These 10 stops will have your group feeling festive

During the holiday season, the wonders of Virginia shine even brighter than the rest of the year. Illuminations glow against the night sky over the Atlantic Ocean, theaters seize the season with endearing, annual performances, restaurants create traditional menus, historical sites and gardens display their finery. From mid-November into the new year, holidays aren’t just spoken in the Virginia, they sing.

1. It’s the most wonderful time of the year at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond when the annual Dominion Energy Gardenfest of Lights, well, lights up. More than half-a-million twinkling lights illuminate handcrafted botanical-themed decorations on the grounds. During Gardenfest, escorted visits are available plus the Tea House and The Garden Cafe are open for dining. On Tuesday evenings, carolers stroll the garden. Wow-worthy, for sure. (lewisginter.org, visitrichmondva.com)

Lewis Ginter Walkway

The Dominion GardenFest of Lights is a holiday tradition featuring more than half-a-million lights, hand-crafted botanical decorations, model trains, holiday dinners, a fire pit with s’mores and hot chocolate and nightly family activities.
Virginia Tourism Corporation, www.Virginia.org

2. Rockin’ around Virginia Beach starts with a super holiday experience. “Groups can ride in the comfort of their motorcoach down the iconic Virginia Beach Boardwalk — the only time of year that vehicles are allowed on the Boardwalk,” said Jim Coggin, tourism sales manager for Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Festive fish, musical crabs and hard-working elves – all in brightly colored lights against the moonlit Atlantic Ocean – are the stars of BayPort Credit Union Holiday Lights Merry Mile.” The archways also display appreciative tributes to the region’s strong Armed Forces community. “The holidays are a great time to visit Virginia Beach,” said Coggin. (beachstreetusa.com, visitvirginiabeach.com/grouptour)

3. Have a holly, jolly dinner cruise on the Spirit of Norfolk, part of Hornblower’s Spirit Cruises. On a two-or three-hour Holiday Dinner Cruise on the historic Elizabeth River, be awed by the lights of Norfolk’s waterfront and the massive United States Navy Atlantic Fleet. Be entertained and dine from a festive buffet. Staying for New Year’s? Celebrate 2021 onboard with a cruise, a lunch or a brunch. (spiritcruises.com)

4. On the first day of a holiday tour, step into the early colonies with a glimpse of traditions celebrated in the 17th and 18th century at the Jamestown Settlement. “Christmastide in Virginia” includes interpretive programs, demonstrations and appearances by the lively Lord of Misrule. (historyisfun.org)

5. Santa Claus is coming to the town of Hampton for the First Light Celebration at Hampton History Museum. Hampton is the oldest continuous English-speaking settlement in America. (hampton.gov)

Holiday scenes for RRT

Tacky Lights Tour

6. Decked halls, yards, trees and rooftops create the fun, flashy Richmond Times-Dispatch (RTD) Tacky Lights Tour, exclusively in Richmond. It is a favorite of Mary Lewis, chief of experiences at Heart of Virginia Tours and Receptive Services. “It’s a wow,” Lewis said, “and a favorite stop on our tours in Richmond.” The tour drives through the neighborhoods where homes and yards commit to a minimum of 40,000 lights, then stay on the coach for a turn on Monument Avenue to be wowed again by elegant mansions dressed in simpler finery. (visitrichmondva. com, hovtour.com)

7. Jingle bells rock during the Riverside Christmas Spectacular at the Riverside Center for Performing Arts in Stafford. A crowd favorite, the returning variety show features at least 20 musical numbers from “Silver Bells” to high-stepping “Hot Chocolate” from “Polar Express.” In a few scenes, the audience is encouraged to join in. Matinee performances are available plus dinner-and-a-show presentations, too. (riversidedt.com)

VA Beach Boardwalk Lights

Virginia Beach Boardwalk Lights

8. Frosty the snowman worked up an appetite when he thumpety thump, thumped his way to Virginia Beach. After a taping of the 700 Club at the Christian Broadcasting Network, lunch at The Founders Inn or reserve a group dinner at Rockafellers, which is just as much fun at year-end as summer. The restaurant is part of the Virginia Oyster Trail; oyster stew is a Virginia tradition on Christmas morning. The Thoroughgood House shares tales of early Virginia Christmases along with low-country Brunswick stew. The Doorway Singers at the Military Aviation Museum entertain with a holiday set over lunch. (visitvirginiabeach.com)

9. Have yourself a merry little New Year’s Eve in Portsmouth. The countdown to the new year begins with the Olde Towne Scottish Walk, fashioned after Scotland’s Hogmanay Festival and a grand way to wish luck and prosperity in the coming year. (portsvacation.com)

10. There are candles in the windows and carolers on the streets during the holidays at Colonial Williamsburg. And great shopping, too. With tradespeople, on Merchant’s Square and off-site. (colonialwilliamsburg.com)

By Mary Lu Laffey