There are so many things to do in Alexandria, VA, that you could spend days on end and not run out of ideas. And the small city has such a unique vibe and appeal that you’ll fall in love at first sight. Alexandria is utterly charming!
With its convenient location, only 8 miles from downtown Washington DC by car and a short ride away on the MetroRail, it makes a wonderful day trip or weekend getaway for couples or girlfriends looking to escape the hubbub of the nation’s capital.
Things to Do in Old Town Alexandria
Stroll the King Street Mile
King Street is the heart of Old Town Alexandria and is lined with a seemingly endless array of unique shops, restaurants, and historical points of interest.
The architecture alone is worth the stroll. So grab an ice cream—Forbes named Alexandria the “ice cream cone capital of the United States”—and enjoy a pleasant outing in the heart of this nationally designated historic district.
If your feet get tired, you can always hop on and hop off the FREE King Street Trolley. It runs every 15 minutes with several stops between the King Street Metrorail Station and City Hall/Market Square.
See the Skinniest House in America
This itty bitty bright blue townhouse on Queen Street is just 7 feet wide and 25 feet deep. Though it elicits smiles today, there was no smile on John Hollensbury’s face when he built it in 1830 out of spite. Thus the reason it’s called a “spite” house.
Tired of the noise of constant horse-drawn wagons and people in the alley beside his home, he blocked both ends of the passage and used the brick walls of the adjacent homes as the sides of the new house. Interestingly, the interior living room walls still show the old wagon wheel gouges.
It was only 325 square feet, but it did the job. Problem solved.
Take in the Waterfront Vistas
Enjoy the picturesque views of Washington DC and the Potomac River from Alexandria’s waterfront and take a peek at the latest exhibition in the Site See: New Views in Old Town public art series.
The exhibitions change annually, and this year’s installation is a neon-lit postcard-style “I Love You” exhibit— a picture-perfect Instagram spot.
The 2021 exhibition, entitled Groundswell, featured over 100 wood pilings ranging in height to reflect the Potomac River’s topography. Each piling’s reflective surface is etched with growth rings to indicate the passage of time.
Once you’ve relaxed and refreshed on the shore, hop on a sightseeing cruise or take a water taxi for a new perspective of this beautiful Northern Virginia escape.
Dine at Iconic Eateries
There are dozens of Old Town Alexandria restaurants to entice for lunch and dinner options. We were drawn in by the neon marquee-style sign of The Majestic on King Street and loved the food, the art-deco vibe, and the jazz music.
Another solid choice is Virtue Feed & Grain, located in an 1800s feed house. It’s now a modern American tavern but retains its historical charm.
For early risers, kickstart your day with a cup of coffee or hot tea and French-inspired pastries and crepes at Cafe du Soleil, a cozy and cute cafe in the heart of the historic district.
Wander through Captain’s Row
Spend some time winding your way through the scenic neighborhoods to see the colorful row houses and eyecatching architecture, turning onto Prince Street’s Captain’s Row—the oldest cobblestone street in Old Town.
The name comes from Captain John Harper, a sea captain who built many of these Federal-style homes in the late 1700s. Legend has it that the cobblestones were brought from England in ships as ballast and laid during the Revolutionary War by captured Hessians. But the bubble-bursting truth is that most of the stones likely came from the Potomac River.
Either way, the cobblestones add considerable charm to this picturesque part of town.
Torpedo Factory Art Center
Once the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station, the factory build torpedoes for five years before converting to munitions storage. Now, the Torpedo Factory Art Center is home to the largest number of publicly accessible working artist studios in the U.S.
Visitors can pop in and watch artists create in various media–including painting, ceramics, photography, jewelry, stained glass, fiber, printmaking, and sculpture. There are also several galleries and an archaeology museum to wander through.
Visit the Oldest Farmers Market
For more than 260 years, the Old Town Farmers’ Market vendors have been selling fruits, vegetables, cheese, bread, pastries, and more. It’s one of the longest continuously operating farmer’s markets in the U.S. and well worth a stop.
Unlock Alexandria’s History
Stop by the Visitor Center (221 King Street) for a Key to the City Attractions Pass ($20). The pass includes admission to 9 historic sites and discounted admission to many others. (Check open status here.)
• Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum
• Alexandria Black History Museum
• Alexandria’s History Museum at the Lyceum
• Carlyle House Historic Park
• Freedom House Museum
• Friendship Firehouse Museum
• Gadsby’s Tavern Museum
• George Washington Masonic National Memorial Observation Deck
• Lee-Fendall House Museum & Garden
Take a Ghost Tour
Make it a night you’ll never forget as you hear the haunted tales of the ghosts of Alexandria. Costumed guides will lead you by lantern light through the streets while sharing this charming Virginia town’s history, legends, and lore. Ghost tour options range from the traditional to a “spirited” pub crawl.
Things to Do in Alexandria VA (Outside the Old Town Area)
Take in the View from the George Washington Masonic Memorial
This National Historic Landmark is dedicated to the memory of George Washington as the first president and as a mason. It’s open to visitors on most weekends, and one-hour tours may be (reserved in advance).
Along with visiting the memorial’s museums and exhibits, visitors can take in panoramic views of Alexandria and the Washington DC area from the ninth-floor observation deck.
Get up close to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge
This architectural wonder is actually a replacement bridge. The original bridge was built to accommodate 75,000 vehicles a day, but traffic surpassed 200,000 cars daily, and frequent drawbridge openings created severe traffic backups. So the new bridge was constructed with more lanes and higher navigational clearance to cut back on drawbridge openings.
To see the bridge up close from Jones Point Park, park as close to the river as possible. Then, you can walk under the bridge and to the other side for lovely views of Washington DC and National Harbor, Maryland.
Visit the Jones Point Lighthouse
The Jones Point Lighthouse is the last remaining river lighthouse in Virginia. Although it’s only open for pre-arranged tours, it’s still worth a look because of its historical significance.
To reach the lighthouse from the Wilson Bridge, continue straight down the path. Don’t take the right fork; keep straight. It will curve along the shore and bring you to the lighthouse. You’ll pass several boundary markers along the way.
Explore the Delray Murals
Walk up and down the sidewalks of Mount Vernon Avenue in the artsy Del Ray neighborhood to see all the vibrant, colorful murals on display. If you get hungry, grab a bite to eat or a coffee in one of the many retail locations along the way.
Where to Stay in Alexandria VA
I stayed at the Hotel Indigo in Old Town Alexandria on South Union Street. It was a wonderful experience and within easy walking distance of everything on my list of things to do in Old Town Alexandria.
For more information on Alexandria, visit https://www.visitalexandriava.com/
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