Alexandria, Virginia is known as the city that’s “minutes from Washington, DC, yet a world away,” and when we say “a world away,” we mean it. Around every corner is a picturesque cobblestone streetscape, a surprising architectural detail, or a classic-style pub, all reminiscent of Europe—without the jet lag. Travel blogger Brianna from Casual Travelist said of Alexandria, “It’s a great walking city and much more European in style than many of the other East coast cities.”
You can experience European cuisine, architecture, traditions and more right here in Alexandria. Here is our list of 7 ways Alexandria is reminiscent of some of our favorite European destinations.
1. Cobblestone and Brick-Lined Streets
Image Credit: Cameron Davidson
In Alexandria, there is a new discovery waiting around every corner that will make you feel like you’re exploring a small European city. Take a stroll on our brick-lined streets and you’ll find chef-driven restaurants, cobblestone alleyways, surprising architectural details, independently owned boutiques and galleries and the Old Town Farmers’ Market outside on Saturdays.
The gaslit lamps and narrow streets are enough to make you feel like you could be in London or Paris. To see some of our city’s most picturesque cobblestone streets, head to Captains Row on the corner of South Fairfax and Prince streets and take a stroll east to the waterfront.
2. Historic Homes and Architecture
Image Credit: Instagram user @erinebert
Alexandria is packed with vibrant and diverse architectural styles and gardens reminiscent of an historic European city. In one neighborhood you may find colorful row houses, Greek revival structures like the Lyceum or Athenaeum, or classic Georgian architecture including Carlyle House, all full of lush, green gardens. Check out this blog post for more detailed information on Alexandria’s historic architecture.
3. Sidewalk Café’s, Classic Pubs and Global Cuisine
Image Credit: R. Kennedy for Visit Alexandria
Alexandria’s culinary scene is a taste of Europe without a six-hour flight. Pick your favorite European cuisine and we’ll take you there, from classic Irish pubs to authentic Italian cuisine. Here’s our roundup of top global cuisine in Alexandria, including outdoor dining and sidewalk cafés.
Transport yourself to the streets of Paris and dine outside at Bastille or Bistrot Royal, both authentic French restaurants in Alexandria. For a more café style setting, head to Fontaine for crepes and coffee or a glass of wine. La Fromagerie Cheese and Wine Bistro is a cheese-lover’s heaven and a great place to find gifts or pick up a bottle of wine before dinner with friends, while Del Ray Cafe is the perfect spot for brunch.
Belgian Bonus: Brabo offers traditional Belgian cuisine from acclaimed chef Robert Wiedmaier in Old Town.
Acclaimed chef Antonio Carluccio is well known for his self-titled restaurant, Carluccio’s, with award-winning locations throughout the UK. The authentic Italian restaurant has two locations in the U.S., and the King Street establishment was the first. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, their pasta is fantastic and their coffee makes you feel like you could be in Rome. For Tuscan-style Italian fare, grab a table on the brick-lined sidewalk at Landini Brothers, an Alexandria favorite since 1976.
Daniel O’Connell’s is as close as you can get to Ireland without a plane ride. This authentic Irish pub features an array of historical antiques crafted in Ireland, some over 400 years old! See pieces of Ireland in the salvaged bar and stained glass windows from Waterford Castle, which was erected in the 1500′s. Murphy’s Irish Pub is also a great pub for a pint, and Eamonn’s a Dublin Chipper has some of the best fish and chips around.
Alexandria is also home to native Dubliner and James Beard nominated chef Cathal Armstrong, who literally wrote the book on Irish cuisine, a cookbook titled “My Irish Table”. Cathal’s Restaurant Eve is a favorite in Alexandria, and his Irish expertise comes in handy during annual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Greek and Mediterranean
Anyone who loves Mediterranean food will find a lot to be happy about in Alexandria. Taverna Creketou offers Mediterranean cuisine with outdoor seating and live music, dancing and breaking plates on Thursdays. Other traditional options include upscale Vaso’s for dinner and drinks, or Delia’s Mediterranean Grill for pizza.
4. Scottish Heritage
Image Credit: Matt Chenet for Visit Alexandria
Our city is steeped in Scottish heritage, right down to our name. The name of our city comes from Scotsman John Alexander who owned the land that is now ‘Alexandria’. The city was founded by Scottish merchants William Ramsay, John Pagan and John Carlyle in 1749. Carlyle lived in what was known as the “Mansion House” around town. Today, Carlyle House remains a museum and main attraction in downtown Alexandria. Rumor has it John Carlyle may have had the body of a cat laid into the foundation of the house during construction as part of a northern European tradition.
Alexandria celebrates its Scottish heritage annually with the can’t-miss Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend. During the annual Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend held by the Campagna Center, visitors can enjoy a weekend of festivities including a parade with bellowing bagpipes leading over one hundred marching dancers, reenactment groups, Scottie dogs, dignitaries, classic cars, Santa Claus, and much more.
5. Walkable and Bikeable
Image Credit: R. Kennedy for Visit Alexandria
Alexandria was recently named the #1 Best Downtown in America, thanks in part to how easy it is to get around for walkers and bikers. With a network of foot and bike paths throughout the city and convenient bikeshare options, Alexandria is a multi-modal transit hub.
Getting to Alexandria is just as easy, no matter how you travel. Located just a few miles from Reagan National Airport, Alexandria has four Metrorail stops connected to nearby Washington, D.C., as well as an Amtrak train station and the Free King Street Trolley. No need to worry about BYOB (Bringing Your Own Bike, of course), Alexandria offers over 20 stations for the easy and convenient Capital Bikeshare.
6. River Cruises
Image Credit: Potomac Riverboat Co.
As European river cruises are on the rise, you can find a varied collection of cruises on the Potomac River, connecting to Washington, DC to the north, Mount Vernon to the south, and everywhere in between. With Potomac Riverboat Company, you can cruise to Washington, DC to see the monuments, visit the National Mall, catch a baseball game, see the Cherry Blossoms in the springtime, and more. You can also cruise over to National Harbor, Maryland, or take a canine cruise with your four-legged friends. You can also take a one-of-a-kind Bike and Boat tour to Mount Vernon, cycling from Alexandria to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, then hopping on a narrated boat cruise back to Alexandria.
7. Top Romantic City
Image Credit: Angela Stott
Paris may be known as the most romantic city in the world, but Virginia is for Lovers and Alexandria was just named the #1 Most Romantic City in the U.S. Even the DC elite came to Alexandria to impress a date—including President Obama! The president spent his anniversary with the first lady at Restaurant Eve and Valentine’s Day at Vermilion.
All this and more makes Alexandria, Virginia your very own European getaway just minutes from Washington, DC. For more things to do in Alexandria, click here.
Header image courtesy of Cameron Davidson.