There are few cities as beautiful as Washington, D.C. during the holidays, especially when it snows. However, D.C. can also be overrun with tourists, particularly as most of its well-known attractions are clustered in a small area.
While those attractions are worth the visit (especially the monuments at night), there are dozens of other local spots that are just as enjoyable and give visitors a glimpse into how our capital’s denizens pass the time.
Note for D.C. residents: Your city has countless amazing experiences to be had. We’ve chosen just a small sampling for the holidays, so relax.
What to Do During the Day
There’s nothing wrong with wandering Georgetown’s picturesque streets. And while you might be tempted to check out Georgetown Cupcake (thanks, reality TV), skip the lines and go to the much better Baked & Wired, where sensible D.C. residents buy their desserts.
The National Mall is awe-inspiring and filled with free museums and monuments. But another city park is incredibly beautiful and great for people watching. Grab a coffee at local hotspot Peregrine Espresso, and head over to Meridian Park (formerly Malcolm X Park) and enjoy its cleverly laid out grounds and unparalleled views of the city.
And while the Smithsonian Natural History Museum’s collection of jewels (which includes the Hope Diamond) is always jaw dropping, escape the masses and check out the mansion that once belonged to the woman who donated them. The Hillwood Estate in upper northwest D.C. gives a fantastic glimpse into life at the top of D.C. society and also houses the largest collection of Imperial Russian art outside of Russia.
When It’s Time for Happy Hour
Washington, D.C. has long had the reputation of having a heavy-drinking culture. Located in the renovated Boilermaker Building, Bluejacket Brewery has turned the Capitol Riverfront into a destination for more than just attending a Nationals game. Enjoy its wide selection of beers to kick off a night of fun.
But if cocktails (which seem to be in vogue) are more your style, there are few places like The Columbia Room at The Passenger. Just off Mt. Vernon Square, this bar is known for its drinks as well as its relaxing atmosphere. Don’t forget to try a couple of the delectable snacks, so all that drinking isn’t on an empty stomach.
Risking eye rolls from D.C. residents, the rooftop bar at the W Hotel still offers one of the best views of the city. Situated across from the U.S. Treasury Building, the bar looks out onto the top of none other than the White House, and beyond to the expanse of the National Mall.
Where to Eat Dinner
Although trusting the Russians isn’t a popular pastime in foreign-policy-centric D.C., it may be smart to trust them to warm your stomach when it gets a little cold outside. Proving that Russian food is more than borscht, Mari Vanna in Dupont is cozy and offers hearty food that will fill you right up.
Ramen, on the other hand, may stir uncomfortable memories for recent college grads, but Toki Underground on D.C.’s transformed H Street will convince you it’s a delicacy. If you’re dining with a large group, be warned: the restaurant is big on flavor, but small on space.
After dinner, it’s time to check out some of the sites at night. While it’s quite popular to visit the monuments or the National Christmas Tree after dark, my recommendation is to head instead to the National Zoo for its fun-for-all-ages (trust me) Zoolights.
It’s Time for Late Night
The 9:30 Club has always been considered the go-to music venue. However, it is definitely worth your while to check the schedule of D.C.’s newest and largest concert venue, Echostage. Big names like David Guetta and Calvin Harris have already performed there, and artists like Lorde and Cut Copy are slated for future dates.
Thanks to one crazed actor, Ford’s Theater remains perhaps the most famous theater in the District. There are also national staples like the Kennedy Center that are popular with visitors. But for a truly intimate and absorbing experience, head over to Studio Theater on 14th Street.
Once considered the stomping grounds of D.C.’s hipsters, Wonderland Ballroom is still a great dive bar and offers the chance to check out one of D.C.’s fastest gentrifying neighborhoods, Columbia Heights.
On the Weekend
Favorite brunch spots are always a point of contention and subject to personal preference. Across the street from Studio Theater, Estadio does one of the best brunches around. Notorious for long dinner lines, the restaurant is far more approachable on the weekends.
With its famous flea market and cute shops, Eastern Market has always been a popular stop on the weekend. But if you're a market fiend, don't miss the still relatively new Union Market with its fun food stands and artisan shops. For dinner, cross Pennsylvania Avenue from Eastern Market over to Barracks Row, and discover one of D.C.’s newest popular restaurants, Roses Luxury.
For a little history and sophistication, there is perhaps nothing better than to escape with afternoon tea in Peacock Alley at the Willard Hotel. The hotel, one of D.C.’s oldest and most luxurious, has hosted its afternoon tea from 1-4 p.m.