Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Old Town Alexandria, VA

  • Published 2022/08/07

Did you know where George Washington, the first president of the United States, was born?

It’s none other than the well-preserved Old Town Alexandria, a neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia.

As its name suggests, the place holds a rich history, featuring several historical buildings.

This history encompasses its tobacco trading business, a slave-trading firm, and Civil War supplications.

Old Town Alexandria dates back over 250 years.

Its colonial charm permeates its awe-inspiring museums, restaurants, and beautiful boutiques.

You can see buildings in 18th to 19th-century architecture throughout the neighborhood.

Stepping into the place feels like entering a wormhole into the past.

Enjoy your time-traveling tour of the best things to do in Old Town Alexandria.

Spend the Day at the Old Town Alexandria Waterfront

Daytime view of Old Town Alexandria Waterfront

Rob Crandall /

The exotic Old Town Alexandria Waterfront is the perfect getaway if you want a blend of cosmopolitan vibes and a walkable lifestyle.

For centuries, this waterfront has existed as a bustling seaport.

It contrasts historical authenticity and modernity and offers scenic views of Washington, D.C., and the Potomac River.

You can ride water taxis and river cruises to explore the river.

People touring around Old Town Alexandria Waterfront

grandbrothers /

You’ll discover a long line of exquisite coffee shops, restaurants, and shopping boutiques.

There are also benches and picnic tables to sit on as you enjoy the sunset.

Bring your family, friends, or your furry companions here for a relaxing afternoon.

Restaurants at Old Town Alexandria Waterfront

Eli Wilson /

Taste the Rich Brewing Tradition of Port City Brewing Company

Are you thirsty after your trip?

Stop by the Port City Brewing Company to find out their secrets of craft brewing.

Founded in 2011, the company is an award-winning craft brewery and a top-of-the-line producer of great-quality craft beers.

Upon visiting their brewing factory, you can join a “grain to glass” brewery tour and an excellent opportunity to see their Tasting Room.

You’ll receive a delectable sample of their fresh beer from the taps that will remind you of Alexandria’s rich and colorful origins.

Likewise, you can host private events and special occasions at the indoor beer garden.

Find and savor your favorite beverage at the Pot City Brewing Company!

Walk the King Street Mile

People walking along King Street Mile

Albert Pego /

If you are new to the city, strolling through the historical greatness of King Street Mile is the first thing you should do.

Approach the waterfront and head west of Washington Street to see cobblestone alleys, brick-lined streets, centuries-old architecture, and a canopy of twinkling lights.

As you wander the streets, you can visit local shops offering wide stationery selections, sustainable fashion, and vintage barware.

Don’t ever miss the free ride on the King Street Trolley bus, as it provides easy access to more than 200 shops within the street.

Hop aboard the bus or take a meaningful walk; King Street Mile will show you a good time.

Try to Enter the Hollensbury Spite House

Exterior of the Hollensbury Spite House

APK, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

See anything small and peculiar?

Of course, looking at the narrowest house in America, you can’t see it from far away.

The two-story Hollensbury Spite House on Queen Street measures 24 feet deep and seven feet wide—totaling a whopping 325 square feet.

Its peculiar size should remind you more of an enclosed alley than a house; this size also draws people from all over.

Built in 1830, the Hollensbury Spite House owners intended to keep out horse-drawn wagons and loiterers from John Hollensbury’s alley.

Take an Instagrammable shot of the skinniest historic house you’ll ever see in your life!

Discover How War Turns to Art at the Torpedo Factory Art Center

Exterior of Torpedo Factory Art Center

Rob Crandall /

Are you a lover or a fighter?

Locals on the Potomac River near Union Street realized they were more artists than fighters.

These artists transformed the defunct U.S. Naval Torpedo Station into the Torpedo Factory Art Center.

Founded in 1974, the center used to be an old munitions plant.

It now has the greatest number of publicly accessible working artist studios in the United States.

A display in Torpedo Factory Art Center

Rob Crandall /

Boasting 500,000 annual visitors, the center contains about eight galleries and workshops, 82 artists’ studios, and 165 professional visual artists.

You’ll find artists working on their inspired works in media like ceramics, painting, jewelry, fiber, photography, sculpture, and printmaking.

You can purchase original items to add to your beautiful collection after viewing the artworks.

Explore their thought-provoking exhibition, where you’ll get lost in their art world.

Make art, not war, at the Torpedo Factory Art Center!

Interior of Torpedo Factory Art Center

Rob Crandall /

Become a Witch or Wizard at the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum

Exterior of the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Shop

The original uploader was Ser Amantio di Nicolao at English Wikipedia., CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Do you want to be Harry Potter for a moment?

You’ll feel like the boy wizard as you enter the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum in Old Town Alexandria.

The museum contains medicinal herbs and devices.

It started out as a business in 1792, and shut down in 1933.

Afterward, the neighborhood turned it into a museum.

The store features a neoclassical architectural style and Gothic Revival furnishings.

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, check out the real-life ingredients used in the 1800s that they also used in the movie series.

These materials include dragon’s blood, castor oil, valerian, mandrake root, and many more.

Inside the store, you’ll find the vast collection of hand-blown glass, herbal botanicals, medical equipment, prescriptions, journals, and formula books.

Witness how far the profession of pharmacy has progressed at the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum.

Revisit History at the Old Town Farmers’ Market

Vendors at Old Town Farmer’s Market

Hiram Rios /

Even though it’s the oldest farmers’ market in the country, the Old Town Farmer’s Market gives you the freshest produce in the city.

Located along King Street, this market is a unique way to join local and national traditions while reconnecting with the past.

The place has stood for over 260 years, becoming one of the neighborhood’s most historic sites.

Likewise, the farmers’ market opens every Saturday morning.

You can visit more than 70 vendors offering a variety of vegetables, fruits, bread, cheeses, fresh pasta, meat, cut flowers, fabric art, and paintings.

Stock up on snacks for your long day of touring at the Old Town Farmers’ Market.

Indulge your Sweet Cravings at Dolci Gelati Café

As you wander around Alexandria, you should always save room for dessert.

On Fairfax Street, you’ll find the Dolci Gelati Café, which won the best gelato in America.

It offers authentic artisanal gelato with an Italian recipe from Chef Gianluigi, mixed with exotic flavors and local ingredients.

Sample a modern twist on a traditional Italian favorite that will leave your mouth watering.

They also serve delicious pastries such as muffins, brownies, croissants, sweet frozen treats, and locally roasted espresso and coffee.

Bring your family to Dolci Gelati and prepare to start your day with its ultimate sweetness.

Take a Relaxing Hike on the Mount Vernon Trail

Boardwalk trail along Mount Vernon Trail

Jon Bilous /

If you want to jog with a beautiful scenic view, go to the Mount Vernon Trail on the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

It is an 18-mile multi-use trail that begins at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and ends at Theodore Roosevelt Island.

This place is terrific for cycling, running, or leisurely walks.

You’ll also witness the stunning view of the Potomac River and the skyline of Washington, DC.

Wooden benches overlooking the river along Mount Vernon Trail

Jon Bilous /

Some sections of the trail are boardwalk, but most of its winding parts are paved.

Like the heart’s veins, the trail connects many regional trails such as the Rock Creek, Potomac Heritage, Woodrow Wilson Bridge, Custis, and Four Mile Run.

See plenty of sights and meet other hikers on the Mount Vernon Trail.

Bike trail of Mount Vernon Trail

Jon Bilous /

Drink and See Ghosts with the Nightly Spirits

Sometimes, haunting memories, ghost stories, and dead spirits gather in an old town.

If you’re interested in Old Town’s spooky stories, then join the Nightly Spirits at Strand Street.

Join their public and private ghost tours to experience a 2-2.5-hour journey around historic and haunted pubs.

With your eerie tour guide, you’ll explore the dark history and mysterious past of many buildings around Old Town Alexandria.

As you pass each building and listen to each story, you get a beverage to match the stops.

Know the town’s hidden past with Nightly Spirits.

Live like a President in Gadsby’s Tavern Museum

Exterior of Gadsby’s Tavern Museum

Carolyn M Carpenter /

Do you wonder what a five-star hotel from the 18th century looks like?

Head to the Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, a 1700s social hub and Georgian manor, to see one up close.

It consists of two historic buildings, the 1785 tavern, and the 1792 City Tavern and Hotel.

Historic individuals have enjoyed the unique hospitality of the tavern.

These figures include the first six US Presidents: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and John Quincy Adams.

Today, the well-preserved tavern has become a museum offering exquisite tours that teach visitors about the Americans’ cultural heritage.

There are comprehensive eclectic collections of ceramics to furniture, narrating the evolution of its business during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Wine and dine like a president at Gadsby’s Tavern Museum.

Grab a Bite at Virtue Feed and Grain

Find an outstanding balance between the past and the modern world at the Virtue Feed and Grain.

Near Wales Alley, this American tavern offers delectable meals amid modern-rustic décor and a seasonal perspective.

It has a wide variety of gluten-free options and a delicious menu with local flavors and ingredients.

You’ll enjoy the majestic view of the Potomac River in its second-level porch room.

Historically, the tavern was once a feed house in the 1800s that sold beer as early as 1786.

Climb Aboard the Tall Ship Providence

The Tall Ship Providence sailing on potomac river

Eli Wilson /

Do you want a taste of a brave sailor’s life wandering the dangerous seas?

Welcome aboard the Tall Ship Providence, an 18th-century sloop docked at the Old Town Alexandria Waterfront.

As the first authorized ship to sail for the Continental Navy, the Providence served under the first American command of John Paul Jones.

The ship saw four years of action during the American Revolutionary War.

In 1779, the Americans sank the Providence to keep the British from capturing the ship.

The present sailing sloop reproduces the original to provide a fantastic learning experience for all ages.

Showcasing Alexandria’s rich maritime and revolutionary history, the Tall Ship Providence gives a tour to experience life on an old sloop.

Unleash Your Inner Detective in Escape Room Live Alexandria

Look no further if you want to play a mind-bending game with the whole squad!

Nothing beats a great bonding trip where you face a test of wits and mystery to solve the exciting escape rooms.

The Escape Room Live Alexandria on King Street should give you a heart-pumping and mystery-solving game.

Step into one of the four brilliantly appointed rooms with different themes, such as Moriarty, Sherlock, Wizard’s Apothecary, and Edgar Allan Poe.

Each unique room presents an exciting storyline and captivating gameplay, unlike any other escape room.

Do you have what it takes to connect the dots before the time is up?

Uncover hidden clues and solve puzzles at the Escape Room Live Alexandria.

Explore George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate

Exterior of the Mount Vernon Estate

Orhan Cam /

The first American President, George Washington, established his sweet home in the heart of the town.

Located on Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, George Washington’s Mount Vernon spans about 500 acres.

You’ll get an exciting tour of his picturesque Palladian-style mansion, distillery, grist mill, and sprawling plantation that he oversaw in his early years.

Antique piano in Mount Vernon Estate

Steve Heap /

The meticulously-preserved grounds, the mansion, and the lush gardens are a worthy sight to see.

You can even find George Washington’s final resting place on the estate.

Find out what made George Washington the first in war, the first in peace, and the first in the hearts of the American people.

Stop by George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate on your trip!

A bedroom in Mount Vernon Estate

Steve Heap /

Final Thoughts

Nothing can compare to the rich cultural heritage, spectacular attractions, and thrilling history adventures in Old Town Alexandria.

Its historic estates, restaurants, boutiques, and antique shops make it a major draw for locals and visitors.

Don’t miss the best things to do in Old Town Alexandria.

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