Wondering what is the best way to navigate Alexandria’s storied streets during the summer? Located just minutes from Washington, D.C., tours in Alexandria, Virginia let you trace George Washington’s footsteps, take a cruise with your canine, and get a taste of Old Town’s culinary heritage, whether you prefer exploring boat, bike or on foot. From historic home tours to Old Town food tours and more, these excursions leave no cobblestone unturned.
Image Credit: Potomac Riverboat Co.
Swap your land legs for scenic views with the wealth of boat tours and river cruises departing from Alexandria’s historic harbor. Climb aboard Potomac Riverboat Company’s Alexandria Seaport Cruise to explore Alexandria’s historic waterfront. The Washington by Water Monuments Cruise is a no-sweat solution to seeing DC highlights. Always popular, the Canine Cruise guarantees dog friendly fun from April through October. Hopeless romantics hop on Nina’s Dandy, a restaurant cruise ship equipped with a marble dance floor and large outer deck for dancing under the stars. Board at sunset for gourmet dining and unparalleled views of DC monuments. You can also hit the water with Embark DC on private cruises with barbecue grill and a sound system available on board for a fun and unique summer adventure.
Water Taxi to the National Mall, National Harbor & More
Image Credit: K. Summerer for Visit Alexandria
Need to get from Alexandria to DC? Turn your trip into a “tour” with the water taxi from Old Town to the National Mall. En route you get skyline views of Old Town Alexandria and Washington lining the water, making the 30 minute excursion convenient and panoramic. Other popular taxis include the Baseball Boat to Nats games and the Water Taxi to National Harbor if you’re short on time, but want a fun excursion on the water.
Mount Vernon by Bike, Boat and Bus
Image credit: Mount Vernon
There are four fun and easy tours to get to and from Mount Vernon, including a combination of boats, bikes and buses. One option is the Mount Vernon by Bike and Boat Tour with Bike and Roll. How does it work? In the morning you’ll rent a bike and pedal down the Mount Vernon Bike Trail to the first president’s humble abode, then catch a boat that afternoon for a narrated cruise back to Old Town Alexandria. You can also choose to bike both ways with Bike and Roll or hop on a narrated boat cruise with Potomac Riverboat Co.’s George Washington’s Mount Vernon by Water Cruise. On Saturdays and Sundays in the summer, a fourth option is the Fleet Transportation minibus from Market Square in Old Town to Mount Vernon. Check schedules and book your trip here.
GUIDED WALKING TOURS
Alexandria Food Tours
Foodies rejoice! You can eat your way through Alexandria on an Alexandria Food Tour, which lets you take in the city’s colorful past and some of the best-preserved architecture in the country while sampling celebrated dishes and learning about Alexandria’s culinary heritage. There’s no better way to soak up this city than with all five senses.
Image Credit: Evan Michio for the City of Alexandria
Do you know where the Spite House is? Or who plotted the city of Alexandria in 1748? (Hint: his initials are GW.) Find out on one of Alexandria’s guided walking tours, where you can learn the stories behind the red brick facades of our historic buildings. Alexandria Tours covers Old Town’s famous citizens, history, unique architecture and more. Footsteps to the Past also offers a daily 90-minute history tour (plus it’s owned by a ninth-generation Virginian, so history runs in the family). DC Military Tours also offers the Old Town History Walking Tour, and Civil War buffs will love the Civil War tour of Alexandria with Footsteps to the Past. One of Alexandria’s newest tour offerings, Manumission Tour Company, has already generated a lot of buzz from regional outlets like The Washington Post, and it’s not hard to understand why. Owned by a fourth-generation Alexandrian, Manumission Tour Company offers guided cultural heritage tours designed to highlight Alexandria’s extensive African-American history. “Alexandria’s Fight for Freedom” is a 90-minute walking tour that provides visitors with insight into slavery in Alexandria, and those who fought back and resisted against the “Peculiar Institution.” Tours are offered on weekends and include walking and bus tours that can be personalized with special requests.
Image credit: R. Nowitz for Visit Alexandria
For a chilly blast from the past, embark on a lantern-lit ghost tour of Old Town’s haunted historic sites. Follow a costumed guide around Old Town on the Ghost & Graveyard Tour with Alexandria Colonial Tours, regaling visitors with ghost tales, legends and folklore. Or take the Historical Haunts tour from Footsteps to the Past, another great way to get acquainted with Old Town’s spooky side and discover colonial history while you’re at it.
Image credit: K. Summerer for Visit Alexandria
Military history buffs know that Alexandria has been a focal point of our nation’s wars, from the French and Indian War all the way through World War II. Why? Learn the answers on the Old Town Alexandria Military Walking Tour, visiting key military sites in Old Town including the Torpedo Factory Art Center, Gadsby’s Tavern and more (plus sites in DC!).
Mercy Street Tours
The cast of PBS’ Mercy Street during their own tour of Alexandria. Image Credit: M. Enriquez for Visit Alexandria
Fans of PBS’ Civil War medical drama “Mercy Street” can visit the sites that inspired the series on in-depth and personalized guided tours, with a varied collection of walking tours and more. Fans can walk the same streets as the Green family and all of their favorite characters from “Mercy Street” or take special site tours. Check Visit Alexandria’s “Mercy Street” calendar for more details. If you aren’t able to take one of the guided tours but don’t want to miss out on all things “Mercy Street”, try one of the self-guided tours from the Lyceum, Ivy Hill Cemetery or Visit Alexandria. Be sure to check out this video of the cast during their tour in Alexandria for a sneak peek of the sites!
Image Credit: K. Cusick for Fetching Photos
Fetching Photos offers the perfect tours for shutterbugs, whether you’re a novice looking to get more likes on Instagram, or a pro searching for tips and photography friends. Visitors can choose from a range of private and seasonal tours that are all customized to your interests and goals and are all dog-friendly. Regular tours include “Walk and Snap” where you’ll explore Old Town Alexandria’s most photogenic spots and “Night Photography” where you can learn more about long exposures and more. Seasonal tours include everything from cherry blossom tours to full moon tours, with new events and special tours popping up all the time. Check the Fetching Photos blog and sign up for their newsletter to get the inside scoop.
Image Credit: C. Davidson for Visit Alexandria.
Discover Alexandria is a veteran-owned business that offers tons of tours with something for everyone. Visitors can choose from a range of special tours including their newest offering, “Shop Alexandria,” where you’ll enjoy a guided tour through some of Alexandria’s best kept shopping secrets; “Sweet History,” where you’ll visit some of Alexandria’s best sweet spots, sample desserts and learn about Alexandria’s history; the “Historical Pub Crawl,” where you’ll learn about some of Alexandria’s famous residents as you enjoy the best beer in town; and the “Virginia is for Runners” 3-mile running tour that takes you off the main streets of Alexandria to explore Old Town’s hidden history. Other tours cover everything from ghost tours to the “Discover Alexandria” tour that explores Alexandria from past to present. Dogs are welcome on many of the tours. Check their blog for the latest tours and special offerings.
Alexandria is well known as a craft-beer destination and a historical hotspot with some of the best ghost tours in the region. What do you get when you combine the two? The Nightly Spirits “Frights and Pints” ghost tour in Old Town. On this 2.5-hour-long tour, visitors follow a costumed tour guide walking through Alexandria’s most haunted and historic spots while stopping at 3-4 different pubs along the way. It’s a fun and unique way to spend a night with friends, and can be booked for private groups. You can also hop on Alexandria’s Historic Breweries Guided Tour and Tasting, with Alexandria’s Historic Breweries author, Garrett Peck, and Portner Brewhouse co-founder, Catherine Portner. This guided walking tour around Old Town Alexandria explores the foundations of local brewing. The tour includes highlights from the print brochure, a Portner Brewhouse-sponsored beer sampling, and culminates at one of Alexandria’s current Hop Stops. Each tour will feature local homebrewers that are interested in your feedback as part of Portner Brewhouse’s Craft Beer Test Kitchen™.
SELF-GUIDED WALKING TOURS
Image credit: Mike Pak of BeerlyInFocus
For those of us who prefer to drink in Alexandria’s rich history at their own pace, there’s Alexandria’s Historic Breweries Self-Guided Walking Tour and Pub Guide. Written by Capital Beer author Garrett Peck, this brochure directs beer-lovers through nearly 250 years of brewing in Alexandria, with designated “Hop Stops” pointing to top places to pause for a pint. Did you know that the capital region’s burgeoning craft beer scene has its roots in Alexandria? See the sites of 10 historic local breweries and then head to Port City Brewing Company for a tour of its modern craft brewery. Hoppy trails!
Where did Martha Washington get prescriptions? Where did George Washington go to church? What was his favorite drinking spot? Walk in Washington’s footsteps on this self-guided tour through historic Old Town to discover the Alexandria our first president knew and loved. Visitors with smartphones can also download the Geotourist app for self-guided audio tours in multiple languages right on your smartphone. Simply download the Geotourist app on the Apple or Google app stores to access the tours. Be sure to check out the Exploring Alexandria tour in the Visitor Guide for even more exciting history to explore.
African-American History Tour
PBS’ ‘Mercy Street’ actor L. Scott Caldwell. Image credit: Geoff Livingston
From colonial times to the Civil War to civil rights, Alexandria has seen African-American history being made. On this walking tour you learn about Alexandria’s role in the Civil War, the nonviolent sit-in protest that occurred in Alexandria decades before the 1960s, Alexandria’s connection to Solomon Northup and 12 Years a Slave, and the stories of African-Americans who shaped our city and our nation at Alexandria’s many sites steeped in Black heritage. I highly suggest starting at the Alexandria Black History Museum for an overview of African-American history in Alexandria.
Image Credit: K. Summerer for Visit Alexandria
As Old Town Alexandria’s historic main thoroughfare, King Street offers 17 blocks brimming with anything-but-cookie-cutter finds. But with more than 160 independent retailers lining the brick sidewalks, where do you start? Lucky for you, we created a handy guide to shopping King Street so you don’t miss out on a great find.
Image credit: Louise Kraft
Now in its 83rd year, Alexandria’s Historic Homes & Garden Tour takes visitors inside the brick walls of 18th and 19th century row houses and historic sites, with peeks into lush courtyard gardens full of spring flowers and grand parlors that are sure to enchant. The Historic Alexandria Homes Tour takes place in the fall, and the Campagna Center Holiday Designer Tour of Homes happens each December.
From Georgian to Art Deco, the range of architecture in Alexandria merits a tour all its own. Each spring, experts from the Northern Virginia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects lead free tours of the city’s architecture and urban design and their related history. Make sure you book well in advance! You can also take Visit Alexandria’s self-guided architecture tour to learn more about one of the country’s oldest historic districts. For more niche architecture tours, try Visit Alexandria’s Art Deco Walking Tour of Del Ray.
Cherry Blossom Tour
Image Credit: flickr user Mumu Matryoshka
In the spring, take the Potomac Riverboat Company’s Cherry Blossom Cruise for a crowd-free, relaxing tour of the pink buds in bloom along the Potomac.
In addition to the tours listed above, don’t miss the individual tours offered at many of our historic sites and museums. And if you’re traveling in a group, there are even more private tours you can schedule that let you dive in Alexandria’s rich history and culture.
Header image via Potomac Riverboat Co. Flickr