Are you looking for the best things to do in Alexandria, VA? This guide has you covered, from historical attractions to the top places to eat (and grab a cup of coffee)!
I think Alexandria is the gem that gets overlooked in the DCA area, to be honest. And I highly encourage those visiting DC to add an extra day to their itinerary to check out the Northern Virginia city!
In this guide, I will talk about the most popular Alexandria attractions, like Mount Vernon and the Carlyle House, but I will also showcase some of my favorite hidden gems and landmarks!
If you think I missed something on this Alexandria bucket list, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!
- Interesting Facts about Alexandria, Virginia
- Best Things to Do in Alexandria, VA
- Where to Eat in Alexandria, Virginia
- Things to Do in Alexandria (On a Map!)
- Planning a Trip to Alexandria, VA: FAQ
- Where to Stay in Alexandria
- Additional DC & Northern Virginia Travel Resources
- Pin this Alexandria, VA Things to Do Guide
Interesting Facts about Alexandria, Virginia
Founded in 1749, Alexandria, Virginia, boasts a rich history and is one of my favorite destinations in Virginia (it is such a good weekend break!).
Once home to George Washington, the city’s Old Town area showcases beautifully preserved 18th- and 19th-century architecture along the iconic King Street.
The Torpedo Factory Art Center, a former munitions plant from World War II, has transformed into a thriving hub for local artists. Notable landmarks include Christ Church, connected to historical figures like George Washington and Robert E. Lee, and Gadsby’s Tavern, a popular 18th-century gathering place for figures like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum offers a glimpse into 19th-century medicinal practices and the Carlyle House is said to be the place where the ‘seeds’ were planted for the Revolution (at least I was told on a tour of the place).
And, of course, Alexandria is the gateway to one of the nation’s most renowned historical sites, George Washington’s Mount Vernon. The Mount Vernon estate is also where you can find the tomb of the nation’s first President.
Best Things to Do in Alexandria, VA
1. Take a Stroll Down the Famous King Street Mile
Stroll down the red-brick sidewalk on King Street, a mile-long street filled with independent boutiques and unique restaurants. If you do one thing (besides Mount Vernon) while visiting Alexandria, this must be it!
King Street’s history dates back to the 18th century and was the main thoroughfare even back then. It extends from the Potomac River’s Waterfront Park in Alexandria to the western edge of the Old Town.
The western edge is home to the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, and its iconic presence can be seen along much of the street.
Some of my favorite stops on King Street include:
- Turkish Coffee Lady (what a delightful place!)
- ESP Coffee (my favorite coffee shop in Alexandria)
- Lorien Hotel & Spa (I stayed here and it was the best location)
- Majestic Cafe (popular eatery in Alexandria)
- Market Square (home of the farmers’ market and the Christmas tree during the winter season)
While the street is brimming with independent shops, bookstores, and more, you can also find chains like Patagonia, Sephora, and H&M along the way.
The King Street Mile has sidewalks throughout, but if you are not keen on taking a stroll down it (or are physically unable to), the free King Street Trolley can help you work your way around the area and the historic buildings in Alexandria’s Old Town.
The King Street Trolley runs from 11am to 11pm daily, and you can find out more information on their website.
2. Go on a Ghost Tour in Alexandria
An interesting and spooky option for your time in Alexandria is to take a ghost tour. This is easily one of the top things to do in Alexandria with kids!
A Colonial-costumed guide who leads you by lantern light over six blocks of Old Town Alexandria is available through Alexandria Colonial Tours for a nighttime ghost tour.
You’ll hear ghost stories, unsolved mysteries, legends, folklore, and tidbits of history from Alexandria’s past. Tickets are $15 per person, and the tour lasts one hour.
If you’re interested in both pubs and ghosts, the Frights and Pints Old Town Alexandria tour is the one for you!
As you travel to three or four different pubs and several historical sites along the way on this pub crawl, you can enjoy a pint while your costumed guide tells a ghost story.
The Alexandria ghost tour lasts 2-2.5 hours and you must be 21+ to take the tour. Drinks are not included in the price.
3. Take a Day Trip to Mount Vernon
Perhaps the most famous attraction in Alexandria is Mount Vernon, the former home (and resting place!) of George Washington.
While you can show up and buy tickets on the spot, I suggest booking them ahead of time and also booking one or both of the free tours they offer (a mansion tour and a tour to learn about the enslaved people at Mount Vernon were the offerings the day I visited).
Your ticket will grant you access to the grounds and is currently just under $30 for adults.
With your grounds pass, you can see the beautiful view of the Potomac River from the back porch, as well as George Washington’s tomb, the gardens, and more. You cannot walk into the mansion without a tour, however.
Sometimes there are special events, such as reenactments, so check out the calendar to see if there is anything special happening during your visit.
Mount Vernon is open from 9am-5pm daily. There is a cafeteria on-site, as well as shops and a museum. To reach Mount Vernon from Alexandria’s Old Town, you will need to drive about 15-20 minutes (traffic depending), take a bus, or take a taxi.
Since I did not have a car, I opted for a taxi on Lyft, and I paid about $20 one-way in the early afternoon (not during rush hour).
4. Have Lunch or Dinner at Gadsby’s Tavern
Gadsby’s Tavern first opened in 1785, and later in 1792, the city tavern and hotel opened. This two-building complex is now a restaurant (and a museum of sorts), and it also hosts private events.
Historically, the tavern was frequented by several famous people, including George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and Marquis de Lafayette.
I find many historic restaurants stuffy with mediocre food, but that is not the case at Gadsby’s. The food was delightful, and I am so glad I enjoyed dinner there!
I ordered George Washington’s ‘duck’ which cost me around $27 alongside a glass of red wine. While the restaurant had a lot of local beer, including Alexandria’s Port City Brewing Company, on the menu, they did not have any Virginia wine which I was kind of bummed about.
Nevertheless, visiting Gadsby’s Tavern is a must on a trip to Alexandria. Please note that they are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and open from 11:30am-8pm (or 8:30pm) on other nights of the week.
Reservations are recommended and can be done through their website.
Address: 138 N. Royal St.
5. Take a Food Tour in Alexandria, VA
One thing that surprised me was just how exciting the food scene was in Alexandria! And there is no better way to explore the scene than by taking an Alexandria walking food tour.
This food tour will guide you around Old Town Alexandria, where you will learn about the history of the city and how it pairs with a lot of the food you’ll find scattered about.
You’ll check out many family-owned restaurants for a bite of various cuisines and fare such as fusion, regional seafood, Italian, and more. You will also have a chance to try homemade desserts.
The tastings will equal a full meal in the end, so it is a good way to pair together ‘lunch + historical sightseeing’ when in Alexandria.
You will meet DC Metro Food Tours at Market Square on King Street for this 3.5-hour tour. The tour is wheelchair-accessible.
6. Learn Local History at Carlyle House Historic Park
The Carlyle House Historic Park is a historic Georgian-style mansion with spacious gardens that was at one point the center of Alexandria’s political and social life.
The wealthy British merchant John Carlyle and his family moved into the house after construction was completed in 1753. The mansion is now restored and open to the public for tours.
NOVA Parks, which owns the house, went to great care to acquire as many original interior pieces as possible, giving an interesting glimpse into what mansions of the era would have looked like.
The house also boasts a beautiful garden, maintained in the style as you would have seen it when the Carlyles owned the house.
It is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 10am-4pm and Sunday from 12pm-4pm. It is closed on Wednesdays.
Address: 121 N Fairfax Street
7. Check Out the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum
This Alexandria apothecary shop was opened in 1792 by pharmacist Edward Stabler and was run as a family business until 1933.
Famous customers of Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary included George and Martha Washington and Robert E. Lee and after the shop closed for business, it was turned into a museum.
You can see many original products and ingredients used by the family for over 140 years, including old medical equipment, recipes, journals, ledgers, hand-blown glass bottles, and herbal remedies.
Harry Potter fans especially love this place as some of the original ingredients used at the shop are found in the Harry Potter series, such as mandrake root, valerian, dragon’s blood, and castor oil.
You can learn about the real-life uses of these medicines when visiting and the museum tour will take you around the selling floor (as well as the storage floor of the shop).
Self-guided admission into the museum is $5 per person, while guided tours are $8 per person (and start at 1:15pm). Click here to check out museum hours and additional information regarding your visit.
Address: 105 S Fairfax St.
8. Discover the Best Coffee Shops in Alexandria
The Alexandria cafe scene is a lively one and visiting one of these coffee shops is a must when traveling there!
While I have written an entire guide dedicated to my favorite Alexandria coffee shops, some of the best ones worth adding to your itinerary are:
- ESP Tea & Coffee: hands-down my favorite coffee shop in Alexandria these days. They made a sensational flat white for me and the colorful vibes inside were so refreshing!
- Misha’s: they have more than one location and while I didn’t have the best milk coffee there on my latest trip, it is still a cozy place with good filtered coffee.
- Turkish Coffee Lady: If you’re looking for something a bit different, this King Street cafe is a must (and hospitality is top-notch).
- Via Volcan Coffee: The latest trip did not play in my favor – I went here three times and they were closed (staffing issues among other things). But it still is one of the city’s best!
9. Spend a Rainy Day at Escape Room Live
While we have decent weather in Virginia (mostly!), it is not always ideal and if you hit a rainy day and want something super cool to do, I recommend visiting an escape room in Alexandria.
You will find a variety of different escape rooms at Escape Room Live and they offer unique themes for each! The Wizard’s Apothecary is a 45-minute game with several hours throughout the day and is a 6/10 difficult!
You will also find Sherlock Holmes: Bomb’s Away which is another 45-minute game with many slots. If you’re opting for something a bit longer, Sherlock Holmes: A Matter of Time is a 60-minute option where you will go on a hunt for the detective himself!
If you are looking for fun things to do in Alexandria with kids, this is a fantastic option!
Address: 814 King Street (2nd floor)
10. Explore the Alexandria Farmers’ Market
The Old Town Alexandria Farmers’ Market is one of the oldest farmers’ markets in the country. Even George Washington sent his produce from Mt. Vernon to be sold at this market!
In peak season, there are over 70 vendors selling meat, cheese, bread, pastries, pasta, fruits, vegetables, plants, flowers, jewelry, soap, and art.
Parking is free in the Market Square Parking Garage, and access is also available by the Old Town Trolley and DASH bus.
It runs weekly on Saturdays from 7am-12pm.
Address: 301 King Street (Market Square)
11. Stop by the Hollensbury Spite House
This tiny house, referred to as the Hollensbury Spite House, was constructed in 1830 by John Hollensbury.
John Hollensbury was annoyed with horse-drawn wagons and loiterers in his alleyway and built the house to spite them and prevent them from using the passage, thus getting the name of a spite house.
It is two stories tall and only 7 feet wide! It is currently privately owned, so you can’t tour it, but it is a great place to take a photo.
While this spite house is a famous Alexandria landmark and one of the most popular in the city, there are more! Alexandria Living Magazine tells you where to find the others here.
Address: 523 Queen Street
12. Get Fresh Air on the Mount Vernon Trail (and at Dora Kelley Nature Park)
The Mount Vernon Trail is an 18-mile paved walking and biking trail that parallels the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Potomac River.
It goes from the northern trailhead near Theodore Roosevelt Island down past the airport, through Old Town Alexandria, and further south along the river to the endpoint at Mt. Vernon estate.
This trail gives you a nice opportunity to get out in the fresh air while seeing the Washington DC skyline and the Potomac.
It is open year-round from 6am until 10pm. Check out the National Park’s website for more information.
If you want something a little less urban, wander through the woods at the Dora Kelley Nature Park. This 50-acre forested park is a natural haven cut out of the urban sprawl.
There are hiking and biking trails, picnic areas, restrooms, and information available about the park. Keep your eyes open for the many different types of birds that live here as well as interesting plants. Visiting the nature park is a great way to spend the afternoon out of the city without having to go far.
You can find Dora Kelley Nature Park at 5750 Sanger Avenue in Alexandria. Click here for more information.
13. Marvel at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial
This memorial building dedicated to George Washington is fashioned after the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt.
The George Washington Masonic National Memorial is 333 feet tall and is located at the top of Shooter’s Hill (you can get a good view on parts of King Street).
The building was dedicated in 1932 but the interior was not finished until the 1970s.
The memorial has nine floors total, with the Memorial Hall, Memorial Theater, and several exhibits dedicated to the activities of the Freemasons, George Washington, a memorial library, as well as ancient Egyptian and Hebraic architectural styles.
To visit other floors aside from the first or second, you will need to book a guided tour. Admission is $20 for adults and free for children.
It is open daily from 9am-5pm and you can find out more information on their website.
Address: 101 Callahan Drive
14. Walk around the Torpedo Factory Art Center
This old naval ammunition factory was converted into an art center in 1974 and now houses 82 artists’ studios, seven galleries, two workshop spaces, and the Alexandria Archaeology Museum.
All art spaces at the Torpedo Factory Art Center are open to the public and you are welcome to stroll through the building, chat with the artists, and watch them at work. There are often classes and workshops held, so check out their website for more information about what is happening.
The Torpedo Factory Art Center is located by Waterfront Park and is worth a stroll through as it is one of the top Alexandria attractions for creatives. It is open daily from 10am-6pm.
Address: 105 N. Union Street
15. Photograph the Beautiful Jones Point Lighthouse
The Jones Point Lighthouse was an important navigational tool for ships traveling the Potomac River. It was in operation from 1856 to 1926 and was made into a museum in 1964 when Jones Point Park was established.
It is the only riverine lighthouse still standing in the Chesapeake Bay.
This spot is very picturesque and perfect for an outdoor stroll and picnic along the river and also offers two playgrounds, two basketball courts, informational signs about the area and its significance, a canoe launch point, and two docks perfect for fishing.
You can find the Jones Point Lighthouse at the southern edge of Old Town Alexandria underneath Woodrow Wilson Bridge on S. Royal Street.
Jones Point Park is open from 6am-10pm daily.
16. Take a Boat Cruise in Alexandria
One of the best ways to see the DC area is to head out on the Potomac!
There are a few options for Alexandria boat cruises, such as the Tall Ship Providence (an educational boat trip) or a city cruise that will take you from Old Town Alexandria to Washington DC (and beyond).
The City Cruises Potomac water taxi also provides transfer services from Old Town Alexandria to National Harbor, Georgetown, and the Wharf. In addition, you can take one that is not only a transfer service but also a sightseeing tour. Dogs are welcome!
To learn more about cruise options, check out the city of Alexandria’s website.
17. Visit the Alexandria Black History Museum
This museum is housed in what was the city’s first segregated library. It documents local and national history as well as the culture and contributions of African Americans.
The Alexandria Black History Museum’s mission is to “enrich the lives of Alexandria’s residents and visitors, to foster tolerance and understanding among all cultures, and to stimulate appreciation of the diversity of the African American experience.”
The museum also operates the Alexandria African American Heritage Park and a local cemetery. If you’re keen to learn about the history of Alexandria, this is a must-visit location!
Address: 902 Wythe Street
18. Relax at Waterfront Park in Alexandria
Waterfront Park is one of the best places to visit in Alexandria and is a great place to hang out when the weather is nice.
Situated along the Potomac River, this park dates back centuries and is where you’ll find many of the boat cruises leaving from, along with some of the most popular restaurants in Alexandria.
While the park is kind of a ‘promenade’ and a walking area, you will find many places to chill out and visit along the way.
The Torpedo Factory Art Center is located on the north end and one of the most popular restaurants in Alexandria, Virtue Feed & Grain, is also close by.
If you are looking for more Alexandria parks to check out on your trip, here are some other favorites:
- Shipyard Park
- Windmill Hill Park
- Founders Park
- Huntley Meadows Park
- Green Spring Gardens
Where to Eat in Alexandria, Virginia
There are so many amazing restaurants in Alexandria, that it is hard to just choose a few.
Below is a list of several of the best places and a diverse range of cuisines:
- Taverna Cretekou: tasty Greek food from a restaurant that has been family-run for almost 50 years. Try to get a table on their beautiful terrace! It is located at 818 King Street.
- Don Taco: a taqueria with 14 delicious varieties of tacos, as well as empanadas, churros, tortilla soup, and ceviche. You can find it at 808 King Street.
- Smoking Kow BBQ: American BBQ tacos, sandwiches, and “mac ‘n’ meat” (signature BBQ meat over mac ‘n’ cheese). It is located at 3250 Duke Street.
- Virtue Feed & Grain: This is a famous American-style eatery near the Potomac in Old Town. Their brussel sprouts are to die for! You can find it at 106 S. Union Street.
- Del Ray Pizzeria: one of the best spots for delicious pizza, as well as sandwiches and salads, with many of the ingredients grown in the vegetable garden right next to the patio. You can find it at 2218 Mt. Vernon Avenue.
- Mia’s Italian Kitchen: choose from a variety of brick oven pizzas, housemade pasta, and family-recipe-inspired items, including items with a twist such as breakfast spaghetti and brunch pizza. You can find it at 100 King Street.
- Caphe Banh Mi: get your pho fix at this Vietnamese restaurant that serves classics like banh mi sandwiches and pho bowls. You can find it at 407 Cameron Street.
- Captain Gregory’s: this hip speakeasy with delicious bar food and mixed drinks is only accessible through a secret door in Elizabeth’s Counter, a tasty donut place with many vegan options. You can find it at 804 N. Henry Street.
Things to Do in Alexandria (On a Map!)
Planning a Trip to Alexandria, VA: FAQ
How do you get to Alexandria, Virginia?
Alexandria, Virginia, is conveniently located near Washington, D.C., and is accessible by various modes of transportation. Here is a round-up of how to get to the city:
- By Air: The closest major airport is Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), which is approximately 5 miles away from Alexandria. Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) are also options, but they are farther away. For reference, I paid $90 for a taxi on Lyft from Old Town Alexandria to IAD.
- By Train: Amtrak provides rail service to Alexandria through the Alexandria Union Station. The city is well-connected by Amtrak’s Northeast Regional and other services.
- By Metro: The Washington Metro system’s Blue and Yellow Lines have stations in Alexandria, including King Street-Old Town and Braddock Road stations. This is a convenient option if you are traveling from within the Washington DC metropolitan area.
- By Car: If you’re driving, Alexandria is easily accessible from major highways such as I-495 (Capital Beltway), I-395, and I-95. The city is situated just south of downtown Washington DC.
- By Bus: Several bus services, including local buses and intercity buses, serve Alexandria. The Alexandria Union Station is a hub for many bus services.
- By Boat: Given its location along the Potomac River, Alexandria can be accessed by water. The city’s waterfront area has marinas and docking facilities.
Is Alexandria a walkable city?
Yes, Alexandria, VA, is known for being a walkable city, particularly in its historic Old Town area.
Old Town Alexandria, with its cobblestone streets and well-preserved 18th- and 19th-century architecture, is a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood. The Old Town grid layout helps make the city easy to navigate, as well! If you’re not keen to walk, you can always hop on the free King Street trolley which runs daily from 11am-11pm.
Is Alexandria VA worth visiting?
Yes, Alexandria, Virginia is worth visiting! It transports visitors back into history but with a modern flair, unlike any other city I have visited.
You can explore the historic Old Town, visit Mount Vernon, stroll along the waterfront, relax at the many parks, and go shopping and dining on iconic King Street.
It is also a stone’s throw from Washington DC, making it one of the best day trips from the nation’s capital.
How do you spend a day in Alexandria?
If you’re looking for a quick way to plan one day in Alexandria, VA, here is a short itinerary:
- Breakfast on King Street
- Explore the Old Town
- Take a stroll along the waterfront
- Have lunch at Virtue Feed & Grain
- Check out the Torpedo Factory Art Center
- Stop by the Carlyle House (or the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum)
- Visit shops and boutiques on King Street
- Have dinner at Gadsby’s Tavern
Where to Stay in Alexandria
There are plenty of remarkable places to stay in Alexandria and I have never had a bad accommodation experience there. Here are my top two picks of places to stay when visiting the city:
Lorien Hotel & Spa
Located toward the western end of King Street, this hotel was the perfect stay for me in regards to location and hospitality.
Lorien Hotel & Spa felt like a B&B in some ways, albeit with extra rooms. My room had a large bed and a bathroom stocked with Grown Alchemist shampoos, soaps, and lotions.
While this is not the cheapest option in Alexandria (it ran me about $240/night in early December), it was a place I would book again simply for its convenient location and friendly staff!
When I booked this hotel, I had no idea that it also caters to long-stay travelers, but apparently, that is what it is known for among its few locations.
However, they accommodated one-night stays as well and treated me like part of their family despite my short stay!
Hotel AKA is located in Old Town North – which is a bit of a walk from the historic Old Town (but a short taxi ride or walk away). There are plenty of restaurants nearby and the hotel was stunning. I had a spacious room and the dreamiest of bathrooms!
In addition to the modern rooms, the lobby, cafe, bar, and in-house cinema were perks for those staying at Hotel AKA.
Another great location for those visiting Alexandria is The Alexandrian Hotel. It is located in a stellar place right in the center of the Old Town.
Did I miss any of the best things to do in Alexandria, Virginia? Please let me know in the comments if so!
Additional DC & Northern Virginia Travel Resources
- Things to do in Manassas
- Things to do in Arlington
- Things to do in Winchester
- Things to do in Falls Church
- Things to do in Washington DC
Pin this Alexandria, VA Things to Do Guide
Megan is a travel blogger and writer with a background in digital marketing. Originally from Richmond, VA, she has lived all around the world (including Germany, Finland, Norway, etc) but her heart always finds its way back to Virginia. This blog is to help encourage travelers to explore the great state of VA… and its wonderful neighbors! Megan has written for or been featured by National Geographic, Forbes, Lonely Planet, Fodor’s Travel, the New York Times, and more. She has visited 45 US states and 100+ countries… and wholeheartedly believes that Brunswick Stew is probably the greatest food to ever exist.