Celebrate the season with style in Washington, D.C.
A Capital Holiday
In front of the White House, the National Christmas Tree stands as a sparkling testament to the spirit of the season.

Washington, D.C., is never more inviting than at Christmastime. It seems as if the whole city is ready to set aside business and make merry during the holiday season. There's no shortage of things for visitors to do either. The arts season is in full swing; plus, the city's fine hotels, restaurants, and shopping venues have decked their halls with seasonal finery. So what are you waiting for? Head to D.C. for a star-spangled holiday.

Fun on Friday
This time of year, we prefer a hotel close to the White House. There are several chains nearby, but if you want to splurge, check in to the elegant Willard Inter-Continental. The grand Beaux Arts-style hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue served as the temporary home for 10 Presidents and stood as a silent witness to many of history's pivotal moments. Rates for a standard room start at $199; (202) 628-9100.

After you've settled in, put on your walking shoes, and head for the United States Botanic Garden at the base of the Capitol. Poinsettias and Christmas greenery brighten the newly renovated conservatory. A spin around the ice-skating rink at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden is guaranteed to put you in the holiday spirit.

At dusk, walk to the Ellipse in front of the White House where the National Christmas Tree stands. Unless you live in D.C., you probably won't get a seat at the Christmas Pageant of Peace concert and tree-lighting ceremony on December 5. No matter. The Colorado blue spruce stays lit throughout the holiday season, and local musical groups perform each evening from 6 to 8:30 p.m. through the end of December, except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Eve.

For dinner, walk to Ten Penh, an Asian-Pacific-flavored restaurant named for its location on the corner of 10th and Pennsylvania. Innovative dishes include Red Thai Curry Shrimp and pork short ribs served with a sweet-and-spicy cucumber relish. When you've cleaned your plate, ask a cabbie to take you to B. Smith's at Union Station for live jazz.

Begin your day at Eastern Market, just south of the Capitol. Your mission is to locate the famous Blue Bucks, buckwheat pancakes topped with blueberries. Arrive early, or you'll wait in line.

Saturday on the Town

Christmas shopping tops the list of today's activities, and your first stop is Union Station. In the East Hall, you'll find favorite retailers, such as Ann Taylor, Nine West, Joseph A. Banks, and Jones New York, among the souvenir shops and boutiques.

Looking for more shopping? Hail a cab, and speed over to M and Wisconsin Streets in Georgetown. Otherwise, walk to The Mall, and spend the afternoon exploring your favorite museum. You can still shop for treasures at the gift stores. Our favorite stocking stuffers are the lovely cards and stationery at the National Gallery of Art.

Start your evening with dinner at the venerable Willard Room. The dining room's rich oak paneling, gold velvet drapes, and plush chairs set the scene for a fine meal. The menu features American cuisine with an international flavor.

No holiday celebration would be complete without a performance of The Nutcracker. The Bolshoi Ballet, Moscow's premier dance company, takes the stage at the Kennedy Center for this holiday favorite (December 11-15; tickets range $45-$110). After the performance, head for the terrace overlooking the Potomac River, and drink in this spectacular view of the city.

If you miss the Bolshoi Ballet, you can still see The Washington Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker, which runs from December 6 to 22 at the Warner Theatre. Tickets are $33-$53.

Sacred Sunday
Resist the temptation to sleep in, and make your way to the awe-inspiring National Cathedral for Sunday services. You'll be welcome here, as the church seeks to be a national house of prayer for all people. Each Sunday, the congregation salutes a different state and prays for its leaders. Call ahead to see when your state is being honored, and plan to participate in the ceremony. Before you leave, stop by the cathedral's gift shop. You'll find gemstone crosses, Christmas music, and replicas of the West Rose Window.

Head back downtown for lunch at Old Ebbitt Grill, one of the oldest institutions in the city. The food is not fancy, but the restaurant draws both tourists and politicos, thanks to its location across from the White House. We like the burger and fries for a quick, simple meal.

Enjoy a timeless tale of redemption at a matinee performance of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol at Ford's Theatre. You'll leave with a smile when Scrooge abandons his miserly ways and Tiny Tim utters his famous line: "God bless us every one."

For more information: Contact the Washington, D. C., Convention and Tourism Corporation, 1212 New York Avenue NW., Suite 600, Washington, DC 20005; 1-800-422-8644 or www.washington.org.