Welcoming Christmas in Alexandria, Virginia
Brick paved streets lined with eighteenth century buildings, shop doors graced with Christmas greenery and scores of Scottish gents and lasses clad in tartan kilts bustling around town. Was I in Scotland? No, I found a bit of European holiday tradition a little closer to home in Alexandria, Virginia; where on the first weekend in December you’re as likely to hear a Scottish brogue as a southern drawl.
My home for the weekend was the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Alexandria, a gorgeous boutique hotel with fun, quirky decor and personal service that is the signature of the Kimpton brand. The jewel toned lobby was decked out for the holidays, the cozy fireplace the perfect backdrop for the Kimpton’s complimentary happy hour. Located on King Street near Market Square the Hotel Monaco is wonderfully situated for exploring Old Town Alexandria and for the weekend’s festivities.
After a filling Italian eggs Benedict and rich cappuccino from Carluccio’s I was properly fueled for my day’s adventures. Navigating through the sea of plaid I found a great spot across from the Spite House to watch the Scottish Walk Christmas Parade. The City of Alexandria was officially founded by three Scottish merchants, including John Alexander (for whom the city was named). Today Alexandria honors that Scottish heritage with the annual Scottish Christmas Walk Parade, where Scottish clans parade through town dressed in their finest tartans. After the parade the sounds of bagpipes fill Alexandria’s historic streets as all the pipe and drum bands gather at Market Square for the Mass Band Concert.
After welcoming Santa in grand Scottish style I made my way to the Carlyle House for a colonial taste of Christmas.A “Soldiers’ Christmas features reenactors from the First Virginia Regiment who set up camp to show how Christmas was celebrated in the Eighteenth century. A camp was set up where colonial soldiers prepared a small Christmas Day feast but the highlight was the military drill featuring a 5-gun salute. Inside I encountered John Carlyle himself, who shared the story of how the seeds of the American Revolution were planted in that very room.
I needed to get a little Christmas shopping done and I was in luck, Old Town Alexandria has over 160 independent shops and boutiques which made it easy to find a gift for everyone on my list. For the knitting junkie Fibre Space has yarn in nearly every conceivable color and texture while a few doors down Red Barn Mercantile is stocked with casually chic home decor. Shoe Hive is the stop for fashionable locals and in the know visitors for the latest in designer kicks while Curated offers an artful selection of clothing, decor and jewelry often featuring local artisans.
As the sun set we joined the crowds heading towards the waterfront, settling in a spot along the Potomac with a great view of the National Harbor we waited patiently for the second parade of the day to start. Only this one didn’t have marching bands or dancers. When the sun goes down the Potomac lights up with the Holiday Boat Parade of Lights. A spectacle of boats float by the waterfront in a dazzling display and was such a fun way to ring in the Christmas season.
Having spent the better part of the day meandering through Alexandria’s brick paved streets I was famished, luckily we had reservations at Sonoma Cellar, a recently opened wine bar and bistro occupying a renovated historic townhouse on King Street. The chill outside called for a spicy Californian Cabernet Savignon which paired perfectly with a bowl of beef burgundy over handmade pappardelle. I’ll definitely return to enjoy a glass or two of wine with charcuterie at the bar downstairs. Wanting a sweet end to the evening we enjoyed an evening stroll down King Street towards Restaurant Eve, widely considered one of the best restaurants in the DC metro area. Chef Cathal Armstrong artfully prepares seasonal, local ingredients and the 7 course tasting menu is a highlight of Alexandria’s dining scene (and definitely on my agenda for my next visit to Alexandria). We settled into the cozy bar area for dessert and a nightcap, a chestnut financier with roasted apples and smoked maple ice cream with a glass of port providing an extraordinary ending to my day in Alexandria.
With charming streets, creative restaurants and shops and a real sense of community it’s easy to see why Alexandria is one of my favorite weekend getaways, especially during the holiday season. Located minutes from Washington DC, Alexandria is easily accessible by the metro making it a fantastic addition while visiting the capital. Alexandria is the perfect place to start your new holiday traditions.
I was graciously hosted by Visit Alexandria but as always, all opinions remain my own.