10 Best Things to Do in Alexandria, Virginia

Old Town Alexandria, as seen from the Potomac River

Grace Cary / Getty Images

Alexandria and its Old Town are in a quaint historic area of Northern Virginia, home to a wide variety of interesting attractions and things to do. Located along the Potomac River just 20 minutes from Washington, D.C., it's where you'll find everything from historical architecture and famous landmarks to unique boutiques and specialty shops. You can spend the whole day or even an extended weekend exploring everything this city has to offer, from the Torpedo Factory Art Center to the Birchmere Music Hall, or use it as a base for taking day trips to nearby RestonArlington, and Fairfax for more Northern Virginia history-themed adventures.

01 of 10

Visit One of the Oldest Farmers' Markets in the U.S.

Old Town Farmers' Market in Alexandria, Virginia

Old Town Farmers' Market, Alexandria, VA

Opened in 1753, the Old Town Farmers' Market is said to be the oldest farmers' market continuously held in one place, Market Square plaza in Alexandria—it's so old, produce from George Washington's farm at Mount Vernon was actually sold here back in the day. Nowadays, you can visit and shop on Saturday morning outside Alexandria City Hall from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. Pick up some fresh fruit, veggies, meats, cheeses, flowers, or treats from the bakery for a picnic nearby along the waterfront or jewelry and other artwork to keep as a souvenir.

301 King St, Alexandria, VA 22314, USA
Phone +1 703-746-3200
02 of 10

Visit George Washington's Mount Vernon

George Washington's Mount Vernon

JacobH / Getty Images

Just a 15-minute drive from Old Town Alexandria, George Washington's Mount Vernon offers a peek into the past and an inside look at the grand estate and gardens our nation's first president once called home.

Tour the mansion, then spend some time exploring the outbuildings, including the blacksmith shop, smokehouse, stables, spinning house, and the quarters where the plantation's enslaved workers once lived and worked. Also on the property are George and Martha Washington's grave sites, as well as a moving slave memorial, replica of a former slave cabin, a 16-sided barn, and a distillery and gristmill—all of which are worth checking out to help build a better picture of what life was like here at Mount Vernon for all its residents.

3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy, Mt Vernon, VA 22121, USA
Phone +1 703-780-2000
03 of 10

See the Artists Work at the Torpedo Factory Art Center

People walking around the Torpedo Factory

TripSavvy / Victoria Chamberlain

105 N Union St, Alexandria, VA 22314, USA
Phone +1 703-746-4570

The three-story Torpedo Factory Art Center is one of the most popular attractions in Alexandria. Here, visitors can watch artists at work and purchase unique gifts and decorative items from dozens of working studios and galleries, making it a one-stop destination for art enthusiasts of all ages. The Art League School inside the center offers a wide range of art classes for both children and adults. Visitors can also enjoy special programs and exhibits at the onsite Alexandria Archaeology Museum.

The Torpedo Factory Art Center is located along the docks of the Potomac River in the lively waterfront commercial district of Old Town Alexandria, which is also home to a bustling marina and a variety of shops, public parks, restaurants, bars, hotels, and residences.

04 of 10

Tour the George Washington Masonic National Memorial

George Washington Masonic Temple in Alexandria, Virginia

Aimin Tang / Getty Images

101 Callahan Dr, Alexandria, VA 22301-2751, USA
Phone +1 703-683-2007

The George Washington Masonic National Memorial, located near Old Town Alexandria, is a reminder of George Washington's Masonic fraternity that puts faith in the principles of civil and religious liberty. There are four free guided one-hour tours offered, which include stories about the nation's first president, his Masonic heritage, and American history. Along the tour, you'll get up-close views of the magnificent 17-ft bronze statue of George Washington as well as an outstanding collection of artifacts.

Admission to the Memorial is $18 (free for children ages 12 and under) and you can either explore the many areas of the grounds on your own or by taking a free, guided tour. It's open Friday through Sunday (except on major holidays) and reservations are required in advance of your visit.

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05 of 10

Take a Sightseeing Tour

Gadsby's Tavern in Alexandria, Virginia

NCinDC / Flickr / CC By 2.0

134 N Royal St, Alexandria, VA 22314, USA
Phone +1 703-746-4242

Alexandria is one of the oldest cities in the U.S. and was first settled by British colonists in 1695; since then, it has served as a major seaport—including many years as the center of the American slave trade—and seen a number of important historical moments. As a result, there are now a variety of tours available to visitors hoping to get a better understanding of Alexandria's rich history.

Sightseeing tours include boat cruises on the Potomac River as well as horse-drawn carriage rides, ghost tours, and walking tours of Old Town Alexandria. While visiting, you can learn from a guide about historic sites such as Gadsby's Tavern Museum, the Boyhood Home of Robert E. Lee, the Lee Fendall House, and Christ Church, among other sites. Join an informative walking tour with Manumission Tour Company to hear stories about the African American experience in Alexandria from slavery and the city's role in the Underground Railroad to today.

06 of 10

Dine out in Old Town Alexandria

Vermilion Alexandria

Eric Fischer / Flickr / CC By 2.0

Alexandria is home to many great restaurants ranging from casual eateries to elegant fine dining establishments, that visitors can enjoy year-round. In the summer, most of the city's best restaurants open up patio seating so guests can enjoy the mild weather and waterfront views; in the winter, many establishments light fireplaces to keep guests warm while they enjoy seasonal meals.

Stop by the Ashlar Dining Room at the Morrison House Old Town Alexandria, located in a small boutique hotel in the heart of Old Town, for a taste of colonial American cuisine prepared with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. For a bit of a show while you eat, check out Laporta's Restaurant on Duke Street for a casual, comfortable dining experience of seafood and pasta while you listen to live jazz performances.

1120 King St, Alexandria, VA 22314-2925, USA
Phone +1 703-684-9669
07 of 10

Bike the Mount Vernon Trail

Mount Vernon Trail

TripSavvy / Rachel Cooper

1198 George Washington Mem Pkwy, Alexandria, VA 22314, USA
Phone +1 703-289-2500

The scenic Mount Vernon Trail starts at Roosevelt Island in Washington, D.C. and runs along the Potomac River south to George Washington's Mount Vernon estate and gardens. The section that passes through Old Town Alexandria follows public roads with a lot of traffic, which does yield to bike riders though it may not be suitable for young children. From there, you can head in either direction by bike to reach some of the nation's most popular historic landmarks along the 18 miles of bike paths and paved trails.

To the north, you'll encounter Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Roaches Run Waterfowl Sanctuary, LBJ Memorial Grove, the Navy and Marine Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington House, and the Robert E. Lee Memorial. To the south, you'll pass the Jones Point Lighthouse, Belle Haven Park, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve, Fort Hunt Park, and Riverside Park on the way to Mount Vernon.

08 of 10

Attend a Festival or Special Event

Mount Vernon Estate

JacobH / Getty Images

Alexandria hosts a lot of wonderful events throughout the year including parades, art and music festivals, and holiday events. George Washington's Birthday Weekend, which happens around the middle of February, is always a great time to visit Alexandria's historic attractions; come to see the nation's largest parade celebrating the first president, a 10K race, and the Birthnight Banquet and Ball over this three-day event.

In April, stop by Old Town for a Historic Garden Tour of Alexandria, which invites guests into the city's finest private homes and gardens. In May, Mount Vernon's Spring Wine Festival invites adults to enjoy an evening of live jazz, fine wine, and candlelit tours of the rarely open cellar vaults.

In July, stop by George Washington's Mount Vernon on Independence Day for 18th-century style celebrations and daytime fireworks. At nearby Oronoco Bay Park on the following Saturday, you can see the U.S.A. and Alexandria Birthday Celebration, with concerts by the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra, cake, food, and fireworks.

Throughout the fall and winter seasons, Old Town Alexandria transforms for the holidays, first for Halloween and Thanksgiving, then for Christmas and New Year's Eve. No matter when you visit from October through January, you're sure to encounter some sort of seasonal celebration.

3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy, Mt Vernon, VA 22121, USA
Phone +1 703-780-2000
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09 of 10

Visit the Fort Ward Historic Site and Other Great Parks

Fort Ward Museum

Ryan Crierie / Flickr / CC By 2.0

4301 W Braddock Rd, Alexandria, VA 22304-1007, USA
Phone +1 703-746-4848

The 41.4-acre Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site, located on the west end of Old Town Alexandria, was used as a Union fort from 1861 to 1865 to defend Washington, D.C. during the Civil War. Nowadays, guests can walk the grounds and see cannons, underground bombproofs which sheltered 500 men, and the reconstructed quarters of the high-ranking soldiers. The Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site also offers interpretive programs and recreation facilities.

Otherwise, the City of Alexandria is home to numerous parks and recreational facilities providing opportunities to enjoy hiking, picnicking, swimming, bicycling, or boating. Without leaving Alexandria, you can take a leisurely stroll along waterfront parks like Tide Lock Park, Harborside Shipyard Park, Founders Park, and Oronoco Bay Park, or check out nearby nature parks like Daingerfield Island, Dora Kelley Nature Park, or the Jerome "Buddie" Ford Nature Center.

10 of 10

Attend a Concert at The Birchmere

Birchmere Music Hall

TripSavvy / Rachel Cooper

3701 Mt Vernon Ave, Alexandria, VA 22305, USA
Phone +1 703-549-7500

The 500-seat dinner-theater style Birchmere music hall offers a variety of musical performances ranging from folk, jazz, and rock to gospel and alternative music throughout the year. This terrific concert venue offers great views from every seat in the house and welcomes all sorts of entertainers—big and small. In fact, many big-named artists got started at this historic establishment.

Past acts featured at The Birchmere include Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lyle Lovett, Shawn Colvin, Jerry Jeff Walker, Dave Matthews, Vince Gill, John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, and k.d. Lang. Tickets are required to attend shows and must be purchased in advance.

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10 Best Things to Do in Alexandria, Virginia