Christmas in Middleburg, photo Middleburg Eccentric

12 Holiday Favorites from Northern Virginia Experts

Holiday favorites return to the Northern Virginia region, from holiday displays and celebrations, to visits with Santa, and fun ways to kick off the new year. We asked Northern Virginia experts to tell us what fun holiday favorites they look forward to most. Read on for their suggestions and details on these favorite seasonal events, listed in order of opening date for 2018 and 2019.

1. Season’s Greetings: All Aboard, US Botanic Garden, Washington DC, Nov 22 – Jan 1

United States Botanic Garden Display, one of 12 holiday favorites from Northern Virginia experts that honor the season with festive parades, unique celebrations, light displays, and visits with Santa. Photo copyright Jessica van Dop DeJesus

United States Botanic Garden Display, Photo copyright: Jessica van Dop DeJesus

As the weather drops in our nation’s capital, I enjoy taking in the holiday displays at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, DC.  As you step into their greenhouse, you are immediately transported to a tropical destination with its lush vegetation. Their holiday display begins on Thanksgiving Day, with unique décor and the largest living decorated indoor tree in the DC area. An elaborate model train display rounds out this holiday favorite, featuring iconic train stations from around the USA.

Recommended by Jessica van Dop DeJesus, a travel media specialist and owner of the blog, The Dining Traveler. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook @DiningTraveler.

2. Christmas at Mount Vernon, Nov 23 – Dec 31

Visit the mansion at night during a Mount Vernon by Candlelight tour.

Visit the mansion at night during a Mount Vernon by Candlelight tour.

Looking for a place to walk off your feast surrounded by colonial history? Mount Vernon’s holiday favorites are open daily throughout the season, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. Tour the grounds and the Mansion, including the third floor which is only open during the Christmas season.

Lady Washington shared her holiday traditions in the Mount Vernon by Candlelight tour

Lady Washington shared her holiday traditions in the Mount Vernon by Candlelight tour

Learn fun facts about our country’s earliest holiday traditions—George Washington first proclaimed a day of thanksgiving in 1789—and visit Aladdin the Chrstmas Camel a tradition Washington began in 1787. You can also tour Mount Vernon by Candlelight on weekends from November 23rd to December 16th. During the candlelight tour, Lady Washington and other members and workers at Mount Vernon share the Washington’s holiday traditions.

Recommended by Melissa Wood, Director of Media Relations, George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Follow Mount Vernon on Facebook and Twitter.

3. Reston Holiday Parade, Reston Town Center, November 23

Reston Town Center Holidays Are Here Parade

Reston Town Center Holidays Are Here Parade

One of my favorite holiday activities is the Holiday Parade at Reston Town Center on the Friday after Thanksgiving. My family knows to schedule Thanksgiving meals on Thursday, Saturday or Sunday, but Friday is always held open for the parade.

Growing up in a rural area in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, I always looked forward to the excitement of the Firemen’s parades. The Reston Holiday Parade brings back pleasant memories but amplifies them. The big inflated characters that are pulled along the parade route put us in league with the holiday parades on television, but our parade is much more personal. The school and community groups and the local dancers and performers highlight the diversity and talent of our community.

Jane and Ken Plum, Reston Thanksgiving Parade

Jane and Ken Plum, Reston Thanksgiving Parade

Jane and I are always in the parade. It is really exciting to turn the corner onto Market Street and see all the children in their colorful winter coats and scarves and see the excitement in their eyes that the holiday season brings. The high school band and the fire trucks make it an exciting parade, but nothing can top the final entry—the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus in a horse-drawn sleigh. I am getting excited just thinking about the parade coming up!

Recommended by Delegate Ken Plum, native Virginian, now in his thirty-ninth year of service representing the 36th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. Follow Delegate Plum on Facebook and Twitter.

4. Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend, Alexandria, Nov 30 – Dec 1

Scottish Walk Weekend, one of 12 holiday favorites from Northern Virginia experts that honor the season with festive parades, unique celebrations, light displays, and visits with Santa. photo: Visit Alexandria

Scottish Walk Weekend, photo: Visit Alexandria

From tree lightings and candlelight tours of historic sites, to shopping trips and even a water skiing Santa, Old Town Alexandria has a lot of holiday favorites to offer. However, the one event that my family never misses is the Scottish Walk weekend. The parade is filled with hundreds of Scottish clansmen complete with bagpipes. After the parade, shop at the Christmas marketplace; it’s all for a good cause.

The Scottish Walk weekend is one of the largest fundraisers for the Campagna Center, a non-profit organization helping children and families in need in Alexandria, Virginia.  Follow all of this up with Alexandria’s Boat Parade of Lights, a decorated boat parade at sundown, and Old Town is tough to beat.

Recommended by Chris Militzer, an Alexandria, Virginia photographer specializing in fine art photography of landscapes and nature, featured on Visit Virginia, and USA Today. Follow Chris on Instagram and Twitter.

5. Christmas in Middleburg, Middleburg, Nov 30 – December 2

Christmas in Middleburg, one of 12 holiday favorites from Northern Virginia experts that honor the season with festive parades, unique celebrations, light displays, and visits with Santa.. photo Middleburg Eccentric

Christmas in Middleburg, photo: Middleburg Eccentric

My favorite local spot to get in the holiday spirit is in the heart of hunt country—Middleburg, Virginia. The 18th century town has been kicking off the holiday season in style during its annual “Christmas in Middleburg” event the first weekend in December for over a hundred years!

The highlight of Middleburg’s festivities is Saturday’s “Hunt and Hounds Review” featuring hounds trotting down the main Washington Street alongside mounted fox hunt riders (Dec 1, 11:00 am). But the fun doesn’t stop there! Other holiday activities include a greens sale, craft fair, caroling, a holiday concert, a traditional parade with floats and—my favorite!— special food and spirits tastings throughout town.

Recommended by Christina Ricchiuti, a TV producer by day and a mid-Atlantic travel blogger by night. Follow along with her many DC-area adventures on her blog, PackedSuitcase.com, and on Twitter & Instagram @packDsuitcase.

6. Haymarket Holiday Celebration, Haymarket, December 1

Holiday Haymarket Celebration

Holiday Haymarket Celebration

The annual Haymarket Holiday Celebration bring friends and family together for free community fun. Enjoy hot cocoa, cider, and A Taste of Haymarket. Listen to carols and live musical performances as you roast marshmallows over a bonfire in front of Town Hall. The Town Museum stays open all day with a holiday-themed exhibit, and the tree is lit at dusk. Everyone cheers when Santa and Mrs. Claus ride into town. 3:00 – 6:00 pm.

Recommended by Nicole Warner, Media Relations Specialist at Visit Prince William Virginia. Follow VisitPWC on Facebook and Twitter.

7. Jingle on Lake Anne, Reston, December 1

Jingle on Lake Anne, one of 12 holiday favorites from Northern Virginia experts that honor the season with festive parades, unique celebrations, light displays, and visits with Santa. Photo: Modern Reston

Jingle on Lake Anne, photo: Charlotte Geary

My favorite holiday event in Northern Virginia is Jingle on Lake Anne, a holiday celebration for kids at Lake Anne Plaza in Reston. It includes a petting zoo, crafts, caroling, and a tree lighting, but the highlight every year is Santa’s thrilling arrival by boat. Children cheer as he approaches (and I find myself cheering just as loudly as they do!) After his grand entrance, Santa sits with each of his fans for pictures. This year’s Jingle on Lake Anne takes place on December 1st, and I’ll be there with my kids and their letters for Santa. They are already counting down the days on the calendar.

Recommended by Charlotte Geary, a lifestyle and nature photographer based in Reston, Virginia. Follow Charlotte on Facebook and Instagram.

8. Christmas Village at Leesburg Animal Park, Dec 7 – 8, 14-15, 21-22

Christmas Village Leesburg Animal Park

Christmas Village at Leesburg Animal Park, Virginia

Celebrate the holidays with your animal friends at Leesburg Animal Park in Loudoun County. Three weekends in December, the park features an evening Christmas Village. Enjoy a nativity scene with live animals, pony rides, animal encounters, pictures with your furry friends, holiday crafts, a bonfire, holiday lights, and more. The park is free for those under two and $9.95 for children and adults. 6:00 – 9:00 pm

Recommended by Jennifer Sigal, Media Relations Manager at Visit Loudoun. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

9. Christmas at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, Triangle, Dec 8 + 11

Santa and Mrs Claus Marine Corps Museum, one of 12 holiday favorites from Northern Virginia experts that honor the season with festive parades, unique celebrations, light displays, and visits with Santa. photo: Museum of the Marine Corps

Santa and Mrs Claus, Marine Corps Museum, photo: Museum of the Marine Corps

The National Museum of the Marine Corps has become a holiday destination for many families. The Museum’s Leatherneck Gallery is hung with yards of garland, bows and wreathes. Two small holiday trees grace the main gallery and a 21-foot Marine Corps-themed tree was added in 2015.

On Christmas Family Day (Dec 8 and 11), a very magical Santa and Mrs. Claus (with a twinkle in his eye) will be on hand to visit with little ones. These two can honestly calm the fussiest baby and the most frightened child, and there are activities to keep the young ones busy while they wait in line. Visitors are welcome to take as many pictures as they like, so bring your camera along. Visit Santa from 2:00 to 4:00, but you must be in line by 3:30. All museum activities are free and open to the public.

Recommended by Gwenn Adams, Public Relations Chief for the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Follow the USMC Museum on Facebook and Twitter.

10. Neighborhood Holiday Decorations, Multiple Locations, December

Juniper Street Sterling, one of 12 holiday favorites from Northern Virginia experts that honor the season with festive parades, unique celebrations, light displays, and visits with Santa. photo: FairfaxChristmasLights.com

Juniper Street Sterling, photo: FairfaxChristmasLights.com

Nicknamed Candy Cane Lane, visiting East Juniper Street in Sterling has been one of our holiday favorites since our children were small. While the decorations vary year to year, you can always count on several houses decked out with kitschy, traditional or modern holiday decor. One year, a tree was hung with sparkly AOL CDs while it’s neighbor featured a surfing Santa. Parking can be tight and crowds are on foot, so use extreme caution when driving on or near Juniper Street around Christmas. We suggest you grab the first available parking spot and walk the street on foot. Juniper Street is just one of the neighborhood holiday light displays we visit every year.

Recommended by Charles McCool, how-to travel expert, author, trainer, and writer delivering expert travel tips and destination advice at McCool Travel. Follow Charles McCool on Facebook and Twitter.

11. New Year’s Eve at First Night Alexandria, Alexandria, Dec 31

First Night, one of 12 holiday favorites from Northern Virginia experts that honor the season with festive parades, unique celebrations, light displays, and visits with Santa. Photo: J Clifford for Visit Alexandria

First Night, photo: J Clifford for Visit Alexandria

Alexandria is just magical during the holidays and I have almost too many favorite events to count! I love First Night Alexandria, which has been an Alexandria tradition for over 20 years. Old Town is transformed into a big New Year’s Eve celebration with more than 100 live performances at 22 indoor venues and a fireworks display over the river at midnight. Your First Night badge lets you in to all the venues which include art galleries, historic sites, churches and even retail shops.

The First Night event is tailor-made for the entire family, but I’ve also done it as a night out with friends, adding on stops at my favorite places for dinner and drinks. The streets buzz with festive excitement and good cheer, and there’s a dance party at the foot of King Street leading up the midnight fireworks. There is also a First Night Fun Hunt during the day, and an Old Fashioned Carnival in Del Ray for those who have little ones!

Recommended by Claire Mouledoux, Director of Communications for Visit Alexandria and an Old Town resident. Follow Visit Alexandria on Facebook and Instagram.

12. First Day Hikes, Virginia State Parks, January 1, 2019

Virginia State Parks, Voted America's Best, one of 12 holiday favorites from Northern Virginia experts that honor the season with festive parades, unique celebrations, light displays, and visits with Santa. Photo: FuninFairfaxVA

I love to hike year-round and, like many people, I try to recommit to fitness when the new year begins. Happily, all 36 Virginia State Parks offer guided and open hikes for the Annual First Day Hikes sponsored by America’s State Parks. In Northern Virginia, we are lucky to have several beautiful first day hiking destinations close at hand. Kick off 2019 at Leesylvania SP with two-hour hikes focused on the park’s history, visit Mason Neck SP and choose from several trails for different challenge levels, or head to Sky Meadows SP for a hike and history visit. Or explore more of our favorite Northern Virginia trails and plan your own outing to start the new year. I’m hoping for good hiking weather and an active start to the new year.

Recommended by Julie McCool, Editor and Co-founder of Fun in Fairfax VA and Fairfax County resident. Follow Fun in Fairfax on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

We offer a huge thank you to all of the Northern Virginia experts who helped us discover new holiday favorites and plan a season full of happy, sparkly fun!

What holiday favorites are you looking forward to most?

If you liked reading these holiday favorites recommendations, you might also like these articles:

Follow Fun in Fairfax VA on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram for more fun things to do, places to visit, and special events in the Northern Virginia and Washington DC region.Holiday Things to Do in Virginia, Washington DC. Mid-Atlantic US Travel. These 12 holiday favorites from Northern Virginia experts honor the season with festive parades, unique celebrations, light displays, and visits with Santa.

 

This article was published in 2016 and updated in 2017 and 2018.

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26 Responses to “12 Holiday Favorites from Northern Virginia Experts”

  1. traveldifferentmedia November 12, 2016 at 10:10 am #

    That Christmas in Middleburg photos is beyond awesome! Really going to miss seeing the holiday season in the US this year.

    • Fun in Fairfax VA November 14, 2016 at 8:28 am #

      I agree about that photo—wish I had attended that year (and taken the photo) to see the parade in the snow. Wishing you a wonderful holiday season wherever you are.

  2. Adventuring The Great Wide Somewhere November 13, 2016 at 8:30 am #

    All of this is making me really excited to be up in WA next month! It doesn’t quite feel like Christmas in FL when it’s 80 degrees and everyone is still wearing shorts. The Scottish Walk looks really cool. I think I would travel to VA for that alone, and hopefully see some snow while I’m at it!

    • Fun in Fairfax VA November 14, 2016 at 11:44 am #

      I spent one Christmas in Florida. While it was lovely, it felt odd to be in warm weather clothes instead of a tacky sweater. 🙂 I hope you can make a Virginia/DC area visit some winter to enjoy the seasonal fun.

  3. agreekadventurenew November 13, 2016 at 11:09 am #

    We’ve been to Washington a couple of years ago but not during Christmas and New Eve days. The whole festivities look spectacular.

    • Fun in Fairfax VA November 14, 2016 at 11:45 am #

      I’m glad you were able to visit our area! We think it’s beautiful year round (spring cherry blossoms, summer green, fall foliage) but the holidays are really special.

  4. Brianna November 13, 2016 at 11:25 am #

    I did the Scottish Christmas Walk Parade last year and I absolutely loved it. So much fun!

    • Fun in Fairfax VA November 14, 2016 at 11:46 am #

      That’s great Brianna! I don’t think we had snow over the holidays last year, but the decorations and events make it festive no matter what the weather.

  5. wanderingwagarschristina November 13, 2016 at 8:55 pm #

    So many amazing activities to participate in. I definitely enjoy attending tree lightning ceremonies. There is just something magical about watch a giant tree start twinkling with all those lights.

    • Fun in Fairfax VA November 14, 2016 at 11:48 am #

      We absolutely agree! We love the tree lightings, especially when there are sing-alongs and other activities to add to the fun.

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