Best Unique Holiday Experiences For Kids In Washington DC

November 8, 2013 7:00 AM

Now it its 65th year, 34th Street has become known as ‘Christmas Street’ for it elaborate decorations. (credit: Gregg Micklos/All-News 99.1 WNEW)

From the lighting of the national Christmas tree to a candlelight tour of our founding father’s grand estate, there is no better place for a family to be than the nation’s capital during the holidays. This year, start a new family tradition and bring the kids to one of these exciting and unique holiday experiences in DC.

Holiday on the Ellipse
1600 Constitution Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20002
(202) 208-1631

Whether you are a DC-area native or transplant, every family should experience the festive joy and fun that is known as the Holiday on the Ellipse. The nearly month-long event features the lighting of the national Christmas tree, the National Menorah, Santa’s workshop and plenty of activities to keep the kids busy and entertained. View holiday ornaments representing all 50 states, see a model train whiz by or sing along to the holiday tunes performed by local and nationally recognized artists. The Holiday on the Ellipse also features dancers, piano performers, gospel choirs, cloggers, performing arts groups and musical bands.

3001 Connecticut Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20008
(202) 633-4888

Come see the animals at the National Zoo in a whole new light—literally. ZooLights features more than 500,000 colorful LED lights that transform the zoo into a winter wonderland featuring animal silhouettes and musical light displays. Learn about nocturnal animals, like the great ape and various reptiles, go for a spin around a solar-powered carousel, have your picture taken in a holiday sleigh or take a little ride on the National Zoo Choo-Choo. ZooLights also features model trains, family-friendly entertainment, holiday gift shops and delicious food and drinks including hot chocolate, roasted nuts, kettle corn and gingerbread.

Related: Best Mommy & Me Classes in the DC Area

US Botanic Garden
100 Maryland Ave. S.W.
Washington, DC 20024
(202) 225-8333

Escape from the harsh cold of Old Man Winter and step into paradise featuring tropical plants, beautiful gardens and the sights, scents and sounds of the holidays. The US Botanic Garden features one of the largest indoor decorated trees in the city, plenty of poinsettia plants and a grove of conifer trees. Holiday displays include a model train set and model displays of the city’s most popular buildings, all built with all-natural products. The Conservatory also features a wide variety of plants from all over the world including endangered and Jurassic plants. Take the kids to the West Gallery where they will find many sensory experiences including fragrant aromas and educational videos about the importance of plants in the environment.

Mount Vernon by Candlelight
3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway
Alexandria, VA 22121
(703) 780-2000

Experience the holidays with George and Martha Washington at their grand Mount Vernon estate. The popular candlelight tour features an exploration of the mansion, including a visit to Martha’s kitchen where guests will see Martha’s infamous Great Cake and receive a copy of the recipe to try at home, caroling by a cozy fire, complimentary hot cider and festive decor. The popular tradition also includes a strolling cast of family and friends of the first president, holiday treats, music and dancing. Pick up souvenirs at the Mount Vernon shop or finish off the day with a meal at the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant, where you will find costumed servers, cozy fireplaces and delicious colonial and regional cuisines.

Related: Best Ways to Take Advantage of the Last of Winter in Washington DC

Ice! Featuring ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
201 Waterfront St.
National Harbor, MD 20745
(301) 965-4000

For the ultimate holiday experience, grab the kids and head over to the National Harbor where you will find more than two million pounds of ice hand carved into life-sized colorful sculptures, a two-story-tall ice slide and an iconic display of New York City during the holidays. The holiday event also features millions of twinkling lights, nightly indoor snowfall, dancing fountains, gingerbread workshops, a Madagascar-themed brunch and a Dreamworks-themed scavenger hunt. Enjoy modern and classic holiday tunes, view the nightly tree lighting ceremony or sign up for a photo op with Santa. The National Harbor also features plenty of dining and holiday shopping, a winter-themed miniature train ride and a gourmet holiday cake-pop baking experience.

Susan Diranian is a freelance writer living in Ashburn, VA. She is covering Travel & Outdoors. Her work can be found at

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