Top 10 Reasons to Visit Alexandria This Holiday Season

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 First Night, Alexandria is packed full of authentic holiday traditions, old and new in 2017. 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

king_street_lights_masonic_temple_credit_m_enriquez_for_visit_alexandria_720x480_72_rgbImage 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. Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend

img_7156v2-3_scottish_walk_bagpipes_credit_matt_chenet_for_visit_alexandria_720x480_72_rgbImage 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 2, 2017, floods Old Town with Scottish-style merry-making and salutes Alexandria’s Scottish heritage. Lads and lassies, time to wave your plaid flag high! The parade is part of a weekend of festivities presented by The Campagna Center which includes the Taste of Scotland scotch tasting (December 1), a holiday Heather and Greens sale, Holiday Designer Tour of Homes (December 2). The following weekend features Deck the Halls with Santa, a whimsical children’s event (December 9). Events of the Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend are presented by and 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: R. Kennedy for Visit Alexandria

After the Scottish Christmas Walk Parade is over on December 2, 2017, the fun doesn’t stop in Old Town. That evening, dozens of illuminated boats will light up Alexandria’s harbor as they cruise the Potomac River in one of the region’s most beloved traditions. 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. Washington, D.C. media personality Tommy McFly of 94.7 Fresh FM will serve as the parade announcer while the Fresh FM Street Team presents music, games and prizes on the dock from 5 to 7 p.m. Santa Claus will arrive by fireboat at the Alexandria City Marina before the parade at 3 p.m. and will walk to the Torpedo Factory Art Center where he will meet with children until 6 p.m. Parade-goers are invited to step in to the Torpedo Factory Art Center which will be open until 9 p.m. with its annual Holiday Festival from 2 to 6 p.m. Shop for handmade artful gifts while exploring open studios and meeting artists. Kids can also scout for art with a building-wide scavenger hunt before and after taking photos with Santa. Special performances at the art center include appearances by the Alexandria Choral Society Pro Coro and the Silver 5 Brass Quintet. The Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights is part of a Potomac River holiday tradition with the District’s Holiday Boat Parade taking place the same evening at 7 p.m. at The Wharf in Washington, D.C.

4. Shop Small All Season Long

Image credit: M.Enriquez for Visit Alexandria

Alexandria is the DC region’s Shop Small headquarters all season long. 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. It’s also an alternative Black Friday experience and festive Small Business Saturday. New this year, on November 26, 2017, nine Alexandria museums will be participating in nationwide Museum Store Sunday, offering unique and historically inspired gifts with special offers, seasonal refreshments and more. 116 King Holiday Pop Up is back for a second year featuring emerging designers among 30 upscale fashion and lifestyle brands.

5. Christmas at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

old-town-alexandria-holidays-things-to-do-mount-vernonImage 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, dance period jigs and meet Aladdin the camel. Check out more holiday-themed fun at Mount Vernon, including Christmas Illuminations and Mount Vernon by Candlelight here.

6. Santa Experiences

Image Credit: Nick Eckert
This year there are more ways than ever to have an experience with Santa in Alexandria! Regional favorite Waterskiing Santa returns to the D.C. area for the 32nd year and Old Town Alexandria for the fourth time. Gather at Alexandria’s Potomac River waterfront for a spectacular show by the Waterskiing Santa and his wake boarding reindeer, plus flying elves, the Grinch and his friends, and more. Prime viewing area is along the waterfront between King Street and Oronoco Street, which includes Founders Park and the Alexandria City Marina.
Santa will also make a special appearance at the city’s annual Holiday Tree Lighting ceremony on November 24, 2017 at 6 p.m. You can catch Santa at 11 a.m. on Small Business Saturday, November 25, 2017, when he will stroll upper King Street as he plays the bagpipes and spreads holiday cheer. Additionally, on Saturday, December 2, 2017, Santa Claus will ride in the Scottish Christmas Walk parade at 11 a.m. Later that afternoon, prior to the Holiday Boat Parade of Lights, Santa will arrive by fireboat at the Alexandria City Marina at 3 p.m., then walk to the Torpedo Factory Art Center where he will meet with children until 6 p.m. during the art center’s Holiday Festival.
You may reserve a time for photos with the region’s most beloved Santa and Mrs. Claus at Hooray for Books! on Sunday, December 17. Act fast because space is limited! To reserve a spot, call or visit Hooray for Books! and buy a gift card from the shop in any denomination, for staff to select books, toys, and games to donate to local causes. 

7. Holiday Dining

ColumbiaFirehouse_CREDIT_Dakota_Fine_for_ColumbiaFirehouse9_720x480_72_RGBImage 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 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.

8. Historic Alexandria Candlelight Tours

carlyle-houseImage Credit: Courtesy of Historic Alexandria Candlelight Tours

On December 9, 2017, explore Alexandria’s most famous historic homes—Carlyle  House, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, Old Presbyterian Meeting House and Lee-Fendall House—at the annual Historic Alexandria Candlelight Tours, with seasonal spirits and period-themed food. The tours are from 4-9 p.m. and cost $25 for adults, $20 for seniors 65 and older and active military and $5 for children ages 6-17. For tickets, go to and click “Events.”

9. 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 2, 2017 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 22nd 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 Shops of Del Ray Ladies’ Night Out on December 7, 2017 featuring special promotions and wine at the Shops of Del Ray from 5:30-8:30 p.m. On December 9, 2017, take a break from holiday preparations to enjoy specialty cocktails, beer, and food specials at select Del Ray restaurants during a neighborhood bar crawl to benefit nonprofits at the Del Ray Candy Cane Bar Crawl. All of the events in Del Ray are free to attend.

10. New Year’s Eve at First Night Alexandria

old-town-alexandria-holidays-things-to-do-new-years-eve-first-nightImage 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. Alexandria’s coffee shops, stores, hotels and museums turn into performance venues for 150 live shows and a spectacular fireworks finale lights up the Potomac at midnight. The afternoon’s Ninth 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