stop by RareSweets, a locally owned bakery which stocks miniature cakes, cookies and hot cocoa. For longer-lasting fuel, trust one of the biggest names in dining and make a reservation at Daniel Boulud’s DBGB Kitchen and Bar, known for house-made sausages and other French-American dishes. In Georgetown—Washington, DC’s oldest neighbourhood—listen for roaming carollers while holiday shopping in boutiques along M Street (think AllSaints, Barbour and Barneys New York).

Eat and drink by the fire

After a day of exploring, warm up with some Chesapeake chowder or steamed mussels at Bourbon Steak. The Hotel’s heated outdoor patio is open throughout the winter, and patrons can cuddle up by the fire with extra blankets and hot cocktails like the Hot “Buttered” Rum with Mount Gay rum, vanilla bean, ginger and dulce de leche foam, served in a pre-warmed mug. Wine aficionados will want to stop by ENO Wine Bar next to the Hotel for a selection of $5 wines on tap every Sunday through Thursday from 5 to 7 pm. On the first Sunday of the month, ENO Wine Bar offers ENOversity, an interactive wine class that pairs five different wines with seasonal plates.

Fresh and seasonal at the market

The Dupont Circle FRESHFARM Market is one of the few markets in the District that stays open year-round offering fresh, organic produce. During the holidays, vendors also sell crafts, ornaments and Christmas trees. It’s the perfect place to score one-of-a-kind gifts or souvenirs, like fresh maple syrup or homemade soaps. The market opens every Sunday at 10 am on 20th Street, NW, between Massachusetts Avenue and Hillyer Place.

Think tropical thoughts

If you’re looking to escape winter’s chill and spend time indoors, visit the United States Botanic Garden, located southwest of the Capitol. The conservatory, open year-round (including holidays), is kept at tropical temperatures to nurture its resident blooms, succulents and rare plants. For kids 9 and older, parents can request a Junior Botanist backpack and field guide, which helps lead young scientists through the garden’s exhibits. Visit between Thanksgiving Day and early January to enjoy the Season’s Greenings exhibition, during which model trains run through a garden display that includes replicas of the capital’s landmark buildings.


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