The Commonwealth of Virginia is one of the most attractive vacation destinations in America for holiday travelers. Few other places in the country can rival the Dominion State’s festive atmosphere, as well as the great effort that local communities put into making visitors feel welcome during the Christmas season. Seasonal tourists enjoy staying warm and cozy inside of idyllic Virginia vacation rentals until local festivities call them out to join in on fun and excitement. Here are seven must-see holiday attractions in Virginia.
If Christmas is the time to visit Virginia, then Richmond is the place to start the trip. Forever the dignified state capital, Richmond puts on an annual Christmas display in the government district to rival that of Washington D.C. Here, the world-class Richmond Ballet delights crowds with special performances of The Nutcracker each December. The city also puts on a garish Tacky Lights competition in several neighborhoods. Cruise the streets after dark to see ingenious efforts to produce the most hideously overdone and miserably loud residential decorations conceivable. Richmond is also the place to start your tour of the state if you plan -– and you really should -– to take in 100 Miles of Lights, one of the most touching and extravagant holiday displays in the world. Each year, this amazing setup lights the 100-mile corridor from the State Capitol Building in Richmond to the seaside vacation destination of Virginia Beach with twinkling, festive holiday lights and seasonal decorations.
2. Virginia Beach
The far end of 100 Miles of Lights, Virginia Beach celebrates Christmas by anchoring the chain of decorations that stretches all the way back, through Williamsburg, Newport News, Norfolk, and Portsmouth, to the Capitol Building in Richmond. Of course, traveling through that scenic wonderland is only one reason to visit Virginia Beach at Christmas; the town goes all out to make each Christmas a special one for visiting families. Check out the Virginia Aquarium for its annual Sailing With Santa kids’ event, then hit the beach for McDonald’s Lights on the Beach display, which is good for at least one postcard photo.
The quaint hamlet of Abingdon lights up the southwestern corner of Virginia with public lights, a town Christmas tree, and holiday shows for both grownups and children at the Barter Theater. Abingdon is especially attractive as a vacation destination, as the town boasts a seemingly endless variety of boutique shopping spots and an authentic Colonial Inn called the Tavern, where you and your mug of grog can melt the snow on your shoulders by a roaring communal fire.
Virginia is littered with grand old historical sites, and out-of-state visitors aren’t allowed to go home without touring at least half of them. Fredericksburg is one of the more charming places to check off your quota of Virginia’s long history, and Christmas is when Ye Olde Goode Days are in full force. All month long, tourists in Fredericksburg enjoy open-top carriage rides and holiday night walks to gawk at the amazing decorations. The downtown area feels as if it’s always about to break out in a full-scale Christmas parade, which, in fact, it does eventually, usually near the middle of the month, and not too late in the evening for the youngest children to stay up and wave at Santa.
Bedford is the town that taught Virginia how to Christmas. Starting with the Festival of Trees at the local welcome center, the festivities here run all the way through town to the brilliant lights display at Liberty Lake Park and into the residential areas around the city center, where homeowners duke it out over which house is the most elaborately decorated for the holiday. Each December 4, the populace turns out to Centertown for the tree lighting ceremony, followed the next day by a parade. Parents with kids on their way to ask for an authentic Red Ryder BB gun at SantaLand can take the strain off their feet with a holiday carriage ride through the town center.
Williamsburg residents are proud of their town’s long history. So proud, in fact, that it’s nearly impossible to visit without hearing all about it from one of the city’s numerous trained and costumed guides. Colonial Williamsburg celebrates Christmas in -– what else? -– historical style with reenactments and tours for all ages about how the Christmas season used to be celebrated back when Virginia was still a Crown Colony. Other events around town include parades and a special live theatrical performance that varies each year; sometimes it’s a classic, such as “A Christmas Carol” or “The Nutcracker,” while other years bring something new and wholly unique to the live stage.
Starting on December 4, downtown Roanoke officially goes over the top for Christmas with the “Dickens of a Christmas” event. Live shows, street performances, and activities for the kids culminate, just a few minutes after dark, with the annual City of Roanoke Christmas Tree Lighting. Your family can top off the evening with a round of skating at Elmwood Park and a brisk walk back to your vacation rental past the elaborate Victorian-inspired decorations everybody seems to have.
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