Our ultimate DC events calendar is your guide to things to do in Washington, DC all year long. And believe us, there’s loads on offer when it comes to events in DC, with festivals, cultural celebrations, street parties, parades, kids activities and more popping up all annually over the city—and in the midst of some of the most iconic sights and attractions. So whether you’re looking for Easter egg hunts at the White House in spring, Independence Day concerts at the Capitol in summer, national book festivals in fall or holiday fun in winter, we’ve got you covered. Read on for the best events and things to do in Washington, DC in spring, summer, fall and winter.
Winter events in DC
A birthday celebration is held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. King gave his famous “I have a dream” speech in 1963. That’s just one of many, many commemorations in DC. Among others: the Washington Performing Arts Society (WPAS) hosts an annual children’s concert with a gospel performance that combines African rhythms and rap into a cappella combinations. The Martin Luther King Jr Memorial also serves as a solemn place to celebrate King’s legacy.
Spring events in DC
Washington’s St. Patrick’s Day revelries draw kit-donning crowds with a parade of dancers, bands, bagpipes and floats along Constitution Avenue. In true Irish style, the partying continues well into the night in pubs around the city. When March 17 doesn’t fall on a Sunday, the festivities take place on the previous Sunday. St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are also held in Alexandria, VA, where they’re organized by a charity called Ballyshaners. Transport: Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, L’Enfant Plaza or Archives–Navy Memorial Metro.
Since 1878, when Congress kicked them off the Capitol lawn, kids aged three to six have been invited to hunt Easter eggs—the egg count is up to 24,000-plus these days—hidden on the South Lawn of the Executive Mansion. A festival on the Ellipse features storytelling, children’s authors, even astronauts sometimes—and, crucially for cranky parents, food. The event kicks off at the Southeast Gate at the corner of East Executive Avenue and E Street; it gets very crowded, so arrive early. Make sure the kids are with you around 7–7:30am, when the tickets are handed out (though the actual festivities run from 10am to 2pm). Transport: McPherson Square Metro.
Every May, nearly 40 foreign embassies fling open their door the public for a free look-see. Concentrated on Massachusetts Avenue, the stately mansions are usually accessible only to dignitaries and ambassadors on-duty. Prepare to be fully immersed in each country’s culture, including food, art, dance fashion and music. Transport: Dupont Circle and Van Ness Metro.
Kite-lovers of all ages proudly show off their handmade contraptions (and the serious ones even take part in competitions). There are also demonstrations with novelty and sport kites by “kite-making masters.” Usually held on the first day of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Transport: Smithsonian Metro.
Much to locals' chagrins, the National Cherry Blossom Festival marks the kick-off of tourist season in DC. In 1912, 3,000 cherry trees were donated to the city by Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo as a symbol of friendship between Japan and the United States. These original trees were planted along the Tidal Basin; today, the path that rings the basin becomes clogged with visitors during bloom time. The city has become famous for the immigrant blossoms, and celebrates them with near-pagan worship and a weekend of special events, including a National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade and the Sakuri Matsuri Street Festival, a celebration of Japanese art, food and culture held on 12th Street between Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues. Plan your visit carefully: the blossoms are here and gone within a month. Transport: Smithsonian Metro.
On the Sunday evening, the National Symphony Orchestra performs a free concert on the West Lawn of the Capitol (there’s another one on Labor Day in September; see the Kennedy Center for info). On Monday, the presidential wreath-laying and memorial services take place at Arlington National Cemetery, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the US Navy Memorial. Rolling Thunder’s Ride for Freedom, a massive motorcycle parade on Sunday morning, remembers POWs/MIAs and honors servicemen who died in wars.
Summer events in DC
Billed as “the Woodstock of jazz festivals,” this outdoor extravaganza in Columbia, Maryland, has served up food, crafts, and, of course, some of the best jazz musicians around for over 20 years. Dave Koz, Eric Benét, Walter Beasley, David Benoit, Incognito and India Arie are among past headliners.
Hidden-treasure museums and historically important houses in Dupont Circle and the neighboring Kalorama area take part in an “off the Mall” museum day for the public. The event incudes free access to usually pricey venues, including the Phillips Collection and Woodrow Wilson House. Free food, music, tours and crafts are bonuses.
It’s said to be the biggest five-kilometer run/walk in the world. The Race for the Cure draws tens of thousands of participants every May to raise money for and awareness of breast cancer. Transport: Federal Triangle Metro.
A week of advanced dance classes culminates in a weekend festival celebrating African and African-American dance. Approaching 30 years, the festival includes free outdoor performances, a marketplace, crafts and food, plus ticketed mainstage events indoors. Note that an admission price is charged for some events. Transport: Brookland-CUA Metro.
http://bbqdc.com. Transport: Metro Archives-Navy Memorial.
This monster festival celebrates the arts, crafts and cuisines of selected U.S. states and other countries. Food and demonstration booths stretch down the National Mall, and there are evening celebrations and music performances. The atmosphere is cheerful, the weather usually hot and sticky. Previous themes include Hungarian heritage, endangered languages, and African-American dress and adornment. Transport: Smithsonian Metro.
Fall events in DC
For over a quarter of a century, thousands of DC residents have come out to celebrate this community, home to large Latino, white, African and African American populations. Musicians, crafts and ethnic foods are in ample supply. he longest-running street fair in DC, Adams Morgan Day includes local artists, bands and restaurants that bring 18th Street and Columbia Road to life. Transport: Dupont Circle or Woodley Park Metro.
Sponsored by the Library of Congress, the Book Festival features dozens of authors, illustrators, poets and storytellers, all reading, performing and signing in block after block of pavilions themed around “Fiction and Imagination,” “History and Biography,” “Mysteries and Thrillers” and so on. Admission is free. Transport: Archives-Naval Memorial or Federal Triangle Metro.
Dupont Circle residents and gawkers from across the city swarm to 17th Street to catch this ultimate drag race, which features outrageously costumed contestants promenading up and down—then sprinting down a two-block stretch in the heart of the capital’s gay community. The event itself lasts mere minutes, but the street-party atmosphere is festive and the scenery fabulous. Don't even get us started about the afterparties. Transport: Dupont Circle Metro.
For more than 10 years, Crafty Bastards has served as a showcase for over 100 emerging and established local makers to show off goods like knitted cats and macramé wall hangings. It’s grown so large that a few years ago, it upgraded from a lot in Adams Morgan to Dock 5 at Union Market, a sprawling warehouse-like space in Northeast DC. Bring a list and get your holiday shopping done early. Or just do the more obvious thing and shop for yourself. Transport: NoMa-Gallaudet U Metro.
The “Marathon of Monuments” draws around 30,000 runners from around the world, and no wonder: The Marine Corps Marathon course winds along the banks of the Potomac, through Georgetown and Rock Creek Park, past the city’s most famous sites and monuments, finishing at the Iwo Jima memorial in Arlington. Spectators and supporters turn the route into a 26-mile street party.