Countdown to Christmas

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with this Festive Bucket List of Virginia Destinations

By Grace Silipigni

From a holiday performance at a 20th-century theatre to an enchanted adventure down Candy Cane Lane, Virginia is not lacking in Christmas spirit. Of the thousands of events taking place across the state this holiday season, we’ve uncovered the five most festive attractions that are sure to fill you and your family with holiday cheer. An added bonus? What sets these destinations apart from others in the state are their remarkable histories. Each site boasts hundreds of years of Christmas traditions that introduce visitors to the spirit of Christmas past.

Colonial Williamsburg is beaming with Christmas cheer and myriad historic happenings. The 17th-century drive of E. Duke of Gloucester Street is dotted with modestly decorated taverns and homes that glow beneath the fiery embers of sidewalk lanterns.

On December 2, the entire settlement is set ablaze with gun smoke and extravagant firework displays from the Governor’s Palace, the Magazine and the Capitol. Trust us, this Grand Illumination is a Williamsburg tradition worth traveling for.

Farther down what the locals call “DoG Street” is Charlton’s Coffeehouse. On select Thursdays and Sundays throughout December, the former watering hole hosts evening caroling sessions for Williamsburg visitors.

The musical merriment continues in Merchant Square as popular Christmas songs ring loudly through the speakers that border the square’s outdoor skating rink. Colonial enthusiasts of all ages can enjoy hours of ice skating in Williamsburg’s historic center.

We recommend seeking reprieve from the December chill in Aromas World with a piping hot pour of their signature Oyster Point White Mocha. For non-coffee drinkers, afternoon tea at the luxurious Williamsburg Inn is also a must. Their scratch-made scones rival those of even the greatest pastry chefs in
Williamsburg history.

Our Festive Favorite:
Buy a commemorative Colonial Williamsburg ornament from The Christmas Shop in Merchant’s Square.

Just outside Washington D.C.’s metropolitan area lie the red brick sidewalks of Old Town Alexandria. While these riverfront walkways exude charm all year long, they appear particularly enchanting come December.

The first weekend of December is particularly busy for Old Town as it hosts its annual two-day Scottish Walk Parade, complete with bagpipes, drums and Santa Claus, as well as the merry and bright Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights.

As the parade festivities wind down, grab a wintery latte from Misha’s Coffeehouse & Roaster and embark on a self-guided tour of Old Town’s cheerfully decorated restaurants, homes and boutiques. King Street, in particular, presents holiday visitors with a host of Christmas-inspired goods. At the top of our shopping list is the annual 116 King Holiday Pop Up, which introduces festive fashions from Northern Virginia’s emerging designers.

Surrounding King Street are blocks of rowhomes merrily embellished with wreaths, candles and twinkling white lights. During the Historic Alexandria Candlelight Tour, you’ll discover that these historic residences are not only inhabited by locals, but by seasonal spirits that have dwelled in Old Town for centuries.

Our Festive Favorite:
Sample a Christmas cocktail at Captain Gregory’s on N. Henry Street.

Never underestimate the thrill of a quintessential small-town Christmas. Year after year, Abingdon is recognized as one of Virginia’s top Christmas towns for its holiday farmers markets, dazzling Main Street and handful of cozy eateries.

The historic 1930s Barter Theatre is arguably one of the most highly revered Christmas attractions in all of Abingdon. Thirteen years after its construction in 1933, the Barter Theatre was deemed the State Theatre of Virginia and has been home to some of the Commonwealth’s greatest holiday performances ever since. Included in this winter’s holiday line-up are musical renditions of two Christmas favorites, “ELF” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” as well as daily theatrical performances of “Wooden Snowflakes” and the adults-only “Santaland Diaries.”

A pre- or post-show stroll down Abingdon’s Main Street should also be high on your to-do list. Explore the many boutiques, galleries and artisan restaurants nestled into the town’s 18th-century structures.

Need a place to stay? Abingdon’s Martha Washington Inn & Spa has our vote. The bygone residence of General Francis Preston is now a premier Virginia hotel that manifests into a 19th-century winter wonderland every December. Imbibe a port cocktail by the lobby’s roaring fireplace or rise early for Martha’s signature holiday brunch.

Our Festive Favorite:
Join weekend carolers for a Christmas sing-a-long in Main Street’s Town Park.

Since 1893, James and Sallie Dooley have opened their Victorian residence to Maymont visitors for an expansive holiday feast. The stone mansion is spectacularly decorated with ornate garland, red ribbon, poinsettia bouquets and a 12-foot Christmas tree embellished with hundreds of antique ornaments. You can even experience the holiday preparations first-hand at Maymont’s wreath decorating class in the Stone Barn.

Maymont visitors can tour the Dooley estate by foot or board a horse-drawn carriage for a ride around the grounds. We also recommend the Maymont by Moonlight tour to witness the park in all of its Christmas glory with glimmering lights, blazing bonfires and cheery carols.
If you can’t make the moonlight tour, no need to worry—the mansion rings with jingle bells and Christmas music throughout the entire holiday season.

Our Festive Favorite:
Travel 10 minutes into Downtown Richmond to see the extraordinary Christmas display at the historic Jefferson Hotel.

Nestled in the Shenandoah Valley is a whimsical Candy Cane Lane complete with oversized gingerbread figures, giant candy canes, friendly reindeer and a neighboring Toyland. Firepits fit for marshmallow roasting and hot chocolate sipping boast specular views of the valley’s surrounding mountain tops. All this and more await at the Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs.

Every year, the historic retreat hosts Holiday at the Homestead, a month-long celebration of everything Christmas. In addition to their expansive Christmas village and s’mores stop, the Homestead invites resort guests to partake in its resort-wide sing-a-longs and a cappella performances.

For those willing to brave the Bath County cold, the Homestead also offers skiing lessons for first-time slope riders and other snow activities for Hot Springs’ littlest visitors. Embark on the Homestead Holiday Express Hayride too, and experience a magical ride through the resort’s wintery forest.

Bedtime stories with Santa’s Elves are our favorite way to close a day of Christmas fun. Classic Christmas tales are shared nearly every evening in the regal Washington Library.

Our Festive Favorite:
Snap a photo in front of the Great Hall Christmas Tree picked from Avery County, North Carolina, the Christmas Tree Capital of the World.

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