Winter in the Washington, DC area is magical. Take your time and enjoy the best parts about winter here: hearty food and drink, holiday decorations and festivals, and of course, shopping for the perfect gifts. We’ve got you covered with the best of the best:
Cozy Restaurants and Seasonal Bites
Did you know that cold, wintry nights were invented just so we could enjoy roaring fireplaces? That’s one theory, anyway. 1920’s-themed Gaslight Tavern in DC kicks their intimate speakeasy setting up a notch with a big, brick-framed fireplace that you can snuggle up next to over Parisian Sazeracs. Or, for an elegant date night, head to Magnolia’s on King in Alexandria for drinks and Southern bites in the oversized leather chairs surrounding the fireplace in the lounge.
The quest for the perfect cup of hot cocoa is not a game around these parts and opinions run high. For those times when powder-in-a-packet just doesn’t cut it, Pitango (based in Baltimore but with locations in DC) offers thick, traditional sipping chocolate straight from Torino, Italy, with steamed milk or whipped cream to cut the intensity. For those of you that absolutely need your coffee no matter what, head to Killer E.S.P. in Old Town Alexandria for the Killer Mocha—hot cocoa with a shot of espresso.
Sure, holiday markets are a great place to shop, but real foodies know they’re also a great place to eat. The Downtown Holiday Market in DC across from Hotel Monaco keeps shoppers warm with coffee from local roaster, Vigilante Coffee, and everything from mini donuts to empanadas. In Baltimore, the annual Christmas Village is modeled after a traditional German holiday market, so don’t pretend you’re not there for the waffles, gingerbread, bratwurst and mulled wine.
The Best Lights and Entertainment
The National Christmas Tree is an absolute must-visit on a holiday trip to Washington, DC. The beautiful pine has a prime location on the White House Ellipse, surrounded by smaller trees representing 56 U.S. states and territories. The lighting celebration takes place November 28, and afterward there’ll be nightly performances throughout the season.
Other can’t-miss lighting displays include ZooLights at the National Zoo, the oversize wreaths at Union Station, the Holiday Boat Parade of Lights on December 1 at Alexandria’s waterfront, or the sparkling trees surrounding Pandora Ice Rink in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
Arguably, there’s no better time to visit the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts than during the winter season. The cream-colored building seems to glow on cold winter nights, and inside, the thick, dramatic red curtains part to display beautiful interpretations of holiday classics. This winter, the Washington National Opera will perform “Silent Night,” NPR will host “A Jazz Piano Christmas,” and the National Symphony Orchestra will give their annual performance of Handel’s “Messiah.” Eat your hearts out, summer visitors.
Shopping: You Made Your List, but Did You Check it Twice?
Luxury lovers, if you’re looking to be the brightest light at all those holiday parties, head to CityCenterDC for designer threads from the likes of Gucci, Hermès and Burberry.
Or go beyond the typical souvenir and bring your family and friends a locally made gift from an area artisan. Shop Made in DC is a retail space dedicated to DC makers, filled with tons of unique gifts. In Baltimore, Treason Toting Company crafts stylishly well-made carrying totes and backpacks plus timeless t-shirts and sweatshirts, all crafted in Charm City. The brick-paved streets of the boutique district in Old Town are definitely the place to shop in Alexandria.
This post was originally published on November 5, 2018 and has been updated.