Alexandria, Virginia, was the most important seaport in the United States during colonial times, and today it’s still regarded as one of the country’s most historic cities. Sitting right on the Potomac River waterfront, Alexandria’s Old Town is the city’s beating heart, a nationally designated historic district filled with beautifully preserved 19th-century architecture that will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to when George Washington called it his hometown. With its picturesque cobblestone streets, serene waterfront, and thriving food scene, there’s truly no better escape from nearby Washington, D.C. If you’re planning a visit, here’s how to make every hour count.
Day 1: Morning
10 a.m.: Check in to Morrison House, a chic and sophisticated boutique hotel just off of King Street. Located in a beautifully preserved Federalist-style building, this is as intimate a stay as you’ll find in Old Town. A library filled with leather-bound books, period furniture, and a cozy fireplace will greet you as you walk in, and guests are encouraged to linger with a cocktail from the hotel’s 18-seat cocktail bar at its in-house restaurant, The Study. To add on to the hotel’s commitment to a literary atmosphere, each room features a curated stack of books on your bedside table.
11 a.m.: It’s time to start your stroll down Old Town’s iconic King Street, home to centuries-old architecture, gorgeous row houses, and more than 200 independently owned boutiques and restaurants. For great gift options, head to Hooray for Books!, a whimsical, independently owned children’s bookstore, or Ten Thousand Villages for handcrafted housewares from around the globe. One essential stop is The Hour, a vintage barware boutique filled with gorgeous glassware, cocktail shakers, and throwback decor that will make you feel like you stepped into an episode of "Mad Men." If you’re in town on a weekend, make sure to stop by the Old Town Farmers’ Market at Market Square; it's one of the country’s very first farmers markets, and George Washington traded goods there.
Day 1: Afternoon
1 p.m.: Head to lunch at Virtue Feed & Grain. Located in a restored feed house from the 1800s, this Alexandria spot is a go-to for comfort food classics like mac and cheese, pan-seared salmon, and more. Afterwards, sample Alexandria’s exciting desserts scene by popping into one of King Street’s many sweet shops, serving everything from unique cupcakes to artisanal ice cream. Chocolate lovers should make a pit stop at Bluprint Chocolatiers, a family-owned chocolate shop that has truly mastered the truffle.
3 p.m.: On your way back from lunch, make sure to visit Spite House, the skinniest house in America at just seven feet wide. Legend has it that Alexandria resident John Hollensbury built it in 1830 with the express purpose of keeping loiterers out of his alley. Little did he know that two centuries later, it would become an Instagram hotspot.
Day 1: Evening
7 p.m.: Located inside The Alexandrian, sister hotel to Morrison House, head to dinner and drinks at Jackson 20. Named after President Andrew Jackson, the restaurant offers sweeping views of bustling King Street and an inventive menu of Southern classics made with mid-Atlantic ingredients. The restaurant recently added Peter McCall as the new head chef, and many items on the newly revamped menu (order the biscuits!) pay homage to his hometown of Nashville.
9 p.m.: After dinner, it’s time to make your way over to Sugar Shack Donuts, where a sliding wooden wall will reveal Captain Gregory’s, a 25-seat speakeasy featuring some of Old Town’s most exquisitely crafted cocktails. Make sure to make reservations first—seats fill up fast, and the bar does not allow standing room.
Day 2: Morning
9 a.m.: Grab coffee and a treat at Killer ESP, a hip java joint specializing in espresso, snacks, and pies. Then head to Old Town’s stunning waterfront, a perfect vantage point for panoramic views. Later this year, the waterfront will celebrate the opening of the tall ship Providence, a full-scale reproduction of one of the most renowned ships in the Continental Navy. The ship, which appeared in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, will offer tours and a variety of themed cruises.
11 a.m.: Located in a former World War II torpedo factory, the Torpedo Factory Art Center is home to the largest collection of active artist studios in the U.S, and all are open to the public. Visitors can stroll through 82 studios featuring painting, ceramics, jewelry, printmaking, and more, and chat with local artists as they create. Many of the artworks you’ll see are available for purchase.
Day 2: Afternoon
12 p.m: Add some bold flavor to your afternoon with lunch at Urbano 116. One of Old Town’s newest culinary additions, this menu features the latest from lauded Mexico City chef Alam Mendez Florian, whose moles, tostadas, and ceviches are made with Oaxacan flair. The best part? The restaurant’s vibrant Lucha Libre decor.
2 p.m.: Don’t miss the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum located on King Street. This historic apothecary opened in 1792 and operated continuously until 1933, when it was preserved as a museum. Harry Potter fans can get up close and personal with preserved ingredients from the 1800s that were also used to make potions in the the franchise’s books and films, such as vials of dragon’s blood, mandrake root, and castor oil. The museum even offers Harry Potter-themed tours.
Day 2: Evening
5 p.m.: Raise a glass at Port City Brewing Company, the first modern-day craft brewery in the Washington, D.C., region, and make sure to try the Optimal Wit, their Belgian style white ale. If beer’s not your thing, Lost Boy Cider offers hard ciders in every color of the rainbow, including their bright purple Pixie Dust cider, made from Shenandoah apples mixed with cold-pressed butterfly pea powder and lemon juice. It’s worth ordering for the photo opportunity alone.
7 p.m.: There’s no better place to have your final meal of the trip than at Vermilion. Dedicated to locally sourced dining, head chef Thomas Cardarelli highlights offerings from his Virginia-area farmer friends each evening; the menu changes often depending upon availability. The restaurant offers a four-course tasting menu for $65, and it’s worth every penny. As you finish dinner and bid Old Town farewell, make sure to catch a glimpse of the iconic George Washington Masonic Memorial, which towers over King Street and looks most majestic in the evening.