10 Things to Do on New Year's Day in Washington, DC

celebration day in washington dc for the new year

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There's plenty to do in and around 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. And to make a New Year visit to the capital even more temppting, many of the New Year's Day things to do and see are free.

Many attractions around the Capital Region are offering limited services or are closed during New Year's 2020–2021. Confirm the most up-to-date details with individual locations before making any plans.

01 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 relatively 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. 

The majority of the most visited monuments are outdoors and open to the public on New Year's Day 2021, including the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. However, some parts of the National Mall are closed as of December 2020 until further notice. For the most up-to-date list, confirm what's currently open with the National Park Service.

02 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.

On January 1, 2021, visitors can also take part in a special exhibition commemorating Manumission Day, the anniversary of when Martha Washington freed all of the slaves at Mount Vernon. The exhibit is a one-day special event and is included with your general admission to the estate.

03 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 Season's Greenings, an annual holiday exhibit, is still 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 free to enter, so it's often busier than you might think on January 1. Make sure to get an earlier start in the day to beat the crowds.

As of December 2020, the Conservatory and National Garden sections of the U.S. Botanical Garden are closed until further notice. The only parts that are open for New Year's Day 2021 are Bartholdi Park and the Terrace Gardens. The usual holiday decorations that are a part of Season's Greenings are scaled back, but some festive lights are available to see in the open parts of the park.

04 of 10

Visit Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington Cemetary
pyteston / Pixabay

More than 250,000 American service members, 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 and John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Robert Kennedy. The cemetery is a peaceful place to walk and contemplate and is open to visitors every day of the year. Check at the Welcome Center when you arrive to see if there are any special ceremonies happening during your visit, which are usually open to the public.

Some parts of the cemetery are closed as of December 2020 until further notice, including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Memorial Amphitheater.

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05 of 10

Take a Hike in a Local Park

Prince William Forest Park

Rachel Cooper

If the weather is clear, January 1 is a perfect day to take a stroll through a park and enjoy the brisk winter air. Most public parks are open on the holiday, although some may close their entrance gates so make sure your local park is open before you visit.

Parks in Washington, D.C., that are open on New Year's Day 2021 include the National Mall and Rock Creek Park. There are scenic state parks across Maryland, but the closest one to D.C. is Seneca State Park in Gaithersburg. You can also travel a bit farther to some of the city parks around Baltimore, such as Patterson Park. 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.

06 of 10

Peruse the Smithsonian

Smithsonian Natural History Museum
James Di Loreto / Smithsonian

As of December 2020, all Smithsonian Institution Museums are closed until further notice.

Yes, the Smithsonian museums are generally 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 to African-American history and much more.

07 of 10

Spend the Day at the National Zoo

Smithsonian National Zoo
Pamela Jenkins / Smithsonian

As of December 2020, the National Zoo is closed until further notice.

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

08 of 10

Play at the National Building Museum

National Building Museum

Phil Roeder / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

As of December 2020, the National Building Museum is closed until further notice.

The museum is generally open on New Year’s Day along with the "Building Zone," a hands-on introduction to the building arts designed for kids.

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.

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09 of 10

See a Show at the Kennedy Center

Kennedy Center
Douglas Keister / Getty Images

As of December 2020, the Kennedy Center is closed until further notice.

Washington's premier performance venue offers performances on New Year's Day each year. Performances typically include special shows geared toward children as well as others for adults. Many people will have this day off, so you'll want to book your tickets as soon as possible.

10 of 10

Go to a Movie

The American Film Institute Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland

Kate Mereand-Sinha / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Most movie theaters around the Capital Region are closed as of December 2020. Check with your local cinema to confirm that they are open.

Going to the movies is an entertaining way to relax and rest up from the hectic holiday season. On New Year's Day, many 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 theaters and Maryland movie theaters.

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