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K. Summerer / Visit Alexandria

King Street in Old Town Alexandria - Historic waterfront destination in Virginia near Washington, DC

19 Exciting Things to See & Do Along the Old Town Alexandria Waterfront



A nationally designated historic district, Old Town Alexandria is a welcoming escape on the Potomac River in Virginia.

Old Town Alexandria hums with more than 200 independent restaurants and boutiques alongside intimate historic site museums and happenings right on the waterfront. Visitors will enjoy a walkable downtown lined with beautifully preserved 18th- and 19th-century architecture. Founded in 1749, this historic city is easily accessible by water taxi, Metro, bikeshare and more. So whether you're visiting for a day trip or staying here as the home base for your DC vacation, you’ll quickly discover why Alexandria has been named a Top 5 Best Small City in the U.S. for multiple years by the Condé Nast Travel Readers’ Choice Awards.

01

Stroll the King Street Mile, one of the “Great Streets” of America

Arrive in Old Town Alexandria by water taxi or Metrorail and step on to historic King Street, considered the heart of this charming city This walkable mile of centuries-old architecture was named one of the “Great Streets” of America by the American Planning Association and is also serviced by the free King Street Trolley (scheduled to reopen in fall 2021). You will find numerous restaurants, boutiques and museums along the way.

02

Choose from plenty of sightseeing cruises and water taxis

As a historic port city and a hub for City Cruises anchored by Hornblower, Alexandria is the launching point for sightseeing cruises and water taxis, boarding at Old Town’s bustling marina featuring street performers and outdoor dining. See national landmarks on the narrated Washington Monuments Cruise, take the water taxi into D.C. or cruise to George Washington’s Mount Vernon and National Harbor.

03

Set sail on the tall ship Providence

Hop aboard the tall ship Providence, a reproduction of the first ship authorized to serve in the Continental Navy and John Paul Jones’ first American command, which appeared in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. In addition to daily dockside tours to experience life aboard the 18th-century sloop, unwind on themed evening excursions on the ship, including sunset cruises, tasting cruises featuring cideries, rum and bourbon distilleries and maritime heritage cruises.

04

Experience history where it happened

Alexandria is a city that predates the American Revolution and is steeped in history. Explore outdoor walking tours by Manumission Tour Company or self-guided walking tours among themes such as architecture, arts, Black history and more with Great Walks in Alexandria. See Carlyle House, a Georgian manor and 1700s social hub, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, which hosted the first five U.S. presidents, the site of one of the nation’s earliest civil rights sit-ins and more. The Key to the City Museum pass includes admission to nine historic sites and discounts to more.

05

See art in action at the Torpedo Factory Art Center

Located in a former World War II torpedo factory, the Torpedo Factory Art Center is home to the largest collection of publicly accessible working artist studios in the country. Guests can visit 82 artists’ studios featuring a variety of media including painting, ceramics, jewelry and printmaking, plus seven galleries, two workshops, and the Alexandria Archaeology Museum. Check the Torpedo Factory calendar for special happenings like late night events, live music and new exhibit openings.

06

Dine at historic eateries

Alexandria is a foodie destination, with a renowned culinary scene and plenty of new restaurants opening all the time, many with stunning views of the Potomac River. Enjoy independent and chef-driven restaurants in a can’t-beat historic atmosphere with many Old Town restaurants located in centuries-old historic buildings. Snag a table at the laid-back patio of Virtue Feed & Grain, an American tavern located in an 1800s feed house located steps from the waterfront.

07

Slip into a speakeasy or try award-winning craft beer and cider

Raise a glass of Alexandria’s award-winning craft beer from Port City Brewing Company in Alexandria’s West End or check out Lost Boy Cider, Northern Virginia's first urban cidery. Explore Alexandria’s craft cocktail scene at raved-about nautical speakeasy Captain Gregory’s or drinkable works of art in an Insta-worthy setting at The Peoples Drug

08

Feel like you’re in Harry Potter’s world

Step into Harry Potter’s world by visiting the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum. This historic apothecary was founded in 1792 and operated continuously until 1933, when it was preserved as a museum. View more than 15,000 objects, from herbs to medical devices. Harry Potter fans can see the real-life ingredients used throughout the 1800s that were also used as “potion” ingredients in the Harry Potter books and movies. These include dragon’s blood, mandrake root, lavender, castor oil, valerian and more. Check the museum's website for details of its reopening.

09

Indulge in creative comfort food

Praised by food critics and in-the-know locals, Alexandria’s restaurant scene is a culinary oasis for comfort food with a creative twist. Celebrity pitmaster Myron Mixon serves up his award-winning world champion barbecue classics with surprising sides. Or, head to Haute Dogs & Fries for a twist on the American classic, like the banh mi dog with sriracha mayo, carrots, cucumber jalapeños and cilantro.

10

Treat yourself to a sweets crawl

There’s always room for dessert in Alexandria as ice cream shops, cupcake bakeries and chocolate shops line King Street. Try nostalgic treats like an Apple Cider Donutwich from Goodies Frozen Custard & Treats new home at the historic Ice House. Try authentic artisanal gelato from Old Town Dolci Gelati or head to Nicecream for made-to-order ice cream created when liquid nitrogen meets farm-fresh ingredients. Alexandria Cupcake’s made-from-scratch flavors will have you dreaming of when you can return – we recommend trying chocolate peanut butter.

11

Visit the oldest farmers’ market in the country

Held Saturday mornings year-round for more than 260 years, the Old Town Farmers' Market is one of the longest continuously operating farmer’s markets in the U.S. During peak season, you’ll find over 70 vendors offering fruits, vegetables, breads, cheeses, meats and more. Grab a pastry and coffee at the market, then walk down to the waterfront for a riverside refresh.

12

Fall in love with a romantic city

With its cobblestone streets, picturesque rowhouses from the 18th century and cozy restaurants, Alexandria makes for a great date night destination. Pair a stroll through Old Town’s iconic cobblestone block, Captain’s Row (the 100 block of Prince Street), with dinner at Oak SteakhouseMagnolia’s on King or Mia’s Italian Kitchen.

13

Eat on the waterfront

Enjoy stunning views of the Potomac River while you dine al fresco at Alexandria’s waterfront restaurants. Hummingbird by James Beard-nominee chef Cathal Armstrong is the latest buzzworthy spot, offering clambakes, crab boils and oyster roasts. Nearby at Vola’s Dockside Grill, enjoy fresh-shucked oysters, crab cakes and New England or Carolina low-country steamer pails. There are plenty of riverside restaurants to choose from in Alexandria, including mainstays Blackwall Hitch and Chart House. Or, dine al fresco at new eateries like Ada’s on the River (highlighted in ESSENCE and The Washington Post) and BARCA Pier and Wine Bar.

14

Catch a fright on a ghost tour

Founded in 1749, Alexandria’s haunted history comes to life on one of many ghost tours led by a lantern-carrying costumed guide. Roam through graveyards, stroll haunted neighborhoods and visit historic locales known for their eerie legends. Those over the age of 21 can enjoy a Nightly Spirits ghost tour and pub crawl.

15

Explore George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the most-visited historic home in America

As George Washington's adopted hometown, Alexandria has more than 140 locations associated with the nation's first president. For the quintessential experience, head eight miles south of Old Town to George Washington's Mount Vernon, accessible by boat, bike and car. Explore the mansion, lush gardens and grounds, intriguing museum galleries and the distillery and gristmill. Make sure to put yourself in Washington’s shoes through the immersive experience that is Be Washington: It’s Your Turn to Lead.

16

Shop 100+ independent boutiques

Browse one-of-a-kind finds starting just one block away from the Potomac River. Old Town Alexandria is home to more than 100 independently owned boutiques, all in a walkable mile centered around King Street. From designer shoes to exquisite vintage cocktail ware to home decor, shopping in Alexandria is an experience with in-store activities like “yarn tastings,” trunk shows and DIY workshops.

17

Bike the Mount Vernon Trail

Outdoor enthusiasts can take advantage of 20 miles of trails and more than 900 acres of protected open space in Alexandria, including eight waterfront parks. Nearly 18 miles long, the Mount Vernon Trail stretches from George Washington's Mount Vernon alongside the scenic Potomac River to the monuments and memorials in DC. A favorite among runners and cyclists, the trail is one of the most popular sections of the 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway that extends from Maine to Florida. Need a bike? Consider renting one through Unlimited Biking, Capital Bikeshare, Pedego Electric Bikes or Wheel and Nuts Bike Shop.

18

Explore Black history and culture

Just minutes from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC, Alexandria offers tours, markers and more that highlight African American changemakers that have shaped the history of Alexandria, VA and the U.S. Take the eight-sight Courageous Journey driving tour, wander the waterfront African American Heritage Trail or see artwork such as Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies, which frames Alexandria’s African American history through the lens of the city’s industrial and merchant history from the 17th to 20th centuries. Support Alexandria’s Black-owned businesses and explore more Black history experiences.

19

Explore Instagrammable sites and public art

See the latest installation as part of the City of Alexandria’s “Site See: New Views in Old Town” annual public art series from late March to November 2021 at Waterfront Park. A must-stop for Instagrammers and photographers, Spite House is the skinniest historic house in America at just seven feet wide. Embark on an art-filled adventure with the Old Town Art Photo Walk and find more camera-friendly gems in The Ultimate Instagram Guide to Old Town Alexandria.

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