December brings the holiday season to the Commonwealth, with everywhere from the smallest charming towns to the largest cities decked out in their finest decor. From parades and seasonal events like “Breakfast with Santa” to festive hotels and brilliant lights tours, this is a magical time to visit the Commonwealth.
You’ll find all of these when you visit the Northern Virginia area, especially in destinations like Leesburg and Alexandria. For a more small-town feel, head to Leesburg, filled with boutique hotels, locally-owned shops, delicious restaurants, and plenty of wineries and breweries, all within a short drive of downtown.
Photo Credit: Lee Moody, @oldtownblackdog
Alexandria boasts dozens of shops and restaurants along the historic cobblestoned King Street, located in the Old Town Alexandria district. Just across the Potomac from the nation’s capital, Alexandria is a convenient getaway for those looking to explore Virginia from the Washington, D.C. area, but Leesburg is also close by, roughly a one-hour drive from D.C.
The Newest Attractions in Northern Virginia
A nineties-inspired pizza joint, Nighthawk Pizza and Beer opened in Arlington in early 2022, serving crisp, thin-crust, classic New York-style, and even thick and hearty Detroit-style pizza slices as well as a huge selection of low-alcohol beers.
Tysons added the 178-room boutique hotel, The Archer Tysons, the seventh property for the award-winning national hotel brand. The hotel exudes a casual elegance, with lofted ceilings, exposed brick, and industrial-chic design, and reflects the “Virginia is for Lovers” brand in their Virginia-focused artwork and an array of products available for guests. The Archer Tysons also features a buzzy hotel bar called AKB, where guests can sample seasonally curated cocktails, wines, and craft beers.
Baseball enthusiasts will love The Ballpark Loudoun, an active entertainment experience for all ages and skill levels. The Ballpark Loudoun is like TopGolf, but for baseball, allowing visitors to play “America’s favorite pastime” in a unique, reimagined way, with cutting-edge technology, delicious food, and top-of-the-line equipment.
Where to Stay
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Morrison House
The Morrison House, the only AAA Four Diamond Hotel in Alexandria, is a 45-room hotel inspired by the city’s rich history and landscapes. Amenities include fireplaces in select rooms, pet-friendly lodging, and a wine hour every evening from Sunday to Tuesday. Guests can enjoy a meal at The Study Bar, the on-site restaurant and bar that focuses on elevated Modern American plates and cocktails or book a private dining experience for special events.
Conveniently located just a block from the Potomac River and two blocks from all the shopping and restaurants on King Street, the pet-friendly Hotel Indigo boasts modern, bright décor, with carefully curated touches both inside and out. Consider dining at Hummingbird, the hotel’s restaurant, which serves up American fare including an array of seafood options.
Another option near Alexandria’s waterfront is The Alexandrian, a Marriott property that also caters to their four-legged guests with pet-friendly accommodations. The menu at King & Rye, the Alexandrian’s restaurant, leans into Southern American cuisine with dishes like fried chicken and shrimp & grits.
Leesburg’s Lansdowne Resort is a luxurious lodging option for those staying further west of Washington, D.C. Sitting on 500 pristine acres along the Potomac River, Lansdowne is a AAA Four-Diamond property that includes tons of upscale amenities, from a relaxing spa and wellness center with two indoor and three outdoor pools to 45 holes of golf and several on-site restaurants.
Where to Eat
Photo Credit: Kristian Summerer for Visit Alexandria
There is no shortage of critically-acclaimed restaurants in Alexandria; Brabo Brasserie, Mia’s Italian Kitchen, The Majestic, and Virtue Feed & Grain are all mainstays in the culinary community and great options for foodies visiting this Northern Virginia city.
Photo Credit: John Park, @hungryasianrke
Head to the popular Del Rey neighborhood and try Yunnan by Potomac Noodle House, a restaurant that specializes in cuisine from Yunnan, a diverse region in southwest China. The menu showcases vibrant dishes like a variety of Bao buns, Chinese-style barbecues, and Mixian rice noodles– light and almost fluffy rice noodles–prepared with braised meats, rich broths, and a selection of complementing spices and sauces.
Sample some of Virginia’s award-winning craft beers at Port City Brewing Co. The longest-operating brewery in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, Port City’s tasting room is only a few miles west of Old Town Alexandria and is both family-friendly and pet-friendly.
While Leesburg is a smaller city than Alexandria, there are still a wide variety of restaurants within the downtown area worth a visit. Order Virginia oysters and other fresh seafood from King Street Oyster Bar, or experience an island vibe at MacDowell’s Beach, an outdoor sandy oasis complete with fire pits and heaters during the chillier winter months.
For fine dining in Leesburg, make reservations at The Conche. Named for the chocolate machine invented in the late 1800s to produce smoother, more luxurious chocolate, the restaurant specializes in sweet and savory dishes made with cocoa in all forms. This is not the place to count calories; the restaurant features a chocolate lab where diners can watch the chocolate-making process unfold as they sample decadently delicious fare, so dessert is a must.
What to Do
Photo Credit: Carol Stalun, @caroljeanphotography
While in Downtown Alexandria, stop by the “I Love You” sign at Waterfront Park and snap a picture to remember your visit, then continue to the Torpedo Factory Arts Center to peruse works created by local artists.
Photo Credit: Kristian Summerer for Visit Alexandria
Pick out presents for friends and family at the boutiques lining King Street, from home goods and high-end fashion to locally-made artisan goods and antiques.
Make reservations at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the historic home to America’s Founding Father and first President of the United States. While you can book the standard day tours, consider reserving tickets for Mount Vernon by Candlelight, a Christmas-themed night tour with light refreshments, seasonal music, and historic interpreters in holiday garb.
Photo Credit: Cameron Davidson
Visit during the first weekend of December to experience Alexandria’s biggest holiday weekend. Festivities include a parade of Scottish clans and Scottie dogs down the cobblestoned streets, a boat parade on the Potomac River, and countless homes decked out with seasonal lights and garland. Named by Condé Nast Traveler as one of the “Best U.S. Cities to Visit at Christmas”, Alexandria packs quite a festive punch during the holiday season.
Leesburg offers boutique shopping opportunities in the Historic Downtown District, as well as deep discounts on high-quality brands at the Leesburg Premium Outlets. Surround yourself with the spirit of the holidays at Old Lucketts Store, a restored general store dating to 1879 that carries home goods, antiques, and furnishings. The store goes above and beyond for the holidays, with decor bursting from every corner of the spacious shop.
Get a feel for local history at Oatlands Historic House & Gardens, a preserved estate and National Historic Landmark, or Morven Park, a 1000-acre park with formal gardens, three museums, and miles of walking trails open to the public.
Within Loudoun County, there are over 50 wineries and tasting rooms, and no visit to Leesburg is complete without at least one winery on the itinerary. A few favorites close to Leesburg include Stone Tower Winery, the Barns at Hamilton Station, and Walsh Family Wine.
More Virginia Vacation Ideas for December
Virginia is jam-packed with exciting holiday events in December, such as parades and grand illuminations, so no matter where you go, there are plenty of activities to fill your schedule with holiday cheer.
Photo Credit: Michael Simon, @michaelsimonphoto
In Richmond, attend the Dominion GardenFest of Lights at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, open nightly from 4-10pm. The gardens are blanketed with millions of twinkling lights during December, creating a magical landscape that truly captures the spirit of the season. Tickets are limited and have timed arrivals, and weekend dates often sell out quickly, so be sure to reserve your tickets well in advance.
Photo Credit: Addie Roark
Travelers heading to Coastal Virginia can walk through brilliant light displays at Norfolk Botanical Garden’s “Garden of Lights”, held each night from 5-9pm.
Photo Credit: Doug Spence, @vabchdoug
Find more holiday cheer in Norfolk at Winterfest on the Wisconsin, a holiday celebration at the Nauticus Museum. The largest battleship ever built by the U.S. Navy is decked out with over a million lights during December.
Photo Credit: Alexander Smith
Experience another coastal holiday spectacle at the Bayport Credit Union Holiday Lights at the Beach, a drive-thru light display along Virginia Beach’s iconic Boardwalk.
Photo Credit: Sam Dean, @sdeanphotos
Finally, no winter in Virginia is complete without a getaway to a mountain resort. For a luxury stay in the mountains, consider booking a weekend at the Omni Homestead or Primland Resort, or take the entire family to either Wintergreen Resort, Massanutten Resort, or Bryce Resort for adrenaline adventures on the slopes that the whole family will love.