Top 14 Reasons to Visit Alexandria This Summer

Named the #1 Best Value U.S. Travel Destination 2018 by Money magazine, historic Alexandria, Virginia is the ideal summer getaway for family fun just minutes from Washington, D.C. Located on the Potomac River waterfront, Alexandria summers are filled with endless ways to enjoy the season, from “Hamilton” happenings, boat cruises and walking tours to festivals, live music and LGBTQ Pride Month events. You can explore the city on a day trip, or make it your home base for a D.C. family vacation with some of the best hotel prices of the year. With so many spectacular summer activities to choose from, we’ve rounded up our top reasons to visit Alexandria this summer.

1. “Hamilton” Happenings in Alexandria

Image Credit: George Washington’s Mount Vernon

As “Hamilton” hysteria spreads to Washington, D.C. in anticipation of the show’s run at The Kennedy Center June 12 to September 16, 2018, Alexandria features five can’t-miss events for “Hamilton” fans. While local historians do not believe Alexander Hamilton visited Alexandria, many of his friends and “frenemies” did. Fans of the musical can learn about the politics of the day with special “Hamilton”-themed tours at Gadsby’s Tavern Museum where Washington, Lafayette, Jefferson, Madison and Burr partied and made history. Discover how accurate the musical’s portrayal of Washington and Hamilton’s relationship is during a special lecture at Gadsby’s Tavern Museum. Play 18th-century style games popular during Hamilton’s day. Picture yourself center stage during an evening at The Lyceum: Alexandria’s History Museum where you can try on American Revolutionary War uniforms like the ones seen in “Hamilton” and snap sharable photos. At George Washington’s Mount Vernon, put yourself in the General’s shoes through “Be Washington: It’s Your Turn to Lead,” a new first-person interactive experience that has introductions to the various scenarios by Chris Jackson, the actor who played Washington in “Hamilton,” plus Alexander Hamilton is represented in the experience as an advisor. Alexandria also has another special connection to the Broadway hit—”Hamilton” director Thomas Kail grew up in Alexandria.

2. Boat Cruises

Image Credit: K. Summerer for Visit Alexandria

As an historic port city and a hub for Potomac Riverboat Company, Alexandria is the launching point for 8 sightseeing cruises and water taxis. See D.C. landmarks on the narrated Washington Monuments Cruise and take water taxis to the National Mall, Georgetown, The Wharf, and National Harbor. You can also cruise to George Washington’s Mount Vernon and take the Baseball Boat to Nationals Park. Four-legged friends and their humans can also hop on the Canine Cruise offered monthly throughout the summer.

3. Waterfront Activities

Image Credit: Todd Wright for Visit Alexandria

The Alexandria waterfront is a summer hotspot for foodies, art lovers, dog owners and hopeless romantics alike. This summer, enjoy new vistas opening up at the foot of King Street and the marina as construction begins on the new King Street Park at the Waterfront which will open this fall. Catch street performers at the bustling marina and dine waterside at restaurants like Vola’s Dockside GrillBlackwall Hitch, Chart House and Hummingbird. Picnic in one of our scenic waterfront parks, sip on dockside drinks or explore the Torpedo Factory Art Center to complete your perfect summer night. You can also get out on the water by renting boats at the Washington Sailing Marina on Daingerfield Island, including stand up paddleboards, kayaks, sailboats and more. The marina offers spectacular views of planes landing while you paddle around the Potomac.

4. USA and Alexandria Birthday Fireworks

Image Credit: Victor Wolansky

Alexandria turns 269 years old this July (meanwhile, the U.S. turns 242), so of course we celebrate with a huge birthday bash on Saturday, July 7, 2018, along the Potomac waterfront at Oronoco Bay Park in Old Town. No gifts, please, but expect live music from the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra, food vendors, patriotic birthday cake and a dazzling fireworks display over the river. Visitors also have two other chances to catch celebratory fireworks with special events at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Independence Fireworks at Mount Vernon on June 29 and 30, 2018, is a patriotic evening filled with dazzling fireworks, Mansion tours and musical performances. An American Celebration at Mount Vernon on July 4, 2018, includes daytime fireworks, military re-enactments, a wreathlaying ceremony, and a naturalization ceremony for new citizens with a keynote address. 

5. LGBTQ Pride Month Events

Image Credit: Port City Brewing Co.

Celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month throughout June in Alexandria, with nearly 20 special events and happenings all month long, plus food and drink specials. Alexandria was named a Virginia “All-Star” city for LGBTQ rights by the Human Rights Campaign in 2017 and the #2 Best Town in Virginia for LGBT Families by Movoto in 2016. Events kick off with Priday Night at Port City Brewing Company and include LGBTQ-inspired art and theater programming, Rainbow Doggy Yappy Hour at Jackson 20, and delicious offerings like the Pride Donut at Sugar Shack Donuts and Pride cocktail at five Alexandria Restaurant Partners restaurants.

6. New Restaurants

Image Credit: M. Enriquez for Visit Alexandria

There is a mouthwatering lineup of new restaurants opening throughout Alexandria, adding to an already impressive list of new restaurants open this year. Mia’s Italian Kitchen opened in April 2018 at the foot of King Street and is the newest concept from Alexandria Restaurant Partners. The dramatic rework of the 100 King Street space features a dine-in pizza bar, second floor lounge and a delectable menu of house-made pastas, wood-fired pizza and other family recipe-inspired Italian specialties worth sharing this summer. No summer is complete without a little barbecue, and the new Smoking Kow BBQ in Alexandria’s West End will become your go-to. Owner Dylan Kough (last name pronounced “Kow”) has expanded his popular food truck business to include this new brick-and-mortar location, serving up American barbecue tacos, platters and sandwiches, and the Mac ‘N Meat, with Dylan’s signature meats served over mac ‘n cheese. This summer, keep an eye out for new restaurant openings, including Charlie’s on the Avenue in Del Ray from the folks behind Live Oak, and Glory Days Grill in the West End.

7. Summer Tours

Image Credit: K. Summerer for Visit Alexandria

Sunny skies and summer breezes practically beg you to get out and explore our historic city, with dozens of tour offerings by bike, by boat or on foot. Take a “hop stop” on the Historic Breweries Guided Walking Tour and Tasting, offered June 16 and 17, 2018, with author Garrett Peck and Portner Brewhouse co-founder Catherine Portner. You can also beat the heat with fun indoor tours like The Real World Science Behind Harry Potter at the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, with a special tour for adults on July 28, 2018 and a family-friendly tour on July 29, 2018, in celebration of Harry Potter’s birthday. You can also catch a special behind-the-scenes look at the Apothecary on their Geek Tours, offered June 10, July 8 and August 12, 2018.

8. Outdoor Dining

Image Credit: K. Summerer for Visit Alexandria

Summer hasn’t officially started until you’ve enjoyed a meal outside in Alexandria, whether you dine dockside at the waterfront marina, or under a canopy of trees on King Street. There are endless options for summer days and nights, including the twinkle-lit wine garden at Sonoma Cellar on King Street. There, you can sip wine, listen to live music and even order dinner for your dog. Up King Street, the patio at Taverna Cretekou is an open-air space filled with lush green plants, featuring live music and dancing on Thursday nights. In Del Ray, dining on the porch at local favorite Del Ray Café is a must for any meal.

9. Summer Concerts 

Image Credit: Lisa Walker

Catching live music is a staple of summer, and Alexandria has some of the most unique summer concert venues in the region. Locals head to bars like Murphy’s Irish Pub for live music seven nights a week. Historic Alexandria’s After-Work Concert Series includes Friday-night concerts on the second Friday of every month at Alexandria’s historic sites, beginning at 18th-century Murray-Dick-Fawcett House on June 8, 2018, with The Cigar Box String Band from Williamsburg, Virginia. The series continues on July 13, 2018, at Lloyd House, ending on August 10, 2018, back at the Murray-Dick-Fawcett House. Alexandria is also home to what The Washington Post described as “the best listening club in America,” The Birchmere: America’s Legendary Music Hall. The Bacon Brothers are headed back to The Birchmere this summer for three nights from July 20 through 22, 2018, along with a full lineup of artists all summer long.

10. Dog-Friendly

Image credit: Shelley Castle Photography

Dogs love summer in Alexandria. Why? They get to feel the wind in their hair on the Canine Cruise, explore Alexandria’s many dog-friendly parks and gobble doggy treats like doggy gelato. Oh, and strolling bustling King Street is always fun on a sunny day for pups and bipeds alike. Check out all 19 dog friendly things to do in Alexandria here.

11. Family Festivals

Image Credit: C. Mouledoux for Visit Alexandria

Alexandria is the perfect home base for a Washington, D.C. summer vacation for families, with dozens of kids activities at museums and historic sites, and plenty of outdoor fun and family-friendly festivals. The Annual Friendship Firehouse Festival on August 4, 2018, is a kid-favorite, featuring antique fire trucks, craft booths live music and more. Kids receive free fire helmets and get to take a special look inside the City’s fire trucks. In Del Ray, the 5th Annual Well Ray Festival on June 23, 2018, is a fun way to get healthy as a family, with free exercise classes, lifestyle-inspired tents and more.

12. Summer Treats

Image Credit: Old Town Dolci Gelati Facebook Page

With so many ways to stay busy in Alexandria this summer, we’ve also got you covered on the cool-down with chilled sweet treats from Alexandria eateries specializing in ice cream and other frozen delights. Dolci Gelati near the Alexandria Visitor Center serves seasonal and refreshing gelato flavors, and is a can’t-miss any season. Dolci founder Gianluigi Dellaccio knows a thing or two about gelato. He was appointed Italy’s “Ambassador of Homemade Gelato” in 2018 and won “Best Gelato Flavor” at the inaugural Gelato Festival America in 2017. Nicecream on King Street mixes liquid nitrogen with farm fresh ingredients to create made-to-order ice cream, joining nearly 20 artisanal sweets and dessert spots in this already sweet dessert destination. Other classic spots to cool off include Wisconsin-style frozen custard and popsicles at The Dairy Godmother in Del Ray, handcrafted artisan gelato including banana split and dulce de leche at Casa Rosada Artisan Gelato, and classic homemade ice cream at The Creamery and Pop’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream.

13. New Boutiques and Sidewalk Sale

Image Credit: K. Summerer for Visit Alexandria

From the annual Alexandria Summer Sidewalk Sale in August to summer hotel packages, all the stars are aligning for that weekend shopping trip you’ve been planning. Many of Old Town’s chic independent shops offer discounts throughout the summer in one-of-a-kind personalized shopping experiences. This season, check out new boutique openings in Old Town, including Threadleaf from Nicole McGrew, opening at 121 S. Royal Street. Threadleaf is a unique concept featuring fashion-forward clothing and accessories that are responsibly made with respect for the environment, suppliers and customers. On King Street, visit Wear Ever Jewelry from artist Jennifer Jordan Park, representing 20 American artists and offering classes in an intimate studio setting. Fans of 116 King Pop-up Boutique will find the evolving concept at a new spot this summer. In May, 116 – The Collection will open at the new Founders Hall, a creative multi-use space opening in Old Town at 106 N. Lee Street. Featuring everything from yogawear to jewelry, 116 – The Collection will be the first pop-up concept at Founders Hall, a former warehouse that will also be home to South Block Juice and Vikriya Yoga on the ground floor, and a co-working concept called ALX Community on the second floor. Check out our Ultimate King Street Shopping Guide For Old Town for the full scoop on shopping.

14. Free Outdoor Movies 

Image Credit: The Jen Walker Team via Cinema Del Ray Facebook page

Outdoor movies are the ultimate summer adventure, perfect for everything from family-fun to date night. Did we mention they’re also free? The Alexandria Comcast Outdoor Film Festival is happening at Waterfront Park, presenting Coco on July 13, 2018, and Wonder Woman on July 14, 2018. The movies are played in HD with a backdrop of the Potomac River, perfect for a picnic on a blanket. Cinema Del Ray Outdoor Movies also plays family-friendly flicks every month, happening May 19, June 16, July 21, August 18, and September 15, 2018, with films including The Lion King, The Lego Batman Movie, Toy Story 3, Cars 3, and Coco, sponsored by The Jen Walker Team.


Find more things to do this summer in Alexandria here.

Header image by K. Summerer for Visit Alexandria