Christmas in Alexandria, Virginia: An All-American Town Welcomes the Holidays with European Charm
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. A Virginia town steeped in American history, Alexandria welcomes the holidays with a decidedly Scottish flare.
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With a unique mix of European charm and American history Alexandria is one of my favorite weekend getaways in Virginia. While it’s a great destination any time of year Christmas in Alexandria is magical. In early December there is a weekend full of Christmas events in Alexandria to welcome the holiday season in style. Drawing from a Scottish heritage and a sense of small-town American community experiencing the holiday season in Alexandria is something I just had to experience.
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. The Scottish clans, decked out in tartan kilts celebrate the arrival of the Christmas season and herald the way for Santa Claus himself.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 re-enactors 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 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 the Torpedo Factory Art Center hosts a holiday open house featuring one-of-a-kind gifts from 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 Alexandria 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 a delicious 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.
Alexandria, Virginia Hotels
After a day of shopping the independent shops in Alexandria spoil yourself at the luxurious Kimpton Lorien Hotel & Spa.
Steps from everything Old Town Alexandria has to offer,enjoy Colonial elegance at The Morrison House.
The Hilton Alexandria Old Town is close to the King Street Metro Station putting all of Washington DC within easy reach.