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.

The charming streets of historic Old Town Alexandria are beautifully decorated for the holidays. www.casualtravelist.com

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.

The playfully luxurious Kimpton Hotel Monaco Alexandria is perfectly located for exploring historic Old Town. www.casualtravelist.com

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.

Alexandria's annual Scottish Christmas Walk Parade celebrates the holiday season while honoring the city's Scottish heritge. www.casualtravelist.comAlexandria's annual Scottish Christmas Walk Parade celebrates the holiday season while honoring the city's Scottish heritge. www.casualtravelist.comAlexandria's annual Scottish Christmas Walk Parade celebrates the holiday season while honoring the city's Scottish heritge. 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 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.

The First Virginia Regiment demonstrates how the holidays were celebrated during the Revolutionary War. www.casualtravelist.comAt the Carlyle House, John Carlyle describes how the seeds of the Revolutionary War were started in this very room. www.casualtravelist.com

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.

Fibre Space, one of over 160 independent shops and boutiques you can find in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. www.casualtravelist.com

Red Barn Mercantile, one of over 160 independent shops and boutiques you can find in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. www.casualtravelist.com

Curated, one of over 160 independent shops and boutiques you can find in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. 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 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. 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 an extraordinary ending to my day in Alexandria.

Chestnut financier with roaste apples and smoked maple ice cream at Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia. 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.

I was graciously hosted by Visit Alexandria but as always, all opinions remain my own.

40 Comments on “Welcoming Christmas in Alexandria, Virginia

  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!

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