Alexandria is undoubtedly one of the most charming towns in Northern Virginia. Founded in 1749 as a colonial tobacco port, the Old Town neighborhood maintains cobblestone streets, 18th-century buildings, and flickering gas lamps. Mixed in with the bits of colonial history are modern boutiques, farm-to-table restaurants, snazzy speakeasies, and a stunning riverfront overlooking the Potomac River. Old Town Alexandria Virginia is easily considered one of the prettiest places in the US.
We have lived in Alexandria for the past 5 years, so you can bet that we have explored every last inch of this town. If we haven’t experienced, tasted or tried it, then we at least know about it. Here are our top recommendations for things to do in Alexandria, Virginia.
1. Hop on a riverboat and experience the Potomac.
The Potomac Riverboat Company is comprised of eight vessels, providing transportation among key Washington DC communities. From Old Town, you can board a water taxi for direct service into Georgetown, or the Wharf in southeastern DC. From there you can explore some of the nation’s most iconic landmarks and experience an endless list of things to do in Washington DC. The water taxi also has a drop-off point by the Nationals Stadium and DC United’s Audi Field allowing you to beat game day traffic and overwhelming crowds.
Aside from Old Town, the only stop outside of Washington DC is the National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Take a water taxi to this location to experience the thrill of gambling at the MGM, shopping at the nearby outlets, or taking a ride on the Capital Wheel.
There are 3 variations of their sightseeing tour: a romantic dining cruise, a historic tour-by-boat of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, or a special summer canine cruise alongside your best furry friend. Choose one of 8 water vessels including the sternwheeler, Cherry Blossom, which is one of the last working sternwheelers in the country. In a previous life where I worked for a catering company, I passed hor’s oeuvres to wedding guests aboard the romantic Cherry Blossom. Even if you do not take a riverboat tour, the Cherry Blossom is a “must-see” and one of the most photographed landmarks in Alexandria.
Website: Potomac Riverboat Company
Tele: (703) 684-0580
Location: Alexandria City Marina
Cameron & Union Streets
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
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2. Ride the King Street trolley for a free tour of Alexandria.
If you only have one day in Alexandria, we highly recommend hopping on board the King Street Trolly. The free trolley is one of Old Town’s coolest features, not only for visiting tourists but also for daily commuters. The trolley stops every 2 blocks along the 1-mile stretch between the King Street Metro and the waterfront. While sitting on the trolley, the conductor plays a pre-recorded tour of the area highlighting important landmarks, historical tidbits, and other little-known facts. Hop on and off any time you like to explore more than 200 shops, restaurants, art galleries, and other attractions along King Street, the best street in Alexandria.
Although you can board the trolley at any stop along King Street, it is easiest to catch the trolley at its turnaround point on the corner of King Street and Diagonal Road. IFree copies of the Alexandria Visitor Guide are provided onboard, highlighting the best of Alexandria including tourist attractions and restaurant recommendations.
Location: King Street and Diagonal Road, Alexandria
3. Boost your social media aesthetic by snapping a picture at one of Alexandria’s many murals.
If you are wondering what there is to see in Alexandria, the artistic murals are a good place to start. Many cities are installing murals as a creative way to revitalize and beautify an urban landscape. Historic Alexandria is jumping on the bandwagon with the addition of several new bright and engaging murals.
Related Content: Popular DC Street Art and the Artists Behind Them
4. Peruse different forms of art at the Torpedo Factory.
The Torpedo Factory Art Center was in fact created as a torpedo factory in 1918. Over 5,000 people were employed by the factory where they manufactured Mark IV torpedoes during the war. In 1973, the Art League acquired the then-vacant building and transformed it into a center for the arts. The Torpedo Factory is now home to the nation’s largest collection of publicly accessible working artist studios. Explore three floors of artists as they work on varying art forms ranging from painting and photography to jewelry, sculpture and stained glass. It is free to enter and peruse the artist studios.
Website: Torpedo Factory
Location: 105 N. Union St. Alexandria, VA 22314
5. Shop at the Oldest Farmers Market in America.
The farmers’ market in Old Town Alexandria is the nation’s longest continually operating farmers’ market in one site. George Washington sent his produce from his home in Mount Vernon to be sold at this same market. The Old Town Alexandria Farmers’ Market takes place every Saturday from 7am to noon year-round, in front of the City Hall. During peak season (late spring through early fall), you can expect to find a variety of produce and meats, dairy products, flowers, baked goods, art, and more.
A local favorite is the Breakfast Sandwich from Hog Haven Farm featuring an organic sausage patty, cage-free eggs, and grass-fed Irish Cheddar, on a freshly baked English muffin with house-made tomato aioli. Don’t be surprised if you have to wait in line, but we promise the wait is well worth it.
Website: Old Town Farmers’ Market
Location: 301 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
6. Play ball under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
Approximately 250,000 cars drive over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge each day, but few out-of-town visitors know that there is a 65-acre urban park just below the overpass. Families and fishermen post up at one of two piers to cast for catfish, rock bass, and American eels. There are also a number of playgrounds and basketball courts where you are likely to find families picnicking, children learning to ride their bikes, and locals joining a game of pick-up basketball. Wander a little farther from the overpass and you might find Jones Point lighthouse, the last remaining riverine lighthouse in Virginia, established in 1855.
The Mount Vernon Trail runs through Jones Point Park, so it is common to see a large number of runners and cyclists passing through. Ironically this is how I came across this Alexandria hidden gem during a long run with our local run club.
Location: Jones Point Dr, Alexandria, VA 22314
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7. Catch a show at the Little Theatre of Alexandria.
The Little Theatre of Alexandria has been providing entertainment and theatrical training to the local community since 1934. Pop by to enjoy a show in an intimate theatre setting, or sign up for a class to brush up on your acting or Improv skills.
Location: 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria
8. Sample a local brew or pint of cider.
Alexandria is home to two craft breweries and Northern Virginia’s first urban Cidery. Port City Brewing Company is the longest-operating brewery in the DC area and was recognized as the Small Brewery of the Year at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival. Aslin Beer Company brews up a creative selection of ales, IPAs, and sours. If beer is not your thing then head to Lost Boy Cider, a microbrewery specializing in modern craft cider. Their rotating tap includes unique flavors like Little Prince (Rose Water & Earl Grey), Peach Tea (Peaches & Black Tea), and En Fuego ( infusion of hot peppers).
Each location features special events including trivia nights, live music, and yoga classes.
9. Dine by candlelight at the historic Gadsby’s Tavern.
Built in 1785, the tavern and inn was a popular location for societal elites and politicians including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison. We first learned about Gadsby’s Tavern while on a haunted pub crawl with the tour company Nightly Spirits. According to folklore, a 23-year-old woman mysteriously died in the hotel around the year 1816. The man accompanying her swore everyone to secrecy never to reveal her identity. To this day, the death of this female stranger is shrouded in mystery and it is said that her ghost still haunts Room 8 and the halls of the Tavern.
Today Gadsby’s Tavern is a National Historic Landmark, serving as an elegant Colonial-style restaurant and cultural museum. It is one of the best attractions and most unique restaurants in Alexandria. Servers are dressed in colonial period costumes such as petticoats, breeches, and stockings. On occasion, the tavern will host special events like the annual George Washington Birthnight Ball, an English banquet set in 1799 featuring an 18th-century banquet, country dancing, and period costumes.
Location: 138 N. Royal Street, Alexandria
Related Content: Alexandria Ghost Tour and Pub Crawl: A review of Nightly Spirits
10. Snap a photo at the narrowest historic house in America.
The Spite House is 7 feet wide and 35 feet deep, totaling around 325 square feet over 2 stories. The bright blue tiny home has become a bit of an Old Town landmark for its cute appearance, wedged between two larger townhomes along Queen Street. Many will stop by to snap a quick picture, but few people know the story behind it.
The owner of one of the adjacent homes built the Spite House in 1830 to keep horse-drawn wagons and loiterers out of his alley. Supposedly, the original brick walls inside of the house still have large deep indentations from wagon-wheel hubs that would brush up against the wall. The Spite House, which we now know was in fact built out of spite, was named by Ripley’s Believe It or Not as the skinniest historic home in America.
Location: 523 Queen Street, Alexandria
11. Hunt down one of Alexandria’s legendary Speakeasies.
Still wondering what to do in Alexandria? There is something adventurous and exciting about hunting down a secret restaurant hidden in plain sight. Captain Gregory’s is one such speakeasy located behind an inconspicuous wall inside of a donut shop. Featuring crafted cocktails and creative small plate dishes, this speakeasy is always busy so it is highly recommended that reservations are made in advance.
Location: 804 North Henry St. Alexandria
12. Be fascinated by the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum.
There are many noteworthy museums in Alexandria worth visiting, but one of the most popular is the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum. This museum provides a glimpse into the world of medicine before the emergence of commercial pharmacies and synthetic drug companies. Established in 1805, the apothecary was a shop for all things from medicine and surgical instruments to garden equipment and cigars. Patrons of the shop included Martha Washington and Robert E. Lee.
Thanks to the American Pharmaceutical Association, the business was preserved through the years and made into a museum now owned and managed by the City of Alexandria. The museum’s collection includes herbal botanicals, hand-blown glass, and medical equipment as they were in the 1800s. Depending on the day, visitors can join one of many tours including a “Geek Tour” inspired by the Wizardry World of Harry Potter where visiting muggles can make a magical sleeping potion. Admission to the museum must be purchased in advance.
Location: 105-107 S Fairfax St, Alexandria, VA 22314
13. Experience Alexandria by foot on a walking tour.
One of the best ways to experience a town is to take a walking tour. Whether you are local to the area or just visiting, a tour can provide an interesting look into the history and highlights of Old Town Alexandria. Below are a few of our favorite Alexandria tours.
Cultural Tour – The Washington Post acclaimed Manumission Tour specializes in guided cultural heritage tours highlighting the area’s extensive African American history.
Food Tour – Old Town Food Tour will take you to some of the best restaurants in Alexandria where you can sample a number of local favorites while learning about the history of Old Town Alexandria.
Ghost Tours – There are a few companies that offer ghost tours, however, we recommend Nightly Spirits, the haunted pub crawl of Old Town Alexandria. Check out our article “Alexandria Ghost Tour and Pub Crawl” to learn more about this “spirited” tour.
Historic Breweries Tour – Stop by the Alexandria Visitors Center at 221 King Street to pick up a guide to this free self-guided walking tour.
14. Geocache in historic Old Town Alexandria.
There are some incredible caches hidden in popular areas around Old Town Alexandria. Go at it alone or bring the kids along for this free and family-friendly activity in Alexandria. New to geocaching? No problem! Geocaching is a real-life treasure hunt that combines modern GPS technology with a timeless thirst for adventure. Through a combination of GPS tracking, intense visual searching, and occasional puzzle-solving, geocachers are led to the secret location of a weatherproof container aka the treasure! Geocaching is
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15. Take the trail to historic Mount Vernon.
This list would be remiss if I were not to mention Mount Vernon, the home of our first President. Mount Vernon is the most visited historic home in the US and is considered one of the best places to visit in Virginia. The historic estate is located about 10 miles south of Old Town Alexandria and the Mount Vernon Trail connects the two. While you can certainly drive there, the trail takes you on a picturesque journey of parks, marinas, and neighborhoods all along the Potomac River.
I have run along the full stretch on various occasions, but you can also rent an e-bike or a classic bicycle to arrive at your destination. Once there, you can purchase a ticket to explore the estate on your own with an audio tour, or there are also private tours available.
If you are visiting Alexandria VA, make sure you add Mount Vernon to your itinerary!
Where to stay in Alexandria
Old Town Alexandria is home to over 200 boutique shops and trending eateries. It is worth spending at least a few days exploring the top sights. Here are some of the best hotels in Alexandria for you to call “home” during your stay.
Morrison House is considered one of the best hotels in Alexandria and is the city’s only AAA Four Diamond hotel. The charming 45- room Federalist-style hotel is located just one block from King Street, Alexandria’s historic thoroughfare. Rooms at Morrison House are casual yet sophisticated with in-room fireplaces, and floor-to-ceiling windows. The Study is the on-sight restaurant and bar featuring elevated cuisine and cocktails by Chef Tomas Chavarria. Guests can enjoy elegant dishes like Cold Smoked Hamachi served with passion fruit mayo, fingerlimes, and avocado, or Korobuta Pork Belly with cassava puree and jus.
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The Alexandrian is a “refined urban retreat that blends modern luxury, historic flair, and local spirit.” Guest rooms are vintage-inspired, many with a private terrace overlooking the hotel’s central courtyard. The Alexandrian is dog-friendly and welcomes dogs in all areas of the hotel except for dining outlets and the third floor. King & Rye is the onsite restaurant boasting high-end Southern-American fare like Andouille Sausage & Smoked Chicken Gumbo and cast iron chocolate chip cookies for dessert. The Alexandrian is conveniently located on King Street, with direct access to prime Alexandria attractions.
If you participate in one of Alexandria’s ghost tours, you will learn about the specter that is said to roam around this historic building. Is it true? You will have to book your stay and find out.
Hotel Indigo is just steps away from the Potomac River to the east, and the charming storefronts and cobblestone streets to the north. Be sure to book a Riverview room as Hotel Indigo has some of the best hotel views of the Potomac River. Head downstairs to the Hummingbird Bar + Kitchen patio to enjoy fresh seafood and a scenic waterfront view. Hotel Indigo is dog-friendly and even offers a pet getaway package.
Looking for more Fun things to do in Alexandria?
If you want to learn more about how to spend the perfect day outdoors around Alexandria, check out our episode of the Locals Know Best travel podcast, where we dish out all of the best things about the area including favorite restaurants, hidden gems, and outdoor adventures!
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This Post Has 12 Comments
It is such a great post and great pictures, very inspiring and encouraging to visit Alexandria. Northern Virginia is still on my list. I haven’t been there yet. I also did not know that the city has such an interesting story, that it was wounded in 1749 as a colonial tobacco port. It’s so exciting! As a fan of architecture, I would like to see the Old Town neighborhood with cobblestone streets, 18th-century buildings, and flickering gas lamps. Seems perfect for me. I hope to visit this place one day.
Old Town Alexandria certainly is a charming and picturesque little town. We do hope you are able to visit some day!
Alexandria is such a wonderful place to visit! I haven’t been in years but I’m motivated by some of these activities that I wasn’t aware of before – love the idea of riding the trolley for a good tour of the city or to dine at the Gadsby’s Tavern, what a fun vibe. Just the idea of a proper speakeasy experience is exciting!
Speakeasies are so much fun and the one here in Alexandria is one of the best we’ve been to!
Strolling around to spot Street art is one my favorite things to do wherever I go and I guess I’d have a great time at Alexandria! Free Trolley sounds like a cool thing. Narrowest house in America? That’s cool. Reminds me of the mini houses of Amsterdam. A romantic dinner at Gadsby’s Tavern would be great way to wrap up a day!
Wow! Happy to know there’s a lot of things to do and see in Alexandria. Those murals are indeed pretty and can definitely instagrammable. 🙂
I agree with you that one of the best ways to experience a town to take a walking tour. A ghost tour or scavenger hunt tour sounds fun and exciting. We will surely consider this if we get a chance to visit.
Northern Virginia or Alexandria is not known to me. So its really refreshing to read about this charming place. I love speakeasies and would be the first to be excited to look for it. The 30’s club sounds really cool and seems to be a way to be transported back in time.
Ok, I’m bookmarking this! I live in VA (central), but I had no idea there was so much in Alexandria – especially with the nightlife. I just picture it as a bunch of history, shops, and restaurants – which is ok, too! I love the murals, too. What a great city!
Alexandria really looks amazing place with so much of history and colorful streets. I loved the Rainbow and Beaded curtain murals and being an ardent street art lover, I am totally sold out for this place. The 1930’S At The Carlyle Club too looks amazing place to chill and feel the vintage style of clubbing.
Water taxi and a free trolley tour? I’m liking Alexandria. I love to search out street art when traveling so checking out the murals is a must do, thank you for providing addresses. I would search out the Spite House too, love the story behind it.
This place is so amazing with all the murals and street art. Walking tours always help one to see and discover more as you can be more attentive while walking to absorb the details. I love to explore the Old Town neighborhood with cobblestone streets and beautiful architect buildings. I am always on the look out of such places. I hope to visit this place one day.
We feel the same way about walking tours. While we were on our Eurotrip we took full advantage of free walking tours in London, Paris and Barcelona. It is such a great way to discover a new place!
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