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Know Before You Go: Visiting Washington DC in Winter


Know Before You Go: Visiting Washington DC in Winter
Hi, I'm Lydia!

Lydia Schrandt is a writer, editor, and award-winning photographer currently based in Houston. She’s a contributor for USA TODAY 10Best and serves as the first chair of the Editors Council of the Society of American Travel Writers. Her work has appeared in Draft, Time Out Beijing, Travel+, USA TODAY, San Francisco Chronicle, and others.

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Perhaps surprisingly, winter is an excellent time to visit Washington DC. The weather is mild compared to many other parts of the US, and there’s much to experience—and smaller crowds to navigate—during this time. Here are some tips for making the most of a low-season visit to the nation’s capital.


Pack for cold weather

Wrap up warm for a winter visit.

Those who embrace the cold will be rewarded in Washington DC. Temperatures hover between 20°F and 40°F (-6°C and 4°C), but with freezing temperatures come lower hotel prices and the benefit of having the city’s top outdoor attractions—including the National Mall, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and National Zoo—almost all to yourself. Pack lots of layers (thermal underwear, a coat, hat, gloves, and a scarf) and wear warm, waterproof boots for walking the sometimes snowy sidewalks.

Lace up your skates and hit the ice

Make the most of the capital's outdoor rinks.

Ice skating is a popular winter pastime in DC, and rinks pop up around town throughout the winter season. Choose between rinks at Canal Park, Washington Harbour, or the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. Most rinks offer skate rentals, as well as vendors selling hot chocolate and other warming treats.

Taking to the ice over the holidays is a popular pastime in Washington DC. Photo: Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock

Take advantage of indoor attractions

Give yourself chance to warm up.

The cold isn’t for everyone, but luckily Washington DC has loads of indoor attractions perfect for warming up and shedding some layers. Head to one of the capital’s many museums—the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, International Spy Museum, and National Museum of Crime and Punishment are just a few great options. Or, take a self-guided tour of the White House to learn about our government’s executive branch, then visit the Washington National Cathedral.

Attend a winter festival

Essential seasonal events.

While winter is one of DC’s quietest seasons, it packs the city’s calendar with a slew of fun events. The Washington DC International Food and Wine Festival showcases celebrity-chef meals and over 1,700 wines from around the world, while the Winter Arts Festival features local products, art, music, and food. Other seasonal highlights include Scottish Walk Weekend, Christmas on the Potomac, the Downtown Holiday Festival, First Night Alexandria, the Washington Jewish Film Festival, NatsFest, the DC Independent Film Festival, and the Chocolate Lovers Festival.

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Hi, I'm Lydia!

Lydia Schrandt is a writer, editor, and award-winning photographer currently based in Houston. She’s a contributor for USA TODAY 10Best and serves as the first chair of the Editors Council of the Society of American Travel Writers. Her work has appeared in Draft, Time Out Beijing, Travel+, USA TODAY, San Francisco Chronicle, and others.

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See all Washington DC tours
458 tours & tickets
Things to do in Washington DC
See all things to do in Washington DC
9 Ultimate Weekend Road Trips You Can Take from Major US Cities