After more than 260 years on the map, Alexandria has not only hosted American presidents (ever heard of George Washington?) but become an award-winning cultural hotspot filled with killer restaurants, independent boutiques and an incredible arts and cultural scene. You’ve found yourself here, but where to begin? And once you’ve begun, where to go next? I know time flies (especially on vacation), so here’s a list of Alexandria essentials to get you started and ensure you don’t miss the city’s best activities:
1. George Washington Was Here
As George Washington’s hometown, Alexandria is naturally jam-packed with sites that played host to America’s first president. Debarking from the Alexandria Visitors Center, GW-enthusiasts can take a walking tour of George Washington hotspots; highlights include Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, where the General ate and drank between stints to and from home; the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, where Martha picked up their prescriptions; and, of course, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, his historic estate.
These days, all eyes are on Alexandria’s waterfront. Along the Potomac River lie lush, green waterfront parks, a historic lighthouse and gorgeous views of Washington, DC and National Harbor. Feeling sporty? The Mount Vernon Trail extends from DC to George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate (perfect for an afternoon bike ride), while from the docks, Potomac Riverboat Co. sets off on cruises aplenty.
3. Signature Sips
Alexandrians love their artisanal liquids (who doesn’t?). From a locally-brewed pint of Port City Brewing Co.’s award-winning Optimal Wit to a handcrafted cocktail by master mixologist Todd Thrasher at PX, the Majestic or Restaurant Eve, your taste buds will thank you.
Having played an important role in American history (we’ll say it again – George Washington’s hometown!), Alexandria has a vast history of its own to share. The Lyceum is Alexandria’s History Museum, displaying exhibits outlining the city’s important story, while visitors can also peek inside city co-founder John Carlyle’s home the Carlyle House, or uncover the history of Alexandria’s African-American residents at the Alexandria Black History Museum.
Ever notice that big building on Alexandria’s waterfront? That’s the Torpedo Factory Art Center, the city’s creative hub, filled with three floors of 82 working artist studios, the Art League School and the Alexandria Archaeology Museum. The curious can wander through the center (one of the first of its kind) and explore the work of more than 160 artists, whose pieces range in medium from paint to bubblegum, fibre to metal.
6. King Street Stroll
Who says a leisurely walk isn’t an activity of its own? On King Street, Old Town’s main drag, strollers are treated to sites like an overwhelmingly gorgeous amount of 18th- and early 19th-century architecture, red-brick lined walkways, colorful storefronts of independent boutiques, savory scents wafting from corner bakeries and water-filled dog bowls dotting the street.
7. Tour Time
With so much history, tours are a great way to hit all the sites. Alexandria is explorable by bike, boat or on foot, even offering premiere tours of the city’s culinary highlights on an Old Town Food Tour, or spooky spots on a Ghost & Graveyard Tour. Self-guided tours allow you to go at your own pace, or let an expert lead the way.
8. Do Del Ray!
In Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood, color and creativity are the name of the game. Along Mount Vernon Avenue, find a great concentration of culinary delights and independent boutiques–from award-winning Mac N’ Cheese at Cheesetique (is this heaven?), to an old fashioned variety store at Del Ray Variety, to Art on the Avenue, a rocking fall art festival, this district is filled with hidden gems and funky finds.
Exercise, history and a leisurely boat cruise? I’ll take one, please. Bike and Roll and the Potomac Riverboat Co. have teamed up on the premiere package, Mount Vernon by Bike & Boat, where the adventurous can pedal down to George Washington’s Mount Vernon for a day of exploring the first president’s historic estate, before taking a relaxing boat cruise back to Old Town.
10. Chic Boutiques
Alexandria gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “independently owned.” Nearly 80% of the shops in the King Street Corridor are locally-owned in addition to the great finds in Del Ray, offering wares from high end shoes to home décor, pet products to culinary goods. Oh, and there’s also an Anthropologie, H&M and Banana Republic. Need I say more?
For more ideas on how to live like an Alexandrian, click here.