By Carla Olivo, Marine Spouse

The holiday season in the National Capital Region is really special with something to do or see almost every day. From the National Christmas Tree, to the Willard Hotel, to Old Ebbit Grill, there are plenty of places in and around D.C. to get into the holiday spirit. We’ve compiled a list of some of the more unique or memorable events that are great options for your family or to treat holiday visitors.

Christmas Lights

There is no shortage of places to see Christmas lights either in downtown D.C., Northern Virginia or Maryland. Here are a few of the more unique displays.

Lions and Tiger and Bears and LIGHTS!

Zoo Lights transforms the National Zoo into a sparkling wonderland. Visit the elephants and lions amid twinkling lights! This free event features live music performances and holiday shopping. More than 500,000 environmentally-friendly LED lights transform the Zoo into a winter wonderland complete with a light show set to music! Be prepared for crowds as this is one of the most popular holiday light exhibits. Complimentary shuttles from the Woodley Park Metro station to the Zoo are generously provided by Big Bus Tours each Saturday night.

Interactive Lights

Georgetown GLOW is a unique outdoor public art exhibit.  GLOW runs from Friday, December 8 through Sunday, January 7, from 5 – 10 p.m. nightly.  Visitors are invited to interact and connect with the artwork.

Magical Lights

Meadowlark’s Winter Walk of Lights  at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia. From mid-November until just after New Year’s Day, the garden is transformed into a magical half-mile, walk of lights. Roast marshmallows and sip hot cocoa (sold at the concession stand) by the fire. Open daily from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tickets can be found at  Online tickets are sold with specific entrance times so that the flow of visitors is managed and ample (free) parking is available.


There are sooo many great shopping opportunities downtown and in NOVA.

Downtown Holiday Market – 8th & F Sts NW

The 13th annual Downtown Holiday Market features more than 150 regional artisans selling art, crafts, jewelry, pottery, clothing, and specialty food items. There’s also seasonal entertainment and snacks while you shop. This shopping opportunity is located at 8th and F Streets NW and is FREE.

Holiday Extravaganza & Craft Show

Saturday, Dec 2 9a-3p, Lorton VA

Military, veterans and dependents admitted FREE! 160+ craft vendors, Santa’s Book Emporium, Greetings for the Troops, FREE Child ID & Fingerprinting by Fairfax Sheriff. South County High School, 8501 Silverbrook Rd, Lorton.

The Holidays at some Iconic DC area Landmarks!

Winter Wonderland at the Watergate Hotel

The famous (or infamous?) Watergate Hotel features an outdoor rooftop skating rink and luxury igloos. How’s that for unique? Enjoy panoramic views while you glide across the ice. For a true one-of-a-kind winter experience, you can reserve a 12-ft heated igloo for a tasting menu, afternoon tea or a whiskey flight.  Skate rentals are $20 for adults. Igloos start at $200.

ICE! At the Gaylord National

This is definitely one of the more popular and unique events in the DC area. More than 2 million pounds of ice are sculpted to tell the popular story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Special parkas are provided as the exhibit is kept at 9 degrees. Brrrrr! Military rates are available but don’t delay as this event often sells out.

U.S. Botanic Garden

The theme this year is Roadside Attractions, with model trains that chug around plant creations made to look like iconic sights from across the country. On select Tuesdays and Thursdays in December, there will be live holiday music in the Conservatory. A great deal because this attraction is free and a nice respite from the many outdoor, chilly exhibits around town.

Mount Vernon

Celebrate the holidays at George Washington’s house. Mount Vernon has an old-time Christmas feel throughout the season. In addition to the usual exhibits, you can enjoy tea with Martha, or tour the estate by candlelight. On December 15 and 16 there will be a special fireworks display choreographed to holiday music. George and Martha Washington will also be on site to greet Mount Vernon’s holiday guests. Military, Veterans and Dependents are eligible for $3 Off General Admission prices.

A Great Place to See Santa!

Cookies With Santa

Saturday, Dec 2 – 9:30a-12pm -South County High School Lorton

Have the kids come see the big guy and avoid the huge mall crowds! After enjoying cookies, kids are invited to sit on Santa’s lap. Parents are invited to take photos. Sure beats standing in line at the mall and paying a HUGE sitting fee for photos! This event is FREE for the kids. Parents with a military or veteran ID are also admitted FREE courtesy of

A Water-Skiing Santa

Dec 24 – 1pm – Old Town Alexandria

For the past 31 years, Santa has taken to the Potomac River providing quite the holiday memory for those used to seeing the big guy in the red suit in a sleigh rather than on the water. Head to Old Town Alexandria at 1:00pm on Christmas Eve for this unique spectacle!

For Active Families

Candy Cane Kids Fun Run

Saturday, Dec 2

Kids 12 and under can join Santa for a sprint across the turf football field at Stallion Stadium,  8501 Silverbrook Rd, Lorton, VA. The run will be approximately 100 yards (10 and over) and approximately 50 yards (9 and under). Registration includes: Race packet, Jingle Bell finishers ‘medal’, One adult admission to the Holiday Extravaganza/Craft Show ($3 value per runner), Holiday Giveaway – Hat OR Inflatable Toy



8:00am Packet pick-up/Race day sign up

8:20am Santa arrives

8:30am FUN RUN!

Register here!

Washington Nationals Winterfest

The Washington Nationals head back to the Washington Convention Center on December 16 and 17 to spread a little holiday cheer with their fans. The Nats Winterfest features activities for the kids, games, and the opportunity to meet some of the Nationals players, coaches, mascots and, of course, Santa.


  • Clinics with Nationals players and coaches
  • Home Run Derby featuring the Nationals mascots
  • A winter or baseball-themed story, read by a Nationals player

Sounds of the Season

Holiday Concerts at the Strathmore

The Strathmore, located just north of D.C. in Maryland, is a home for world-class performing and visual arts. It features 3 venues and the holiday lineup includes classical crossover quartet Sons of Serendip, Canadian Brass, Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra, and the Hip Hop Nutcracker. It all kicks off with jazz from saxophonist Dave Koz. Ticket prices vary depending on the event. is a review platform for military and veteran families. Leave a review of your prior duty station and read the reviews of where you are PCSing to. Home is where the military sends us and together we can make a difference!

Author: Carla OlivoPCSgrades Strategic Communications Director, previously served as the Director of Communications for Operation Hug-A-Hero and as the Media/Community Relations Officer for the Delaware Department of Transportation. She has garnered numerous TV industry awards including the Associated Press award for Spot News Reporting, and Documentary Reporting. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, a retired USMC Lt. Colonel, their two children. You can follow her on Twitter @olivowriter.