Perched right on the banks of the Potomac River, just across from Washington, DC, it’s almost impossible not to fall head over feet for Alexandria. Whether you’re in town to check out the city’s historic sites or have a carefree weekend away with friends, you’ll find endless things to keep you busy in this dynamic city.
You’ll definitely want to spend as much time as possible strolling along the cobblestone streets and red-brick sidewalks of Old Town Alexandria. Here you’ll find over 200 boutique shops, quaint cafes, and creative restaurants lining the picture-perfect streets.
There are also a bunch of historic attractions sprinkled around Old Town, including George Washington’s favorite tavern and the oldest apothecary in the US. Explore further afield, and you’ll have the chance to check out the incredibly well-preserved Fort Ward and Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation.
If you prefer to enjoy Alexandria’s natural beauty, you can cruise along the Potomac River and go biking in the Dora Kelley Nature Park or along the scenic Mount Vernon Trail. And once you work up an appetite, you’ll find all sorts of trendy brunch spots and cafes in the Del Ray neighborhood and a wide range of tasting rooms and bistros lining Old Town’s bustling King Street.
With so many cool things to see, do, and eat, you might not know where to begin. So we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do in Alexandria for you. Stick to these fun and unique Alexandria bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an amazing time exploring this incredible Virginia city!
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- 15 Fun and Unique Things to Do in Alexandria, VA
- 1. Tick Off Old Town Alexandria's Best Attractions
- 2. Get Your Art Fix at the Torpedo Factory Art Center
- 3. Dine at George Washington’s Favorite Tavern
- 4. Take a Hike in the Dora Kelley Nature Park
- 5. Photograph the Cherry Blossoms on King Street
- 6. Sample Local Goods at the Oldest US Farmers’ Market
- 7. Spend a Day Brunching and Shopping in Del Ray
- 8. Check Out the Oldest Apothecary in the US
- 9. Take in the Views from the George Washington Masonic National Memorial
- 10. Take a Scenic Bike Ride to Mount Vernon
- 11. Sample Creative Local Brews
- 12. Cruise Along the Potomac River
- 13. Get a History Lesson at The Carlyle House Historic Park
- 14. Learn about Civil War History at the Fort Ward Museum
- 15. Eat Your Way Through Alexandria
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15 Fun and Unique Things to Do in Alexandria, VA
1. Tick Off Old Town Alexandria’s Best Attractions
Whether this is your first visit to Alexandria or your fifth, there’s no doubt you’ll be spending a large chunk of your time exploring everything Old Town has to offer. You’ll find over 200 independently owned boutiques, cafes, and restaurants on and around King Street, Old Town’s main drag.
Take some time to meander around the cobblestone streets, and you’ll come across some of the city’s most famous sights. You can start on the east end of King Street at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial.
Walk the length of King Street toward the Potomac, and it’ll ultimately lead you to Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, the Old Town Farmers’ Market, Stabler Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, and so much more. King Street dead-ends at the Old Town Alexandria Waterfront, where you can also set off on a cruise along the Potomac or pay a visit to the Torpedo Factory Art Center.
Once you work up an appetite, King’s Street is chock full of restaurants. You can enjoy oysters on the half shell at Hank’s Oyster Bar, snack on Irish fish and chips at Daniel O’Connell’s, or indulge in sashimi at Nasime Japanese Restaurant.
2. Get Your Art Fix at the Torpedo Factory Art Center
If you’re looking for unique Alexandria attractions, don’t miss out on a visit to the Torpedo Factory Art Center. Once a US Naval Torpedo Station, this old munitions plant was transformed into a massive art center in 1974.
Located right on the Potomac River in Old Town Alexandra, this place hosts more working artists than anywhere else in the US. Explore the grounds, and you’ll find work from 165 visual artists, 82 artists’ studios, eight galleries, and a range of workshops. From photography and painting to printmaking and sculpture, you’ll see a little bit of everything in the Torpedo Factory Art Center.
Head into the Target Gallery, where you can peruse a rotating exhibition of thought-provoking work. Other standout galleries are The Art League Gallery, Enamelists Gallery, and Printmakers, Inc., to name a few. Plus, there are always cool events, workshops, and pop-ups going on, so be sure to check the website to see what’s going on before you visit.
3. Dine at George Washington’s Favorite Tavern
Named after its former owner, the Gadsby’s Tavern Museum is comprised of two historic taverns that date back to 1785 and 1792, as well as an 1878 hotel extension. All sorts of notable figures have dined, socialized, and slept at these historic taverns, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Gadsby’s Tavern was later listed as an official National Historic Landmark in 1963 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. With all of its history, Gadsby’s Tavern still stands proud as one of the best sights in Old Town Alexandria and is a must for history enthusiasts!
Visit the historic establishment today, and it’s possible to take a tour of the properties and learn all about their storied history at the on-site museum. If you’re hungry, you can even enjoy lunch, brunch, or dinner in a beautiful colonial dining room. Be sure to try the “George Washington’s Favorite,” which is a roasted half duck with corn pudding and roasted potatoes.
4. Take a Hike in the Dora Kelley Nature Park
If you’re looking to get out in nature, going hiking in the Dora Kelley Nature Park is one of the best things to do in Alexandria. The nature park is situated on 50 acres of woodlands just six miles from Old Town Alexandria. So it’s the perfect place to stretch your legs and enjoy some fresh air.
The one-mile nature trail offers excellent opportunities for birdwatching. You’ll likely spot tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, belted kingfisher, and a range of woodpecker species. If you’re lucky, you may even glimpse a bald eagle, a barred owl, or even a wild turkey or two!
As you walk, you’ll come across oak- and hickory-studded landscapes and a freshwater marsh that’s teaming with wildlife, including turtles and frogs. Be sure to pick up a field guide from the Jerome “Buddie” Ford Nature Center before you head into the nature park. It offers information about the park and its wildlife.
5. Photograph the Cherry Blossoms on King Street
Photographing the springtime cherry blossoms is easily one of the coolest things to do in Alexandria, VA. While most visitors flock to Washington, DC, for the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, it’s also well worth seeing the show in picture-perfect Alexandria!
The streets of Old Town Alexandria are dotted with tons of different cherry trees, and each spring, they burst to life, creating a magical scene. Time your visit for late March, and you might just get the chance to see an explosion of cherry blossoms all over Old Town and the waterfront. From white Yoshino to pink Kwanzan, it’s truly a feast for the eyes.
Photographers will definitely want to bring their gear to capture stunning images of Alexandria’s colorful rowhouses and the Potomac River framed by pink- and white-hued cherry blossoms. Trust us – the scene is every Instagrammer’s dream come true!
6. Sample Local Goods at the Oldest US Farmers’ Market
One of the best ways to sample the local flavor of a new city is to pay a visit to a farmers’ market. With its riverfront location and abundance of nearby farms, Alexandria is home to one of the coolest farmers’ markets around!
While there are a bunch of different farmers’ markets in town, the Old Town Farmers’ Market is one of the best sights in Alexandria. The market has been continuously held in City Hall’s Market Square since the 1700s, making it the oldest farmers’ market in the US. That means it’s the exact same place George Washington sold his Mount Vernon-grown produce way back in the day!
Depending on when you visit, you’ll find up to 70 vendors hawking everything from meats, cheeses, and veggies to potted plants, flowers, and art. And, of course, there are always chefs whipping up locally sourced dishes in case you’re feeling peckish.
The Old Town Farmers’ Market is open every Saturday at Market Square from 7 am to noon.
7. Spend a Day Brunching and Shopping in Del Ray
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Alexandria, spend an afternoon exploring the ultra-cool Del Ray neighborhood. Tucked away two miles north of Old Town, Del Ray is brimming with hip cafes, trendy brunch spots, and funky art galleries.
You can start your day as the locals do by grabbing a cup of coffee at St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub or a light lunch at local institution Del Ray Café. After that, you can shop along Mount Vernon Avenue while checking out all of Del Ray’s best street art murals and art galleries along the way.
You can also head over to Del Ray’s Wellness District, where you’ll find dozens of health-centric businesses and practitioners. Or, depending on when you’re in town, you can partake in one of Del Ray’s many events, including a First Thursdays street party, the Del Ray Vintage & Flea Market, or an Art on the Avenue pop-up.
At the end of a fun-filled afternoon, take a break at one of the alfresco restaurants lining Mount Vernon Avenue for a glass of Virginia wine or a bourbon-infused slushy!
8. Check Out the Oldest Apothecary in the US
The Stabler Leadbeater Apothecary Museum is easily the most unique thing to do in Alexandria, VA. The apothecary was opened by a Quaker pharmacist named Edward Stabler in 1792 and was run by the same family until the business went bankrupt in 1933. However, in an effort to preserve the oldest apothecary in the United States, the space reopened as a museum in 1939.
Fast-forward to today, and this apothecary is now a National Historic Landmark where you can peruse 15,000 original artifacts. You’ll find all sorts of fascinating things, from antiquated surgical and dental equipment to prescription and formula books to medicines that were produced in the workshop upstairs.
Note that the museum has sporadic opening hours, so be sure to check the website before you visit.
9. Take in the Views from the George Washington Masonic National Memorial
One of the most famous Alexandria attractions, the George Washington Masonic National Memorial sits on top of Shooter’s Hill, just steps away from the King Street Metro Station. Now a National Historic Landmark, this iconic memorial was constructed in 1992 (but was only officially completed in 1970).
Dedicated to the memory of George Washington, the 333-foot tall memorial was designed after the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt. Explore the interior, and you’ll find paintings and sculptures of Washington, exhibits highlighting the story of Freemasonry’s origins and history, and the life story of notable American Freemasons, including Washington, Franklin, Jackson, and Truman.
Make your way to the ninth story, and you’ll find an observation deck offering spectacular 360-degree views of the memorial’s beautiful terraced gardens, Alexandria, and the Potomac River. There’s also an on-site gift shop if you want to pick up a souvenir to bring back home!
10. Take a Scenic Bike Ride to Mount Vernon
It’s no secret that George and Martha Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation home is one of the top Alexandria attractions. While you can easily drive to Mount Vernon, it’s also possible to bike to and from this historic site on the Mount Vernon Trail.
The trail unravels for 18 miles from Theodore Roosevelt Island (near the Lincoln Memorial in DC) all the way to Mount Vernon, which is seven miles south of Old Town Alexandria. The multi-use trail is perfect for the whole family and will lead you along the Potomac River, past beautiful marshlands, and through some of Alexandria’s coolest neighborhoods. There are tons of picturesque picnic spots, so it’s well worth picking up supplies at a farmers’ market before heading off on your bike ride.
Once you reach Mount Vernon, you can tour the sprawling estate’s spectacular gardens, glimpse historic documents and artifacts inside the home, and visit the grave site of George Washington.
11. Sample Creative Local Brews
If you’re a craft brew connoisseur, you’ll be spoiled for choice in this beer-loving city!
Alexandria has a long history of beer drinking. The city dates back to 1749, a time when safe drinking water was scarce, and a beer-drinking was ubiquitous. Fast-forward to today, and Alexandria is now home to a bunch of buzzing breweries and beer-centric bars.
You should start your journey at Port City Brewing, which is the first brewery of its kind in the DC region. It is also highly touted as “one of the best small breweries in America,” so you know it’s something special.
Head here for their popular brewery tours and tastings. Plus, there are always food trucks, live music, and boozy events being held here. Then there’s newcomer Aslin Beer Co, which is famed for brews like the NEIPA Double Orange Starfish, as well as their creative milkshake and gummy bear IPAs. After that, you can sample dozens of beers from Virginia and beyond at bars like Hops ‘n Shine and Rustico, to name a couple.
12. Cruise Along the Potomac River
Alexandria is located right on the banks of the beautiful Potomac River, so it’s no surprise that taking a river cruise is one of the most fun things to do in Alexandria. Luckily, there are tons of different options to suit all tastes.
Capitol River Cruises offers one of the most popular options. Plus, this company is small and family-owned and operated for the past 29 years, so you know you’re getting a good service. Their Narrated Boat Tours depart every hour from The Washington Harbour, which is less than 10 miles from Old Town Alexandria.
These tours are 45 minutes long and take you past attractions like Georgetown, the 14th St. Bridges, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, and much more. Along the way, your knowledgeable guide will tell you all about these sites and the history of the region.
For something unique, you can also opt for the Crab Boat Charters for all-you-can-eat crab and all-you-can-drink beverages. Or, if you’re in town on a special occasion, you can arrange custom private charters, too!
13. Get a History Lesson at The Carlyle House Historic Park
History buffs will love visiting The Carlyle House Historic Park. The Georgian-style mansion was completed in 1752 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.
It was actually the home of the family of John Carlyle, who was a successful English-born merchant and a founder of Alexandria. The entire mansion has been painstakingly restored to look just like it did in the 18th century. The Carlyle House is open seven days a week, and it’s possible to take a tour through the regal home and its impeccable gardens.
The ultra-knowledgeable docents will pepper you with information about what life was like in the 18th century, the notable figures who once met at The Carlyle House, and the historically significant events that took place on the property. You’ll also get a glimpse of the life of the Carlyle family and the use of slavery at the house.
14. Learn about Civil War History at the Fort Ward Museum
Civil War buffs won’t want to miss out on a visit to the Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site. Fort Ward is the fifth-largest fort built to defend Washington, DC, and it’s been incredibly well-preserved.
Explore the site, and you’ll find that 90% of the fort’s earthen walls are still standing! It has even been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The 45-acre Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site is located 15 minutes west of Old Town. On the grounds, you’ll find a museum with exhibits on Civil War topics, the reconstructed Northwest Bastion, an Officer’s Hut, a Ceremonial Gate, and plenty of cannons.
You can sign up for a tour or easily explore at your own pace on a self-guided tour. Depending on when you visit, you might even have the chance to check out one of the Civil War and Revolutionary War reenactments or living history events!
15. Eat Your Way Through Alexandria
When it comes to dining out, you’ll have almost too many excellent eateries to choose from. From upscale river-to-table seafood restaurants to funky food trucks, there’s something to suit all tastes in this foodie-centric city.
You can start your day by filling up on creative breakfast biscuit sandwiches at Stomping Ground or Southern-style breakfast fare at Junction Bakery & Bistro. Or, do as the locals do a enjoy a boozy brunch at the ultra-popular Del Ray Café.
For something truly indulgent, try the pimiento mac and cheese or a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich at Cheesetique. Or, if it’s spice you’re after, test your limits with the insanely hot code blue chicken sandwich at Wooboi Hot Chicken!
For some of the best barbecue in town, sample the barbecue tacos and mac and brisket at Smoking Kow or the ribs and BBQ deviled eggs at Myron Mixon’s Pitmaster Barbeque. Or, if you prefer something a bit more international, try the Chinese noodle dishes at Yunnan by Potomac or the traditional Vietnamese pho at Caphe Banh Mi.
There really is something for everyone!
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Alexandria, VA. What’s your favorite thing to do in Alexandria?
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