The capital’s signature special event takes place every 4 years, when the winner of the presidential election is sworn in on Inauguration Day, January 20. Otherwise, the city’s most popular events are the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in spring, the Fourth of July celebration in summer, and the lighting of the National Christmas Tree in winter. But some sort of special event occurs almost daily. For the latest schedules, check www.washington.org, www.culturaltourismdc.org, www.dc.gov, and www.washingtonpost.com. The phone numbers in this calendar were accurate at press time, but these numbers change often. If the number you try doesn’t get you the details you need, call Destination D.C. at tel 202/789-7000. When you’re in town, grab a copy of the Washington Post (or read it online), especially the Friday “Weekend” section, and/or a free copy of the weekly Washington CityPaper (or read it online).
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday. Events include a Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial peace walk, parade, and festival in Anacostia (www.mlkholidaydc.org), ongoing park-ranger talks about the civil rights hero at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial (www.nps.gov/mlkm) and other commemorations of the slain leader’s life at the National Museum of African American History & Culture (www.nmaahc.si.edu), the Kennedy Center (www.kennedy-center.org), and elsewhere around town. The national holiday is marked on the third Monday in January; King’s actual birthday is January 15. Call the National Park Service at tel. 202/426-6841, and check the websites listed above, as well as in the intro to this section.
Black History Month. Every month is Black History Month at the National Museum of African American History & Culture (www.nmaahc.si.edu), but the NMAAHC and its fellow Smithsonian museums further highlight the contributions of African Americans to American life with special concerts, talks, films, discussions, and exhibits. Park rangers give black-history-related talks at the Frederick Douglass House, the MLK and Lincoln memorials, and other National Park sites. For details, check the websites listed in the intro to this section and the Smithsonian Institution calendar at www.si.edu/Events.
Chinese New Year Celebration. A Friendship Archway, topped by 300 painted dragons and lighted at night, marks the entrance to Chinatown at 7th and H streets NW. The Chinese New Year celebration begins on the day of the first new moon of the new year, which might fall anywhere from late January to mid-February, and continues for 14 or so days. Festivities center on the Friendship Archway and include a big parade throughout downtown, with traditional firecrackers, dragon dancers, and live musical performances. The Smithsonian’s Asian art museum, the Freer Gallery (www.freersackler.si.edu), often hosts Chinese cooking and art demonstrations and performances on a day close to the official start of the new year. Details at www.washington.org. Late January to early February.
Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday. Expect great fanfare at Ford’s Theatre and its Center for Education and Leadership, an exploration of Lincoln’s legacy in the time since his assassination. The commemoration at the Lincoln Memorial usually includes a wreath-laying and a reading of the Gettysburg Address. For more details, check the websites listed in the intro to this section. February 12.
George Washington’s Birthday/Presidents’ Day. The city celebrates Washington’s birthday in two ways: on the actual day, February 22, with a ceremony that takes place at the Washington Monument; and on the federal holiday, the third Monday in February, when schools and federal offices have the day off. The occasion also brings with it great sales at stores citywide. For information on the bigger celebrations held at Mount Vernon and in Old Town Alexandria on the third Monday in February, see: https://www.frommers.com/destinations/mount-vernon and https://www.frommers.com/destinations/alexandria-va
D.C. Fashion Week. This biannual event features designers from around the world. The weeklong extravaganza stages parties, runway shows, and trunk shows at citywide venues, always culminating in an international couture fashion show at the French Embassy. Most events are open to the public but may require a ticket. Call tel 202/600-9274 or visit www.dcfashionweek.org. Mid-February and mid-September.
Women’s History Month. Count on the Smithsonian to cover the subject to a fare-thee-well. For a schedule of Smithsonian events, call tel 202/633-1000 or visit www.si.edu; for other events, check the websites listed in the intro to this section.
St. Patrick’s Day Parade. This big parade on Constitution Avenue NW, from 7th to 17th streets, is complete with floats, bagpipes, marching bands, and the wearin’ o’ the green. For parade information, visit www.dcstpatsparade.com. The Sunday before March 17.
National Cherry Blossom Festival. Strike up the band! In 1912, the city of Tokyo gave over 3,000 cherry trees to the city of Washington. This event is celebrated annually; if all goes well, the festival coincides with the blossoming of the cherry trees by the Tidal Basin, on Hains Point, and on the grounds of the Washington Monument. Events take place all over town and include the Blossom Kite Festival on the grounds of the Washington Monument; a Japanese Street Fair on Pennsylvania Avenue; “Petalpalooza,” an outdoor celebration with fireworks, art activities, and live music at the Wharf on the Southwest Waterfront; special art exhibits around town, park-ranger-guided talks and tours past the trees, and sports competitions. A grand parade winds down the festival, complete with floats, marching bands, dancers, celebrity guests, and more. Most events are free; exceptions include the Japanese Street Fair, which costs $10 per ticket, and grandstand seating at the parade, which starts at $20 per person (otherwise the parade is free). For information, go to www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org. March/April.
White House Easter Egg Roll. A biggie for kids 13 and under, the annual White House Easter Egg Roll continues a practice begun in 1878. Entertainment on the White House South Lawn and the Ellipse traditionally includes appearances by costumed cartoon characters, clowns, musical groups (Fergie and singer Ariana Grande are among those who have performed in the past), egg-decorating exhibitions, puppet and magic shows, an Easter egg hunt, and an egg-rolling contest. To get tickets, you must use the online lottery system, www.recreation.gov, up and running about 7 weeks before Easter Monday. For details, visit www.nps.gov/whho/planyourvisit/easter-egg-roll.htm. Easter Monday 8am to 5pm.
Emancipation Day. On April 16, 1862, Pres. Abraham Lincoln signed the D.C. Compensated Emancipation Act, ending slavery in Washington, D.C., freeing 3,100 slaves, reimbursing those who had legally owned them, and offering money to the newly freed women and men to help them emigrate. Lincoln issued this decree 8 months before the Emancipation Proclamation liberated slaves in the South. To mark the occasion, the D.C. government closes its public schools and government offices on the day itself, and throws a parade, concert, and fireworks show downtown either on the day or on the weekend preceding the holiday. (Federal offices and all else stay open.) April 16. For details, visit https://emancipation.dc.gov.
Smithsonian Craft Show. Held in the National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW, this juried show features one-of-a-kind, limited-edition crafts by more than 120 noted artists from all over the country. There’s an entrance fee of $20 (or $17 in advance) per adult each day; it’s free for children 12 and under. No strollers. For details, visit www.smithsoniancraftshow.org. Four days in mid- to late April.
Embassy Open Houses. If you’re in D.C. in May, you may have the opportunity to tour embassies that participate in either or both the Around the World Embassy Tour, held on the first Saturday in May, and the EU Open House, held on the second Saturday in May (go to www.culturaltourismdc.org and click on “Passport DC” for more information). On the third Saturday in May, the National Asian Heritage Festival stages its Fiesta Asia Street Fair, on Pennsylvania Avenue in the Penn Quarter, introducing all to Asian culture.
Washington National Cathedral Annual Flower Mart. Established in 1939, the flower mart takes place on cathedral grounds, featuring displays of flowering plants and herbs, decorating demonstrations, ethnic food booths, children’s rides and activities (including an antique carousel), costumed characters, puppet shows, tower climbs, and other entertainment. Free admission. For details, visit www.allhallowsguild.org. First Friday and Saturday in May, rain or shine.
Memorial Day. Ceremonies take place at Arlington National Cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater and the Tomb of the Unknowns, at the National World War II and Vietnam Veterans memorials, at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, and at the U.S. Navy Memorial. A National Memorial Day Parade marches down Constitution Avenue from the Capitol to the White House. On the Sunday before Memorial Day, the National Symphony Orchestra performs a free concert at 8pm on the West Lawn of the Capitol to honor the sacrifices of American servicemen and servicewomen. One other thing: Also on that Sunday, hundreds of thousands of bikers from around the country roll into town in an annual event called “Rolling Thunder” to pay tribute to America’s war veterans, prisoners of war, and those missing in action (www.rollingthunderrun.com). Last Monday in May.
DC Jazz Festival. The festival, founded in 2004, presents more than 125 performances in dozens of venues throughout the city over a 6-day period. Some performances are free, some are not. www.dcjazzfest.org. Early to late June.
Smithsonian Folklife Festival. A major event celebrating both national and international traditions in music, crafts, foods, games, concerts, and exhibits, staged along the length of the National Mall. Each Folklife Festival showcases three or four cultures or themes; 2014’s festival explored the culture of Kenya, and “China: Tradition and the Art of Living.” All events are free; most take place outdoors. For details call tel 202/633-6440, visit www.festival.si.edu, or check the listings in the Washington Post. Ten days in late June and early July, always including July 4.
Independence Day. There’s no better place to be on the Fourth of July than in Washington, D.C. The all-day festivities include a massive National Independence Day Parade down Constitution Avenue, complete with lavish floats, princesses, marching groups, and military bands. A morning program in front of the National Archives includes military demonstrations, period music, and a reading of the Declaration of Independence. In the evening, the National Symphony Orchestra plays on the west steps of the Capitol with guest artists. And big-name entertainment precedes the fabulous fireworks display behind the Washington Monument. For details call the National Park Service at tel 202/619-7222 or visit www.nps.gov/mall. July 4.
Capital Fringe Festival. This weeks-long event celebrates experimental theater in the tradition of the original fringe festival, held annually in Edinburgh, Scotland. Nearly 100 separate productions take place at multiple venues daily for 3 weeks or more, sometimes throughout the city and sometimes in one locale, as in 2018 when the festival took over the Southwest Waterfront. Local and visiting artists perform in theater, dance, music, and other disciplines. All single tickets are $17, plus a one-time fee of $7 for an admission button; purchase at www.capitalfringe.org. The Capital Fringe organization produces performances and events year-round, including a music festival, all worth checking out; same website as above. Three weeks in mid- to late July.
Shakespeare Theatre Free for All. This free theater festival presents a different Shakespeare play every year for a 2-week run at the Sidney Harman Hall, across from the Verizon Center, in the Penn Quarter. Tickets are required, but they’re free. Go to www.shakespearetheatre.org/events/free-for-all. Evenings and some matinees in late August through early September.
Labor Day Concert. The National Symphony Orchestra closes its summer season with a free performance at 8pm on the West Lawn of the Capitol. Sunday before Labor Day (rain date: same day and time at Constitution Hall or the Kennedy Center).
Library of Congress National Book Festival. The Library of Congress sponsors this festival, founded in 2001, welcoming nearly 100 established authors and their many fans. Previously held on the National Mall, the festival’s popularity and the toll the turnout took on Mall grounds necessitated the festival’s relocation in 2014 to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in downtown D.C., between 7th and 9th sts. NW, and N St. and Mt. Vernon Place. The move indoors means weather and nightfall are no longer considerations, so the festival expects to draw even larger crowds. The festival takes place over the course of one long day, from 10am to 10pm in late August, and includes readings, author signings, panel discussions, and general hoopla surrounding the love of books. For details, visit www.loc.gov/bookfest. A Saturday in late August/early September.
Marine Corps Marathon. A maximum of 30,000 may compete in this 26.2-mile race (the third-largest marathon in the United States). The 2019 race marks its 44th year. The start line is at a spot located between the Pentagon and Arlington Memorial Cemetery, and the course takes racers through Georgetown, through Rock Creek Park almost to the National Zoo, along the Potomac River, past memorials and museums on the National Mall, and so on, before reaching the finish line at the Marine Corps Memorial (the Iwo Jima statue). For details, go to www.marinemarathon.com. Participants must be 14 or older. Register online for the lottery system that determines entry in the marathon. Third or fourth Sunday in October.
Veterans Day. The nation’s tribute to those who fought in wars to defend the United States, and to those who died doing so, takes place with a wreath-laying ceremony at 11am at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, followed by a memorial service in the Amphitheater. The president of the United States or a stand-in officiates, as a military band performs. Wreath-laying ceremonies also take place at other war memorials in the city. November 11.
National Christmas Tree Lighting. At the northern end of the Ellipse, the president lights the National Christmas Tree to the accompaniment of orchestral and choral music, and big-name performers take the stage. The lighting ceremony inaugurates several weeks of holiday concerts performed mostly by local school and church choruses, afternoons and evenings on the Ellipse. (Brrrr!) For details, visit the website, www.thenationaltree.org. The 17,000 tickets (3,000 seated, 14,000 standing) are free but required to attend the tree-lighting ceremony. To enter the lottery to try to score tickets, visit the website www.recreation.gov. The lottery opens in mid-October. (No tickets are required to attend the other holiday concerts.) The tree-lighting ceremony takes place at 5pm on the first Thursday in December.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.