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 the calendar below 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.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday. Events include speeches by prominent leaders and politicians, readings, dance, theater, concerts and choral performances, and prayer vigils at the National Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the national holiday (third Mon in Jan.; King’s actual birthday is Jan. 15). Call the National Park Service at tel 202/619-7222.
Black History Month. Numerous events, museum exhibits, and cultural programs celebrate the contributions of African Americans to American life, including a celebration of abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s birthday. For details check the Washington Post or call the National Park Service at tel 202/619-7222.
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 celebration begins the day of the Chinese New Year (on the day of the first new moon of the new year, which may fall anywhere from late Jan to mid Feb) and continues for 14 or so days, with traditional firecrackers, dragon dancers, and colorful street parades. Some area restaurants offer special menus. 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. As always, a wreath-laying and reading of the Gettysburg Address will take place at noon at the Lincoln Memorial. Call Ford’s Theatre at tel 202/426-6924, or the National Park Service at tel 202/619-7222. 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. Call the National Park Service at tel 202/619-7222 for details. The occasion also brings with it great sales at stores citywide.
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! This year, 2015, marks the 103rd anniversary of the city of Tokyo’s gift of cherry trees to the city of Washington. This event is celebrated annually; if all goes well, the festival coincides with the blossoming of the more than 3,700 Japanese 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, fireworks, concerts, special art exhibits, park-ranger-guided talks and tours past the trees, and sports competitions. A Japanese Street Festival takes place on one of the final days of the celebration, and a grand parade caps the festival, complete with floats, marching bands, dancers, celebrity guests, and more. All events are free except the Japanese Street Fair, which costs $5, and grandstand seating at the parade, which costs $17 (otherwise the parade is free). For information call tel 877/44BLOOM (442-5666) or go to www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org. March 20 to April 12, 2015.
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 obtain tickets, you must use the online lottery system, www.recreation.gov, up and running about 6 weeks before Easter Monday. For details call tel 202/208-1631 or visit www.whitehouse.gov/eastereggroll. Easter Monday between 8am and 5pm.
African-American Family Day at the National Zoo. This tradition extends back to 1889, when the zoo opened. The National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW, celebrates African-American families on the day after Easter with music, dance, Easter egg rolls, and other activities. Free. Call tel 202/633-1000 for details. Easter Monday.
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 about $15 per adult each day; it’s free for children 12 and under. No strollers. For details call tel 888/832-9554 or 202/633-5006, or visit www.smithsoniancraftshow.org. Four days in mid- to late April.
Washington National Cathedral Annual Flower Mart. Now in its 76th year, 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, and other entertainment. Admission is free. For details call tel 202/537-2937 or visit www.allhallowsguild.org. First Friday and Saturday in May, rain or shine.
Memorial Day. Ceremonies take place at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery (tel 703/607-8000), at the National World War II and Vietnam Veterans memorials (tel 202/619-7222), and at the U.S. Navy Memorial (tel 202/737-2300). 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 (tel 202/619-7222). And one other thing: 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.rollingthunder1.com). Last Monday in May.
DC Jazz Festival. The festival, now in its 11th year, 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 event debuted in 2005 and celebrates experimental theater in the tradition of the original fringe festival, held annually in Edinburgh, Scotland. Nearly 150 separate productions take place at some 15 venues daily for 18 days, and it all adds up to about 700-plus individual performances. Local and visiting artists perform in theater, dance, music, and other disciplines.The action centers on the Penn Quarter. All single tickets are $17, plus a one-time fee of $5 for an admission button; purchase them on www.capitalfringe.org or call tel 866/811-4111. Eighteen days starting around the second week of 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 Harmon Hall, across from the Verizon Center, in the Penn Quarter. Tickets are required, but they’re free. Call tel 202/547-1122 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org. Evenings and some matinees 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. For details call the National Park Service at tel 202/619-7222. 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, now in its 15th year, 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 call tel 888/714-4696 or 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 2015 running marks its 40th year. The start line is at a spot located between the Pentagon and Arlington Memorial Cemetery, and the course takes racers through Georgetown, past memorials, through Rock Creek Park almost to the National Zoo, along the Potomac River, past museums, and so on, before reaching the finish line at the Marine Corps Memorial (the Iwo Jima statue.) For details call tel 800/RUN-USMC [786-8762]. Participants must be 14 or older. Register online for the lottery system that determines entry in the marathon. www.marinemarathon.com. Last Sunday in October.
Veterans Day. The nation’s fallen heroes are honored with a wreath-laying ceremony at 11am at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, followed by a memorial service. The president of the United States or his stand-in officiates, as a military band performs. Wreath-laying ceremonies also take place at other war memorials in the city. Call tel 703/607-8000 for details about Arlington Cemetery events and 202/619-7222 for details about war memorial events. 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 and to enter the lottery to try to score tickets, visit the website, www.thenationaltree.org; you can also call tel 877/444-6777 to enter the lottery. There are 17,000 tickets (3,000 seated, 14,000 standing), which are free but required to attend the tree-lighting ceremony. The lottery opens October 31. (No tickets are required to attend the other holiday concerts.) The tree-lighting ceremony takes place at 5pm on a day in early 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.