Those who will be spending the holiday season in Northern Virginia will be treated to Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, parades, visits with Santa, lively community sing-alongs, historic homes adorned with holiday decor, and more. These charming settlements on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., offer a small-town alternative to big-city festivities. You wouldn't want to wrap up a trip to the capital before stopping by Northern Virginia's Christmasy attractions.
Colonial Williamsburg is a living-history museum that teleports visitors to the 18th century. Leading up to Christmas, the 173-acre estate and its hundreds-of-years-old buildings provide a backdrop for over-the-top light displays and other decorations. Beating drums, trilling fifes, firework displays, theatrical programs, and interpretive characters make visitors feel like they're living in colonial times.
Throughout the holiday season, the City of Alexandria hosts events such as the annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, the Scottish Walk weekend, the Holiday Boat Parade of Lights, candlelight tours, Civil War Christmas in Camp, and a variety of holiday concerts. The brick sidewalks and colorful shops in Old Town make for a festive setting for Christmas gift shopping, too.
If it's an authentic old-fashioned holiday experience you're looking for, Mount Vernon might be the place. Here on the banks of the Potomac River is where George and Martha Washington once laid their heads. Now, the picturesque white mansion and surrounding estate is a major D.C.-area tourist attraction and Christmas is its real time to shine. Come to see an elaborate gingerbread version of the estate, watch traditional chocolate-making demonstrations, join in on 18th-century dancing, and more. It's open on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
The Bull Run Festival of Lights—located at Bull Run Regional Park in Centreville—is illuminated from Thanksgiving to just after New Year's Day. You can drive through 2.5 miles of lighting displays: penguins, snowmen, deer, candy canes, Santa Claus, and the works. After viewing the lights, visit the Winter Wonderland Holiday Village to ride amusement rides, go ice skating, shop, and indulge in your favorite Christmas treats.
Speaking of light displays, you can take the family to see one of the largest ones in North America located in Williamsburg, Virginia. The Busch Gardens amusement park is transformed into a Christmas wonderland from mid-November through early January, combining an immersive holiday experience with one-of-a-kind shopping and dining opportunities, holiday shows, and a spectacular "dancing" Christmas tree.
The Reston Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting is this Northern Virginia community's version of New York City's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. On the Friday after Thanksgiving every year, they lead car-sized balloons through the town center, then debut the tree trimmings after the sun goes down. If you don't make it to the November events, then at least stop by for a carriage ride or ice skating, which runs until March.
Lake Anne, also located in Reston, celebrates the holidays with an annual Jingle that involves live music courtesy of local school choirs and orchestras, kid-friendly ornament making, a craft market, cookie decorating, caroling, and more. At this annual gathering, Santa traditionally makes his grand entrance via a barge or paddleboard. It's free and takes place in early December.
If you're in the neighborhood of Manassas, you'll get your holiday fix at Merry Old Town, a fete that encompasses all the standard entertainment: a tree lighting, a Christmas parade, ice skating, charming carriage rides, and even a gingerbread contest. Shortly after 6 p.m., Santa arrives at the Manassas Depot by train. Merry Old Town has been held in early December for nearly 30 years.
Middleburg's idea of a Christmas Parade involves less balloons and more hounds and horses. There are more furry critters than floats at this one-of-a-kind procession—more than 100 of them in total, to be exact. The celebration typically takes place the weekend after Thanksgiving and there's a breakfast with Santa, a craft fair, and a hot chocolate warm-up before the afternoon parade. Afterward, the local pubs open their doors for wine tastings, ciders, and bites all evening long.
The kids will love having lunch with Santa at the Fairfax Festival of Lights and Carols in early December. A crackling yule log provides a perfect opportunity for toasting marshmallows for s'mores. Wash that down with a hot cider while you marvel at the artistic creations of local ice sculptors. There will be face painting for the children, caroling, and a Christmas tree lighting, right in Old Town Square.
Pick out a meaningful gift for a friend this year at the Holiday Fine Arts and Crafts Show in the historic town of Leesburg. This fair features stalls from nearly 100 different artists, selling wooden trinkets, linens, jewelry, hand-dipped candles, and other homemade goods. After the two-day market is over, the parade takes place, then a day of holiday-themed rock concerts at Ida Lee Park Recreation Center.