Alexandria Virginia's Winter Attractions

Historic Alexandria, Virginia in winter is all about Scottish traditions and holiday cheer. It’s a great time of year to visit this small town neighboring the nation’s capital. Come prepared for award-winning holiday events, decor and a festival that all family members will really enjoy.

Santa and Mrs. Claus march in the annual Scottish Christmas Walk Parade in Alexandria, Virginia. Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Alexandria.
Santa and Mrs. Claus march in the annual Scottish Christmas Walk Parade in Alexandria, Virginia. Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Alexandria.

Founded in 1749, Alexandria is nationally recognized for its abundance of 18th- and 19th-century architecture. The numerous historical attractions and sights, including nearby Mount Vernon which celebrates George Washington’s legacy as the first president of the US, offer a wealth of interesting and educational activities.

December is More Than the Scottish Christmas Walk Parade

Why does Alexandria celebrate its Scottish heritage? In 1664, Scotsman John Alexander purchased the land of present day Alexandria from an English ship captain for “six thousand pounds of Tobacco and Cask.” That’s why this “walk” — a big parade — has celebrated the city’s Scottish heritage for the past 51 years.

Alexandria has created its own modern American tradition through the Campagna Center’s Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend.

The highlight, Scottish Christmas Walk, takes place this year on Dec. 3, 2022. Watch and enjoy dozens of Scottish clans dressed in colorful tartans. Enjoy the bagpipe and drum bands, living history reenactment groups and local dignitaries on parade. The kids will get a kick out of the cannon and rifle firings. For many spectators that line the mile-long parade route, a favorite part is the hundreds of dogs. It’s true — most canines are some sort of Scottish breed and they march through the streets of Old Town.

Christmas Walk Weekend is a Highlight of Alexandria Virginia in Winter

Young women dancing at the Scottish Christmas Walk Parade in Alexandria, Virginia. Photo by E Pallorina for Visit Alexandria.
Dancers, bagpipe bands, flying kilts are part of the fun at the Scottish Christmas Walk Parade, a highlight event in Alexandria Virginia in winter. Photo by E Pallorina for Visit Alexandria.

During the first weekend in December, kids can join an afternoon of arts and crafts, or write Letters to Santa. Peruse a Christmas Marketplace, where you just might find that perfect gift for someone special. Join a Holiday Designer Tour of Homes to see the work of top interior designers and florists. Stroll through their six decorated homes in Old Town Alexandria to find inspiration for your home decor.

Many of the residential homes in Old Town are quite impressive and wonderfully decorated. Another special event to look for is the Holiday Ornament Making. A Taste of Scotland is a fun adult event, showcasing the culinary achievements of Scotland’s top food and drink purveyors. If you’re not a Scotch fan, look for the pop-up Beer Garden, always a popular hang out.

Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights

Illuminated boats reflect off the Potomac River during Alexandria Virginia's Holiday Boat Parade of Lights. Photo c. Evan Michio for Visit Alexandria
Illuminated boats reflect off the Potomac River during Alexandria Virginia’s Holiday Boat Parade of Lights. Photo c. Evan Michio for Visit Alexandria

A holiday tradition that has become a treasured attraction in Alexandria is the Annual Holiday Boat Parade of Lights. In its 22nd year, the parade is being sponsored by Amazon, the company that famously opened a new headquarters in the area.

Alexandria’s harbor is aglow from more than 50 brightly lit boats that cruise along the Potomac River at the city’s historic waterfront. Festivities begin at 2pm at a new family activity center on the north waterfront. The music, artisans, interactive demonstrations and kids activities should keep all ages busy while waiting for sunset.

As it approaches the 5:30pm start, look for more refreshments and live entertainment on the dock. The Boat Parade of Lights is a good-natured yet competitive event. Consider that boat owners and their crew worked hours on end to prepare their vessels. You’ll appreciate the interesting, clever, and festive light displays even more.

Shopping, Touring, Learning About Alexandria Traditions

Shops of Old Town Alexandria are elaborately decorated for the holiday season. Photo by Carol Jean Stalun Photography for Visit Alexandria.
Shop windows in Old Town Alexandria are elaborately decorated for the holiday season. Photo by Carol Jean Stalun Photography for Visit Alexandria.

Alexandria, Virginia in winter is especially festive and photogenic. Many activities, such as shopping in the region’s largest concentration of unique boutiques, continue through New Years.

The Holiday Markets at Old Town North open Dec. 4-18. Like European Christmas Markets, they offer fresh baked goods, handmade arts and crafts, small gift items, decorative objects and seasonal floral arrangments.

Bring or rent ice skate to Cameron Run Regional Park where an illuminated ice rink surrounded by festive light displays awaits. It’s open Nov. 18 to Jan. 1. Capacity is limited; reservations are required to ensure access on a specific date.

Plan to visit the Carlyle House to learn more about life in colonial America during the holidays, with military drilling, music, and officers and ladies entertaining. The colorful, 2.5-mile Bull Run Festival of Lights is a drive-through attraction that typifies the best of Alexandria, Virginia in winter. It’s open Nov. 11 to Jan. 8, 2023.

Alexandria’s Black History is Proudly Celebrated Year Round

The activities in Alexandria don’t cease once the winter holidays are over. There are several programs that last until the end of the year and some that continue through January and February.

Learn and experience African-American history at the Alexandria Black History Museum, comprised of the Museum’s collection, the Watson Reading Room and the Alexandria African American Heritage Park

Visit the newly reopened Freedom House Museum to learn more about the slave trade in the 1800s. The museum site once housed the Franklin and Armfield Slave Pen, one of the largest and most successful firms for slave trading in America. Explore the new African American Heritage Trail which highlights the people, places and neighborhoods along Alexandria’s waterfront.

Trip Planning Details for Escaping to Alexandria Virginia in Winter

Mount Vernon holiday illuminations and fireworks for the winter season. Photo by Buddy Secor for Visit Alexandria.
Enjoy the holiday illuminations and fireworks at Mount Vernon during the winter season. Photo by Buddy Secor for Visit Alexandria.

Take advantage of the colorful Old Town trolley that runs along King Street from the Potomac River waterfront to the King Street Metro station. The trolley is a boon to those with strollers (or the mobility challenged) and is free of charge. It operates daily, every 15 minutes, from 11am to 11pm. Don’t worry; it stops frequently so that visitors can hop on and off at more than 200 shops and restaurants along Alexandria’s historic main street.

Alexandria has a wealth of choices for accommodations in a wide variety of price ranges, with many of the major hotel chains represented. A listing of these can be found at the Visit Alexandria website. Stay longer and explore Washington DC and all of its many attractions across the river. Alexandria’s five different Metro stops make it easy and inexpensive to get to our nation’s capital.

We’ve made our case: If you only have a few days to spend, you can find plenty of interesting and exciting activities right in Alexandria. Enjoy!

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