Explore Washington D.C.

D.C. Itinerary: 24 Hours of Winter Merrymaking

Jean Cohen plans a day of festive adventures in Washington, D.C.—from chills and thrills outdoors to magical nights in the theater.

Pose for a picture beside all the official trees, and the result? A nice, typical souvenir of Christmas in the capital. No doubt visitors appreciate those tannenbaums gleaming through the night—from Dec. 2 at the foot of Capitol Hill (sent from and ornamented by Minnesota) and from Dec. 4 on the Ellipse (a large one in Vegas-worthy glory, with 50 small ones representing each U.S. state). But trees rise, and memories are made in unexpected places, too, with happenings unique to Washington and its environs. Consider on-stage trees like the festive one in the Ford’s Theatre revival of “A Christmas Carol” or the magical one in Clara’s “Nutcracker” parlor at Warner Theatre. Sights and sounds dazzle all over.

“A Christmas Carol”
See “A Christmas Carol” this winter in D.C. (Courtesy Ford’s Theatre)

Morning

Breakfast at the eateries of Union Station begins at 6 am, and 24/7 visitors see Norway’s gift of a Christmas tree at the westside (Metro) entry. The 2014 theme (Santa’s Arctic) inspires 20,000 ornaments, including several polar bears. Inside the terminal grand hall, find a marvelous landscape traversed by miniature trains.

ICE! at National Harbor
ICE! at National Harbor (Courtesy Gaylord National Resort)

Maryland’s new town of National Harbor becomes a holiday destination worth a drive there. The ice carvers of Harbin, China, have returned, this year sculpting more than 2 million pounds of ice into scenes from the tale of “Frosty the Snowman.” Visitors don gear against the 9-degree cold and track Frosty from the town square to Santa and the North Pole. Then they enter a two-story room for an exhilarating slide down a corridor of ice and proceed to the Frostbite Factory to see ice carving first-hand.

Afternoon/Dusk

Back in the city, head to the National Zoo, home to 2,700 residents. It’s open house with elephants and apes, birds and reptiles. Kids hop on a solar-powered carousel and on trains that whisk them through a land of Legos.

Zoolights
Zoolights (Courtesy Smithsonian’s National Zoo)

At 5 pm (to 9 pm), experience a free winter wonderland illuminated by more than 500,000 LED lights, many forming images of the zoo’s inhabitants like giant panda Bao Bao. The party goes on all month except Dec. 24, 25 and 31.

Nighttime

This is the 10th anniversary of Septime Webre’s All-American “Nutcracker.” The Washington Ballet’s artistic director has set the tale in 1882 Georgetown, so expect Victorian costumes, cherry blossoms and George himself as the Nutcracker.

"The Nutcracker"
Kateryna Derechyna, Stephen Baranovics and Olivia Lipnick in “The Nutcracker” (Dean Alexander, Courtesy The Washington Ballet)

Ballet-school students join the professional dancers in 30 December performances that, with 11 matinees, take into account the adoring audiences of children. Night curtains at the Warner Theatre rise at 7 pm.