Winter in the Washington, DC area is magical. The summer crowds and high temperatures are gone, and the region takes on an energy that’s quiet, but vibrant. Time seems to pass a bit slower in the winter months, but in DC, Alexandria, Virginia, and Baltimore, Maryland, the scene is nowhere near boring. Slowing down means you can 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. Ready to experience some holiday joy in and around the nation’s capital? Here’s your guide.
Cozy Restaurants and Seasonal Bites
- Cold, wintry nights and roaring fireplaces are practically synonymous, so why not pair that cozy vibe with a delicious meal or classic cocktail? 1920’s-themed Gaslight Tavern in DC kicks their intimate speakeasy setting up a notch with a brick-framed fireplace that patrons 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 over-sized 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. 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 will keep 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, complete with waffles, gingerbread, bratwurst and mulled wine.
Holiday Charm and Epic 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 gorgeous, 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.”
One-of-a-kind Gifts for Everyone on Your List
- For those that love all things luxury, pop by CityCenterDC to pick up designer threads from the likes of Gucci, Hermès and Burberry under the twinkling, suspended holiday lights.
- 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 art, furniture, jewelry, stationary, coffee, beer and so much more. In Baltimore, Treason Toting Company crafts stylishly well-made carrying totes and backpacks, as well as timeless t-shirts and sweatshirts, all crafted in Charm City. The brick-paved streets of the boutique district in Old Town are where to shop in Alexandria, where you’ll find independent shops boasting hard-to-find fashion, beauty and homeware brands.