10 Best Things to Do in Alexandria, Virginia

Alexandria is a quaint historic town in Northern Virginia with a wide variety of attractions and things to do. Located on the Potomac River just south of Washington, D.C., Alexandria is home to a variety of historical architecture, famous landmark destinations, and 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 take a day trip to nearby RestonArlington, and Fairfax for more history-themed adventures.

01 of 10

Visit 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

This three-story art center is one of the most popular attractions in Alexandria; visitors can watch artists at work and purchase unique gifts and decorative items from dozens of working studios and galleries.

Known as the Torpedo Factory Art Center, this unique attraction is 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 children and adults, and visitors can also enjoy special programs and exhibits at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum.

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

02 of 10

Tour the George Washington Masonic Memorial


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.

The Memorial offers five free tours daily, which include stories about the nation's first president, his Masonic heritage, and American history. Along the tour, you'll get an up-close view of the magnificent 17-ft bronze statue of George Washington and an outstanding collection of artifacts.

The George Washington Masonic Memorial is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but closes on major holidays. Admission to the Memorial is $15, and you can either explore the many areas of the grounds on your own or by taking a free, guided tour.

03 of 10

Take a Sightseeing Tour

Gadsby's Tavern


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

Alexandria is one of the oldest cities in America and was first settled in 1695; since then, it has served as a major seaport for the United States and seen a number of important historical moments. As a result, there are now a wide 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 explore and learn about historic sites such as Gadsby's Tavern Museum, the Boyhood Home of Robert E. Lee, the Lee Fendall House, Christ Church, and more.

04 of 10

Dine out in Old Town

Vermilion Alexandria

Eric Fischer/Flickr 

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

Stop by Ashlar at Morrison House, 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 listening to live jazz performances.

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05 of 10

Bike the Mount Vernon Trail

Mount Vernon Trail
Rachel Cooper
1198 George Washington Memorial 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 to George Washington's Estate at Mount Vernon.

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

06 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, holiday events, and much more.

George Washington's Birthday Weekend, which takes place around the middle of February each year, is always a great time to visit Alexandria's historic attractions; you'll also get a chance 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; and in May, Mount Vernon's Spring Wine Festival and Sunset Tour invites adults guests to enjoy an evening of live jazz, fine wine, and candlelit tours of the rarely open cellar vaults.

In July, you can stop by Mount Vernon Estate for An American Celebration on Independence Day, which features an 18th-century style celebrations with daytime fireworks, and Oronoco Bay Park on the following Saturday for the U.S.A. and Alexandria Birthday Celebration, which features a concert by the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra, cake, food, and fireworks.

Throughout the fall and winter season, the entire city of Alexandria transforms for the holidays—first for Halloween and Thanksgiving and 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.

07 of 10

Shop Until You Drop

Old Town Alexandria

Glowimages/Getty Images

Old Town Alexandria is a great destination for a day of sightseeing, dining, and shopping; the historic town has a variety of unique shops ranging from antiques and art galleries to jewelry stores and souvenir shops.

Along with the Torpedo Factory Arts Center, the Alexandria Farmers Market on King Street is a great place to purchase some handmade goods and locally-sourced products. On the other hand, the Potomac Yard Shopping Center is a great destination for large retail chains like Best Buy, Old Navy, Sports Authority, and Target. Meanwhile, Old Town's historic King Street is a great place to find unique boutiques for home decor, chic fashion, crafting supplies, and even culinary tools.

08 of 10

Visit the Fort Ward Museum and Historic Park

Fort Ward Museum

Ryan Crierie/Flickr

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

The 41.4-acre historic park, 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 reconstructed quarters of the high-ranking soldiers.

The Fort Ward Museum and Historic Park also offers interpretive programs and recreation facilities; the Museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays at varying hours depending on the season while the park is open daily from 9 a.m. to sunset year-round. Admission to the museum is free, but donations are greatly appreciated.

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09 of 10

Attend a Concert at Birchmere Music Hall

Birchmere Music Hall
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 of folk, jazz, rock, gospel or alternative music throughout the year. This terrific concert venue has a good view from every seat in the house and welcomes all sorts of entertainers—big and small—and in fact, many big named artists got their start at this historic establishment.

Past acts featured at the Birchmere Music Hall 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.

10 of 10

Enjoy Outdoor Recreation

Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve

Mrs. Gemstone/Flickr 

The City of Alexandria has 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 and Shipyard Park, Founder Park, and Oronoco Bay Park or explore nature parks like Marina Drive, the Dora Kelley Nature Park, or the Jerome "Buddie" Ford Nature Center.

Although it may be a little cold in the winter for some of the outdoor adventures, you can still stay in shape at studios around town like Pilates ProWorks, Sand & Steel Fitness, and the Local Motion Studio, which all offer classes on yoga, pilates, and aerobics year-round.

No matter what time of year you visit, there are plenty of ways to stay in shape and enjoy the outdoors on your visit to Alexandria.

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Visit the Top 10 Attractions in Alexandria, Virginia