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What to Do in Washington, D.C. in December 2018

Condé Nast Traveler logo Condé Nast Traveler 2018-12-03 Corina Quinn

The city is all about the holiday celebrations, and there's no shortage of activities, no matter what you like to do.

Holiday Performances

First things first: catching the annual performance of A Christmas Carol at the historic Ford's Theatre is a local tradition, but the National Opera performing its award-winning Silent Night at

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

won't disappoint, either; and neither will the Washington Ballet's take on The Nutcracker, at the Warner Theatre.

Light Displays

They're everywhere; they're all worth it. The icons: The National Christmas Tree at The White House; the expansive ZooLights at the National Zoo; Georgetown GLOW, a neighborhood-wide light installation show that now runs the entire month; the indoor tree at the Library of Congress; and in Vienna, Virginia, just outside the city, the Winter Walk of Lights at the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens.

Parades and Other Special Activities

On December 1, the holiday boat parade makes its way from Alexandria, Virginia, to The Wharf on the Southwest Waterfront. It starts at 5:30 p.m. and a parade at 8 p.m. is capped of by fireworks; free to watch. Market-wise, there's the Downtown Holiday Market sets up shop in front of the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum; near Dupont Circle, the Christkindlmarkt at the Heurich House Museum is another popular draw. Finally, families love the extensive holiday train exhibit at the

U.S. Botanic Garden

, as well as afternoon tea in Peacock Alley at the

InterContinental The Willard Washington D.C.

, which is available every day in the month of December (except, the 25, 26, and 31).

New Year's Eve Plans

A lot of the hotels have big, ticketed parties, so do your research, but the International Spy Gala, at the Washington Plaza Hotel, is a black-tie, James Bond-themed soiree with open bar, a live band, and a mock casino. Visit the site for ticket option. Meanwhile, locals know it's the live music venues that really have the leg up on the NYE parties. On The Wharf,

The Anthem

is leaning into the groove with Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, representing New Orleans, while Trouble Funk will rep DC; and George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic will bring it on home with the other-worldly funk vibes. At the 9:30 Club, sister club to The Anthem, cover band White Ford Bronco will turn back time to the '90s before the crowd welcomes in 2019. Head to the Black Cat on 14th Street to see Peaches O'Dell and Her Orchestra for throwback swing and '50s tunes; or make it a jazzy new year and see pianist Cyrus Chestnut at Georgetown's Blues Alley. If you're looking for something a little more low-key, consider a cruise along the Potomac River with Entertainment Cruises, where you'll see the Alexandria, Virginia, fireworks, from the boat.

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