things to do in alexandria virginia

15 Best Things To Do In Alexandria VA for First-Time Visitors

Situated along the Potomac River, just south of Washington D.C., is Alexandria, Virginia. This charming waterfront town offers the perfect weekend getaway.

The colonial ambiance enchants you from the moment you arrive. Not only is Alexandria bursting with American history, but it’s abuzz with fun things to do.

Pedestrian neighborhoods, sprawling gardens, and a trendy atmosphere.

This little gem in Northern Virginia is worth visiting. Whether you’re a family, a couple, or a group of friends, Alexandria has something for everyone. Keep reading to find the best things to do in Alexandria, VA.

1. Old Town Alexandria

Old Town is one of the top things to do in Alexandria, VA. Historic Alexandria, fondly called Old Town, is the crown jewel of the city. A picturesque and vibrant downtown waterfront area.

It’s the third oldest historic district in the nation. Old Town transports you back in time. Experience the cobblestone streets, winding alleys, and red brick buildings.

It’s packed with historic sites, small museums, chic boutiques, art galleries, and buzzing restaurants. There’s no end to the fun things to do in Old Town.

To name a few:

  • Enjoy a meal at Gadsby’s Tavern Museum
  • Eat a picnic on the Waterfront Park
  • Bike along the Potomac
  • Visit Carlyle House
  • Take a guided tour
  • Stroll King Street

Spend a few hours–or an entire day–exploring this hip neighborhood. More ideas and information can be found here.

Explore Old Town Alexandria and its many historical sites.

2. King Street

You can’t see Old Town without experiencing the King Street Mile. The American Planning Association named it one of the Great Streets of America” for a reason.

One of the best things to do in Alexandria is walk King Street Mile.

Trees punctuate the sidewalks in an orderly fashion. You can admire the centuries-old architecture displayed at every turn.

Plus King Street is bursting with independent boutiques, specialty shops, and dining options. There are stores for woodworking, vintage items, antiques, home stores, and sustainable clothing. A shopping spree paradise in Alexandria, VA.

This area is also serviced by the free King Street Trolley if you want to rest your feet, or if mobility is an issue.

3. Prince Street

One block south of King Street is Prince Street. Another addition to Old Town Alexandria’s rich history. At the 100 block of Prince Street is the iconic Captain’s Row.

This romantic cobblestone block is the oldest in the city. And it’s a popular photo spot for weddings and families in Alexandria, VA.

4. The Spite House

Alexandria is home to several alley houses (houses built in alleyways). None is more famous than the Hollensbury Spite House built in the late 1800s.

At seven feet wide, it’s the skinniest historic house in America. And one of Alexandria’s more famous attractions.

The skinniest house in America is located in Alexandria, Virginia.

John Hollensbury, an alleyway neighbor, grew annoyed with noisy loiterers and passers-by. He built the house for the sole purpose of blocking such aggravators from using the alley.

While in Old Town Alexandria, find the Spite House at 523 Queen Street. 

5. The Stabler Leadbeater Apothecary Museum

Step back through time when you enter the fantastical Stabler Leadbeater Apothecary Museum. Healing botanicals, handblown glass vials, and medical equipment line the shelves.

This local pharmacy opened in 1792. The family-run business remained successful for generations until its closing in 1933.

The Stabler Leadbeater Apothecary Museum in Alexandria, Virginia has many preserved ingredients on display.

It re-opened as the Stabler Leadbeater Apothecary Museum in 1939. Many of its original tinctures, herbs, and remedies remain intact and preserved. 

Harry Potter fans get especially excited by labels such as Dragon Blood, Mandrake, and Unicorn Root.

6. George Washington Masonic National Memorial

The list of things to do in Alexandria, VA is not complete without the Washington Masonic National Memorial. The Masonic National Memorial pays tribute to George Washington–the first United States president and a Mason.

The ancient lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt inspired its design. The memorial sits atop Shooter’s Hill and at a soaring 333 feet, you can’t miss it.

George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, VA.

Tour the classic pillared hall and its four-story tower. Learn about this lesser-known part of Washington’s life and the masonic order.

But it’s not only a museum. This structure serves as a library, concert hall, community center, and research building. 

The Masonic National Museum is open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM. Adult tickets are $18, children get in for free.

7. Torpedo Factory Art Center

This building is arguably one of the most unique repurposing of a historical site ever. While in Alexandria, Virginia, it’s a must-see.

Once an ammunition plant, the torpedo factory has served as an art center and collaborative space since 1974. Over 80 local artists create and display their exhibits here. And it’s open to the public.

There are seven galleries and the Alexandria Archaeology Museum is located on the third floor. The art center hosts art classes, workshops, and events just for kids.

Sip a cup of coffee from Bread & Chocolate. Buy a special handmade souvenir. Chat with artists about their work and inspiration. 

Explore the Torpedo Factory Art Center.

Find the center’s calendar of events here.

8. Alexandria Black History Museum

Did you know Alexandria, Virginia constructed the first public library for the African American community? The Robert Robinson Library opened in 1940. It’s since expanded to a Museum. 

The Watson Reading Room and the Alexandria African American Heritage Park are also part of this historic site.

Check out the Museum’s website here for information about upcoming exhibits.

9. Carlyle House Historic Park

Located in the heart of Old Town is the 18th-century home of John Carlyle–a wealthy British merchant. The Carlyle House is made of stone–this was groundbreaking architecture for its time in Alexandria, Virginia.

Walk through the beautifully restored mansion to get a glimpse into colonial life. Wander outside through its carefully maintained gardens and manicured lawns. It’s a perfect place to enjoy a peaceful lunch away from the city hustle and bustle.

10. George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Take a drive 8 miles south of Alexandria and escape to Mount Vernon. This magnificent estate was George Washington’s home and remained in his family for generations.

George Washington's plantation at Mount Vernon restored to original state in Alexandria, Virginia.

The mansion has been restored to its original state and visitors are welcomed. The Mount Vernon plantation also hosts the Ford Orientation Center and Donald W. Reynolds Museum with hundreds of original artifacts from George Washington’s life.

In addition to the main house, you can stop at the distillery, barn, and gristmill. Meander through the luxurious grounds and four-acre farm.

11. Jones Point Lighthouse and Jones Point Park

Jones Point Lighthouse is worth visiting. It’s the only riverine lighthouse that remains in the Chesapeake Bay Area, and one of the last in the country. The lighthouse, nestled along the Potomac River, operated from 1856 to 1926.

While there, stop at Jones Point Park–a great spot for some family fun. There are playgrounds, fishing piers, basketball courts, and educational trail walks. Not to mention activities like kayaking and canoeing.

For hours and parking information, click here.

12. Waterfront Park

Old Town Waterfront Park in Alexandria, VA.

There are many parks to choose from when you visit Alexandria, Virginia. If you have to choose one, go to Waterfront Park. The riverside park features statues, monuments, docks, and idyllic views of D.C.

From this grassy waterfront, it’s easy to spot the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and National Harbor. Lounge on the grass while watching boats drift into the Alexandria City Marina. Or sit on a bench on a sunny afternoon while your kids play. 

13. River Farm

Alexandria, Virginia is home to the American Horticultural Society Headquarters. These headquarters are found at River Farm.

But River Farm also makes for a romantic date night with its breathtaking river views, intimate venue spaces, and quaint 4-acre meadow. There are also yoga classes, a garden supply store, and showcase gardens.

Sit and enjoy the gardens at River Farm.

Check out AHS’ website here.

14. Green Spring Gardens

Green Spring Gardens is a historic plantation spread over 31 acres. Tour this gorgeous estate for free. It features demonstration gardens as well as a greenhouse, pond, gazebo, and horticultural center.

Participate in classes and workshops for floral arrangements, crystallizing flowers, and water coloring. The oasis of Green Spring Gardens is a welcome break from the city and isn’t far from Alexandria, VA.

15. Fort Ward Museum

Fort Ward Museum is the best-preserved installation of Union Army forts and batteries. Fort Ward successfully defended Washington, D.C. during the Civil War. It now offers many exhibits, tours, and educational lectures interpreting the site’s history.

For a smaller city, Alexandria packs a wealth of activities, outings, and excursions. There are plenty of things to do in Alexandria, VA. But with these top 15 ideas, you hit the major highlights Alexandria has to offer.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How do you spend a day in Old Town Alexandria?

Historic Old Town–a national historic landmark–has more than enough to keep you occupied. Downtown Alexandria boasts historical sites, small museums, delicious restaurants, cozy cafes, trendy shops, and more. And all within walking distance. 

Ride the King Street Trolley for free. Sign up for one of the Alexandria colonial tours or ghost tours. Dine at Gadsby’s Tavern Museum like our founding fathers. Go to the Old Town Farmers Market in the Market Square. Relax at Old Town Alexandria Waterfront Park.

  1. Is Alexandria good for families?

Alexandria offers a variety of activities for family fun. With over 900 acres of parks, kids can let off steam in nature. 

Windmill Hill Park is a particularly popular option. Besides the playground, its entrance makes for great fun: the Wilkes Street Tunnel. Once a railroad, it’s been converted into an underground pedestrian tunnel and is fun to explore.

Go to Great Waves Waterpark in the summer for water slides, pools, mini-golf, and batting cages. Visit Huntley Meadows Park. It’s home to treasured habitats and majestic forests.

Go on a sightseeing cruise.

  1. What is special in Alexandria?

Alexandria is a city chock full of history and city vibrancy. But it also has fewer urban ventures such as the Mount Vernon Trail. This 18-mile path sits between the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Potomac River.

Ride along the river on the Mount Vernon Trail.

The north end starts near Theodore Roosevelt Island, passes Old Town, and ends near Mt. Vernon Estate. Click here for more information.

Or Dora Kelley Nature Park–not far from Alexandria town. This 50-acre forested haven is nature-made and filled with hiking trails. More information on Dora Kelley Nature Park can be found here.

  1. What is there to do in Alexandria on a Friday night?

Pop over to the west end of Alexandria, Virginia. Taste award-winning local craft beer at Port City Brewing Company. Sit in the tasting room or bask in the sun in their outside area.

 There are also delicious brews at Aslin Beer Co if you want to continue your local craft beverage tour. And don’t forget Lost Boy Cider–the first urban cidery in Northern Virginia. 

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