Spending quality time with friends and family is one of the best parts of the holiday season, but things can often get expensive, between buying gifts for everyone on your list, going out for holiday meals, and enjoying all the annual holiday activities like breakfast with Santa and pop-up holiday cocktail bars. If you’re looking for free things to do in Virginia during the holidays, here are a few ideas that will save you money while filling your days with holiday cheer!
Take a Winter Hike!
Photo Credit: Nick Palastro, @nickpalastro
There are countless hiking trails located throughout Virginia, and while some are located in parks that have an admission or parking fee, many are absolutely free. Virginia’s hiking trails are frequently visited from spring to fall, but winter is a highly underrated time to check them out! Trails with waterfalls dazzle in cold temps as the cascading waterways freeze over, and the hikes that end in breathtaking vistas allow you to see even further in the crystal clear air of winter.
The most popular hiking trails in Virginia see bigger crowds during the warmer months, so the off-season is an opportunity to enjoy the solitude of nature and the stunning scenery without having to step aside for other hikers. Visit a few of Virginia’s best winter hiking trails to find the irresistible beauty that Virginia has to offer year-round.
Photo Credit: Keith Jennings, @keithjenningsphotography
One such hike is Southwest Virginia’s Little Stony Falls Trail, a three-mile moderately difficult trail with large waterfalls. In the winter months, the waterfalls become sheets of ice as the temperatures drop below freezing, and the resulting immobile cascades are awe-inspiring. Be sure to wear shoes with proper grip, as there are a few areas that require hikers to scramble over boulders and cross tough terrain.
More Free Stunning Winter Hikes:
Hit the Road for a Tacky Lights Tour
Brilliant light displays are a big part of the holidays in Virginia, and many are set up inside the grounds of places like botanical gardens or parks, requiring an admission fee. However, some regions have drive-by tacky light displays that are organized by homeowners. In Northern Virginia cities like Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax, there are dozens of homes absolutely blazing with holiday lights and decorations.
Another option is the Richmond Tacky Lights Tour; while it’s totally free to drive around in your own vehicle to see these lights, several local companies offer charter bus and limousine rentals, allowing you and your friends to relax and take in the lights without worrying about directions or traffic. But if free is what you’re looking for, map out your route and hop in the car with your friends and family to experience unbelievable light shows that will make 2021 a memorable year for holiday celebrations!
More Free Lights Tours:
Stroll Down Decorated Streets in Virginia’s Most Festive Towns
Photo Credit: Misha Enriquez for Visit Alexandria
Take in the holiday decor of storefronts and city squares as you walk through a decorated Virginia town. You’ll see lights, unique displays, and garland strung through most towns and cities throughout the Commonwealth, but several Virginia towns go above and beyond with festive touches, putting up towering Christmas trees, dazzling lights, and picturesque seasonal decor on practically every square inch of the streets! Plan a holiday road trip to one of these festive towns to get into the spirit of the season.
Photo Credit: KRISTIAN SUMMERER FOR VISIT ALEXANDRIA
An over-the-top holiday destination worth a visit is Old Town Alexandria, particularly King Street. This cobblestone street feels as if you’ve stepped into a Dickens village, and the classic architecture is adorned with twinkling lights, lush garland, and picture-perfect wreaths. Many of the restaurants and bakeries offer holiday treats, and if you’re in the mood to shop for friends and family, there are dozens of locally-owned boutique shops to peruse while you explore Old Town Alexandria.
Check out Historic Holiday Open Houses
While not every event is free, some of Virginia’s historic houses and gorgeous estates allow visitors to come see their seasonal decor without an entry fee during holiday open houses.
Photo Credit: Creative Dog Media, @creativedogmedia
The annual Christmas Open House at Patrick Henry’s Red Hill, held on December 5, 2021, is free and open to the public (although donations are always appreciated!). Guides will take you on a tour of the historic buildings on the property while you sip on complimentary mulled cider. Locally-made Brunswick stew and holiday cookies will also be available for purchase throughout the day. Before attending the open house, reserve one of their homemade boxwood wreaths to bring home and add a touch of holiday spirit to your front door.
More Free Open Houses:
Attend a Holiday Parade or Tree Lighting Ceremony
Beginning in mid-November and continuing through early December, holiday parades and tree lighting ceremonies occur throughout Virginia, kicking off the start of the season with festive events that will delight the entire family.
In Virginia’s picturesque Horse Country, Christmas in Middleburg is an annual event happening on December 4, 2021. Beginning the night before (December 3), a tree lighting ceremony and carols is the first event in the celebration, followed by a Breakfast with Santa on Saturday morning, a craft fair where you can shop for holiday gifts, and Santa’s Workshop, which hosts kid-friendly activities throughout the morning and afternoon.
Photo Credit: Fred deSousa
The highlights of Christmas in Middleburg are the Middleburg Hunt & Hounds Review, a showcase of mounted foxhunt riders and hounds put on by the Middleburg Hunt, and the Christmas Parade, where over-the-top floats and local groups make their way down Middleburg’s Washington Street. Afterwards, cap off the day with Spirits of Middleburg as you taste your way through the food, spirits, wines, and ciders at establishments throughout town.
More Free Christmas Parades & Tree Lighting Events:
- Yorktown Christmas Tree Lighting—Yorktown
- 75th Annual Greater Manassas Christmas Parade—Manassas
- Lighted Boat Parade—Yorktown
- Old Fashioned Christmas Parade in Chincoteague—Chincoteague
- Annual Candlelight Processional & Lighting of Community Christmas Tree—Lexington
- Buchanan Christmas Parade—Buchanan
- Christmas Parade in Lovingston—Lovingston
Visit a Decorated LOVEworks
There are currently over 300 LOVEworks peppered throughout Virginia, and many of these are decked out with garland, lights, and other seasonal trimmings to celebrate the holidays. These unique Virginia installations allow you to share the LOVE with your favorite people, and if you haven’t already taken family photos, they are the perfect backdrop to create beautiful memories with your loved ones.
Every LOVEwork is independently decorated by local community members, so check our LOVEworks map to find one near you and see what lovely holiday decor has been added to these fun Virginia landmarks!
Browse Holiday Markets
Holiday markets are a great place to browse for holiday gifts, and while you may be tempted to spend money, these decorated markets are free to stroll through and enjoy the company of your friends and family as you look at handmade gifts crafted by local artisans. And if you do decide to splurge on a little holiday shopping, you’ll be supporting local Virginia makers while also getting high-quality goods made right here in the Commonwealth!
Photo Credit: Shannon Terry
Downtown Roanoke’s Dickens of a Christmas, an annual holiday event now in its 39th year, happens December 3rd, 10th, and 17th in 2021. In addition to a holiday market held each of the three days, December 3rd includes a Christmas Tree Lighting event, December 10th features a holiday parade, and the 17th begins with a pet costume contest and culminates with a carnival for the kids complete with rides that are free of charge.
More Free Holiday Markets:
- Holiday Market at the Martha—Abingdon
- Holiday Market & Christmas Tree Arrival—Virginia Beach
- Sip & Shop Holiday Vendors Market at Stony Point Mall—Richmond
- Holiday Gift Market: A Local Maker Pop-Up Event—Culpeper
- Old Town Manassas Christmas Market & Holiday Craft Show—Manassas
- Mistletoe Market—Yorktown
- Christmas Market on Main—Yorktown
- Evening Mistletoe Market—Smithfield
- Belle Grove Plantation Kris Kringle Outdoor Market—Middletown
We hope these ideas will inspire you to enjoy all that Virginia has to offer during the holiday season, but be sure to share your ideas with us for what you like to do when it comes to free or affordable fun in the comments below!