The holiday season is finally here – though its unofficial start seems to creep up on us just a little earlier each year – and few places in the DC Metro are more special, unique and downright comforting this time of year than Old Town Alexandria.
With its gas lamp streetlights, colonial architecture, antique shops and cobblestone streets, this former tobacco trading post is a special place. But beginning in late November, it transforms into a scene ripped from a Charles Dickens novel. Trees studded with white lights illuminate storefronts decorated with holiday adornments. Inside classic neighborhood joints like Murphy’s Irish Pub, residents and visitors alike warm up with a bowl of Hot & Hearty Irish Stew, washed down with a steaming hot mug of Irish coffee; while up the street at the art deco Majestic Restaurant, rich wild mushroom soup and Classic Bread Pudding with homemade Bourbon Sauce can turn even the biggest Scrooge into a bona-fide holiday geek.
As a 12-year resident of Alexandria, I am certainly biased, but these characteristics make Old Town feel perfectly mated to the holidays. From now until the big ball drops 300 miles up the road in Times Square, there are tons of special things to stuff your gut, stretch your vocal cords, and otherwise immerse yourself in a magical place tailor-made for the most wonderful time of the year. So like picking the perfect tulip out of a field in Holland, here are my top five must-do Old Town holiday experiences that capture the spirit of the holidays in a one-of-a-kind historic venue.
Mount Vernon by Candlelight – There’s no shortage of holiday cheer as the home of our first President hosts three weeks of guided candlelight tours highlighted by festive music – and even a little dancing. Held November 23 through December 16, Mount Vernon by Candlelight is one of several events at the national landmark that offer Christmas season fun and festivities for the entire family. Better dust off your powdered wig.
Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend – Tired of the barrage of canned, pre-Turkey Day Christmas music on 97.1 WASH-FM? Head over to Alexandria’s Campagna Center for the Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend, November 30-December 1. What began as a “small, informal parade” has grown into an entire weekend of holiday events, headlined by a parade of over 100 Scottish pipe and drum bands that draws 30,000 spectators annually. The event is ranked by the Southeast Tourism Society as one of the top 20 events in the South. And no, that Tartan wont make your ass look fat.
Torpedo Factory Arts Center Holiday Open House – Old Town isn’t only the domain of history buffs and nostalgic bureaucrats. The Torpedo Factory, situated on the picturesque Alexandria waterfront, hosts a free open house during the holidays, showcasing unique, handmade creations from its 82 studios housing over 160 artists. While you shop, warm up with a hot cup of coffee and tasty treats from Bread & Chocolate, and enjoy holiday tunes from the Wybold Lebing Trio. Yes, the Wybold Lebing Trio.
Historic Alexandria Candlelight Tours – Candlelight tours and historic places in Alexandria. I’m sensing a theme, here. For the holiday history buff, be sure to take a nighttime tour of some of Alexandria’s most historic sites. From Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, Carlyle House historic Park, and the Old Presbyterian Meeting House, these self-guided tours are sure to please.
Alexandria City Christmas Tree Lighting – What would the holidays be without the Christmas tree. Even sad-sack Charlie Brown had his. Historic Market Square in Old Town is the scene for the annual Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, held from 7-9pm, the day after Thanksgiving. Now, it’s really on like handmade garland popcorn.