Pair the latest with the greatest in DC
In a place as vibrant as Washington, D.C., things change all the time, making no two visits the same. Whether it’s cultural exhibits and performances or new dishes to sink your teeth into, D.C. is the capital of creativity.
That said, with all the new things that come along, there are still plenty of tried-and-true places — from restaurants and hotels to attractions and museums — that stay the same and are still worthy of your precious vacation time. (Don’t forget, many activities are still free or budget-friendly as well.)
So we’ve paired some of D.C.'s latest offerings with some long-standing institutions that are a must on any visit to the city. Read on to see how our guide to enjoy D.C. this winter.
Latest: Get in the holiday spirit and dazzle your senses as you wind your way through tunnels, trees, reindeer and snowflakes decorated with thousands of lights at Nationals Park from Nov. 25-Jan.1. Presented by the Hallmark Channel, “Enchant” is the world’s largest light maze and even features a 100-foot tall Christmas tree. The experience continues with ice skating; a village full of artisan vendors, crafts and, of course, holiday beverages. Professional photographers will also be on hand to snap pics of your little ones meeting Santa.
Greatest: You may have seen a broadcast of the annual National Christmas Tree Lighting in previous years, but this year will be a special anniversary worth watching (or attending if you are one of the lucky ones who won the ticket lottery). The 100th lighting ceremony takes place on Dec. 11, at 8 p.m. (EST) and features performances by Shania Twain, LL Cool J, Joss Stone, the Estefans, Andy Grammer and “The President’s Own" United States Marine Band. If you prefer your events in person, head for the 30th anniversary of D.C.’s Holiday Boat Parade (Dec. 3), a free event near the Southwest Waterfront. This celebration features more than 60 decorated boats parading along the Washington Channel (parallel to the Potomac) and culminates in a fireworks show and live music.
New looks on old classics
Latest: Space lovers, rejoice! Since 2018, the National Air and Space Museum has been undergoing an extensive renovation to redesign all 23 exhibitions and presentation spaces. As of last month, half of the flagship building is open again, including the planetarium and eight new and renovated exhibitions. Along with presenting older artifacts like the Apollo 11 command capsule in new settings, the renovated museum will also feature hundreds of new items like Jackie Cochran’s T-38, which she flew as the first woman to break the sound barrier. The full-sized X-Wing Starfighter that appeared in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will also be displayed for the first time.
Give time travel a try through National Geographic’s “Beyond King Tut: The Immersive Experience,” a cinematic and multimedia celebration of the ancient king's tomb 100 years after its discovery. Don't wait too long, though, as it's only in D.C. through Feb. 6, 2023.
Greatest: See the flag that inspired our national anthem, Dorothy’s red slippers, Julia Child’s kitchen or any of the three million other historical objects that call the National Museum of American History home. Even if you've been before, you might see something new this time around. Plus, admission is free, much like the other Smithsonian museums. (Be sure to visit other Smithsonian sites, such as the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of African American History and Culture or the National Zoo.)
Take in a show
Latest: While D.C. offers plenty of ways to learn things for free, the city also offers its guests free entertainment. The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage presents free live performances in the Grand Foyer Wednesdays through Saturdays at 6 p.m. and free weekly film screenings in the Justice Forum or outside on the Reach Plaza every Sunday at 3 p.m. Upcoming ticketed events at the Millennium Stage include comedians, singer/songwriters and chamber musicians. Check out the calendar of events.
Greatest: The aforementioned Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is still one of the premier venues in the country, presenting more than 2,200 shows and events each year. This winter, sit back and watch performances by the National Symphony Orchestra, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Washington National Opera and touring ballet companies. With free admission from noon to midnight, “Art and Ideals: President John F. Kennedy” is a recently-opened permanent exhibit in the roof-level atrium that explores Kennedy’s appreciation and promotion of the arts. While you're up there, don't be afraid to grab a pre-show dinner at the Roof Terrace Restaurant (reservations strongly recommended) or if the weather is nice, go out on the wrap-around rooftop terrace for stellar views of D.C.
The site of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, Ford’s Theatre, is still an active theater with performances; the President’s Box is decorated with an American flag and a portrait of President George Washington, just as it was in 1865. Visitors can head to the museum in the building to see artifacts related to the assassination, in addition to exhibits on Lincoln’s presidency and Civil War milestones. This holiday season, visitors can enjoy a performance of the classic show "A Christmas Carol" (Nov. 18-Dec. 31).
Fun for foodies
Latest: If it seems like everywhere you turn in D.C., you’ll spot a restaurant that’s been named to a top list or has won awards, you’re not dreaming. D.C. is a foodie paradise that is simply buzzing with activity all the time. This winter, try some of the hottest restaurants, like Gatsby, an American diner overlooking Nationals Park and drenched in a 1920s feel from the pictures on the wall down to the menu font. Crazy Aunt Helen’s dishes American comfort food with a Southern lean with items like the fried green tomato sandwich and the Myrtle Beach mule. The Roost is a food hall that brings together a handful of the area’s best chefs in different outposts (such as Leni, an all-day cafe by Brittanny Anderson, a James Beard-nominated chef).
Greatest: Not many cities have their own Michelin Guide, but D.C. does and is certainly deserving of one. The 2022 edition covers nearly 130 restaurants in and around the District that are Michelin-starred or affordable hot spots. With 24 Michelin-starred restaurants, D.C. was awarded more stars this year than the entire state of Illinois. New one-star additions to the list this year include Albi, which serves Middle Eastern cuisine; Oyster Oyster, also a James Beard Award nominee in 2022; and Imperfecto, a blend of Mediterranean and Latin American cuisines.
Where to stay
Latest: The past year has ushered in a number of new hotels in D.C., ranging from the high-end to budget-friendly options. After being purchased for $375 million, the former U.S. Post Office and Clock Tower, located a few blocks from the White House, was rebranded and opened in June as the Waldorf Astoria Washington DC. (You don't have to stay there to go up the clock tower, a free attraction with some of the best views of the city.) Chef José Andrés will be opening a Bazaar restaurant there later this year, joining Michelin-rated Sushi Nakazawa at the hotel.
The Southwest waterfront that used to be known mostly for its fish market has become a trendy destination to live and work – and now stay, thanks to the boutique Pendry Hotel that just opened this month. Close to the Union Station train hub, Selina opened in June, aimed at the budget-friendly millennial and Gen Z travelers by offering free Wi-Fo, co-working spaces, a yoga deck and shared kitchen space.
Greatest: Location, location, location is everything and when you can stay in a hotel (or head to its rooftop bar) overlooking the White House, it’s a no-brainer. Opened since 1928, the Hay-Adams is a 5-star luxury hotel that sits on the site of the former homes of John Hay and Henry Adams. During the 1800s, this was the center of Washington’s intellectual and social gatherings and featured literary giants like Mark Twain and Edith Wharton. Today that tradition continues with the hotel’s “Author Series” which brings modern-day distinguished authors to celebrate their writings.