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Exploring Historic Old Town Alexandria in Virginia
Find colonial history, charming boutiques, art and a farm-to-table dining scene in this 200-plus-year-old riverside city.
Tell me more about historic Old Town Alexandria
Set foot onto Old Town Alexandria’s red brick sidewalks, and you could be fooled into thinking you have traveled back in time. The small city was founded in 1749 as a colonial tobacco port, and still boasts cobblestone streets, 18th-century buildings and even a town crier, all of which will make you feel like you’re in George Washington’s era.
And that’s not a coincidence. George, whose Mount Vernon estate is nine miles down the road, frequented Old Town Alexandria businesses. Many of these places are still in operation today, like Gadsby’s Tavern (now a restaurant/museum hybrid) and Christ Church. His farm even sold produce at the Saturday farmers' market in Market Square, which has been operating since 1753 (it’s still a great place to buy flowers and a hot ham biscuit). There’s even a dramatic architectural salute to the first commander in chief: the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, a 331-foot-tall granite structure that holds exhibits on the president, a 17-foot-tall statue of him and a diagonal elevator that whisks visitors to the top of the tower.
Other historic attractions include the Carlyle House, a grand, 1753 merchant’s house with a pristine city garden and impressive interior carvings, and the Athenaeum, a pink, neoclassical-style 1851 building that once held a bank but now holds an arts center. You can see these and other signs of the past on guided walking tours (including candlelit ghost treks close to Halloween). There's also Alexandria's Spite House, a must-see for Instagrammers and the skinniest historic house in America at just seven feet wide (it's a private residence located at 523 Queen Street).
Dining, shopping and more
But amid all that ye olde charm, there’s also a bustling, modern town known for its walkable streets, independent and national stores and a vibrant dining scene. You’ll uncover them on the main drag, King Street, as well as small side streets, where offerings range from fashionable shoe stores, chic home boutiques and worth-a-hunt vintage clothing and decor shops. More than 80 painters, sculptors and jewelers work and sell at the Torpedo Factory Art Center, a World War II-era munitions factory-turned-artist haven and cultural mecca.
Restaurants and bars cluster along King Street and near the waterfront, where you'll find fine dining, speakeasies and international fare from Thai to Mexican. Many are located in historic storefronts or old shipping buildings, just adding to the throwback appeal. You can raise a glass of award-winning craft beer from Port City Brewing Company at most of the city's restaurants and pubs, or head out to the brewery in West End for a tour and special events (think: beer yoga).
Still not enough? There are plenty of things to do along the Old Town Alexandria waterfront, from sightseeing cruises and romantic strolls to ghost tours and so much more.