Just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. lies historic Alexandria, home to George Washington, Robert E Lee, and generations of statesmen, artists, and patriots. Today, Alexandria is filled with restored 18th and 19th century townhouses, eclectic art galleries, ethnic restaurants and a variety of antique shops. The vibrant town boasts more than 130,000 residents, many of whom work across the river for government agencies and institutions.
Visiting Old Town
The historic and geographic center of Alexandria is Old Town, an official historic site, originally laid out in 1749. This lively district contains more than 2000 restored 18th and 19th homes, listed on the National Register. Centered along King and Washington Streets, the district contains traditional 18th century pubs, cobblestone streets, Robert E. Lee's boyhood home, and Christ Church, an 18th century English Georgian style church attended by both Mr. Lee and George Washington.
One of the highlights of the district is the Torpedo Arts Center, a former munitions plant during World Wars I and II. It has since been converted into artists lofts, studios, and galleries. This unique building is also home to the Alexandria Archaeology Program and its exhibits of excavations around the city. Old Town is also noted for its antique shops, and on Saturday mornings, the neighborhood erupts into a street market, filled with high-end crafts, fresh flowers, and local produce.
Connecting Mount Vernon with downtown Alexandria is the Mount Vernon trail, a scenic nine-mile hiking and biking trail, popular with Washington sports enthusiasts. The scenic trail hugs the Potomac and continues another nine miles past Alexandria into Washington D.C. Take your time in historic Old Town Alexandria, where you can take the King Street Trolley to explore the area. Dinner cruises are also available along the Potomac River, and water taxis take passengers up and down the river to the National Harbor. Walking tours are also popular. Some of the area's top picks include:
- Alexandria Colonial Tours: The original ghost and graveyard tour is led by colonial costumed guides. The guide uses a lantern, and shares tales of local ghost legends and other folklore.
- Alexandria Tours: Led by local historians, you will learn about local history and interesting stories about the city.
- Alexandria's Footsteps to the Past : The tour provides 90 minutes of local history and more.
Where to Stay
Top hotel picks from Alexandria's visitor guide include:
- Best Western Old Colony Inn: Located in the heart of Old Town, Best Western's Old Colony Inn offers generous amenities and access to local sights and sounds. Amenities include shuttle service to local attractions, metro stations and the Reagan Washington National Airport, meeting space, on site fitness center, DVD library and high speed Internet access.
- Courtyard by Marriott Alexandria: Located in the Carlyle area, the Marriott Alexandria is designed for the business traveler with shuttle service to the metro station, in-room coffee and high-speed Internet access.
- Red Roof Inn: Located off Richmond Highway, the Red Roof Inn provides a great location for travelers with pets. Other amenities include free Wi-Fi, continental breakfast and more.
Where to Eat
Old Town is home to a number of incredible restaurants, pubs and coffeehouses. Top picks for local color, culture and cuisine include:
- Gatsby's Tavern Restaurant: Located on Royal Street, the 1792 tavern and favorite of Mr. Washington, serves traditional 18th century fare accompanied by live period entertainment.
- Bilbo Baggins Restaurant: Situated on Queen Street, the restaurant is a cozy local gathering place offering a variety of locally grown and brewed wines and beers.
- Murphy's Irish Pub: Tucked away on King Street, this Old World Irish pub boasts a roaring fireplace,f and hot fish and chips.
- Union Street Public House: Located one block from the Old Town Waterfront on Union Street, this popular eatery serves basic American cuisine, such as steak and seafood.
- Grape and Bean: A block away from Gatsby's on Royal Street this charming little wine shop, coffee and wine bar offers a seasonal menu and terrific atmosphere.
Top Tourist Attractions
Alexandria is home to a thick chapter of American history. While the city offers both colonial and urban charms, the surrounding area is populated with many must-see tourist spots from the Masonic Temple to Mount Vernon.
The George Washington Masonic National Memorial, known simply as the Masonic Temple, dominates the Alexandria skyline. The neoclassical building contains exhibits about the Masonic organization and contains the furniture from the first Alexandria lodge, of which George Washington was a member. The ninth floor observation deck rewards visitors with a sweeping view of the city and Washington.
Down the Potomac River from Old Town lies Mount Vernon, the former home of George Washington and his family. The home, garden, and other structures have been carefully restored to their original appearance and visitors can tour the elegant, yet understated main house, including Washington's study, library and the stately blue dining room. The gardens at Mount Vernon are extensive and have been restored using the original landscape designs. George and Martha Washington are buried on the 500-acre estate. Adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate is the Mount Vernon Inn, a historic 18th century inn that serves hearty lunches and dinners by candlelight. There is also a new visitor's center that tells the story of the property and showcases locally made crafts and products.
Gunston Hall Plantation
Not far from Alexandria, in Lorton, is a 1755 historic Gunston Hall Plantation, which was the home of George Mason, the author of Virginia's Declaration of Rights and a participant in the framing of the U.S. Constitution. The mansion is open daily, but closed on major holidays.
Collingwood Library and Museum
Located on land that once belonged to George Washington, the library and museum celebrates American history with many flags, Revolutionary war weapons, and Native American artifacts.
When visiting Alexandria, you are near many other national sites and monuments that are worth visiting. Don't miss out on Arlington National Cemetery, Thomas Jefferson's home Monticello and colonial Williamsburg.