This Small Virginia City Is Full of History, Culture, and Adventure

Just minutes from Washington, D.C., Alexandria is a destination in its own right.

Just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., Alexandria is the perfect home base for a trip to the nation's capital or a place to spend a few days after touring Washington's monuments and museums. Alexandria tops many lists of favorite destinations, and it's easy to see why, with its waterfront, architecture, art, and colonial past.

King Street with a couple biking
Kristian Summerer/Courtesy of Visit Alexandria

Old Town is Alexandria's downtown area, and its heart is King Street, a mile of vintage buildings, boutiques, bakeries, antique shops, bars, and restaurants. The free King Street Trolley stops every two or three blocks and runs every day from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. The Old Town Farmers' Market, held year-round on Saturday mornings for more than 260 years, offers produce, breads, meats, cheeses, and more.

An outdoor market in the fall in Alexandria, VA
Caded Martin/Courtesy of Visit Alexandria

Alexandria's location on the Potomac makes getting out on the water a favorite activity. Visitors can even arrive via water taxi from Georgetown across the river or cruise on the tall ship Providence, a reproduction of John Paul Jones' first American Command. Mount Vernon Cruises offers sightseeing boat trips to George Washington's estate at Mount Vernon. Get even closer to the water on a kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or sailboat, and take in views of Washington, D.C. from the river. Summer concerts, al fresco restaurants, parks, and walking tours are among other ways to enjoy the waterfront.

Runner on Mount Vernon Trail
Cameron Davidson/Courtesy of Visit Alexandria

The African American Heritage Trail guides visitors along the river to explore the city's history and the role of Africans and their descendents, enslaved and free, and their contributions to the local economy and culture. The 18-mile-long Mount Vernon Trail also winds alongside the Potomac, with views of the Washington, D.C. skyline for the enjoyment of runners, walkers, and bikers. A number of parks are located along the river, for picnicking, outdoor games, summer festivals, and public art.

Del Ray mural
Chris Cruz/Courtesy of Visit Alexandria

The Torpedo Factory Art Center, home to the largest collection of working artist studios in the country, was founded in 1974 in an old munitions plant. Visitors can purchase original art as well as watch the artists as they work in a wide variety of media including painting, ceramics, photography, sculpture, glass, and more. The Athenaeum, an 1851 neoclassical Greek Revival building, is home to an art gallery and the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association.

Sunrise behing Mount Vernon Estate
Buddy Secor/Courtesy of Visit Alexandria

Tours and historic sites tell the story of Alexandria's history. Manumission Tour Company takes visitors through Old Town Alexandria highlighting the background and contributions of the city's African American residents. George and Martha Washington's Mount Vernon estate is open for a look at life in the 18th century, including the home, grist mill, distillery, and gardens. Carlyle House, once the home of a wealthy merchant and founder of Alexandria, now houses a museum in the 1753 Georgian residence. Set on 126 acres and committed to sharing details of Alexandria's past, the Pope-Leighey House property includes a working farm, 1805 mansion, and Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house. Once frequented by George Washington, Gadsby's Tavern is now a museum open for tours.

Fall at the Carlyle House
Carol Jean Stalun/Courtesy of Visit Alexandria

Like most cities, Alexandria offers a variety of neighborhoods, each with unique attractions, restaurants, and places to stay. In addition to Old Town, there's Del Ray with a lively art scene, restaurants, and the Birchmere, billed as America's Legendary Music Hall. Carlyle & Eisenhower, in the southwestern part of the city, is the locale for business and innovation, also featuring an array of dining spots. The fast-growing West End is home to Alexandria's craft brewing scene and international restaurants.

Beers from Port City Brewing Company
Misha Enriquez/Courtesy of Visit Alexandria

Combining colonial history and contemporary style with waterfront scenery, great food, and outdoor fun, Alexandria has everything a visitor could want, and its location just minutes from Washington, D.C. is an added bonus. For the best of both worlds, a short trip via water taxi, bus, or Metrorail connects the relaxing ambiance of Alexandria with the bustling atmosphere of the nation's capital.

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