Not as “big city” as the nation’s capital, the historic town of Alexandria, Virginia celebrates Scottish traditions and more each winter in a festival that all family members will really enjoy. Founded in 1749 and is listed on the National Register of Historical Places, Alexandria is steeped in history and 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 United States, offer a family a wealth of interesting and educational activities.
Alexandria has numerous historical and cultural attractions that make it a great place for a family vacation during the winter holiday season, and many festivities — all worth attending — continue through New Years.
More Than a Scottish Weekend… an Alexandria Tradition
Alexandria is building its own American traditions with its annual Campagna Center’s Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend, so-named because it is a celebration of the city’s Scottish heritage as well as other holiday events. 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.” The sponsoring Campagna Center has a long tradition of community service providing quality educational and developmental programming for vulnerable children and families, and proceeds from the Christmas walk benefit their many community programs.
The highlight of the Scottish Christmas Walk is a colorful parade featuring Scottish clans, bagpipe and drum bands, living history reenactment groups (the kids will get a kick out of the cannon and rifle firings) and local dignitaries. Kids can join the Deck the Halls event for an afternoon of arts and crafts, musical entertainment and a special visit from Santa.
For many spectators that line the parade route, a favorite part is the hundreds of dogs, most of some sort of Scottish breed, that the parade walkers lead through the streets of Old Town.
Other events during the Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend include A Christmas Marketplace, where you just might find that perfect gift for someone special; a heather and greens sale; and a Holiday Designer Tour of Homes, where top interior designers and florists have decorated six homes in Old Town Alexandria for people to stroll through and enjoy.
Many of the homes in Old Town are quite impressive and wonderfully decorated. Tickets for this event may be purchased on the Christmas Walk website or by calling 703/549-0111. Another special event to look for is the Children’s Tea Party where kids can have their pictures taken with Santa and Plaid the Scottie dog. A Taste of Scotland will also be a fun event, showcasing the culinary achievements of Scottish food and drink.
Alexandria’s Parade of Lights & More Holiday Events
A holiday tradition that has become a treasured attraction in Alexandria is the Annual Holiday Parade of Lights, during which Alexandria’s harbor is aglow in light from the more than 50 brightly lit sailing and powered leisure boats cruise along the Potomac River at the city’s historic waterfront. Festivities for each year’s annual parade begin with refreshments and entertainment on the dock. The Parade of Lights has become a good-natured yet competitive event as boat owners and their crew work hours on end to prepare their vessels with some of the interesting, clever, and festive light displays ever seen on water or land.
Other holiday activities during this weekend may include a Kwanza Workshop at the Alexandria Black History Museum. During a family-friendly, interactive event, participants learn about this African-American celebration and how to incorporate it into their own holiday celebrations.
Plan to visit the Carlyle House for “A Soldier’s Christmas.” Here your family can experience life in colonial America during the holidays, with military drilling, music, and officers and ladies entertaining.
Learn about the “First” First Family’s Christmas traditions, meet historic characters, and tour Mount Vernon by candlelight during their special holiday program.
Events in Alexandria after the Holidays
The activities in Alexandria don’t cease once the winter holidays are over. There are several activities and 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, where exhibits are updated periodically. A calendar of events and exhibits can be located on the website. Also visit the Freedom House Museum to learn more about the slave trade in the 1800s. The museum is located in the building that once housed the Franklin and Armfield Slave Pen, one of the largest and most successful firms for slave trading in America. Those who enjoy history could be interested in visiting Lyceum, Alexandria’s History Museum.
Alexandria, Virginia Trip Planning Details
For the past few years, a colorful trolley service has run along King Street from the Potomac River waterfront to the King Street Metro station. This boon to those with strollers (or the mobility challenged) is free of charge and operates daily from 10am-10pm, stopping frequently so that visitors can hop on and off at the shops, restaurants and attractions found along Alexandria’s historic main street.
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, called “The Fun Side of the Potomac.” However, as much as there is to do in Alexandria and nearby Mount Vernon, Washington D.C. and all of its many attractions are just across the river. Making it easy and inexpensive to get to our nation’s capital, Alexandria is served by five different Metro stops.
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 website of the Alexandria Convention & Visitors Bureau. Enjoy!
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.