How To: Enjoy Autumn in Washington D.C.

By: Maxine Sheppard

October 1, 2012


Autumn in Washington D.C. is always a great time for a city break, but never more so than in an election year when the atmosphere is truly buzzing. Over the coming weeks, as the campaign for the White House reaches fever pitch, you’ll find a city awash with fall colours, foodie festivals, Halloween festivities and an exciting line-up of cultural events…


Fall into the creative arts


The new season is well and truly underway, with most of D.C.’s museums, theatres and galleries presenting new shows and exhibitions, from the classical to the avant-garde.


You can still catch the beautiful Deep Element: Photography at the Beach exhibition at the esteemed Corcoran Gallery (which predates even NYC’s Met Museum) until 14 October, followed by On the Campaign Trail (starts 17 October), an examination of the visual imagery of election campaigns.


At the National Museum of Women in the Arts, a new exhibition displays exclusive items from some of pop’s famous female icons including Cher and Madonna. Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power explores the achievements of women in international pop culture with over 250 artefacts and performance videos, including Lady Gaga’s infamous meat dress and childhood piano, handwritten lyrics by Janet Jackson and Madonna, and a whole range of clothing, instruments, dressing room notes and concert posters.


Sticking to a female theme, the First Ladies exhibition at the National Museum of American History explores the cultural importance of the position of first lady, and looks at the way subsequent women have shaped the role to suit their contribution to the nation. Part of the display includes a collection of gowns from the Smithsonian’s collection, including ones worn by Lou Hoover, Jacqueline Kennedy and Michelle Obama.


Over at the Kennedy Center, War Horse finally comes to town for a limited run (23 Oct – 11 Nov) and St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Ballet presents Cinderella from 16 – 21 October. For more contemporary theatre, check out the calendar of performances at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and Signature Theatre.

Families, foodies and festivals


FotoWeekDC (9 – 18 Nov) is a citywide photography festival featuring the best in fine art, journalism and commercial photography. There are dozens of events and exhibitions including collections from National Geographic, Reporters without Borders and the Pulitzer Center. Visiting European families can feel close to home at the Kids Euro Festival (17 Oct – 13 Nov) with free performances, workshops, storytelling, cinema and puppetry from the 27 EU member states.


The annual Taste of DC takes place from 6 – 8 October and is the largest food, beer and music festival in the area. The event hosts more than 50 local restaurants and over 30 national and international beers along a downtown stretch of historic Pennsylvania Avenue between 9th and 14th streets NW. A few weeks later (3 – 4 Nov), the two-day Metropolitan Cooking & Entertainment Show features hundreds of exhibitors and vendors, tastings, cooking demonstrations, and workshops.

Halloween happenings


There are plenty of spooky shenanigans going down in Washington D.C. at the end of October. The National Air and Space Museum‘s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center will be hosting its annual Air & Scare day (27 Oct) so tiny tots can dress up and experience safe indoor trick or treating, take part in creepy science experiments and pose for photos with their favourite Star Wars characters.


Design and decorate your very own Haunted Halloween Pop Up House at the National Building Museum (28 Oct) or take part in one of the two Halloween Ghost Tours (28 Oct and 31 Oct) to experience a scarier side of the museum on this ‘ghost-led’ lantern-lit tour.

The Smithsonian National Zoological Park‘s annual Halloween event is Boo at the Zoo, from 26 – 28 October. The event includes lots of tasty treats, animal encounters, a keeper talk and plenty of costumed guests to keep your little ones amused/terrified. For kids aged 2 – 12.


Slightly less fluffy is the adults-only Fright at the Museum – Dead Men Walking at the Crime Museum (selected times between 19 – 31 October), a genuinely scary tour featuring a number of ‘ghosts’ of the victims of Tennessee’s electric chair…

Colours of autumn


Washington D.C. offers one of the nation’s best opportunities for urban fall foliage viewing. Some of the best places to experience the changing colours are along the National Mall, the peaceful Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens in the city’s north eastern corner, on Theodore Roosevelt Island in the Potomac, and at various points along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. One of our favourite walks in the city is to pick up the canal towpath in Georgetown and just wander alongside the old brick warehouses and townhouses for a couple of miles.


Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens, Washington DC © NCinDC Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens, Washington D.C. © NCinDC

Add more to your Washington wishlist with our best free things to do in D.C., our favourite D.C. museum and some of the city’s quirkier attractions, Virgin Atlantic operates flights to Washington D.C. from London Heathrow. Visit Virgin Holidays for a range of Washington D.C. hotels and Capital Region holidays.

Header photo © Porschellin


Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the co-editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.

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