Virginia Shines Bright with Holiday Cheer

Activities, Magazine Features

Christmas festivities provide a Santa’s bag full of group tour options in communities all gussied up for the season

Well into its second decade, the annual 100 Miles of Lights holiday festival stretches from Richmond to Virginia Beach during mid-November through December. Seven individual destinations have partnered to blend historic sites and homes, entertainment, shopping, dining and marvelous light displays into memorable tour options.

One of the pure beauties of this Virginia festival is its flexibility. Regardless of your accommodations location, length of stay, interests or budget, there are numerous options available. Here are just a few to get you started.


The city’s historic homes take center stage during the holidays. Tudor-style Agecroft Hall is fully decorated for the season. At the nearby Virginia House guests craft their own gingerbread house and afterwards enjoy afternoon tea service and a tour. Maymont is splendid with Victorian Christmas decor.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden comes to life from late November to mid-January with its GardenFest of Lights. More than a half-million lights are presented in botanical arrangements. Begin your afternoon with a moving re-enactment of Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech at St. John’s Church followed by dinner at the botanical garden and its lights display.

The Carpenter Center at Richmond CenterStage, Swift Creek Mill Theatre and Hanover Tavern offer seasonal evening entertainment. Performances and an African Market are featured during Capital City Kwanzaa Festival.

Greater Williamsburg Area

The Historic Triangle of Virginia is filled with a multitude of seasonal events. History, entertaining shows, shopping and, of course, twinkling lights complement the holidays.

Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town sparkles with eight million lights and holiday entertainment rivaling the best Broadway shows. Visitors experience Christmas traditions from around the world, making Christmas Town their holiday event with dinner and a mug of Busch Gardens’ signature hot chocolate.

With more than 100 unique events, Colonial Williamsburg delivers the joy and merriment of the 18th century. Throughout the Revolutionary City you are welcomed with music and entertainment, dining and evergreen decorations adorning doors and windows of historic homes. The Grand Illumination and Fireworks on a memorable night in early December celebrates the Christmas season. The illumination of Colonial Williamsburg’s buildings with candles and cressets, complete with narrative, is scheduled throughout the season.

Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center display the Christmas traditions of the 17th and 18th centuries. Hear the struggles of a Christmas and winter encampment at Yorktown and the story of a 1780s farm as it prepares for the holidays.

Not to be missed are the boat parade at Historic Yorktown and shopping at Premier Outlets, Williamsburg Pottery Factory, and countless boutiques and specialty shops throughout the area.

Newport News

From mid-November through Jan. 1 there are more than 200 displays at the 23rd Annual Celebration of Lights, Virginia’s oldest drive-through light show. This spectacular display features more than 700,000 lights and is just one reason nighttime is the right time in Newport News.

The Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center houses the Ella Fitzgerald Theater, named for the “First Lady of Song,” who was born in Newport News in 1917. The theater offers a variety of holiday performances. Christopher Newport University’s Ferguson Center for the Arts has welcomed holiday performances of A Christmas Carol, Mannheim Steamroller Christmas by Chip Davis, Virginia Symphony Orchestra: Handel’s Messiah, The Irish Tenors Christmas and Hits and many more. The Boxwood Inn “dinnertainment” should be a part of every itinerary.


Hampton Holidays invites you to establish a new tradition this year. A full line-up of events begins the Saturday before Thanksgiving with the 17th Annual Holiday Parade starting at Coliseum Central.

Holiday shopping comes easy in Hampton. The open-air Peninsula Town Center features more than 60 retailers and restaurants, including Macy’s and every imaginable menu. Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World is an attraction in itself. The Hampton History Museum’s Holiday Market features entertainment, arts and crafts, and food. Plan to join the museum’s First Light Celebration with Christmas carols, yummy goodies and ornament making.

The American Theatre, a restored vaudeville house dating back to 1908, will soon be announcing its 2015 holiday performance schedule. The Charles H. Taylor Arts Center welcomes groups to its diverse array of seasonal exhibitions.


The “Holidays in the City” celebration begins Nov. 21, 2015 with the 31st annual Grand Illumination Parade. The lighting of the downtown skyline signals the beginning of a parade of spectacular floats, marching bands, giant balloons, dancers and Santa. A visit to Dickens’ Christmas Towne is a conveyance to Victorian London.

Busch Gardens

Busch Gardens

MacArthur Center, the area’s leading shopping destination, becomes an event-filled winter spectacular with MacArthur on Ice and the Winter Carnival at MacArthur Center. Not to be missed is the Norfolk Botanical Garden Dominion Garden of Lights. In a USA Today/Inside Edition poll the public voted Dominion Garden of Lights #8 best light show in the country.

Planning your itinerary around seasonal, evening entertainment options is a breeze. The Virginia Stage Company performs year round at the historic Wells Theatre with a special holiday production in December. Chrysler Hall hosts The Nutcracker, performed with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, Virginia Children’s Chorus and Todd Rosenlieb Dance. The T.C.C. Roper Performing Arts Center has presented such holiday favorites as Hurray for the Holidays and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.


With its neighbor across the Elizabeth River the Olde Towne Portsmouth skyline is illuminated on Nov. 21. On the weekend following Thanksgiving the holiday season kicks into high gear with the opening of Winter Wonderland at Portsmouth Art and Culture Center. From the Coleman Nursery Collection that for 39 years dazzled Portsmouth residents and visitors, the center has re-created the display that featured “Snow Babies,” “Snow Palace,” “Christmas Towne 1890,” “Teddy Bear Land” and many more.

Every Friday and Saturday in December the Children’s Museum of Virginia presents Snow Wonder! Snow and Light Shows. Music fills the museum and snow falls in the planetarium. All ages will enjoy the show. Round out your visit to Portsmouth with a stop at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum. A special Holiday Pass granting admission to all three major venues is available.

Virginia Beach

During “The Season of Lights,” Virginia Beach combines coastal charm, historic homes, whale watching, a boardwalk of lights and one very delicious, gourmet chocolate bar.

Holiday Lights at the Beach might be one of the more unique experiences. You’ll enjoy a spectacular view of more than 500,000 lights and 250 displays as you cruise comfortably in your motorcoach on the boardwalk. If they know you’re coming, you’ll even get that chocolate bar. Do save an evening for a seasonal performance at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts. Located in The Town Center of Virginia Beach, it’s perfect for shopping, dinner and a show.

A visit to historic homes Lynnhaven, Adam Thoroughgood and Francis Land House, each decked out in period holiday decorations, is a must. A guided tour of Naval Air Station Oceana or a stop at the Military Aviation Museum for “Swingin’ in the Skies” highlights our nation’s proud military air history. Dinner at the Founders Inn is followed by a stroll through the English gardens and its 100,000 lights.

We haven’t even scratched the surface of all the options available to fill a 100 Miles of Lights itinerary. To learn more and get your planning started, phone 888-493-7386, ext. 100, or visit Remember, Christmas is just around the corner.

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