Washington, DC shines with can’t-miss events, new exhibits and praiseworthy performances throughout the upcoming year.
Every year, Washington, DC is among a short list of can’t-fail travel destinations. Just ask readers of major travel publication Condé Nast Traveler, who recently named the District one of the best cities in the U.S. In turn, we’ve laid out this incredible list of big things in the year ahead below, and whenever you’re ready, book your stay with these great deals at DC hotels.
The reopened National Air and Space Museum
After an extensive renovation, one of the world’s most visited museums has unveiled its transformed self to dazzled audiences. Eight new and refined galleries await first-time visitors at the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall, including displays such as America by Air, Destination Moon, Early Flight and Nation of Speed.
Phase 2 of The Wharf
DC’s Southwest Waterfront development has launched its second phase for you to enjoy throughout 2023. There’s the new Pendry Hotel, a 1.5-acre park at Marshall Park Landing, 95,000 square feet of retail space and a wealth of new restaurants that are opening on a rolling basis. The list includes Philippe Chow’s Beijing-style restaurant, Lucky Buns, Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls, Bartaco, Blank Street Coffee, Hell’s Kitchen and Fish & Chips from Gordon Ramsay, Kinfolk Southern Kitchen, Limani, Milk and Honey, Slice of Matchbox and Kilwins Chocolates & Ice Cream.
The Rubell Museum
The Rubells’ second museum draws from the family’s extensive collection of contemporary sculptures, paintings, photographs and videos. The 32,000-square-foot space also offers activations, a bookstore and a café with indoor and outdoor dining.
The Museum of Illusions
The sensation that has already swept more than 30 major cities has touched down in the District. At the Museum of Illusions, visitors can be immersed in trickery, learn about how the human brain works and sharpen their vision and perception.
Restaurant Week – Jan. & Aug. TBD
Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington hosts two annual celebrations of DC’s eclectic dining scene: one in January and a summer edition in August. For both seasonal editions, Restaurant Week offers diners pre-fixe menus for lunch/brunch ($25) and dinner ($40 and $55).
Washington Auto Show – Jan. 20-29
The world-class event displays engineering prowess and innovation along with more than 600 new models from 30+ car manufacturers inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Interactive displays and on-site activations add to the fascination of this motor vehicle showcase.
Philip Guston Now – Feb. 26 – Aug. 27
The 50-year career of an iconic American artist serves as the subject of a highly anticipated exhibit at the National Gallery of Art. More than 150 paintings and drawings will be on display, telling Guston’s fascinating story as he moved through abstract expressionism, muralism and figuration. The artist’s own personal confessions and political beliefs, as showcased in his work, are also at the center of this major exhibition.
Shout, Sister, Shout! – March 15 – May 13
Ford’s Theatre welcomes a new musical based on Gayle F. Wald’s inspiring book. Immerse yourself in the music scene of the 1930s and ‘40s as you follow the story of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a musical legend who paved the way for Black rock, R&B and gospel singers and guitarists with her ambition and courage. Tharpe was also a pioneer in that she unabashedly joined protests for racial and sexual equality. Don’t miss a riveting production of this under-told story.
National Cherry Blossom Festival – March 20 – April 16
DC celebrates the blooming of cherry trees with a month-long festival commemorating the 1912 gift from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city. Peak bloom usually takes place in early April. Check out the the latest festival’s event updates in the lead-up to the celebration.
Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches – March 24 – April 23
One of the great American plays comes to Arena Stage. Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning drama, which has also been adapted into an acclaimed HBO miniseries, will be staged in the round by Hungarian director and filmmaker János Szász. The story concerns two couples struggling to stay together and the trials and tribulations each character faces. Harper and Joe deal with the former’s fears and the latter’s closeted homosexuality; Louis and Prior have to face Prior’s devastating AIDS diagnosis.
My Fair Lady – April 6-9
Lerner and Loewe’s timeless classic receives a lovingly rendered new production from Lincoln Center Theater. Director Bartlett Sher helms this rousing revival that will remind you of how inspiring musical theater can be. Enjoy performances of unforgettable songs like “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “On the Street Where You Live” as you experience the iconic story of Eliza Doolittle.
Les Misérables – April 11-29
Back in 1986, the Kennedy Center hosted the pre-Broadway run of what has become one of the most popular musicals of all time. And in the spring of 2023, Les Mis comes home. Seen by more than 130 million people worldwide, this brilliant new interpretation of the classic production tells an epic story of love, passion, redemption and survival set in 19th-century France.
Disney’s Aladdin – April 19-30
The hit Broadway musical, adapted from the classic Disney film, comes to the historic National Theatre in DC. One lamp and three wishes launch an outstanding production filled with beloved songs, gut-busting comedy, gorgeous set design and magical carpet rides. Bring the entire family to this majestic show.
Passport DC – May 1-31
A month of programming across the city focuses on showcasing DC’s international culture. The Around the World Embassy Tour (May 6) and the European Union Open House (May 13) are annual highlights. Most events and tours can be enjoyed entirely free of charge.
Capital Pride – June 2-11
Each year, local nonprofit Capital Pride hosts an array of exciting events and 2023 will be no different. There will be plenty of ways to show the community love in June. Last year’s attractions included a Pridemobile Parade and a Taste of Pride brunch, in addition to the yearly concert and festival. Event dates and details will be announced in the coming months.
Hadestown – June 6-18
Winner of eight Tony Awards in 2019 (including Best Musical), Hadestown is a vibrant musical experience that blends two mythic tales into a hair-raising voyage into the underworld. Expect an energetic ensemble of dancers and singers as your imagination is swept up in the tales of Orpheus and Eurydice and King Hades and his wife, Persephone.
Awesome Con – June 16-18
More than 70,000 fans can see their favorite stars from comics, films, TV, toys and games throughout Awesome Con, a three-day festival that is Washington, DC’s own Comic Con. Expect plenty of costumed attendees and an array of activities to enjoy during one of the city’s most vibrant annual events.
Disney’s The Lion King – June 21 – July 29
The film sensation that became a phenomenon on stage returns to Washington, DC’s most prestigious venue. Disney’s The Lion King has been experienced by more than 100 million people around the world and has won six Tony Awards. The iconic musical features the classic songs of Elton John and Tim Rice woven into the breathtaking tale of Simba and his adventures. The family-friendly masterpiece will be a highlight of the summer.
Giant National Capital Barbecue Battle – June 24-25
Everyone’s favorite barbecue-flavored event has been held in DC for more than 30 years. Pitmasters from all 50 states, local restaurants and live music shut down Pennsylvania Avenue between 3rd and 7th streets NW for a lively, two-day street party. Cooking demos and free tastings make for a savory (and filling) experience.
1776 – June 27 – July 16
See a Tony-Award winning musical completely reimagined at the Kennedy Center. The new take on 1776 re-examines the critical moment in American history with a cast that includes actors who identify as female, non-binary and trans and represent a multitude of races and ethnicities. John Adams’ efforts to convince his peers to vote for American independence is chronicled through sweeping musical numbers and inspiring speeches.
Smithsonian Folklife Festival – June 28 – July 4, July 6-9
A summer tradition like none other, the Folklife Festival is a warm weather calling card for the District. The free international cultural festival held on the National Mall spotlights various nations and communities every year and also features immersive exhibits, live music, cooking demos and a lively marketplace.
The Play That Goes Wrong – July 18 – Aug. 12
Prepare to laugh your way through one of the funniest whodunits ever staged. The Play That Goes Wrong is the opening night of The Murder at Haversham Manor. What goes wrong, you ask? Well, plenty, including an unconscious lead actress, actors who can’t walk or talk straight and a corpse that has trouble doing its job. Expect a manic and hilarious evening at the Kennedy Center.
Otakon – July 28-30
Otakon is held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and just might be the dedicated event space’s liveliest function all year long. The family-friendly convention is run by and dedicated to fans of Asian media, entertainment and pop culture, including anime, manga, music, movies and video games. The festivities range from cosplay contests, skits and live music to panel discussions with comic book (super)heroes, for-sale artworks and more.
Citi Open – July 31 – Aug. 6
The District’s signature professional tennis tournament will return to Rock Creek Park Tennis Center for its 54th edition in 2023. Top-tier talent from all over the world will compete for a prestigious trophy, leading to back-and-forth action that you do not want to miss.
Moulin Rouge! The Musical! – Aug. 2 – Sept. 24
Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! captivated audiences and critics upon its arrival in theaters in 2001, signifying the beginning of a new era of Hollywood musicals. Of course, Luhrmann’s creation translates well to the stage, and the Kennedy Center will host Tony Award-winning director Alex Timbers’ adaptation this coming August. Filled with glitz, glamour and plenty of grandeur, the play is sure to electrify audiences with its stirring arrangements and dance numbers.
DC JazzFest – Sept. 1-4
The ultimate American art form comes to DC stages with leading artists from all over the world during this annual festival. Performances, which take place across the city, are both free and ticketed. Check out a 2022 recap and psych yourself up for what promises to be an even bigger celebration in 2023.
Adams Morgan Day – Mid-September
The longest-running neighborhood festival in the District will celebrate 45 years in 2023. The lively 18th Street will be buzzing with music, food vendors, for-sale artwork and family-friendly activities. Celebrate one of DC’s liveliest, most diverse neighborhoods with this day-long extravaganza that is led by volunteers and showcases the businesses, artists and organizations that make up Adams Morgan.
Walkingtown DC – Late September
Cultural Tourism DC showcases the incredible walkability of the nation’s capital during Walkingtown DC, a free, week-long public tour program. In total, dozens of guided walking tours are held throughout the District, including neighborhood showcases, themed excursions, historical journeys and many more. Historians, licensed tour guides, community leaders and business owners, among others, host these adventures that will take you to both well-known and hidden gems across DC.
The reopened National Museum of Women in the Arts – Fall 2023
The only museum solely dedicated to highlighting women artists will reopen its doors with improved interior and exterior spaces, new mechanical systems, enhanced amenities and accessibility, enlarged gallery space and additional research and education space.
Mark Rothko: Paintings on Paper – Nov. 19 – March 31, 2024
Known for his abstract paintings on canvas (some of which can be seen at the Phillips Collection in DC), Mark Rothko also crafted more than 1,000 paintings on paper over the course of his illustrious, decades-long career. The National Gallery of Art will showcase more than 100 of these tableaus, many of which will be on view to the public for the first time, making for a unique opportunity to see new work from one of the most important artists of the 20th century.
Downtown Holiday Market – Late November – Mid-December
DC’s free-to-frequent downtown bazaar is centrally located in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. The beloved market stretches across two blocks of F Street between 7th and 9th streets. Scope out eclectic wares from dozens of pop-up tents with seasonally flavored music performed live in the background. Locally roasted coffee and crafted-before-your-eyes mini-doughnuts inspire a cold-weather appetite, creating a holiday atmosphere you won’t find anywhere else in the city.
National Menorah Lighting – Dec. 7
Chanukah kicks off with this lighting ceremony of the world’s largest menorah on the White House Ellipse, which greets all with latkes, doughnuts, menorah kits and dreidels. Music from the United States Navy Band will add a soundtrack to the scene. As is the custom, a new candle is illuminated on each of the eight days of Chanukah.
National Christmas Tree Lighting – Early December
The National Christmas Tree is DC’s claim to fame during the holidays, and for good reason. The gorgeous conifer lives in President’s Park on the White House Ellipse, where it's surrounded by trees decorated with handmade ornaments from 56 U.S. states and territories and is accompanied by nightly musical performances throughout the holiday season. The display is free to visit.