Situated along the Potomac River in Northern Virginia, Alexandria is known for its historic Old Town and for its proximity to Mount Vernon. It’s close to better known cities like Washington D.C. too, which you can get to by water taxi!
The city center is always bustling with visitors and locals enjoying the finest venues in town and exploring the well preserved historical buildings across the city, like the Gadby’s Tavern Museum and Carlyle House.
But there are more to things to do in Alexandria than just exploring its city center as it’s also surrounded by lush countryside and the home of many cute parks and gardens. So whether you’re looking for a city break or a nature escape, Alexandria is the place for your holiday.
18. Green Spring Gardens
As fantastic as cities are, it’s always lovely to escape into nature for a few hours to recenter. The Green Spring Gardens are the perfect place to come if you’re looking to find a little respite, and escape the hustle and bustle of the city center.
There are stunning gardens riddled with native flora that attract insect life and brighten up your stroll, as you follow the paved paths through the gardens you pass ponds and demonstration gardens. Finally, make your way to the Historic House that was built here in 1780.
Apart from tranquil gardens, there’s also a library and a horticulture center on-site, so you can pick up some garden themed gifts and learn more about your favorite flowers and different gardening techniques.
17. Jones Point Lighthouse
Jones Point Lighthouse is an old riverine lighthouse, and one of the few of its kind left across the country. Unlike coastal lighthouses, which tend to be large tower-like structures, this lighthouse is essentially a house with a little lighthouse beacon on the roof.
It operated from 1856 to 1926 and helped sailors navigate the shifting underwater shoals on the Potomac River. In the 1800s it had a fifth order Fresnel lens, which was one of the most up-to-date versions at the time and could be seen 9 miles away!
There was always a keeper and an attendant living at the lighthouse, and it was their job to keep the beacon lit day and night, as well as keeping records of the weather conditions, naval traffic, and tides. At one point there was a family of 13 living at the lighthouse, which would have been a bit of a squeeze!
16. River Farm House
The River Farm House serves as the headquarter of the American Horticultural Society, who run the gardens and educate visitors about their sustainable gardening practices. Set on the bank of the Potomac River there’s a mix of wild and well-maintained gardens for you to explore, as well as an orchard and a fantastic children’s garden!
Visit the old Manor House that has an old-fashioned exterior and boasts an elegant interior. Did you know the old gate at the entrance to the historic house spent 120-years at the northeast entrance to the White House and saw 28 presidents pass through it?
River Farm House is a great place for contemplation, reading, and relaxation. It’s also a popular wedding venue!
15. Woodlawn & Pope-Leighey House
This expansive property has a variety of activities on offer, from tours through historic mansions to crafts and garden parties. The old mansion at Woodlawn & Pope-Leighey House was built in 1805 and gifted to Nelly Custis and Lawrence Lewis by none other than George Washinton himself!
It was run as a plantation for many decades, and had some 90 slaves working there. This darker side of the lands history is explored throughout your time there, and each person that made the house prosperous, from lords to slaves, is considered.
The other on-site property is the Pope-Leighey House that was designed by Frank Lloyd and built in a Usonian architectural style. Tour the houses, then relax in the stunning gardens and check out the alternative projects, like the sustainable food system, that are based at Woodlawn & Pope-Leighey House.
14. National Harbor Water Taxi
National Harbor Water Taxi is a yellow water taxi service that runs across the Potomac River and makes it easy for you to get from Old Town Alexandria to historical sites on the other side of the river, like Georgetown, the Jefferson Memorial, The Wharf, and National Harbour.
Aside from being a much more enjoyable way to get around than taking the bus or driving, you’ll also get the best views of the city and riverbank from the water.
If you can, take a water taxi at sunset, when the water is lit up in orange and pink hues. See the coolest local monuments from aboard the taxi and enjoy being out on the water.
13. Gadsby’s Tavern Museum
The Gadsby Tavern Museum is in Old Town Alexandria. Two different 18th century taverns, one that dates back to 1785 and the 1792 City Tavern and Hotel, make up the museum.
The taverns were central to Alexandria as they helped the port based-economy and the taverns’ renowned hospitality attracted lucrative guests like Martha and George Washinton, Thomas Jefferson, and the Marquis de Lafayette.
The museum was named after John Gadsby who ran the taverns from 1796 to 1808. Sadly, after the Civil War the buildings were used for commercial businesses and soon began to fall apart. They weren’t restored till around 1930, and later again in 1972. In 1976 they opened their doors up to the community again!
12. Great Waves Waterpark
Looking for something fun to do on a hot summer’s day? Then pack your swimming costumes and head to the Great Waves Waterpark! This family-friendly day out works for families traveling with little kids, but there’s also enough adrenaline inducing slides to keep the adults happy too.
There’s speed slides that you can blast down before being thrown into the pool below with a splash, twisty tunnel water slides that will leave you dizzy with adrenaline, and a wave pool.
If you’ve got toddlers head to the specially designed kids area that will have them squealing in delight as they splash around with their new friends and whizz down the slides. There’s a cafe and restaurant too, so all the practicalities are covered!
11. Alexandria’s Farmer Market
Alexandria is a great place to go to a local farmer’s market, apart from anything there are loads of them! There’s the Old Town Farmers’ Market at the City Hall Market Square, the Del Ray Farmers’ Market, the Four Mile Run Farmers’ and Artisans Market Market, the West End Farmers’ Market, and the Old Town North Farmers’ Market.
Safe to say you won’t be short for choice in Alexandria! Aside from the hand-crafted gifts, homemade goods, and locally grown produce you can get at these cute and quaint markets, they’re also full of culture!
Chat with some locals and unwind as you spend a lazy Sunday browsing the stalls and soaking in the sense of community all around you.
10. Alexandria’s Christ Church
Alexandria’s Christ Church is somewhat contradictory, with its decadent interior and down-to-earth brick exterior. On the inside the church showcases an elegant altar, chandeliers, and almost entirely white decor. But step outside and the red-brick exterior with its layered tower has an old-fashioned charm to it.
Set in the Old Town district of Alexandria, the church was built as far back as 1773. It’s been a place where locals come to pray and exercise their faith for hundreds of years. The church welcomes everyone with open arms.
There’s also a stunning churchyard you can stroll around, that has pre-Civil war gravestones. Don’t skip a visit to one of the oldest churches in Virginia.
9. Port City Brewing Company
The Port City Brewing Company is just a couple of miles away from Old Town Alexandria. It opened up in 2011 and it’s run by Bill and Karen Butcher, two innovative beer brewers that create award winning beers and always have something new on tap.
Come and catch up with friends over a cold larger or sample some of their dark ales and fruity IPAS. It’s a great spot for a date too! They’re tasting room is a popular spot in town, enjoyed by visitors and chatty locals.
You can come with kids and even bring pets. There’s often a food truck on-site too, so you can get a bite to eat without leaving the brewery. Do you think you’re sturdy enough to tackle their 7% IPAS?
8. Visit Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon is oozing with history, from the iconic home of George Washington to museums like the National Museum of the United States Army, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Pope-Leighley’s House.
It’s a place that attracts history lovers from across the country, and it’s not hard to see why. But aside from the historical sites, there’s also plenty of great nature spots like the Pohick Bay Regional Park and Mason Neck State Park.
If you can only visit one thing in Mount Vernon go to George Washington’s Mount Vernon. His old mansion and grounds are absolutely spectacular, and the on-site museum explores the private and political life of America’s first president. Mount Vernon is just 20 minutes drive away from Alexandria, conveniently close!
7. Old Town Waterfront
Take a stroll with riverside views and some of the best vistas of Washington D.C. in the distance! Along the way, stop and enjoy a cocktail al-fresco whilst you catch up with friends and family.
Feel yourself relax as the street performer’s tunes and the fresh air take your mind away from your daily stresses. During the day, you can dip in and out of the shops, historic sites, and galleries along the Old Town Waterfront. Come in the evening and enjoy a meal at one of the stunning dining spots that serve exquisite local dishes.
There is plenty of 18th and 19th century architecture along the way, and this is where to come if you want to take a water taxi or get out onto the water and try out some of the fun water sports on offer, like sailing, kayaking, and paddleboarding!
6. Huntley Meadows Park
The Huntley Meadows park is a suburban park that has a totally wild feel to it. The boggy wetland habitat is unique to the area. Stroll along the raised boardwalks and catch glimpses of the waterfowl species that live in the park.
There are three different hiking trails you can take through the park, the Cedar Trail, Deer Trail, and Heron Trail. There’s plenty of lush spots and wildlife along each, and if you add them all together it’s a short 1.8 mile loop, so you could do them all!
There’s a visitor center where you can ask for information and find out about the importance of the wetland habitats in the area. Surrounded by the soothing colors of nature and local wildlife you’re sure to find a sense of peace.
5. Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum
A National Historic Landmark, the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum is the place to come if you’re fascinated by chemistry, medicine, botanics, and alchemy. It was once a business owned by the Stabler and Leadbeater families, between 1792 and 1933.
It’s conveniently located in Old-Town Alexandria, right by other shops, restaurants, and sites of historical interest. The museum’s interior will transport you into the past, when chemists and pharmacists worked from dark laboratories and kept their concoctions in small glass vials.
There are two floors in the museum, each as quirky and fascinating as the next. You can also buy cool souvenirs at their museum shop!
4. Carlyle House
The Carlyle House Historic Park is home to the 18th century Carlyle House that was built for John Carlyle, the founder of Alexandria, in 1753.
The house was built in a Georgian architectural style that showed off the wealth of the Carlyle’s, a rich merchant family. It’s now run as a museum that aims to give its visitors insight into the way of life and decor of that era, with period furniture and staff in costumes bringing the place to life.
Once you’ve toured the house, head into the gardens and enjoy some gentle contemplation and the tranquility of this city home. Carlyle House is close to the Torpedo Factory Art Center and Founders Park, so it’s in a prime location too.
3. George Washington Masonic National Memorial
George Washington was a freemason who was raised to Master Mason in 1753, just 9 months after he was initiated as an Entered Apprentice. Much later, in 1923, the Memorial’s cornerstone was dedicated in a Masonic ceremony attended by Freemasons from around the country.
The memorial was built using donations from Freemason brothers. In 1932 it was dedicated to George Washington on the bicentennial year of his birth, and the exact date of his birthday.
The memorial building wasn’t complete in its entirety until 1970, and later in 1999 the large square and Compasses were added to the front lawn to visualize the building’s affiliation with Freemasons. Come and check out the Freemason artifacts housed here and discover more about this mysterious aspect of American history.
2. Torpedo Factory Art Center
The Torpedo Factory Art Center is an art gallery with a twist. There are open studios in the center, so you can see artist’s at work creating the pieces that will later be displayed around the art center.
Art enthusiasts and creatives of all kinds will cherish the opportunity to watch artisans’ ideas come to life before their eyes. It’s located along the Potomac Riverfront, so you can walk there and tie it in with some sightseeing.
There are some 70 working artist studios and 8 galleries and workshops you can explore and get involved with, so you’ll have enough to keep you busy for a few hours. The Torpedo Factory Art Center has been running since 1974, testimony to its success!
1. King Street Mile
This mile long street is lined with trees that brighten up the exteriors of the surrounding boutique shops and fancy restaurants. The red-brick sidewalk of King Street Mile gives it an old-town feel and an undeniable charm.
Spend the afternoon window shopping, sipping coffee, and people-watching at some of the city’s cutest cafes, and exploring bookstores.
It’s one of the most idyllic destinations in town, so come with a friend and enjoy a slow-paced day along Alexandria’s cutest street!