Alexandria, Virginia, is located just outside of Washington, D.C., and about 10 minutes from Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA). Known fondly as “Old Town” because of its historic district, Alexandria carries a charming, relaxed waterfront vibe, a welcome feeling and a great alternative to the hustle and bustle of our nation’s capital. Whether you’re located in the D.C. area, living on the east coast or even further, a trip to Old Town will delight and surprise you over and over.
Old Town is teeming with great food and drink, new hotels, cute boutiques, cool watering holes, and an immense amount of history. Travelers are in store for a real treat as they stroll past the beautiful 18th- and 19th-century houses and the Potomac River waterfront. And to top it off, in my experience, the locals are just downright amazing.
Here are 10 things to do in Alexandria, Virginia:
1. Eat in a pre-Civil War era feed house
When you step into Virtue Feed & Grain, you’ll find a historic building that in the 1800s was used as a feed house. Unique rustic style and décor is all around. In fact, the upstairs flooring came from an old oak barn in Wisconsin, dating from the pre-Civil War era. The wavy glass panes on the bars are reclaimed from a pre-WWII military supply house in the Delaware Valley. The décor and ambience are certainly special—and the food is equally excellent.
2. Walk around George Washington’s home
You simply can’t leave the Alexandria area without seeing the place where the first president of the United States lived. His beautiful and historic estate, Mount Vernon, sits just eight miles away from Alexandria. A large-scale museum has been created to give us a glimpse of what life was like during his time. Here, guests can wander Washington’s actual house, his beautiful manicured gardens and farm, 25 galleries, and a theater. You can even see Washington’s final resting place, which is watched over by a guard.
Tip: Speaking of Washington, don’t forget to visit the Old Town Farmers’ Market—the oldest in the country—on Saturday. Supposedly George Washington sent his produce from Mount Vernon to this very location. Today at the market you can find fresh veggies, fruits, jams, fresh-squeezed juice, honey, flowers, art, and more.
3. Have a day with your dog
In Alexandria, you just may run into a treat or water for your dog in front of a local shop. Voted a top dog-friendly city, Alexandria gives you many reasons to not leave Fido at home. Many of the hotels are also pet-friendly (inquire at your hotel). From dog happy hours to treats in the street, it’s a great place for the whole family.
Tip: While you’re strolling, don’t forget to stop at the Spite House, the skinniest house in America at seven-feet wide. The blue house is quite a sight. You’ll often see visitors trying to stretch their hands to the edges of the house for a cool photo op!
4. Summon your inner Harry Potter at the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum
The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum is a special treasure just off the main street. Here, you’ll get a glimpse of what life was like long ago at this pharmacy. Back in the day, it mixed medicines, paints and cleaning products—and, in fact, it also prescribed meds to George Washington’s family. Perhaps the coolest part is that some jars are still holding their original contents from long ago!
5. Have cocktails in a secret hideaway inside Sugar Shack Donuts
Talk about a big surprise! As you walk into Sugar Shack Donuts, you’ll undercover a true hidden gem full of yummy beverages. If you can find it inside the donut shop, Captain Gregory’s serves up delectable, handmade cocktails. In fact, the menu changes daily based on what they get in that day. The bartenders handmake as much as possible—including juices, vermouths, amari, bitters, tinctures, liqueurs, sodas, and more. They also serve small plates…and if you’re lucky, you may be able to purchase a donut, too (just maybe).
6. Brunch off the beaten path in Del Ray
Hidden away from the main streets of Old Town is the quaint neighborhood of family-friendly Del Ray. The community is known to have some great brunch spots (try Stomping Ground for its casual ambience with buttermilk biscuit sandwiches; yum!) and there’s some great shopping at the boutiques on the main street.
Tip: While strolling Del Ray, take a walk past the Poetry Fence—literally a fence with poetry and other positivity at the corner of Windsor and Dewitt. Poems are added and changed by a local that lives in the house behind the fence. You’ll find poems for children and adults and plenty of Del Ray inspiration.
7. Visit an art gallery in a World War II-era torpedo plant
The Torpedo Factory Art Center is way more than an art gallery; it’s a meeting place for creatives, and to many, it’s a work space where new pieces of art get created every day—everything from paintings and paper maché to ceramics and stained glass. In fact, it boasts the largest collection of publicly accessible working artist studios in the nation. Visitors can talk to the artists, watch them work, buy their pieces, and even take an art class.
8. Dine at a new highly acclaimed pasta bar
Chef Jamie Leeds—known in the D.C. area for her restaurants like Hank’s Old Town, The Twisted Horn, Hank’s Dupont, and Hank’s On the Hill—recently opened Hank’s Pasta Bar. This place has tons of different types of handmade pasta everyday. This is one swanky pasta bar that is a definite must in Alexandria.
9. Sample two local craft breweries
Catherine and Margaret Portner’s great great grandfather used to brew beer. A century later the sisters are following in his footsteps at Portner Brewhouse. Their grandfather’s brewery (called Portner’s Brewery) was headquartered in Alexandria from 1869 until 1916, when Virginia passed Prohibition into law. It ended up being one of the largest breweries in the southern part of the nation, and it was the town’s largest employer. Today, you can visit this great tribute to their German roots and sample some of their family recipes.
Port City Brewing Co. was a well-known name in beer before it was named the “Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year” at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival. If you live anywhere in the D.C. or Mid-Atlantic region, you don’t need me to tell you how fantastic the beer is. Come in to the tasting room for a pint or—even better—attend one of the brewery’s events. Pair beer and yoga during “Beer Yoga” on Tuesdays, try “Jogger and Lagers” on Mondays, or choose “Pedals and Pints” on Saturday mornings.
10. Stay at Alexandria’s First Riverfront Hotel
Hotel Indigo Old Town Alexandria just opened in the spring of this year complete with an authentic, unassuming style right on the waterfront. Since it’s Alexandria’s first waterfront hotel, you can expect to see nautical themes running throughout the hotel in the rooms. Note the room walls in the photo below. It feels like you’re in a ship. Looking out the window, to water views, is calming.
And don’t miss the ship tribute as you walk into the lobby. It turns out that during the hotel’s development, builders found a 300-year-old ship in the riverside. Ship facts/statistics and wall designs pay tribute to the ship, which was eventually and fully excavated!
For more on Alexandria, visit VisitAlexandriaVA.com or call 1-800-388-9119. All photos credited to Caitlin Martin.