Just minutes from Washington, D.C., Alexandria, Virginia, recently named a Top 5 Best Small City in the U.S. 2018 by the Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards, is filled with nostalgic wonder during the holiday season. In Old Town Alexandria, strolling historic King Street is like being in a real-life Dickens Village, complete with local boutiques and cozy cafés. From The Campagna Center’s Scottish Christmas Walk Parade to First Night fireworks on New Year’s Eve, Alexandria is packed full of authentic holiday traditions, old and new in 2018. So good tidings! We’ve got the top 13 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 along King Street in Old Town this holiday season and you’ll find yourself in a winter wonderland. A canopy of twinkling lights shines above brick-lined sidewalks, beckoning you into chef-driven restaurants tucked into 18th-century buildings while dozens of independent boutiques sparkle with their special finds, from chic fashions and home décor to classic toys and gifts for dogs. Trust me, you’ll be humming holiday jingles for days.
2. Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend
Image Credit: M. Chenet for Visit Alexandria
Kick off one of Alexandria’s most festive weekends with the Scottish Christmas Walk Parade on December 1, 2018. The parade floods Old Town with Scottish-style merry-making and salutes Alexandria’s Scottish heritage. It is part of a weekend of festivities presented by The Campagna Center, which includes the Taste of Scotland scotch tasting (November 30), a holiday Heather and Greens sale (December 1), Holiday Designer Tour of Homes (December 1). Events of the Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend benefit The Campagna Center, a local nonprofit that has provided education and enrichment opportunities to children and adults in Alexandria for nearly 75 years.
3. Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights
Image Credit: E. Michio for Visit Alexandria
After The Campagna Center’s iconic Scottish Christmas Walk Parade is over on December 1, 2018, the fun doesn’t stop in Old Town. That evening, dozens of brightly lit boats cruise the Potomac River for the Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights, which was named a Top 10 Best Holiday Parade by the USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards in 2017. Tommy McFly of TommyShow.com and NBC4 will serve as the parade announcer. Enjoy festivities at the Alexandria City Marina from 4 to 8 p.m., including a pop-up beer garden from Port City Brewing Company featuring their popular seasonal Tidings Ale, a pop-up Vola’s Dockside Grill and giveaways from Lyft, which is also offering 20% off your ride to the Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights with the code HOLIDAYPARADE18!. Take part in a Letters to Santa postcard pop-up from paper goods boutique Penny Post, a DIY holiday wood ornament craft activity from AR Workshop Alexandria and a hot chocolate bar from Dolci Gelati. Parade-goers are invited to step into the Torpedo Factory Art Center, located at the Alexandria City Marina, for their annual holiday festivities from 2 to 8 p.m. The Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights is part of a Potomac River holiday tradition with The District’s Holiday Boat Parade taking place at The Wharf in Washington, D.C. the same evening at 7 p.m.
PRO TIP: The boat parade stretches for a mile along Alexandria’s waterfront, so you can skip the bustling marina to watch from other locations including Founders Park (351 North Union Street), Waterfront Park (1A Prince Street), Shipyard/Harborside Park (1 Wilkes Street), and Ford’s Landing Park (99 Franklin Street).
4. Photos With Santa in Old Town Alexandria – SOLD OUT
Image Credit: R. Kennedy for Visit Alexandria
We regret that time slots for photos with Santa have sold out. Take photos with the region’s most beloved Santa and Mrs. Claus in Old Town Alexandria at Hooray for Books! The King Street Corridor Initiative has partnered with the independently-owned bookstore to present four opportunities to catch photos with Santa on Saturdays, starting on Small Business Saturday, November 24, 2018, and from December 8 through December 22, 2018. Be sure to register in advance for a 10-minute slot for your child to meet with Santa. To register, make any size donation to the special Santa account at Hooray for Books!, which will be used to provide books, toys and games for the Alexandria Domestic Violence Program’s Holiday Party. The photographer from local studio Tisara Photography has been invited to take pictures for you at these events.
5. Shop Small All Season Long
Image Credit: K. Summerer for Visit Alexandria
With the highest concentration of independent shops in the DC area, Alexandria is the region’s Shop Small destination and a one-stop shop for original gifts throughout the holiday season. Relax and enjoy an alternative Black Friday experience on November 23, 2018, with more than 50 local boutiques in Old Town and Del Ray featuring one-of-a-kind deals on designer and coveted merchandise, including home décor, chic fashions, gourmet food, classic toys and gifts for dogs. On Black Friday, the plaid bow marks Old Town Boutique District member stores for those celebrating Plaid Friday. Continue the festivities with Small Business Saturday on November 24, 2018, where boutiques in Old Town and Del Ray will offer special in-store activities. The popular Elf Prize Patrol returns from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. treating shoppers in Old Town and (new this year) Del Ray with surprise giveaways, presented by Visit Alexandria and the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce. Other highlights include free parking at parking meters, pop-up musical performances by The Alexandria Singers and the Alexandria Citizens Band from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m., a postcard pop-up from Penny Post, special activities at the Torpedo Factory Art Center, hands-on arts activities by the Mobile Art Lab and holiday tunes and cheer by DJ Josh Goldman. And the fun doesn’t end there! Visit your favorite historic Alexandria museums for Museum Store Sunday on November 25, 2018, for unique and historically inspired gifts with special offers, seasonal refreshments and more.
6. Portside Holidays
Image Credit: M. Enriquez for Visit Alexandria
Alexandria’s new waterfront programming series, Portside in Old Town, continues this holiday season after launching in the fall. On December 2, don your holiday finest for the Alexandria Holiday Sweater Run, presented by Pacers Running and welcoming runners of all paces. Stick around after the run for Chadwicks’ “Run then Brunch,” starting at 9 a.m. Wear your holiday sweater to receive 20% off your tab. Make sure to register to attend the brunch, as seating is limited. MOVED INDOORS DUE TO WEATHER: On December 15, join the region’s most beloved Santa in the main hall of the Torpedo Factory Art Center for a special storytime that includes a reading of holiday stories like “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Take part in the Penny Post pop-up where you can write a letter to Santa that he will take back with him to the North Pole. Get in the holiday spirit with a special musical performance by the Cantamos children’s ensemble, part of the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra’s Sympatico program. We regret that the indoor event will not include s’mores from The Capital Candy Jar or hot chocolate from Dolci Gelati.
7. Christmas at George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Image Credit: George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Christmas past meets Christmas present at George Washington’s estate. Just as the Washingtons celebrated the holiday with family and friends, visitors can start a new tradition of visiting Mount Vernon this holiday season. Take part in special happenings including Mount Vernon by Candlelight tours (November 23, 24, & 30; December 1, 7, 8, 16) and Christmas Illuminations at Mount Vernon (December 14 and 15, 2018) featuring fireworks choreographed to holiday music. More holiday activities include the Howlidays at Mount Vernon Photo Station for dogs (December 1, 2018), ongoing holiday-themed tours, chocolate and pie-making demonstrations, special activities for kids, and visits with Aladdin the Christmas Camel.
8. Waterskiing Santa
Image Credit: Nick Eckert
Now in its 33rd year, this favorite D.C.-area Christmas Eve event returns to Old Town Alexandria on December 24, 2018, at 1 p.m. Gather along historic Alexandria’s Potomac River waterfront for a spectacular show by Waterskiing Santa and his merry crew. The prime viewing area with music and announcements is Waterfront Park (1A Prince St.), with more great views from the Alexandria City Marina (0 Cameron St.), Founders Park (351 N. Union St.), and Point Lumley Park (1 Duke St.). Come early to see the pre-show (on jet skis). Gather at the Alexandria City Marina after the show to meet Santa, Mrs. Claus and their merry crew at the gazebo near Blackwall Hitch.
9. Live Performances
Image Credit: The Little Theatre of Alexandria
Live performances are a holiday tradition in Alexandria, with theater performances like the annual classic, “Christmas at the Old Bull & Bush” at MetroStage from November 20 through December 23, 2018, and “A Christmas Carol” at The Little Theatre of Alexandria from November 30 through December 16, 2018. Join the Alexandria Singers for its annual pops concert weekend on December 7 and 8, 2018. Believe: Our Holiday Pops Concert features a mix of pop and jazz arrangements of traditional holiday classics with new tunes. The Alexandria After-Work Concert Series is a free live performance at the Alexandria History Museum at The Lyceum on December 14, 2018, featuring an illustrated lecture on Christmas traditions reflected in songs. Also at The Lyceum, the Colonial Handbell Ringers Concert on December 16, 2018, is a local favorite, with performers clad in colonial attire.
10. Holidays in Del Ray
Image Credit: M. Enriquez for Visit Alexandria
You can kick off the holidays in Del Ray at Holiday on the Avenue on December 1, 2018, with the annual holiday tree lighting, a visit from Santa Claus, carols and more. The event is free and starts at 6 p.m. in Pat Miller Neighborhood Square at Mount Vernon Ave and E. Oxford Avenue. For the 23rd year, the Del Ray Artisans’ Holiday Market is a can’t-miss free event for crafts-lovers, open for the first three weekends in December. The market offers unique handmade fine arts and fine crafts from local artists including pottery, photography, jewelry, fiber, paper crafts, glass and more. The holiday fun in Del Ray continues with the Del Ray Holiday Pop-Up Market on December 2, 2018, featuring local artists and at-home entrepreneurs. On December 6, 2018, the Shops of Del Ray’s Ladies’ Night Out features special promotions and wine at the Shops of Del Ray from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. On December 8, 2018, take a break from the holiday preparations to enjoy specialty cocktails, beer, and food specials at select Del Ray restaurants during a neighborhood bar crawl to benefit local nonprofits during the Del Ray Candy Cane Bar Crawl.
11. Historic Holidays
Image Credit: Carlyle House
Alexandria is filled with historic holiday events for the whole family, starting with Friendship Firehouse Museum’s Kids’ Krafts Day on November 17, 2018, with hands-on crafts and ornament projects inspired by early firefighting history. On December 1, 2018, families can enjoy Story Time for Little Historians at the Alexandria Black History Museum, featuring cultural stories and creative craft activities. Also on December 1, 2018, kids can get hands-on with history and make a special gift at the Ship Biscuit Ornament Making workshop at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum, with another chance to make ornaments during First Night on December 31, 2018. On December 8, 2018, visitors can join the Alexandria Black History Museum for the How to Celebrate Kwanzaa Workshop including the history of the holiday, crafts, games, gifts, recipes and holiday decorating. Civil War Christmas in Camp at Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site is also on December 8, 2018, includes kids activities and Civil War Christmas traditions. On the evening of December 8, 2018, the Historic Alexandria Candlelight Tours take visitors through centuries of local holiday history. And on December 15, 2018, A Victorian Christmas will offer visitors a special chance to tour Lee-Fendall House while it is beautifully decorated for the holidays, with crafts, photographs with Santa, seasonal treats, story time, an antique toy exhibit and more.
12. Seasonal Dining
Image Credit: K. Summerer for Visit Alexandria
After love, generosity and goodwill towards all, food is what the holidays are all about, am I right? Alexandria’s cozy cafés and bustling restaurants 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 such as Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas day and New Year’s day.
13. New Year’s Eve at First Night
Image Credit: J Clifford for Visit Alexandria
Get down in Old Town at the 23rd annual First Night Alexandria, the largest family-friendly New Year’s Eve party in the region with a spectacular fireworks performance at midnight. Alexandria’s coffee shops, stores, hotels and museums turn into performance venues for 150 performances at 25 warm indoor venues. The afternoon’s 10th Annual Fun Hunt is joined by activities for couples and families, including the “Kids Karnival” at Charles Houston (Old Town), William Ramsay (West End) and Mount Vernon (Del Ray) Recreation Centers. There will be face painting, balloons, special hosts in costumes along with carnival styled games, dancing and fun. Join us for dancing on King Street near the waterfront beginning at 10 p.m. This safe, family-friendly and fun-filled day culminates with a spectacular First Night fireworks finale over the Potomac River at midnight.
For more information about the holiday season in Alexandria, click here.
Header image by K. Summerer for Visit Alexandria