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.

The charming streets of historic Old Town Alexandria are beautifully decorated for the holidays. Christmas in Alexandria, Virginia:An All-American Town Welcomes the Holidays with European Charm-www.casualtravelist.com

This post contains affiliate links, when you make a purchase or book a hotel through these links the Casual Travelist receives a small commission that helps support this site at no additional cost to you. I was graciously hosted by Visit Alexandria however all opinions remain my own.

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.

Alexandria's annual Scottish Christmas Walk Parade celebrates the holiday season while honoring the city's Scottish heritage.Christmas in Alexandria, Virginia:An All-American Town Welcomes the Holidays with European Charm- www.casualtravelist.com

 

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.

Alexandria's annual Scottish Christmas Walk Parade celebrates the holiday season while honoring the city's Scottish heritage.Christmas in Alexandria, Virginia:An All-American Town Welcomes the Holidays with European Charm www.casualtravelist.comAlexandria's annual Scottish Christmas Walk Parade celebrates the holiday season while honoring the city's Scottish heritage. Christmas in Alexandria, Virginia:An All-American Town Welcomes the Holidays with European Charm-www.casualtravelist.com

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.

The First Virginia Regiment demonstrates how the holidays were celebrated during the Revolutionary War. Christmas in Alexandria, Virginia:An All-American Town Welcomes the Holidays with European Charm-www.casualtravelist.comAt the Carlyle House, John Carlyle describes how the seeds of the Revolutionary War were started in this very room. Christmas in Alexandria, Virginia:An All-American Town Welcomes the Holidays with European Charm-www.casualtravelist.com

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.

Fibre Space, one of over 160 independent shops and boutiques you can find in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. Christmas in Alexandria, Virginia:An All-American Town Welcomes the Holidays with European Charm-www.casualtravelist.com

Red Barn Mercantile, one of over 160 independent shops and boutiques you can find in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.Christmas in Alexandria, Virginia:An All-American Town Welcomes the Holidays with European Charm- www.casualtravelist.com

 

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.

The Holiday Boat Parade of Lights, a fun way to celebrate the holidays in Alexandria, Virginia. Christmas in Alexandria, Virginia:An All-American Town Welcomes the Holidays with European Charm www.casualtravelist.com

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.

Chestnut financier with roaste apples and smoked maple ice cream at Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia. Christmas in Alexandria, Virginia:An All-American Town Welcomes the Holidays with European Charm-www.casualtravelist.com

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.

59 Comments on “Christmas in Alexandria, Virginia: An All-American Town Welcomes the Holidays with European Charm

  1. Wow, I’ve been to Washington, DC but never really tried to explore outside of it. I like how it reminds me of a European village and how its accessible by the metro. I have a friend who lives in DC and I’ll tell her to visit Alexandria. Seems like a charming part of Virginia.

    And btw that hotel you stayed at is gorgeous! I love boutique hotels. 🙂

    • A better choice for a boutique Hotel is the Kimpton Morrison House which is a few blocks further up King Street but a real boutique hotel. The property mentioned in the article is an refurbished Holiday Inn – not a bad choice, but if you are looking for the true luxury boutique romantic get-away experience you would want to choose The Morrison House. Just an Alexandria native throwing in his two cents.

      • I’ve been wanting to stay at the Morrison House, definitely on my next trip to Alexandria. Thanks for the tip!

    • Williamsburg and Old TOwn Alexandria do look quite similar. Williamsburg is another one of my favorite Christmas destinations.

  2. Such a lovely acknowledgment of the old world traditions and roots in Alexandria. I love your historical and aesthetic sensibilities – unique to this Southern Californian.

  3. Seems like a perfect weekend in holiday season! Lovely Christmas decorations in the first picture and a nice dessert in the last one – but the last one made me wondering: why do so many places stop using nice white plates and give you some black ’tiles’ instead – I’ve seen it in so many places recently….

  4. Oh what a lovely place! Your photo really made me think of old Europe, with the addition of a wonderfully crisp, blue sky. I have never been to DC and only at the end of your post realised how near Alexandra is to Washington: I will definitely try visit when I finally make it to the US!

    • Alexandria is so charming and definitely recommend a visit if you come to DC.

  5. What a great day you had. I didn’t know about the Scottish heritage of the city. I wold have loved to see both parades and especially the one at the river! Alexandria makes the perfect destination for Christmas

    • I love it when communities come to celebrate like this, I think its one of the things that makes the holidays so special.

  6. I’ve never been to Virginia but it’s really great to be able to see a ‘peak’ into what’s going on there. It’s a surprise to know that there is a touch of Scottish culture as well. That’s a nifty trivia to know!

  7. I used to live in DC and loved going to Alexandria. You brought me right back on why I enjoyed the area so much. And what a great way to get into the holiday spirit!

  8. I love learning about unique Christmas traditions. It seems like every town has their own. I never would have guessed I could find a Scottish Christmas celebration in Alexandria, VA! Thanks for sharing. And that picture of the scottie dog is too cute!

    • I think a city’s unique traditions are what make the holidays feel special.

  9. What a fun trip–I love festive cities like this! The Kimpton Hotel looks gorgeous, and that dog at the parade is adorable! The boat parade sounds great too–we would go to those in Florida and they were always so fun!

    • It was a blast, Alexandria is one of my favorite cities for a weekend getaway.

    • Christina, Alexandria is definitely someplace to put on the list the next time you head out towards DC.

    • I guess that’s that huh? You would love Alexandria, it’s such a great little city.

  10. What a beautiful locale to spend a holiday weekend, I know Kimpton’s are gorgeous boutique hotels, I’ve seen several and I always make a mental note to check one out in the future!

    • Andi, you would totally love the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Alexandria. Such fun and quirky design and great service!

  11. The husband and I are moving to the DC area and Alexandria is one of the places we are considering to move to. I’ve seen it in January and April and it was lovely, but I think Christmas there would be so wonderful!

    • Alexandria is a great place to live. We should meet up next time I’m in the DC area!

  12. I’ve never been to Virginia but it looks and sounds amazing! What a lovely adventure you had while out and about.

  13. Well as someone with Scottish heritage myself, I love the kilts and pipes in Alexandria – and the story that the town was founded by Scottish merchants. It does look like a charming place to spend time – I’d love to visit.

  14. This is so great! I live close to Alexandria and am excited about some holiday fun.

  15. I’ve visited Alexandria a few times, although always in the summer months, and I love it! Such rich history and one of few places in the US where you can truly feel that colonial era feeling of stepping back in time. I’d love to come again and get hot cocoa and stroll all its boutiques you’ve mentioned 🙂

  16. Wow, who knew that there is a slice of Scotland so close to us. This is a great blog because we have been to DC couple of times but never thought of spending some time in Alexandria. Definitely next time and also might consider Eve for a meal 🙂

  17. You’re right, I would have thought this post was on Scotland if I hadn’t read the title based on the first few pictures! What a fun experience. The lit up boats look like a great way to end a night in Alexandria.

  18. Love it! Christmas is definitely the favorite time of the year for both Heather and I. We have been fortunate to experience Christmas in USA, UK and even Australia and it’s always great to see how the different festivities are experienced throughout the world. The charming streets of Alexandria are certainly an appealing attraction and we will definitely try to visit this spot during the month of December at some point.

  19. What a festive and historic way to celebrate the holidays! I had no idea there was so much Scottish history in this town. I’m a huge history buff, so this is definitely going on my bucket list.

  20. Virginia is such a diverse destination, isn’t it? And the history!!

    I didn’t know that Alexandria had Scottish roots. The parade sounds fantastic and I’m going to have to put it on my list of places to visit. I wouldn’t have even thought to visit in December! But between the daytime parade with the marching bands decked out in their Scottish gear to the nighttime boat light parade (unexpected!), it sounds like an ideal Christmas destination.

  21. This looks so festive! I’ve spent a couple of holiday seasons in Europe, but they were always more German. This looks pretty cool/different. Will have to end up in Scotland or here to experience something different.

  22. Love Christmas time! We went on a Christmas Market cruise in Europe to hit up some of the best markets and didn’t realize there were places here in the USA that bring a little of that over to America. Looks gorgeous, think we’ll have to visit once during the holidays.

  23. Alexandria is definitely a town I would love to visit during my visit to the USA, from other posts I’ve read about it seems like such a quaint town. I’m sure the Scottish Parade was something special to see and I love the idea of experiencing a colonial taste of Christmas, re-enactments like this can be so fulfilling.

  24. Half of my heritage is Scottish so I think I’d feel right at home here! Plus, I love Christmas celebrations. And small towns. I think this trip would be perfect for me!

  25. We just rushed through Alexandria in 2007 when we visited DC. This is a much better look, especially with the festiveness of Christmas. The waterfront looks great!

  26. Alexandria looks like a charming little place full of history! Interesting to read that it was founded by three Scottish merchants and that the Scottish traditions are still upheld and remembered in a parade. I would love to try this delicious food at Restaurant Eve – the desert seems to match the season well and I am a sucker for smoked food and drink!

  27. Ha! I’m just a couple hours south in Richmond, and am familiar with all the events Colonial Williamsburg puts on for the holidays, but never really thought about Alexandria as a particularly Christmas-specific getaway spot. Obviously, I was missing out! The parade – sooo many kilts 🙂 – and the Boat Parade of Lights both sound amazing. Wonder if I can talk Luke into a visit… 😉

  28. That looks like such a charming town, especially at this time of year 🙂 As a Canadian, I’m ashamed to say I have not explored a whole lot of the US, and I’ve never been to Virginia. I’ll make sure to add Alexandria to my list if I do, so pretty!!!

  29. Pingback: December 2017 Events in Northern Virginia - Fun in Fairfax VA

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