Packed Suitcase | A Holiday Day Trip to the National Harbor
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A Holiday Day Trip to the National Harbor

A Holiday Day Trip to the National Harbor

Holidays at the National Harbor- Tree and Capital Wheel


Trip Overview: When it comes to decking the halls for the holidays, few local destinations do it better than the National Harbor. Located in Oxen Hill, Maryland, the 300 acre-development features hotels, restaurants, shops and the sleek, eye-catching Capital Wheel ferris wheel. But from late November through December is when the Harbor shines the brightest, with spectacular decorations, attractions and event for holiday-lovers of all ages during the Christmas on the Potomac event.

Time needed: 4 hours
(TIP: Plan to be there in the evening… there are some spectacular nightly events you won’t want to miss!)

Distance from DC: Around 20 miles, roundtrip

Best suited for: Families with children, though people of all ages will enjoy this itinerary.


A Holiday Day Trip to the National Harbor

1.) Experience ICE! at the Gaylord National

Start your day at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, at ICE!, a 9-degree ice sculpture display featuring 2 million pounds of hand-carved ice. Upon arriving, each guest is given a warm parka– a good thing since the pavilion featuring the sculptures are kept at a chilly 9 degrees!

Holidays at the National Harbor- me inside Ice tunnel

I came prepared with a hat and gloves… but even with the parka I felt the chill of ICE’s 9 degrees!


This year’s ICE! features scenes from the classic television special, “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” This was one of my favorite things to watch during the holidays when I was a child, and I loved seeing how the ice artists interpreted scenes from the show– complete with a town square with the no-fun Burgermeister Meisterburger, the moment when the Winter Warlock became a good guy, and when Kris Kringle married Jessica in the woods.

Holidays at the National Harbor- Ice Display

Burgermeister Meisterburger… love him!


Holidays at the National Harbor- Ice Display 2

Kris Kringle teaches the Winter Warlock how easy it is to become nice– you just put one foot in front of the other! (I love that song <blush>)


Gaylord National- ICE

A town square made of ice!


Also not to be missed is a chance to slide down one of ICE’s 2-story ice slides… believe me when I say it is SO much fun!


2.) Explore the Gaylord’s “Village of the North Pole” 

After ICE!, warm up with a cup of hot chocolate as you explore the Gaylord’s “Village of the North Pole.” Here you can shop for holiday-themed gifts, take a ride on a carousel, begin an Elf on a Shelf Scavenger Hunt that takes you throughout the Gaylord’s expansive property, get your photo taken with Santa and even decorate a gingerbread house that you can take home with you!

Gaylord National- Village of the North Pol

A Christmas explosion!


Holidays at the National Harbor- Gingerbread House Decorating 2

Decorating a gingerbread house


Holidays at the National Harbor- Elf on a Shelf Scavenger Hunt

Throughout the Gaylord National, you may spot little vignettes featuring the Elf on a Shelf. It’s all a part of a fun scavenger hunt that’s harder than it might seem!


Holidays at the National Harbor- Santa at the Gaylord

Kids can have their photo taken with Santa underneath the Gaylord’s suspended Christmas Tree


3.) Take a ride on the Capital Wheel

One of National Harbor’s most popular attractions is the Capital Wheel, a 180′ observation wheel offering beautiful views of neighboring DC and Alexandria, VA. During the holidays, the private, enclosed gondolas (which accommodate parties up to 8 people each) had popular Christmas tunes playing and staff that would wave as you’d pass by during the 12-ish minute-long ride… a merry time, indeed!

Holidays at the National Harbor- scenic view of Capital Wheel 2

A beautiful December day at the National Harbor


Holidays at the National Harbor- Capital Wheel pod

One of the 8-person gondolas on the Capital Wheel


Holidays at the National Harbor- View from the Capital Wheel

View from atop the Capital Wheel


4.) Enjoy holiday merriment throughout the National Harbor shopping area

During the Christmas season, you’ll find holiday-themed activities throughout the National Harbor shopping area. On the afternoon of my visit, a giant screen broadcast the movie “Frozen,” entertaining families on a particularly warm December day. A peek at the Harbor’s calendar shows that every Saturday from Thanksgiving to Christmas is full with the following events:

  • 12-2pm: Santa Claus at The Carousel
  • 12-5pm: Holiday Market (Saturday & Sunday)
  • 1pm: Live Holiday Music
  • 2pm: Holiday Movies on the Plaza
  • 2-4pm: Santa Claus on The Capital Wheel

Also not to be missed is the Harbor’s 64-foot Christmas tree — a picture-perfect photo op… especially if you get the Capital Wheel behind it!

Holidays at the National Harbor- beach

The beach at the National Harbor is popular year-round, due to the Awakening sculpture


Holidays at the National Harbor- Frozen outdoor movie

The outdoor movie set-up– lots of room for everyone!

Holidays at the National Harbor- Christmas Tree

The National Harbor’s giant Christmas tree


5.) Head back to the Gaylord National for Happy Hour

The Gaylord National has several restaurants on property, including Pienza Marketplace and the National Pastime Sports Bar. But for happy hour, do yourself a favor and snag a seat at the Belvedere Lobby Bar. Not only does the bar have deliciously boozy cocktails and a good wine list, but it also allows for a spectacular view of the Gaylord’s giant 55-food suspended Christmas Tree and the marketplace below.

And the best part? A seat here puts you in prime position for the nightly holiday show, featuring lights, music and falling indoor snow. Yes, “snow” that falls indoors. Every night. At 6, 7, 8 and 9 on the hour. Don’t miss it!

Holidays at the National Harbor- Belvedere Lobby Bar

A view from the Belvedere Lobby Bar


Gaylord National- Belvedere Bar Cocktail

Cocktail time


6.) Dinner at the Gaylord National’s Old Hickory Steakhouse

For those looking to keep the fun going (and who have a little money to spare), don’t miss a chance to eat at the Gaylord’s fanciest restaurant, the Old Hickory Steakhouse. I was severely underdressed, but the kind staff didn’t even bat an eye. Which is good, because it was here that I had one of the best meals I’ve had all year!

Our table was by the window, overlooking the now-illuminated Capital Wheel. Before we could even blink an eye, our amazing server Lily came over to explain some of restaurant’s best features, which included premium steak and seafood, an extensive wine list, handcrafted cocktails…. and the restaurant’s own Maître d’ Fromage, an expert in all things cheese that helps you craft an epic cheese plate that’s suited to your particular palate.

From the cheese plate, to the attentive service, to the steaks, to the view, a meal here is a surefire way to have an incredible end to an incredible day.

Holidays at the National Harbor- Old Hickory Steakhouse

Check out the incredible view from our table– wow!


Holidays at the National Harbor- Maitre d'Fromage

Learning about each of these cheeses– it’s all part of the Maître d’ Fromage experience


Holidays at the National Harbor- Old Hickory Steakhouse Cheese Plate

The finished product… it was even better than it looks! (A plate of 6 cheeses: $30)


Holidays at the National Harbor- Old Hickory Steakhouse Filet and Crab

Perhaps the most decadent meal I’ve ever had: 8 oz. Filet topped with lump crab meat and bearnaise sauce. Unbelievably delicious. ($53)


Holidays at the National Harbor- Old Hickory Steakhouse Bourbon milkshake

Ending the day on a sweet note with a toasted marshmallow bourbon milkshake. OMG!


And for my last parting shot, here is a little video I created about my visit– enjoy! 


  • Marie
    Posted at 06:58h, 18 December

    How I love harbor. Surely the kids will enjoy spending holiday in a place like this. One’s inner kid sensation will surely outburst.

  • Marie
    Posted at 05:04h, 26 December

    I agree about the cheeses. Really looks good once it is in plate. How I love the outdoor movie set up,it really is a great place for children to visit.

  • Sahra
    Posted at 16:06h, 13 January

    I love this! I actually went to the Harbor for the first time the first weekend of the New Year! I looooved that the Capital Wheel was heated inside the gondolas <3

    Great to meet you last night!

    XO Sahra
    Que Sera Sahra

  • jim corbett
    Posted at 06:39h, 14 May

    This is the amazing place to visit for a single day visit tour. You can enjoy here by doing all the things available in the national harbor. this is great place to visit for the colleagues of the office. They will enjoy their day here in everything.

  • crys ash
    Posted at 14:16h, 28 May

    Where can I get the toasted marshmallow bourbon milkshake. OMG!