To find out which localities around the commonwealth don’t skimp on holiday fun, check out our list of 5 Virginia towns and cities that fully embrace the holiday spirit.
Some localities go all out with Christmas light displays, while others stage a range of seasonal events. No matter how they mark the season, it’s safe to say Virginia is a magical place to be during the holidays.
When considering Virginia localities that go all in when it comes to the holidays, Alexandria is at the top of the list.
The epicenter of the city’s holiday cheer is the Market Square, where “the city’s seasonal tree cuts a sparkling silhouette against the evening sky.” More glittering lights can be found on the trees on King Street’s Mile of Lights.
For a simple yet charming seasonal display, stroll through Old Town, including the 600 block of Princess Street, the 200 block of N. Columbus Street and the 100 block of S. Patrick Street, in search of festive door décor with seasonal greenery. Also, keep an eye out for decorative window displays at various Old Town businesses, like Red Barn Mercantile.
The holidays wouldn’t be complete without some ice skating. Luckily, it’s available at Ice & Lights, which runs through Jan. 1 from 5-10 p.m., at Cameron Run Regional Park. Ice & Lights “offers a fun, unstructured outdoor family experience to explore unique light displays, snap family pictures or selfies with a variety of displays and take a spin on the outdoor ice rink.”
Slated to bring the holiday season to a close in the city is First Night Alexandria’s fireworks show above the Potomac River. The New Year’s Eve show will last approximately 10 minutes at midnight. Visit Alexandria suggests viewing the show at several parks, including Rivergate Park and Waterfront Park. Festivities that night will also include music, comedy and dance.
The town of Fincastle goes all out for the holidays through a mixture of old and new traditions.
The Botetourt County Chamber of Commerce started the First Bank Tinsel Trail three years ago, which has quickly become a popular town tradition. More than 50 trees that are decorated by local organizations line the streets of the historic downtown area, including in front of the courthouse. The trees stay up throughout the month of December.
The holiday fun in Fincastle doesn’t just extend to Christmas, but also New Year’s Eve. The town holds tight to its more than 150-year-old tradition of literally ringing in the new year with The Bells of Fincastle.
Fifteen minutes before midnight, the tolling starts. “The bell in the Court House is struck and afterwards, at twelve second intervals, bells of the churches ring in a clockwise order about the town: Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, and Episcopal,” a description from Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge reads. “This continues until the bell at the Court House strikes twelve. Taps are played to signify respect for the dying year. The bell-ringers in the Court House then strike the digits of the New Year.”
The celebration is capped off with a shotgun blast, followed by 10 additional minutes of bell ringing.
To be such a small city, the Southwest Virginia city of Galax has taken its light shows very seriously since the 1980s.
The city stages High Country Lights, a free musical light show featuring over 200,000 Christmas lights that are choreographed to the sounds of the season, every night at 6 p.m. from late November to Jan. 1 at Felts Park.
“During the busy time of year, it’s one way of bringing loved ones together to celebrate the season,” the description reads.
The light show also features carriage rides, food trucks, visits from Santa and areas to take selfies.
Norfolk celebrates the magic of the holidays through a number of events, shopping and dining experiences and traditions.
For an interactive seasonal activity, try completing Elf Door Discovery. The scavenger hunt tasks participants with searching for the 100 tiny, colorful entrances that “elves have installed” near theaters, restaurants and hotels throughout Downtown Norfolk. Since the doors aren’t lit, it’s suggested that the hunt be completed during the daytime. Children may like to complete the accompanying activity sheet after they’ve tired of door searching.
For those who want to take a spin on the ice, the MacArthur Center’s MacArthur on Ice offers a 7,200-square-foot outdoor ice rink that is open through the middle of January.
Rail buffs will likely want to visit the Selden Market’s free model train exhibit that is presented by the Atlantic Coast S Gaugers Tidewater Division through Dec. 24. Those who are more retail-inclined may prefer the Selden Holiday Market.
The holiday fun doesn’t just extend to the downtown area. The Dominion Energy Garden of Lights at the Norfolk Botanical Garden is a can’t miss. The light display, which is open nightly between 5 and 9 p.m. from the middle of November through Jan. 1, follows a one-mile walking route at the tranquil 175-acre garden.
In Roanoke, neighborhoods, businesses and organizations band together to spread holiday cheer.
Last year, one of the city’s neighborhoods launched the Old Southwest Festival of Lights that runs through Dec. 31. Those who walk or drive through the historic neighborhood are promised to see porches that are “merry and bright.”
Ice skating is offered all season long in the heart of the city as part of WDBJ7’s Elmwood on Ice.
Those who visit The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center’s Fashions for Evergreens will likely get “Home Alone 2” vibes given the hotel’s resemblance to the opulence of The Plaza Hotel. However, The Hotel Roanoke has far more Christmas trees! The trees can be looked at for free 24/7 through Jan. 1.
Nearby Roanoke County has an abundance of holiday lights at Explore Park’s Illuminights Winter Walk of Lights. The half-mile wooded path features over 650,000 lights. The experience also includes food trucks, marshmallow roasting around a campfire and a Christmas market where over 50 artisans sell their wares. The city rings in the new year in a boisterous fashion with the ValleyStar Big Lick Downtown Countdown every Dec. 31 starting at 8:30 p.m. at Center in the Square. The celebration includes live bands, disc jockeys, games, cocktails, craft beer and food.