In Alexandria, the most wonderful time of the year brings out the best of our city’s historic streets—store windows sparkle with festive displays, Old Town homes boast seasonal greenery and the mayor and Santa Claus will light Alexandria’s holiday tree in Market Square. From the Scottish Christmas Walk Parade to Waterskiing Santa, Alexandria is packed full of authentic holiday traditions, old and new in 2016. So good tidings! We’ve got the top 10 highlights of Alexandria’s most magical season right here.
1. Holiday Magic on Historic King Street
Image credit: M. Enriquez for Visit Alexandria
Take a stroll down King Street in Old Town this holiday season and you will find yourself in a winter wonderland, with twinkling trees, glowing storefronts and evergreen wreaths gracing Old Town doorsteps. Trust me, you’ll be humming holiday jingles for days.
2. The Scottish Christmas Walk Parade
Image credit: M. Chenet for Visit Alexandria
If you like Scottie dogs, bagpipes or Scottish clans in tartan (who doesn’t?), you’re in luck. The Scottish Christmas Walk Parade on December 3, 2016, floods Old Town with Scottish-style merry-making and salutes Alexandria’s Scottish heritage. Lads and lassies, time to wave your plaid flag high!
3. The Holiday Boat Parade of Lights
Image credit: R. Kennedy for Visit Alexandria
After the Scottish Christmas Walk Parade is over on December 3, 2016, the fun doesn’t stop in Old Town. That evening, more than 50 illuminated ships will light up Alexandria’s harbor as they cruise the Potomac. The boats are dressed to impress a panel of judges who will award prizes in a dozen categories including Best in Show, Thinking Outside the Christmas Box, and Hardiest Souls.
4. Shop Small All Season Long
Image credit: M. Chenet for Visit Alexandria
Alexandria is the DC region’s Shop Small Headquarters all season long. It’s also an alternative Black Friday Experience and festive Small Business Saturday. With the highest concentration of independent shops in the DC region, Old Town has the one-of-a-kind gifts you’re looking for, whether it’s handcrafted jewelry, artisanal olive oil, local art or diamond collars for your diva dog. Starting on Small Business Saturday, Random Acts of Holiday Cheer will surprise shoppers every Saturday through Christmas Eve, including prizes, swag bag giveaways and carolers spreading joy to shoppers throughout Old Town. New this year, 116 King is a holiday pop-up shop collaboration with Skinny Dip Nantucket that brings fresh and emerging designers from around the country to Old Town. 116 King opens on November 10th and is open every day from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
5. Christmas at George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Image Credit: Courtesy of Mount Vernon
Did you know that in December 1787, George Washington paid 18 shillings to bring a camel to Mount Vernon to entertain his guests? Now that’s a Founding Father who knew how to throw a party! This holiday season you can revisit George Washington’s 18th century Christmas fete at Mount Vernon and dance period jigs, tour the rarely-seen third floor of the mansion and meet Aladdin the camel. For more holiday-themed fun at Mount Vernon, including Christmas Illuminations and Mount Vernon by Candlelight, click here.
6. Waterskiing Santa
Image Credit: Nick Eckert
Celebrating its 32nd anniversary, this favorite DC-area Christmas Eve event comes to Old Town Alexandria for the third year. Gather at Alexandria’s Potomac River waterfront for a spectacular show by the Waterskiing Santa and his wakeboarding reindeer, plus flying elves, the Grinch and his friends, Frosty the Snowman and Jack Frost. The prime viewing area is along the waterfront between King Street and Oronoco Street which includes Founders Park and the Alexandria City Marina.
7. Holiday Dining
Image Credit: Dakota Fine for Columbia Firehouse
After love, generosity and goodwill towards all, food is what the holidays are all about, am I right? Alexandria’s cozy cafés are a cornucopia of festive eats and cups of holiday cheer, from hot chocolate to mulled wine and more. Some are even open on major holidays.
8. Historic Alexandria Candlelight Tours
Image Credit: Courtesy of Historic Alexandria Candlelight Tours
Explore Alexandria’s most famous historic homes—Carlyle House, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, Old Presbyterian Meeting House and Lee-Fendall House—by candlelight in these tours , with seasonal spirits and period-themed food.
9. Holiday Markets
Image credit:Chris Vinh
Handcrafted wares made by local artisans abound at Alexandria’s lively holiday markets. At the Alexandria Holiday Market, you can pick up hand-painted ornaments, handmade jewelry and more, meet and take photos with Santa, sample international dishes like sweet French crepes and German street food, and kick up your heels alongside Irish jig dancers. You can also find unique gifts at the Del Ray Artisans Fine Art and Craft Holiday Market.
10. New Year’s Eve at First Night Alexandria
Image credit: J Clifford for Visit Alexandria
Get down in Old Town at the 22nd annual First Night, a family-friendly New Year’s Eve party where Alexandria’s coffee shops, stores, hotels and museums turn into performance venues for 175 live shows and fireworks light up the Potomac. The afternoon’s Eigth Annual Fun Hunt is joined by activities for couples and families. Don’t forget to share all your First Night selfies on Instagram with #ALXFirstNight.
For more information about the holiday season in Alexandria, click here.
Header image by R. Kennedy for Visit Alexandria