Bring on the Christmas Cheer with 5 Free Holiday Activities in Washington, DC

Spread holiday cheer, not dollar bills, at these DC area Christmas events.

The great thing about Washington, DC is so many of the things to do in the city are free. From more than 20 museums to the zoo to great holiday happenings, activities abound in the capitol city that don't break the bank. 

Looking for some of the best ways to enjoy the season without blowing your holiday budget? Get the scoop here on the best holiday activities for kids and families in Washington, DC. (Keep in mind that when it comes to the holiday events on our list, free might mean you don’t need to reserve tickets ahead of time, but it also means you should expect crowds during peak times, such as weekends).

And don't forget to keep the good times going after the holidays with our list of must-do winter activities in the area.

1. Union Station Holiday Trains - Why not make the most of the great public transit in DC, and make stop at Union Station and check out the holiday train display.


Capital made of natural materials at the US Botanic Garden.

2. Holiday Trains at United States Botanic Garden - Take a look at miniatures of iconic international train stations from NYC's Grand Central to St. Louis's Union Station in the US Botanic Garden.  If you don’t have patience to stand in line for the train set-up, you can see more of the buildings and a small train setup around the Christmas tree in the main part of the conservancy.

3. National Christmas Tree and Trains - You need tickets for the National Tree Lighting, which takes place each November, but you can visit any evening to enjoy the lights, train shows, live music and dance performances.

4. ZooLights at the National Zoo - Decorative holiday lights bring the zoo to life at night. Enjoy the indoor nocturnal animals, live music, carousel rides, tubing and holiday trains, all for free with the exception of the rides.

5. Georgetown Glow - Georgetown turns on the charm and takes it up a notch for the holidays with artsy holiday light and store window displays and weekend music performances. Top it off with some ($5) skating on the Washington Harbour ice rink.

RELATED: 45 Things to do in Baltimore with Kids

Other Popular Christmas Activities in Washington DC:


Skating in the sculpture garden. 

Ice Skating at National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden - This park just off the National Mall is a lovely spot to visit and explore the outdoor sculptures. It’s a lovely spot for a skate. Warm up in the Pavilion Cafe with a hot cocoa.

A Puppet Nutcracker - DC offers many options of the holiday classic for different budgets and attention spans, but the one offered by the Puppet Company is always a favorite with children.

Looking for a place to grab a bite? Check out Muze in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel with its Asian fusion fare served in a casual setting that welcomes children and families. For more family-friendly dining options, check our post on restaurants in Washington DC near the National Mall.

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All photos taken by author. Lead image is holiday trains at the US Botanic Garden. 
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