Experience holiday magic on historic streets in Alexandria, Virginia, located just minutes from Washington, D.C. Recognized by Oprah Magazine as one of the Most Magical Christmas Towns Across the World in 2019 and by Southern Living as the Perfect Southern Town for a Hallmark Christmas Movie in 2019, visitors feel transported by an old fashioned sense of holiday wonder on Old Town Alexandria’s centuries-old brick-lined streets, twinkling with holiday traditions and magical events. From iconic, fireworks-filled annual events to Insta-worthy scenery in Old Town and beyond, keep reading to see our top reasons to visit Alexandria this holiday season.
1. Holiday Magic Along Historic King Street
In historic Old Town Alexandria, twinkling lights shine in the trees above brick-lined streets and dozens of independent boutiques welcome you with greenery at their doorsteps. Take a stroll down King Street and transport into a real-life Dickens Village as you pass lantern-lit doorways and pop into buzzing shops and eateries. On November 23, 2019, see the city sparkle during the annual Tree Lighting in front of City Hall, with a welcome by the Town Crier, musical performances and an appearance from Santa and Mrs. Claus.
2. 49th Annual Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend & Parade
Join the revelry of Alexandria’s biggest holiday weekend with The Campagna Center’s 49th Annual Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend & Parade December 6-7, 2019. The parade on Saturday at 11 a.m. floods Old Town with Scottish-style merry-making and salutes Alexandria’s Scottish heritage with bagpipers, Scottie dogs and more. It is part of a weekend of festivities presented by The Campagna Center, which includes the Taste of Scotland Scotch tasting (December 6), a holiday Heather and Greens Sale (December 6 and 7), Holiday Homes Tour (December 7). 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. 20th Anniversary Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights
Old Town Alexandria’s historic waterfront will shine for the 20th Anniversary Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights on Saturday, December 7, 2019 at 5:30 p.m. as dozens of brightly lit boats cruise along one mile of the Potomac River shoreline. Enjoy dockside festivities from 2 to 8 p.m. in Waterfront Park, including a pop-up beer garden from Port City Brewing Company and holiday music and giveaways from 97.1 WASH-FM. Take part in hands-on activities including a Letters to Santa postcard station from paper goods boutique Penny Post, a holiday craft activity from AR Workshop Alexandria and a bookmark making station from Old Town Books. Enjoy polpette (Italian meatballs) from Pizzeria Paradiso and a hot chocolate bar from Dolci Gelati. On the Alexandria City Marina, Riverside Taco Company presents a Parade Day Patio Party with hot cider and bottomless bites included in admission. At 3:30 p.m., Santa and Mrs. Claus will arrive by fireboat at the Alexandria City Marina to take photos with children and families at the annual Torpedo Factory Art Center Holiday Festival.
4. Christmas at Mount Vernon
Holiday programs and tours fill each day with delight at George Washington’s Mount Vernon from November 29 to December 31, 2019. Visitors can tour the mansion, watch 18th-century demonstrations and hear stories of Christmases past from costumed characters. Meet Aladdin the Christmas camel and commemorate your holiday visit with a photo at the selfie station.
During Mount Vernon by Candlelight, enjoy the sounds of the holiday season while viewing spectacular Christmas trees highlighting the lives of the Washingtons in the Ford Orientation Center. Learn about 18th-century holiday traditions during a lantern-lit walk of the historic area, try colonial dancing, warm up with a hot drink by the bonfire and visit an 18th-century soldiers’ winter encampment. Experience Mount Vernon by Candlelight on November 29 and 30, December 6, 7, 13, 14 and 22, 2019.
During Christmas Illuminations on December 20 and 21, 2019, enjoy an evening of family-friendly fun and fireworks choreographed to holiday music. Take a stroll through the estate while being serenaded by local choirs and visiting with re-enactors, from the First Virginia Regiment to Martha Washington herself. Complete any last-minute gift needs at the Shops at Mount Vernon.
5. Immersive Winter Wonderlands
Explore two new winter experiences to boost your holiday cheer to the max. Glide across the ice at Ice & Lights, The Winter Village at Cameron Run. The waterpark will be transformed mid-November through February into a winter wonderland with an ice rink, beautifully lit photo ops, music and more. Snap a photo in the 100’-long photo tunnel, roast a marshmallow at the fire pit, walk through a dazzling Christmas tree and warm up in a toasted igloo.
For the first time, King Street’s The Alexandrian and Jackson 20 will convert their central courtyard into a Winter Wonderland, from November 29, 2019 through January 10, 2020. Enjoy festive cocktails and small bites by a firepit as well as holiday programming from local community partners throughout the season. A percentage of all proceeds will be donated to Children’s National Hospital.
6. Seasonal Shopping Along Enchanting Streetscapes
For a mood-boosting and merry-making holiday shopping experience, stroll Old Town’s enchanting King Street Mile, the largest collection of independent boutiques in the D.C. region. Step inside local shops charmingly decorated for the season and offering curated selections of stationery, vintage barware, sustainable fashion and more. On the day after Thanksgiving, partake in Alexandria’s alternative Black Friday experience, which features more than 40 independent boutiques kicking off the holiday shopping season with one-of-a-kind deals on designer and coveted merchandise, including home décor, chic fashions, gourmet food, classic toys and gifts for dogs. Look for the plaid posters around Old Town and shop at stores participating in Plaid Friday, where you can earn perks and swag as you spend, along with the chance to receive a gift card for dressing in tartaned attire.
Celebrate Small Business Saturday with free parking at meters and boutiques in Old Town Alexandria and Del Ray offering special in-store activities. Stroll historic streets twinkling with holiday traditions as you meet local authors and designers, enjoy special discounts, sip and snack on free treats, enjoy hands-on activities and take home free gifts with purchase. Join in Old Town Business’s Small Business Saturday Scavenger Hunt by shopping and dining at participating businesses and get your map stamped 10 times to be entered to win the grand prize. New this year, enjoy Caroling & Candy Canes, presented by the Alexandria Arts Alliance at the Alexandria Visitor Center. The next day, shop at Alexandria’s premier museums on Museum Store Sunday and enjoy special giveaways and discounts on everything from books to artwork to historic reproductions.
7. Waterskiing Santa
Now in its 34th year, this favorite D.C.-area Christmas Eve event returns to Old Town Alexandria on December 24, 2019, 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 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).
8. Historic Holiday Events
Step back in time for a seasonal celebration at some of Alexandria’s centuries-old sites. During Yuletide by Candlelight, December 14, 2019, partake in festive activities at four historic locales. Dance in the ballroom at Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, warm up by the fire at Carlyle House, craft your own Victorian keepsake at Lee-Fendall House and bring the scent of the holidays home from the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum. Enjoy seasonal decorations, refreshments, discounts and a shuttle between locations.
Earlier in the season, celebrate Christmastide at George Mason’s Gunston Hall on December 7, 2019. Family-friendly daytime activities include Santa in residence, games and crafts, while evening transforms into a romantic holiday experience by candlelight. That same day, after the Scottish Christmas Walk, visit the Soldier’s Christmas free open house at Carlyle House, home of Scottish-born city founder John Carlyle.
At Fort Ward’s Civil War Christmas in Camp on December 14, you’ll find a patriotic Union Santa Claus, reenactors in winter camps celebrating the season, period decorations, fort tours and children’s activities. On December 14 and 15, 2019, partake in A Victorian Christmas at Lee-Fendall House, with traditional décor, holiday crafts, sweet treats, seasonal story time, photos with Santa and more.
9. Cozy Dining Destinations
Step out of the hustle-and-bustle and bask in one of Alexandria’s warm and welcoming chef-driven restaurants decked out for the holiday season. Raise a glass at rollicking Irish pubs, tuck into memorable meals in historic buildings and gather with friends at window-filled spaces with waterfront views. For the ultimate holiday dining experience, settle hearthside by the crackle and glow at one of the city’s restaurants with fireplaces.
10. Festive Live Entertainment
Ring in the season with live shows around town, starting with The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s beloved annual staging of “A Christmas Carol,” running from December 6 to 22, 2019. On December 6 and 7, 2019, join the Alexandria Singers for their annual holiday pops concert weekend as they weave pop and jazz arrangements into holiday classics and new tunes.
On December 10, 2019, hear the Harmonizers acapella chorus at their Old Town Carol Crawl from Market Square to the waterfront, and take in their annual holiday show at Schlesinger Concert Hall on December 21, 2019. Head to the Alexandria’s History Museum at The Lyceum on December 15, 2019, to see a memorable performance from The Colonial English Handbell Ringers as they perform clad in colonial attire with nearly 80 handbells.
11. Del Ray Revelry
During the holidays, Del Ray’s made-for-strolling Mount Vernon Avenue is even merrier than usual. At Holidays on the Avenue, December 8, 2019, see the annual holiday tree and menorah lighting, featuring a special appearance by Santa Claus, who will lead carols and sit for photos with children. See the streetscape illuminated by thousands of luminarias and storefront windows hand-painted for the holidays.
Treat yourself as you take care of seasonal shopping during the Shops of Del Ray’s Ladies’ Night Out on December 12, 2019, enjoying special promotions and sipping wine along the way. At the Candy Cane Bar Crawl on December 14, 2019, savor specialty cocktails, beer and food specials at select Del Ray restaurants to benefit local nonprofits.
12. Photo Ops with Santa
Saint Nick is making the rounds around the city this holiday season, with several opportunities for photo ops. At Hooray for Books!, the region’s most beloved Santa and Mrs. Claus return to take keepsake photos with children on Small Business Saturday, November 30, 2019, and on December 14 and 21, 2019. To reserve a time block for your child, call or visit Hooray for Books! to make any size donation to the bookstore’s special Santa account, which will be used to provide books, toys and games for the Alexandria Domestic Violence Program’s Holiday Party.
For other opportunities for facetime with Kriss Kringle, head to fibre space, one of Alexandria’s signature makers’ boutiques, on November 19, 2019, for a visit and photo with Santa and Mrs. Claus. @home Real Estate is offering free photos with Santa at their Old Town headquarters on December 1, 2019. Visit the Torpedo Factory Art Center’s Holiday Festival before the Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights on December 7, 2019, to snap a photo with Santa and the missus after they arrive by fireboat at 3:30 p.m. Bring your little ones to meet Santa at Del Ray’s Holidays on the Avenue on December 8, 2019, or to Lee-Fendall House’s A Victorian Christmas on December 14 and 15, 2019.
13. Open-Air Artisan Markets
Bundle up and spend an evening in the frosty air perusing Alexandria’s al fresco holiday markets. The inaugural Alexandria Makers Market will debut on November 24, 2019, at Port City Brewing Company, showcasing local creators, makers, designers and crafters, with vendors curated from highly talented artisans located in Alexandria. Enjoy a brew as you stroll between booths and try DIY workshops.
Alexandria’s Holiday Market, The Carlyle Vitality Initiative’s annual signature event, transforms John Carlyle Square into a lively open-air festival, opening with an appearance from Santa and Mrs. Clause and the town crier on December 1 and running through December 6, 2019.
Find the perfect gift at Del Ray’s Holiday Pop-Up Market on December 14, 2019 , featuring local artisans and at-home entrepreneurs. Head to Del Ray again on December 6 to 8 and 20 to 22, 2019, for the indoor Del Ray Artisans’ 24th Annual Fine Art & Fine Craft Holiday Market, offering unique handmade creations from different artisans each weekend.
14. New Year’s Eve at the 25th Anniversary First Night Alexandria
Usher in 2020 in style at the 25th Anniversary Celebration of First Night Alexandria. This annual live music and performing arts festival is the largest New Year’s Eve party in the D.C. region that is safe and fun for the entire family and culminates with a fantastic fireworks finale over the Potomac River at midnight. Earlier in the day, stop by Torpedo Factory Art Center’s Olde Year’s Day, where the whole family can partake in hands-on activities and pick up last-minute tickets to First Night.
That evening, take your pick from country to Caribbean, rock to reggae, jazz to swing, folk to acapella, or comedy to magic as you enjoy concert or dance the night away. Experience outstanding performing artists in cozy boutiques, art galleries, offices, ballrooms and historic sites from the rail to the river. Age-appropriate activities await the youngest party animals at the four Kids Karnivals happening from 6 to 9 p.m., complete with their own creative countdown. Starting at 10 p.m., head to the waterfront with your all access badge for the “Rockin’ on the River” dance party in the park, featuring DJ Ray Casiano and fireworks at midnight sponsored by MGM National harbor, along with food trucks and prizes.
There’s even more holiday magic to experience in Alexandria. Discover more reasons to visit this season.
Header Image Credit: Kristian Summerer for Visit Alexandria