Even when the weather is cold and damp, there are plenty of interesting activities in the Capital Region to keep the whole family entertained. With events happening all over the Capital Region, including events in nearby Virginia and Maryland, winter is a great time to visit Washington, D.C., to enjoy everything from winter sports to indoor pastimes like shows or museums. Regional temperatures in January and February tend to linger between 30 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and while the area does get an occasional snowfall, the ground is relatively dry for most of the winter. This season is often the best time to visit some of the city's top attractions as they tend to be less crowded as a result of the persistent chill.
In 2021, some businesses may be closed or operating at a limited capacity, requiring tickets to be reserved in advance. Be sure to check the official websites for the latest information.
The Washington, D.C., area is known for its museums, and many of them are conveniently concentrated on the National Mall, so you can easily visit several in a single day.
The Smithsonian Museums cover a wide range of topics—natural history, American history, air and space, and more—and includes a variety of hands-on activities that are especially appealing to kids. Entry to every Smithsonian museum is free. There are also smaller museums that cater to more niche interests like the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, and the KID Museum. In 2021, some museums may be closed entirely or operating at limited capacity.
There are countless places to ice skate both indoors and outdoors in the Capital Region. Some of the top-rated rinks include the Sculpture Garden Ice Rink at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, The Washington Harbour Ice Rink (which is also the largest in the area), and the Canal Park Ice Rink in the Canal Riverfront neighborhood. Skating and hockey lessons are available around the city to keep both kids and adults active throughout the winter season. During the 2021 season, all ice rinks will be closed.
Take a Sightseeing Tour
Unless there's a crisp dusting of snow on the ground, winter isn't necessarily the prettiest season for sightseeing in Washington, D.C. However, the monuments are still worth seeing, especially if you're watching them roll by from the window of a heated bus or trolley. The Big Bus offers hop-on, hop-off tours in both one-way and round-trip travel options. Its comprehensive network of bus routes is guaranteed to give you better views of at least 40 spots across the city—including all the famous monuments—than you could probably get on your own. You're likely to learn more this way, too. In 2021, bus tours are temporarily suspended.
On those cold, wet winter days, the kids (and kids-at-heart) in your family will have a blast seeking shelter at indoor playgrounds such as Adventure Park USA in Monrovia, Maryland, which has laser tag, virtual reality games, a ropes course, and an indoor rock wall. There's also The St. James (a fitness center with tons of kid-friendly activities) in Springfield, Virginia; the Playseum (which has an entire child-sized town inside) in Bethesda, Maryland; and Badlands (a full-on indoor park complete with indoor mountain) in Rockville, Maryland. In 2021, many of these indoor playgrounds have alternative programming that mixes both virtual and socially-distanced events.
Visit a Children's Theater
There are so many great theaters in the Capital Region that choosing just one is almost impossible. If you have kids in tow, though, the choice is easy: Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Maryland, is catered specifically to a young audience. Even the performers, themselves, are kids.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts goes out of its way to provide ample entertainment for families, as does Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia, the Adventure Theatre, and The Puppet Co., both in Glen Echo, Maryland, and the Encore Stage and Studio in Arlington, Virginia. In 2021, some of these theaters have either closed temporarily or are offering virtual events.
Attend a Special Seasonal Event
Even in the winter, the Capital Region's event calendar is packed with fun activities. There's something for foodies, music lovers, young kids, and, well, every demographic imaginable. It begins with Christmas-themed activities in December (the lighting of the National Tree, ZooLights, the Downtown Holiday Market, and Georgetown GLOW, to name a few). Then, there's New Year's Eve, Restaurant Week, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which warrants a peace walk and wreath-laying service every year. February is prime Wizards basketball season, so definitely don't skip a trip to the Capital One Arena in Chinatown to see them. And to top it all off, there's the National Cherry Blossom Festival in March. Many annual holiday events have been altered or postponed in 2020 and 2021, so be sure to check the official website for the latest details.
See a Movie
A trip to the cinema is sometimes the only solution to those cold winter nights and Washington, D.C., has the cream of the crop. The historic, single-screen Uptown Theater in Cleveland Park, for instance, is one of the oldest movie theaters in the region. AFI Silver is equally retro, but if you're looking for something slightly more modern (read: high-tech), then head instead to Regal Gallery Place for a super-immersive 4DX screening. As of January 2021, movie theaters in Washington, D.C., have not reopened.
Go Skiing, Snowboarding, or Snow Tubing
Just because it's a city doesn't mean Washington, D.C., doesn't have outdoor activities. Winter sports are in full swing, thanks to ski areas like Whitetail Ski Resort in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, which offers skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing within a few hours' drive from Washington, D.C.
Bryce Mountain Resort in Basye, Virginia (two hours from D.C.) is another popular destination for skiing, snowboarding, racing events, and private lessons for the whole family. Its proximity to Shenandoah National Park, which offers a whole host of recreational activities and historical sites, makes it an ideal home base for further exploration of the countryside.
On a snowy day, you can also find some great places to go sledding in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Northern Virginia. Try Fort Reno Park, Battery Kemble Park, and Book Hill Park, which all have steep hills. Avoid the Capitol, though, as sledding on its grounds is prohibited.