12 Holiday Favorites and Celebrations 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. Some of our favorite holiday shows in the DC area are canceled in 2020. But there are still many fun things to do nearby during the holiday season.

Holiday celebrations are listed below in order of opening date. At the end of the list are the shows canceled this year. We look forward to their return in 2021.

Some of these suggestions were contributed by Northern Virginia experts who share what fun holiday favorites they look forward to most.

Bull Run Festival of Lights, Bull Run Regional Park, Nov 6- Jan 10

Bull Run Festival of Lights holiday drive through display
Bull Run Festival of Lights holiday drive through display

The Bull Run Festival of Lights has been a family tradition since our children were toddlers. The sparkly 2.5 mile drive-through route is lined with fun holiday and fairytale vignettes. We love to see our favorite displays each year and there are usually new additions to enjoy. This is a great family activity for even the youngest kids, who stay warm and cozy as you slowly drive through the fun, animated displays.

Weekends get very busy, especially later in the season. Visit early or on a weekday to minimize cars and lines. A Holiday Village with rides, merchandise, and activities opens November 19. Admission is $20 online per car, $25 at the door. Follow the link for $5 weekday discount code. 5:30 – 9:30 weekdays, 5:30 – 10:00 weekends.

Meadowlark Winter Walk of Lights, Vienna, Nov 11 – Jan 3

Meadowlark Garden Winter Walk of Lights, Vienna Virginia
Meadowlark Garden Winter Walk of Lights, Vienna Virginia

Stroll a .6-mile outdoor path lined with over 500,000 lights and displays. In keeping with the location, many displays feature flowers, birds, insects, and woodland creatures. We love the chance to capture holiday photos and watch children’s eyes light up.

Timed entry tickets are available online and you can move at your own pace on the one-way path. A snack stand sells hot chocolate and cider, and the Snowflake Shoppe offers holiday ornaments, flashing jewelry, and other goodies. Tickets are $9/$15 youth 2 – 12/over 13 online, $12/$18 at the door. Open nightly, including holidays, 5:30 – 10:00; last admission at 9:15.

Ice & Lights Winter Village, Cameron Run, Nov 20 – Jan 3

Ice & Lights returns to Cameron Run for a second year in 2020. The Village light display features plenty of sparkly photo opps including a walk-thru tree and photo frame, giant wreath, and beautiful design stars. For an extra fee, enjoy an hour of fun on the ice skating rink. Light-up and cuddly items are available for purchase, and the concession stand sells treats and drinks.

Village admission is $7.95 or $19.43 with 1 hour of skating. Skating tickets are limited and must be purchased online. Open nightly, including holidays, 5:00 – 10:00. The ice skating rink opens weekends and holidays 11:00 – 5:00 from Jan 9 – Feb 28.

Find more skating fun: 11 Fun Washington DC and Northern Virginia Ice Skating Rinks.

Winter Glow at Mount Vernon, Nov 27 – Dec 28 Weekends

Mount Vernon by Candlelight courtesy George Washington's Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon by Candlelight courtesy George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Looking for a place to walk off your feast surrounded by history? George Washington’s Mount Vernon is open daily, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. This is a great time to tour the grounds and the Mansion. Learn fun facts about our country’s earliest holiday traditions—George Washington first proclaimed a day of thanksgiving in 1789—and visit Aladdin the Christmas Camel a tradition Washington began in 1787.

On Winter Glow evenings, soft lights and holiday patterns illuminate the grounds, Christmas carolers sing, and you can visit an 18th-century winter encampment. Winter Glow is open weekends, Nov 27 – Dec 28. Follow the link for details and to purchase timed entry tickets.

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

Christmas Village at Leesburg Animal Park, Dec 4-6, 11-13, 18-20, 22, 23

Christmas Village Leesburg Animal Park in Loudoun County Virginia
Christmas Village at Leesburg Animal Park, Virginia

Celebrate the holidays with your animal friends at Leesburg Animal Park in Loudoun County. During weekends in December, the park features an evening Christmas Village. Enjoy a nativity scene with live animals, pony rides, and animal encounters Capture the perfect holiday photo with Santa and furry friends and enjoy crafts, a bonfire, holiday lights, and more. The park is free for those under two and $10.95/$12.95 for tickets purchased in advance/at the door.

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

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 its 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.

Find more holiday fun in our complete guide: Holiday Lights in the Northern Virginia and Washington DC Area.

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.

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

In 2020, First Night Alexandria will host a New Year’s Eve celebration with a mix of on site and virtual events to welcome in 2021. Tickets go on sale November 20th. Follow the link for schedule updates and details.

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 into 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.

First Day Hikes, Virginia State Parks, Jan 1

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

We don’t have any details for 2021 First Day Hikes yet, but you can create your own hike using the links below even if the parks do not host events.

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 2020 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 make an active outing one of your holiday favorites. 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 Northern Virginia resident. Follow Fun in Fairfax on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Annual Holiday Favorites Canceled in 2020

Below are the annual holiday favorites that have been canceled in 2020. We will update these listings when they return in 2021.

Season’s Greetings: All Aboard, US Botanic Garden, Washington DC, CANCELED

National Botanic Garden DC holiday fun

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.

Reston Holiday Parade, Reston Town Center, CANCELED

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 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.

Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend, Alexandria, CANCELED

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.

Christmas in Middleburg, Middleburg, CANCELED

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 7, 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 the 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  Instagram @packDsuitcase.

Haymarket Holiday Celebration, Haymarket, CANCELED

Holiday Haymarket Celebration in Northern VA
Holiday Haymarket Celebration

The annual Haymarket Holiday Celebration brings 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.

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

Jingle on Lake Anne, Reston, CANCELED

Jingle on Lake Anne, photo by Charlotte Geary Photography
Jingle on Lake Anne, photo by Charlotte Geary Photography

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. Elves on standup paddleboards accompany Santa, adding to the fun. 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 7th, 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 commercial and portrait photographer based in Reston, Virginia. Follow Charlotte on Facebook and Instagram.

Christmas at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, Triangle, CANCELED

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 wreaths. Two small holiday trees grace the main gallery and a 21-foot Marine Corps-themed tree was added in 2015.

On Christmas Family Day, 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. 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.

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 this year?

Find more seasonal fun with our holiday guides:

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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, 2018, 2019., and 2020.

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10 thoughts on “12 Holiday Favorites and Celebrations from Northern Virginia Experts”

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

    • 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.

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