Best 15 Cultural Events and Festivals in Washington DC

Annual Celebrations of International Arts and Customs

Washington DC offers some of the best cultural events and festivals in the United States. As the nation's capital, the city is home to 175 embassies from around the world and attracts a diverse population to live, work and play in the region. The following is a guide to the largest and most popular annual cultural events in the Washington DC area. These festivals provide a fun way to learn about the arts, music, food and traditions of other countries. (Listed in chronological order by date)

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    ••• © Rachel Cooper, licensed to About.com
    January/February. Several Chinese New Year events are held around the region, including the most popular celebration - the annual parade held in Washington, DC's Chinatown. The traditional cultural festivities include live music and dance performances, tai chi and kung fu demonstrations, lion dancing, and children's crafts.
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    ••• © Francophonie Cultural Festival
    March-April. The annual event is a voyage of exploration, discovery, and cultural sharing that emphasizes the diversity of the French-speaking world. The program features a myriad of artists from all cultural walks of life with concerts, theatrical performances, films, culinary tastings, literary salons, children’s workshops, and more.
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    ••• © Miller Taylor
    March. Irish-themed parades are held each year for St. Patrick's Day in Washington DC, Alexandria, Gaithersburg, and Manassas. Local Irish pubs have special menus and some participate in a pub crawl. The National Shamrock Fest is one of the biggest parties of the year.
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    March-April. The most popular cultural event in the region, the Cherry Blossom Festival brings visitors to Washington, DC from around the world to see the city's spectacular cherry blossoms as spring arrives. The three-week event highlights Japanese traditions with more than 200 performances and over 90 other special events.

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    May. The annual celebration in Washington DC features live music and dance, children’s arts and crafts workshops, food, games and activities for the entire family. Although originally Mexican in origin, the festival has become an annual “Latin American Family Reunion” on the National Mall.
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    ••• © Cultural Tourism DC
    May. Each May, Washington DC’s embassies and cultural organizations participate in a city-wide event offering open houses and special programming. Presented by Cultural Tourism DC, Passport DC showcases the international culture of the city with a wide range of performances, talks, and exhibits.
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    ••• © Miller Taylor
    May. The Asian street fair is held in Washington, DC in celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and as part of Passport DC. The event showcases Asian art and culture with live performances by musicians, vocalists and performance artists, Pan-Asian cuisine, martial arts and lion dance demonstration, a multicultural marketplace, cultural displays and interactive activities.
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    ••• © Smithsonian Folklife Festival
    June-July. Each summer, the Smithsonian's Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage sponsors a huge cultural festival on the National Mall. The themes changes each year, but usually highlight three distinct cultures with special programming that includes music and dance performances, crafts and cooking demonstrations, storytelling and much more. The event begins in late June and extends over the 4th of July holiday.
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    ••• © Virginia Scottish Games Association
    September. The festival is held in Northern Virginia each Labor Day weekend celebrating the Scottish heritage with piping & drumming, highland dancing, and fiddling competitions, sheep-herding demonstrations, an antique car show, children's activities, live entertainment and Scottish food and drink.
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    ••• © Miller Taylor
    September. The annual celebration highlights the Latino culture with a Parade of Nations, a children’s festival, a science fair, a diplomatic pavilion for embassies and consulates, arts & crafts, and international cuisine. The festival coincides with Hispanic Heritage Month.
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    ••• © Miller Taylor
    September. Sponsored by the American-Turkish Association of Washington DC, the festival celebrates Turkish art and culture with a variety of live musical and folk dance performances, hands-on activities, art demonstrations, guest speakers, arts and crafts vendors and Turkish cuisine.
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    September-October. The German fall festivals have become very popular and there are now many celebrations around the Washington, DC area. The Oktoberfest is a family fun event focused on German beer, food, music and dancing.
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    Italian Festival

    ••• © Miller Taylor
    October. Festa Italiana celebrates Italian-American culture with a lively street festival in Washington DC featuring traditional Italian music, dance, art, crafts and food. The event is sponsored by Festa Italiana Foundation of Washington, DC, a private cultural organization that works to promote Italian culture in the region.
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    October-November. The fall performing arts festival includes more than 200 free events for kids featuring artists from around the world. The event is sponsored by the 27 Washington-based European Union embassies and more than a dozen major local cultural institutions. The programming provides a fun way for kids to learn about a wide variety of cultures.
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    ••• © Alexandria Convention & Visitors Association
    December. A holiday favorite in Northern Virginia, the event brings hundreds of Scottish clansmen to parade with their bagpipes through Old Town Alexandria. The weekend activites includes a tour of historic homes, a children’s tea party, a Celtic Concert and a Christmas Marketplace.