The nation's capital goes quiet on this holiday, making if the perfect occasion to have the city to yourself.

By Molly McArdle
December 10, 2015
Credit: Getty Images

Turn on DC's unofficial city carol—Maura Sullivan's corny Reagan-era "Christmas Eve in Washington"—and get ready to celebrate the holiday in the nation's capital. Here's our plan for doing it right.

Visit the National Christmas Tree

Winters around here are reliably mild, and this is the time to see the Mall at its most quiet. The National Christmas Tree has been lit in President's Park since 1923, and you can have this green space overlooking the White House all to yourself. Take a stroll and enjoy the scenery.

Skate at Washington Harbor

Christmas is the perfect time for a cup of hot cocoa and a pair of ice skates. Washington Harbor's rink, which sits next to the Potomac River in Georgetown, is one of the prettiest spots in the city, with columns and lights at your back, and water and trees to your front.

Experience an Early-American Christmas

While our first president's plantation of Mount Vernon is about 15 miles south of his namesake's city, it's worth the trip. (You definitely won't have to worry about traffic.) Washington's estate features a Christmas camel named Aladdin (in honor of another camel the president himself brought home one holiday), historical chocolate-making demonstrations, and tours of the mansion that explain how the First Couple and everyone on the plantation would have spent Christmas in their day.

Explore the National Cathedral

Originally conceived by Washington himself, the Gothic-style cathedral was only begun in 1907—and became the city's longest-running construction project. The finished product is magnificent, with all the grandeur of old world churches with some new touches thrown in (a Darth Vader gargoyle, a stained glass window celebrating the space program). Check out the Christmas Day Service of Lessons and Carols at 3 p.m., or the organ recital at 4:30 p.m.

Hear the All-Star Christmas Day Jazz Jam

The annual jazz performance is celebrating its 18th year at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage. The music starts at 6 p.m. and best of all, it's free.

View the Norwegian Model Train at Union Station

Since 1997, Norway has donated a Christmas tree and enormous model train display to the United States in gratitude for aid provided during and after World War II. The train, which takes up most of Union Station's West Hall, is marvelous: handmade versions of real Norwegian trains speed through a traditional Scandinavian landscape of snowy peaks, small towns, and icy fjords.

Eat at the Decanter at the St. Regis

The St. Regis, just two blocks from the White House, has played host to every U.S. President since Calvin Coolidge, who cut the ribbon on the building's opening day. Enjoy a dinner of steak, lobster, or lamb on the Decanter's $90 prix fixe Christmas Day dinner menu—a local institution.

Molly McArdle is a native Washingtonian and a writer based in Brooklyn. You can find her on both Twitter and Instagram at @mollitudo.