Guide to Presidents Day in Washington, D.C.

Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC, USA

PhotoAlto / Jerome Gorin / Getty Images

If you're looking for travel plans during the Presidents Day long weekend, you couldn't pick a more appropriate place than our nation's capital and the home of the president, Washington, D.C. Festivities, historical reenactments, and special exhibitions both in Washington and nearby cities are sure to appeal to fans of American history, curious minds, and patriotic citizens.

Although the day is known colloquially as Presidents Day, the official holiday celebrated by the federal government is George Washington's Birthday. The holiday was celebrated on February 22, Washington's actual birthday, until 1971, when it was officially changed to be the third Monday in February.

Even though federally only Washington's birthday is recognized, many states have included Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday is February 12, as part of their official celebrations. Regardless of the official designation, many Americans see the holiday as a moment to honors all past presidents and the presidency itself.

01 of 09

Presidents Day Parade in Alexandria

Presidents Day Celebration in Virginia

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The country’s largest Presidents Day Parade is held annually in Alexandria, Virginia, on the third Monday in February. Marching bands, performers, and historical reenactments parade along the streets where George Washington himself once walked. The theme for the 2020 celebration is "Selfless Service to the Country."

Apart from the parade, Alexandria hosts a variety of other events to celebrate our founding father. The "Cherry Challenge" pays homage to the famous myth of young George Washington chopping down his father's cherry tree, and restaurants around town create dishes using cherries in hopes of winning this culinary competition.

Special walking tours take place throughout February to highlight important historical sites in Washington's life. You can also take part in the interactive "Hunt for Washington," a scavenger hunt around Old Town Alexandria for participants to unearth clues and learn more about our first president.

02 of 09

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

TripSavvy / Victoria Chamberlain 

When celebrating Presidents Day, Abraham Lincoln is another commander-in-chief to come to mind. This three-day weekend is a popular time to explore the Lincoln Memorial, one of the nation's most important and iconic buildings, located at the far end of the National Mall along the Potomac River. Looking out from the Lincoln Memorial steps, visitors get an impressive panoramic view of the Capitol building, the Washington Monument, and the Reflecting Pool.

On Presidents Day, a special wreath-laying ceremony takes place followed by a dramatic reading of the Gettysburg Address, one of the most famous speeches ever delivered in American history.

03 of 09

Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon

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The 500-acre Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, the home of George and Martha Washington, offers a full day of special events for Presidents Day including music, demonstrations, wreath-laying ceremonies, and storytelling. Visitors can also pay their respects to the president himself at his final resting place on Mount Vernon.

If the planned historical activities aren't enticing enough, admission to Mount Vernon is free on Presidents Day (it's also free on George Washington's actual birthday, February 22). History buffs and fans of the Revolutionary period would be hard-pressed to find a more appropriate place to celebrate this holiday.

04 of 09

Smithsonian National Museum of American History

American History Museum

TripSavvy / Victoria Chamberlain

The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History explores the lives and contributions of the 45 men who have led the nation since its founding. The exhibit features more than 900 objects and artifacts that bring to life the role of the presidency in American cultures, such as the carriage ridden by President Grant during his inauguration or the microphone used by President Roosevelt during his evening fireside chats.

The National Museum of American History is located in the National Mall at Constitution Avenue, between 12th and 14th streets and next to the Museum of Natural History. As with all Smithsonian museums, admission is free every day.

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05 of 09

National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery

Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery

View the "American Presidents" exhibit and see a portrait of every one of our nation's leaders, including rarely seen works of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. After being on tour, the official portrait of President Barack Obama is now on permanent display in the "American Presidents" exhibit as well. Apart from the White House, the National Portrait Gallery is the only place to see the full collection of these official portraits.

For Presidents Day weekend, the National Portrait Gallery will offer a variety of family fun activities ranging from calligraphy workshops to scavenger hunts, games, music, and hands-on activities. The activities take place on Saturday, February 15, 2020, beginning from 11:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. Because the National Portrait Gallery is part of the Smithsonian Institution, admission is free.

06 of 09

Annual Birthnight Ball at Gadsby's Tavern Museum

Gadsby's Tavern Museum

Courtesy of Gadsby's Tavern Museum

Party like it's 1799 at the annual Birthnight Ball, held at the historic Gadsby's Tavern Museum in Alexandria, Virginia. The ball is complete with toasts, dinner, character reenactments, and George Washington's favorite 18th-century dances. In case you aren't familiar with colonial-period dancing, don't worry. On Thursday evenings leading up to the event, Gadsby's offers special classes so you can learn all the moves.

Gadsby's Tavern is one of the few 18th-century taverns still in use in the United States. George Washington, John Adams, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson frequently attended dances, theatrical performances, and meetings here.

Learn your dance steps, find some period clothing, and purchase tickets early to confirm your spot at this sell-out event, held on the evening of February 15, 2020.

07 of 09

Revolutionary War Reenactment at Fort Ward Museum

Revolutionary War Reenactment

Dennis Johnson / Getty Images

During Presidents Day weekend, the Fort Ward Museum in Alexandria, Virginia, hosts Revolutionary War Day. More than 200 historical actors take part in this epic battle reenactment using authentic uniforms and weapons, pitting the British Redcoats against the insurgent Colonial Army.

Activities begin at 10 a.m. on February 16, 2020, with demonstrations by the actors and tours of the museum grounds. At 2 p.m., the skirmish begins, and visitors can experience firsthand the fighting tactics and daily life of soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War. This lively and educational experience is free of charge to attend.

08 of 09

Madame Tussauds US Presidents Gallery

Madame Tussaud's Presidents Exhibit

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Madame Tussauds is famous across the world for its wax museums, where celebrities, political figures, and icons from the past and present come to life in nearly-human form. The Washington, D.C., location houses a special gallery featuring wax figures of all U.S. presidents from George Washington up to Donald Trump. The interactive attraction brings historical figures and events to life through wax figures that visitors can touch, see, and hear. 

The exhibit is open year-round, not just Presidents Day weekend, but the patriotic holiday is an especially appropriate time to visit our nation's leaders. Not just to learn about each one of these consequential men, but also to get a selfie standing next to your favorite president.

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09 of 09

Visit Other Presidential Related Sites In Washington, D.C.

Statue in Theodore Roosevelt Park

Victoria Chamberlain / TripSavvy

Not surprisingly, Washington, D.C., is home to many other attractions and landmarks that relate to the lives and contributions of America's presidents. If you're in the capital during Presidents Day, make the most of your trip by visiting as many of these historic sites as you can.

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