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.
We have lived in Alexandria for the past 3 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.
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.
Website: Potomac Riverboat Company
Tele: (703) 684-0580
Location: Alexandria City Marina
Cameron & Union Streets
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
Boost your social media aesthetic by snapping a picture at one of Alexandria’s many murals.
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
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
Ride the King Street trolley for a free tour of Alexandria.
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 180 shops, restaurants, art galleries, and other attractions. Free copies of the Alexandria Visitor Guide and official map of the area are provided onboard. 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.
Location: King Street and Diagonal Road, Alexandria
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 hidden gem during a long run with our local run club.
Location: Jones Point Dr, Alexandria, VA 22314
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
Take a step back into the 1930’s at the Carlyle Club.
The Carlyle Club is Alexandria’s one-of-a-kind fine dining and entertainment experience. The restaurant and event venue evokes memories of a 1930’s New York supper club. A red carpet welcomes you into the club, while tufted leather couches, feathered centerpieces, and grand chandeliers adorn the dining room. Each night at the Carlyle Club includes a full set of live entertainment from classic jazz bands and orchestras to comedy nights and tribute shows. No membership is required, however, purchasing tickets in advance is recommended as shows frequently sell out.
Location: 2050 Ballenger Avenue Alexandria, VA 22314
Related Content: Alexandria Ghost Tour and Pub Crawl: A review of Nightly Spirits
Dine by candlelight at the historic Gadsby’s Tavern.
Built in 1785, the tavern and inn was a popular location for societal elites hosting political dinners, grand balls, and other extravagant public affairs. We first learned about Gadsby’s Tavern while on a hunted pub crawl with the tour company Nightly Spirits. According to folklore, a 23-year-old woman mysteriously died within 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. 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
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
Hunt down one of Alexandria’s legendary Speakeasies.
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
Be fascinated by the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum.
The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary 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
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 Alexandria.
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 through several family-owned restaurants in the area to sample local specialties including an Alexandria dessert enjoyed for over 150 years.
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.
Scavenger Hunt Tour – This Scavenger-hunt Check List was created by the local Boy Scout Troop 131.
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. 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 a bicycle from DC Bike and Roll to arrive at your destination. Once there, you can purchase a ticket to explore the estate or you can just relax in the nearby Fort Hunt Park.
Looking for more things to do around 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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