Press ESC to close

Not Bored in DCNot Bored in DC Things to do, eat, and know in Washington, DC

Six Best Christmas Markets Around DC for 2024

While the lighting of the National Christmas Tree has been a Washington, DC Christmas tradition for over 100 years, Christmas markets are a relatively new tradition. With so many options, it can be overwhelming to figure out which are the best Christmas markets in DC.

Growing up in Alexandria, Virginia in the 80s and 90s, there weren’t Christmas markets around. Instead, my family would go to the White House to see the Christmas trees (thanks to our Secret Service neighbor) and the National Christmas Tree on a December night, and watch the Scottish Walk in Alexandria every year. That was it. DC wasn’t a Christmas town.

Perhaps it was because DC clears out for Christmas, or because the area never had the wave of German immigrants (and their centuries-old tradition of Christmas markets) that the more northern states did. But, in the last 20 years, this has changed, and I have loved exploring them.

The Downtown DC Christmas Market began in 2005. In the 2010s, Christmas markets began cropping up at area embassies. Now, small single-day pop-ups can be found around DC, Maryland, and Virginia throughout November and December.  While it’s nowhere near the width or breadth of Chicago, New York, or even Baltimore, the city is crawling with them.

Below are some of my personal favorites with a cultural zest that focus less on the economic purposes behind their existence and more on the enjoyment of the season. It is not an exhaustive list as I have not included many local events (Silver Spring, Vienna and Fairfax amongst them), but these are the ones I think are the best based on my years exploring Washington, DC’s Christmas markets.

Czech Embassy Christmas Market

A decorated Christmas tree with red ornaments and a bow stands in front of a building with large letters spelling "CZECH" in the background, while people walk around the festive Czech Christmas Market, an outdoor event in Washington DC.

Start strong and start early with the opening salvo of the DC Holiday Season, the Embassy of Czechia’s annual Czech Christmas Market, presumably to be held on Saturday, November 9. Christmas-ness, but all you need is a light jacket thanks to the time of year. The 11th annual event is an all-ages outdoor festival with food, drink, shopping, and live entertainment.

A plate of hearty stew with chunks of meat and potatoes in a blue-patterned bowl, accompanied by slices of bread, grilled sausages, and cans of Pilsner Urquell beer on a black table at the Czech Christmas Market in Washington DC
Potato Soup and Czech Sausage

Food and drink tickets can be bought at the entrance so you can enjoy mushroom-potato soup and sausages the length of your forearm. Beer, wine, and mulled wine are $5.

Four hands toasting with small plastic cups filled with various alcoholic beverages at an outdoor event, with people and greenery in the background.
Becherovka herbal liquor varieties

For something stronger, past years have included booths from herbal liquor brand Becherovka and brandy distillery R. Jelinek, both providing sippers and mixed drinks. So, get your pals out of the house and taste ‘em all (the drinks not your pals, perhaps).

display of various pastries on metal trays at an outdoor market, with signs indicating that credit cards are accepted, and people browsing in the background.
La Bohemia Bakery

La Bohemia Bakery sells fresh baked goods at the market including strudels, tarts, quiches, and turnovers. Due to their popularity, the bakery schedules multiple deliveries from their Rockville and Bethesda locations, as they sell well and sell fast. While there is always a line, it is 20 minutes deep at best, so grab a mulled wine and gab with friends while waiting for the best honey cake in town.

Shopping stalls are located both in and outside the embassy, selling a wide assortment of international products including woodcraft, toys, jewelry, photography, literature, chocolate, Moravian wines, and Bohemian Crystal. In the embassy’s main hall, the European Trading Company offers thousands of handmade glass ornaments, in hundreds of styles.  In years far past, the set-up was a lengthy quagmire, but now it’s easy breezy buffet style. Grab a basket and peruse the displays, as you weave your way to the registers.

But none of that matters because you can also pet some alpacas! Livestock breeders have a dedicated area for their wool and clothing stalls. You can buy comfy hats, gloves, and stuffies while giving head scratches to alpaca, goat, and sheep buddies.

A close-up of a brown alpaca with a red halter, standing in an enclosure with people and equipment in the background at an outdoor event.

If that wasn’t enough draw for the kiddos, the festival also features a moon bounce, appearances by St Nicholas and his helpers, plus a bunch of unsanctioned hill-sledding on pieces of cardboard. Where do these kids get this cardboard? I do not know.

The live entertainment starts off kid-centric, with early performances from the children of the American Sokol Washington DC and Slavic American Sokol who sing traditional Czech Christmas songs. In the afternoon, international Czech artists perform pop, folk, and jazz music.

The market is an all-around good time: one you can easily lose yourself in for the day. It’s rewarding, especially with the free price tag for admission. So, bring your folks and spend time with some alpacas.  

Date: Usually the first or second Saturday in November (presumed to be November 2nd or 9th in 2024)

Tickets: Free in advance with timed entry.

Location: Embassy of Czechia, 3900 Spring of Freedom Street, NW, Washington DC 20008

Getting there: Free parking on adjacent streets, or 12-minute walk from Cleveland Park Metro (red line)

Downtown Holiday Market

The Downtown Holiday Market is the big boy of the DC area, situated in Chinatown in front of the National Portrait Gallery on F Street between 7th and 9th Streets NW. The month-long festival is celebrating its 20th anniversary by starting the weekend before Thanksgiving and running until December 23rd.

The Market hosts upward of 70 stalls selling a wide variety of gifts and foods. Food vendors already signed up include The Capital Candy Jar, The Taste of Germany, Old Blue BBQ, and the popular Migue’s Mini Doughnuts. If it returns this year, be prepared to wait for the churro stand which is everyone’s go-to staple. And the only insult, unlike every other location I have and will mention, there’s no booze on sale. Hot drinks yes, but they’re booze-less. I wouldn’t recommend bringing in a flask or coffee cup, but…

Local Vendors are heavily featured, many appearing year-round at neighborhood markets throughout the city. The DC Department of Small and Local Business Development has made sure to feature Black and minority business as part of its Made in DC program.  Local musicians and performers are also featured including Christmas plays for the kids and jazz for the adults.

Bonus: A few blocks up the street you can find City Center with 2 huge yet somewhat classy light-up reindeer, plus one of the tallest Christmas trees in the city.

Dates: November 15th to December 23rd, 2024

Tickets: Not needed; free entry

Location: Chinatown on F Street between 7th and 9th Streets NW in front of the Portrait Gallery

Getting there: It is a block from the Gallery Place metro stop (green/yellow/red lines) and on multiple bus lines. Street parking is difficult, and parking garages can be expensive if there is an event happening at the nearby Capital One Arena.

Finn Spark Christmas Bazaar

A woman in a blue shirt hangs decorative geometric ornaments at a busy indoor market. Various handmade crafts, including Christmas decorations and knitted items, are displayed on the table at the Finnish Christmas Market in Washington DC

With over 40 years under its belt, the Finn Spark Christmas Bazaar is an old-reliable and comfy stop on your Christmas Market tour. Finn Spark, Inc, originally named Kipinä-Kerho (“Spark-Club”) was established in 1949 by a group of women born in or of Finnish descent delivering aid to post war Finland and striving to keep Finnish culture alive.

Today, proceeds from the Christmas Bazaar go to medical elder care assistance and youth scholarship funds in Finland and the US. Under the patronage of H. E. Ambassador Mikko Hautala and Mrs. Heil Hautala, the bazaar offers a wide range of shopping goods and snacks and boasts lunch by Finnish Chef Mikko who also owns Mikko, a Nordic restaurant in Dupont Circle.

A person wearing a mask sits behind a table covered with colorful knitted items at an indoor market. In the background, other vendors are displaying their goods on red-covered tables.

Located at River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda, the church is filled with stalls from Finnish companies and organizations selling traditional goods such as woolen socks, birch bark shoes, candles, potholders, and much troll related iconography. There’s Moomin a-plenty.

Baked goods are on sale from Chef Mikko, Finntastic Sweets and Finn Spark themselves, who make a boat load of Karelian Pies in preparation. Mikko’s scrumptious sandwiches are available for purchase including his open face gravlax and skagen sandwiches on rye bread. And you can’t miss by getting a Glögg or two to wash all the deliciousness down.

Clearly, this is a foodie spot and it is quite enjoyable to hear the Finnish language colloquially spoken outside of its native country.

Date: TBD, but presumably Saturday, November 16th

Tickets: Not needed; free entry

Location: River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 6301 River Rd, Bethesda, MD 20817

Getting there: Free parking. For public transportation, take Montgomery County’s T2 bus from Friendship Heights or Rockville metro stations (red line) or the 29 Bus from the Friendship Heights and Bethesda stations (red line). Both take you right to the door.

Heurich House

Since 2012, the Heurich House, located off Dupont Circle, has celebrated the holidays with a Christmas Markt in its “Castle Gardens.” Built in 1892 for Christian Heurich, a German immigrant and Brewmaster, the historic residence is now a museum, preserving the house and furnishings as they appeared during the Gilded Age, while also acting as an incubator to nurture DC small business development.

Decked out in twinkle lights and Christmas bobbles, each year the garden plays host to dozens of local small businesses, from ceramics and candles to sustainable jewelry and artisanal cocktails. Here’s hoping Bicycle Trash, the bicycle rubber to fashion accessory upcycler returns this year.

With the number of interested vendors, the museum plans to expand the Markt beyond it’s usual first weekend of December into “more weekdays and weekend.” So, keep an eye out for that news.

In recent years, the Christmas Markt has spilled out of its garden walls, with food trucks and beverages outside. Gone are the days of the smoker in the corner garden churning out sausages with the smoke billowing in your direction. It has become much more of “an event” with greater space for socializing and merrymaking.

Alcoholic beverages include Glühwein and the revival of Christian Heurich’s Senate Beer recipe as made by Right Proper Brewing Company. The kids, rightly so, can not have that. Instead, there is a station to create their own Christmas ornaments.

Perhaps in relation to the increased consumer foot traffic, the museum no longer includes a house tour with the price of the ticket, as it did pre-2020. It’s a bummer, but the museum offers open house nights throughout the year for free looks in. Seeing a Gilded Age living room lit up for Christmas did add to the experience, though.

The Market is for those looking to shop locally and sustainably while scratching that Gluhwein itch. And with an architectural view like that, why not?

Dates: Multiple dates TBD, but presumably between November 30th and December 8th

Tickets: Early bird tickets are between $10 to $11 with $12 tickets available at the door. Kids 15 and under are only $2

Location: Heurich House Museum, 1307 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036

Getting there: 3-minute walk from Dupont Circle Metro South Exit (red line)

Swedish Holiday Market and St. Lucia Concert

The House of Sweden (a sexy chic sounding way of saying the Swedish Embassy, even though the Icelandic Embassy is also housed there) has a hugely successful Christmas Market entertaining over 2,000 attendees yearly, the largest event the embassy puts on annually.

The first thing of note is the wide assortment of baked goods on offer, and as bonus if you bought Early Bird tickets or online before the deadline ($6), your ticket acts also gives you free Fika, a warming gift of tea or coffee and a small baked good of your choice. Just for the social closeness of it all!

The larger desserts are to die for, some bombastically colored for Christmas effect. Food is served cafeteria style with choices including Swedish “Glögg” and sandwiches, “smörgås”/”macka” with meatballs, lox, or herring.

For your shopping needs the Market is chock full of crafts, ornaments, textiles, books, and Swedish packaged snacks. There’s nothing like chip flavors that don’t exist in your home country. A silent auction, an appearance from “Jultomte” AKA Santa, and face painting for the kids also appear.

After shopping and food closes, the Lucia procession begins. In the Swedish holiday custom, the lights are dimmed, a girl, with a crown of light and dressed all in white enters the room followed by other female and male, singing, all dressed in white robes. Nowadays the lights encircling her head are electric, attached to the wreath she wears. The female youth carry an electric candle in their hands. Rarely are actual candles used nowadays, due to, I’m assuming, a lot of burnt hair tragedies. Once the procession ends outside, the youth, with candles alit, put on a concert for on-lookers on the steps of the House of Sweden overlooking the Potomac.

The Swedish Christmas Market is for those that like experiencing the traditions of cultures not their own. It is a highly enjoyable afternoon and one worth doing at least once.   

Date: December 7, 2024. Time TBA. The St Lucia Parade and Concert ends the event.

Tickets: Early bird tickets are $6 and include a Fika ticket good for a tea/coffee and a small treat. $10 at the door and no Fika ticket is included.

Location: House of Sweden, 2900 K Street, NW, Washington, DC

Getting there: If you are metroing, House of Sweden is a 14 minute walk from the Foggy Bottom/GWU metro station (blue/orange/silver). If you are driving, be prepared to pay for garage parking since Georgetown is notoriously difficult to park in.

Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk Parade, the Canal Center Holiday Art Mart, the Holiday Festival at the Torpedo Factory, and the Holiday Boat Parade of Lights

Across the state line (and dueling for the same date and timeslot as the House of Sweden’s holiday market) is the all-day event mashup of the Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk Parade followed by the Canal Center Holiday Art Mart and completed by the 24th annual Holiday Boat Parade of Lights. This day is a spectacle with 30,000 attendees and 200 volunteers and is the best Christmas celebration in Northern Virginia.

The 53rd annual parade winds through downtown Old Town Virginia with tartan clad clans, and local pipe and drum bands. I grew up living across the street from such a band who practiced weekly, and it’s a big deal in Alexandria which was settled by the Scottish upon arriving on its shores. Classic cars and equally classic dogs roll and strut the parade route, so make sure your own pets are comfortable in such a situation. Same goes for your children.

Unfortunately, the local classic year round store The Christmas Attic closed during COVID, so the annual pilgrimage after the parade has ceased to be. But to counteract this loss, Alexandria has started the Canal Center Holiday Mart, an art centric Christmas Market at the Canal Center Gallery’s central plaza in North Old Town. Other stalls feature crafts and vintage goods and are complemented by live music at local food vendors.

At both this location and the pop-up beer garden from Alexandria’s Port City Brewing Company (10 minutes south), the Holiday Festival at the Torpedo Factory has a perfect view for the night’s annual Holiday Parade of Lights.

Santa arrives by fireboat at 3:30pm and then once dusk approaches locals, with their boats decked in Christmas lights, travel up and down the Potomac to the delight of the crowds.

The entire event is family friendly, with games for the kiddos through the day.

This an experience and a half and also needs to be seen at least once for the sheer amount of work that goes into putting on the day’s activities. Anyone can find something they’d thoroughly enjoy and find worthwhile. So, get on down there.

Date: Saturday, December 7, 2024. Times TBA.

Tickets: Not needed; free entry

Location: It takes place through almost all of Old Town Alexandria. The Torpedo Factory is located at 105 N Union Street, Alexandria, VA.

Getting there: If you are driving, be prepared for road closings and possible difficulty finding parking. Alexandria City offers free DASH bus and trolley services until 10pm, the Dash bus taking you to multiple locations in Alexandria and Fairfax County including Huntington and King Street Metro stops (yellow line). The trollies are a straight shot from the Lyceum downtown to the King Street Metro and back. The Water Taxi is also an enjoyable option traveling to the DC Waterfront and National Harbor. 

Further DC Christmas Fun

Of course, Christmas Markets aren’t the only Christmas experiences in the city, with the National Zoo’s Zoo Lights, Enchant DC at National’s Park, Christmas at the Harbor at National Harbor, Georgetown Glow, the National Gallery’s Ice-Skating Rink, and the US Botanic Garden’s Christmas Train as prime examples.

Plus, stellar Christmas trees can be found throughout the city including those at the aforementioned Ellipse, the massive Capitol Christmas Tree in front of the Capitol, the Norwegian Pine at Union Station, Floriana’s camp classic Christmas tree on 17th Street, and the attention-grabbing bookish tree in the Library Congress.

Preceded by the lighting of the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse across from the White House, the first weekend of December is always jam packed with Christmas goodness with the Heurich House Museum, Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk and the House of Sweden all celebrating. While Heurich House takes place over multiple days, a choice must be made as the latter two occur concurrently on Saturday, the 7th of December.  

Clarke Whitehead

Born & raised in Alexandria Virginia, Clarke Whitehead has been living in DC proper since 2006. A theatre dramaturg and teacher, he has worked in Galway, Ireland and local DC theatres since 2014. Christmas markets, museums, and theatre are his bread and butter and he’s always down to give recommendations in a rather honest fashion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.