10 Things to Do on New Year's Day in Washington, D.C.

celebration day in washington dc for the new year

 franckreporter/Getty Images

There's plenty to do in Washington, D.C. on New Year's Day. While many businesses are closed on January 1, a surprising number of attractions are open and welcome visitors on the first day of the new year.

There are a lot of great ways to start the year off right in the nation's capital from enjoying the Smithsonian Museums to taking a hike in a local park. Many of the New Year's Day things to do and see are free.

01 of 10

Peruse the Smithsonian

Smithsonian Natural History Museum
James Di Loreto / Smithsonian

Yes, the Smithsonian museums are open on New Year's Day. In fact, they're open every day of the year except for December 25. This is a great day to visit the most popular Washington, D.C. museums because many people sleep in after a big night of celebrating. Explore the world-class museums and you'll see a variety of exhibits ranging from art to space exploration like National Air & Space Museum and the National Museum of Natural History.

02 of 10

Visit the Monuments and Memorials

Jefferson Memorial
tpsdave / Pixabay

New Year's Day is a good time to see the monuments and memorials in Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia. Parking should be easier than other days of the year and the crowds should be thin, especially if you get an early start. Although the most famous monuments and memorials are on the National Mall, you will find statues and plaques on many street corners around the city. 

03 of 10

Explore Mount Vernon Estate

Mount Vernon Estate
skeeze / Pixabay

The estate of George Washington is open every day of the year. During the holiday season, visitors can get a glimpse of an early-American Christmas. Exclusively during this time, the rarely-seen third floor is open to the public. In the large dining room, even the historic "Great Cake" will be on display–one of Martha Washington's surviving recipes.

04 of 10

Spend the Day at the National Zoo

Smithsonian National Zoo
Pamela Jenkins / Smithsonian

The National Zoo is open and makes a great excursion destination on New Year's Day. Washington DC's 163-acre zoological park features more than 400 different species of animals. It will be chilly, so dress for the weather and wear comfortable shoes. At night, you can even get one last glimpse of the the Zoo Lights holiday displays.

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05 of 10

Experience Seasons Greenings at the U.S. Botanic Garden

U.S. Botanic Garden 'Season Greenings'
Architect of the Capitol

The Botanic Garden is open every day of the year and Seasons Greenings, a great holiday exhibit, will still be on display on New Year's Day. It features unique model trains and incredible replicas of Washington, D.C.'s most famous buildings and monuments. The garden is a local favorite and will be busier than you might think on January 1, so make sure to get an earlier start in the day to beat the crowds.

06 of 10

Visit Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington Cemetary
pyteston / Pixabay

More than 250,000 American servicemen, as well as many famous Americans, are buried at the 612-acre national cemetery. Among the notable Americans buried here are Presidents William Howard Taft, John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Robert Kennedy. The cemetery is a peaceful place to walk and contemplate and will be open on January 1.

07 of 10

Play at the National Building Museum

National Building Museum
Phil Roeder / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The museum is open on New Year’s Day and the Building Zone, a hands-on introduction to the building arts designed for kids, is open until 4 p.m.

Another exhibit worth visiting is Play, Work, Build. This is a space for adults and children where visitors begin to see the connections between play, design, and the work of building professionals like architects and engineers.

This exhibition combines a presentation of the Museum’s world-class Architectural Toy Collection, a hands-on block play area, and an original digital interactive that allows visitors to fill an entire wall of the exhibition with virtual blocks—and then knock them down.

08 of 10

Go to a Movie

The American Film Institute Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland
Kate Mereand-Sinha / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Going to the movies is an entertaining way to relax and rest up from the hectic holiday season. On New Year's Day movie theaters are open and a selection of good movies usually come out in time for the holiday season. Local cinemas include the D.C. movie theatersMaryland movie theaters, and Virginia movie theaters.

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09 of 10

Take a Hike in a Local Park

Prince William Forest Park
© Rachel Cooper

If the weather is clear, this is a nice day to take a quiet stroll through a park. Please note that some parks may close their entrance gates, so depending where you want to hike, you may want to call ahead to find out about accessibility. D.C. Parks include the National Mall and Rock Creek Park. Maryland Parks include suburban gathering places, small mountains with trails and historic points of interest. The Virginia Parks include the Mount Vernon Trail, an 18.5-mile trail running along the Potomac River, paralleling the George Washington Memorial Parkway leading to Mount Vernon.

10 of 10

See a Show at the Kennedy Center

Kennedy Center
Douglas Keister / Getty Images

Washington's premier performance venue offers performances on New Year's Day each year. On January 1, 2020, The Kennedy Center has a roster of shows for children, like Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (The Musical!) and for adults like My Fair Lady and Come From Away. Many people will have this day off, so you'll want to book your tickets as soon as possible.

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