Updated June 22, 2020.
Winter is a beautiful time to be in Washington, D.C.! Contrary to many other cities in winter time, D.C. can be very sunny all day long. It’s hard to feel gloomy when the sun is shining! A few weeks ago I wrote about D.C. at Christmastime, but for a few more ideas for January-March, here are my top 10 wintertime activities in D.C., in no particular order!
10. Museums (Most are FREE)
The easiest and most reliable thing to do on a chilly DC winter’s day is explore the museums! This can take days and days, or you can blow through several in just one day, depending on your timeframe, interest, and museum visiting style. The Smithsonian museums are free and open every day of the year except Christmas Day. My favorites are the Smithsonian Castle, Postal Museum (near Union Station), Freer and Sackler Gallery of Art, and the Botanic Gardens, but don’t miss the Natural History museum (including dinosaurs, the Hope Diamond, and a rhino shot by former President Teddy Roosevelt), the Air and Space Museum, and the American History Museum.
Keep reading: Your Ultimate Guide to D.C.’s Smithsonian Museums
9. Walking the Monuments (FREE)
OK, you have to bring your coat (and hat, and gloves, and scarves) for this one. The major benefit of this is that there are so few people who are willing to do it! I’ve gotten some amazing photos of the monuments in the snow, and I have much better luck getting pictures without people in them! This is probably my favorite thing to do in D.C. any time of year, but especially in winter!
More here: Your Guide to D.C.’s Monuments and Memorials
8. The Washington Monument (FREE)
Although this is a monument like those mentioned above, this one really does deserve its own entry. It’s the most recognized, and wintertime is the best time to take in the views from the top. I also think this is the most stunning time of year for pictures of the monument. This is the easiest time of year to get the free timed tickets to enter the monument and go to the top. And it’s a nice break from the cold!
More here: How to Tour the Washington Monument
7. Watch for Snow (FREE)
This one is weather dependent, but we do usually get snow a few times each winter season. In the (almost) nine years I’ve lived in the D.C. area, we’ve had at least six significant snow storms and three BLIZZARDS! In February 2010, we had two blizzards just a day apart, and we got to experience thundersnow, which was pretty cool to see and hear!
Snow is always a problem up here for a lot of reasons. For one, people who live here come from everywhere, so different driving styles and that fact that some people have never learned how to drive in snow make for incredible traffic issues. For another, the climate here is naturally difficult to predict for some reason, so we get caught by surprise with snow kind of often. But if you can stay in your hotel or apartment, sip some hot cocoa or tea, cuddle up with a cozy blanket, and watch the snow fall, it really is like magic! And when it’s finished, my friend, head down to the monuments and take some amazing pictures!
6. National Archives (FREE, closed weekends and holidays)
This one is a little more trouble than some of the other museums because it is actually a federal office building, not exclusively for tourism purposes. From spring to early fall, the line can really get long, even wrapping around the building at the busiest times! So winter is the perfect time to get in, see the three featured documents, explore a couple of exhibits, hit up the gift shop, and get out to explore some more!
5. The Capitol, the Library of Congress, and the Supreme Court
Similarly to the National Archives, these three are federal buildings and are only open on non-holiday weekdays. They are also hot spots in the busy season (generally March-October), so paying a visit in the winter is great timing. The lines won’t be long, and you can easily hit up all three in a couple of hours–three hours is plenty if you want some wiggle time. Other tips: all three are connected by tunnels so you don’t need to go through security three times; I always recommend the order above for efficiency; make these three on Capitol Hill your first stop of the day; and don’t plan on eating here because it is expensive, although that’s an option.
How to Tour the Capitol and
How to Tour the Library of Congress
4. Ice Skating (prices vary)
This is such fun! There are tons of places to ice skate both in DC (or just “the District,” if you want to sound like a local) and in the surrounding areas. My favorite is in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, but really anywhere you go will be festive and fun. Here I am ice skating in Reston, VA, exactly one year after having surgery on my right foot!
3. Linger Over a Long Meal
After a day of walking around in the cold, it’s so nice to enjoy a nice, warm, comfortable meal inside and away from the cold. And D.C. has some of the best restaurants in the country. Save room for coffee and dessert!
More here: Having Tea at the Willard Intercontinental
2. Hop-on Hop-off Tour Bus (from $44 for 24 hours)
I have never done the hop-on Hop-off buses in D.C. because I prefer to walk as long and as far as I’m able, but it can get seriously cold in D.C. Single digits are not at all unheard of here! If you want to see the most things in the warmest way, this is definitely your best option! They leave from Union Station, on the Redline for the metro and just down the street from Capitol Hill.
1. Take in a Show (Prices vary)
D.C. has several iconic and historic theaters! The Kennedy Center is a favorite because they have free shows every night, open to the public, at 6:00pm. It’s hit or miss, but sometimes you get a really great hour long performance for free! (There’s a free shuttle to the Kennedy Center from Foggy Bottom Metro Station.) Ford’s is one of the most well-known and historic in town, but don’t miss the Warner Theater and the National Theater, too. There’s also a Shakespeare Theater, although they don’t only do Shakespeare performances! Check their websites to see what’s playing while you’re in town!
More here: D.C. Date Night: The Ballet
What do you think? Tempted to fly over to D.C. this season? Check out my Washington, D.C. Page!
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