Old Town Alexandria is a national historic district, filled with beautiful century old buildings, cobblestone streets, and endless charm. It’s only a couple minutes from Washington D.C, located on the Potomac River. In 2021, Old Town Alexandria, Virginia was voted the 3rd Best Small City in the United States, which helps explain how adorable it is. I’ve spent many afternoons walking around, and you could spend a whole day just viewing the historic homes and enjoying the atmosphere. Old Town Alexandria truly feels like something out of a fairytale, and it’s amazing to experience a place with so much history.
This little city is extremely walkable, so you can easily find street parking and explore the town on foot. If you’re coming from D.C, you could also take the water taxi, which has direct routes between Old Town Alexandria, Georgetown, and the Wharf in D.C.
After visiting Old Town Alexandria many times, I’ve come up with 11 must-do things that you simply cannot miss!
1. Visit the Hollensbury Spite House (Narrowest Home in the US)
Old Town Alexandria is home to the narrowest house in America, located at 523 Queen Street. It’s a two story home, with only 325 square feet. Also known as the Hollensbury Spite House, this little house is about 7 feet wide and 25 feet deep. It was built in 1830, and it used to be an alleyway, until John Hollensbury got annoyed with people passing through (and making noise) with their horse and carriages. Hollensbury owned the houses on both sides of the alleyway, which led him to build (out of spite) the home that still stands today. Standing in front of this house is such a cool experience, especially when you know the history behind it.
2. Walk Down Captains Row
Captains Row, located at the 100 block of Prince Street, is my favorite street in Old Town Alexandria. Lined with cobblestone streets and historic 18th and 19th century homes, walking down this street makes you feel like you’re stepped back in time, and each home is charming and picturesque. These homes were first occupied by Revolutionary patriots, and it’s the oldest cobble street in Old Town Alexandria. Be sure to walk down this street on your way to the waterfront! You can also click here to learn more about Captains Row and other historic locations in Old Town Alexandria.
3. Relax at Old Town Alexandria Waterfront
Located on the Potomac River, the Old Alexandria Waterfront is a gorgeous waterfront area and the perfect place to spend an afternoon. I love visiting any waterfront area because it’s truly the best way to see a city and how the locals hangout. You can do boat tours, eat at a restaurant on the water, or have your own picnic. Click here to find out about events on the waterfront and throughout Old Town Alexandria.
4. Explore King Street
King Street is the busiest street in Old Town, with lots of restaurants, local shops, and plenty to explore. Be sure to stop into Misha’s coffee, which is my favorite coffee and pastry spot in the city. I also recommend stopping by the visitor center because they sell local souvenirs and have lots of useful information about things to see and do. There’s also public restrooms there, which can be hard to find.
5. Enjoy a Dessert at Lavender Moon Cupcakery
Lavender Moon Cupcakery is a cute and cozy cupcake shop on Royal Street. They offer lots of unique cupcake flavors, like Lemon Pistachio, Banana Split, and Cherry Chocolate Pinot Noir. I got a Boston Cream cupcake, and it was super delicious. If you’re a dessert person like me, you need to add this place to your list!
6. Check Out Old Town Books
Old Town Books is a women owned bookstore, founded by Ally Kirkpatrick. Ally is an Alexandria native, and she opened the bookstore in 2018 to share her passion for reading and writing. The shop is located on Royal Street, with an inviting storefront featuring big windows, wooden floors, and great natural light. Walking in here will inspire you to start a new book, and the employees are friendly bookworms. There’s lots of local shops in Old Town Alexandria, but Old Town Books is one of my favorites. Definitely check out their website to find out more about their book clubs, blog, and book recommendations!
7. Visit George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon was George Washington’s estate in Alexandria, and it’s the most visited estate in the United States. You can tour the home, which is styled to look like it did in 1759 when Mr. and Mrs. Washington lived there. You can also tour the grounds, including George Washington’s grave, beautiful waterfront views, and the giant garden. The garden is still well kept, and they grow the same foods that the Washington’s ate when they lived there.
It’s fascinating to learn about how the home was built, the history of the country, and the history of slavery on the estate. In fact, there is a slave graveyard on the property, which has a memorial and teaches us about lesser known (but extremely important) history. You’ll learn a lot of interesting facts on the tour, like how the dining room was painted green because it was the most expensive paint color, and how George Washington was obsessed with ice cream, which was a delicacy at the time (and arguably still is).
Mount Vernon isn’t in Old Town Alexandria, but it’s only 8 miles away and totally worth the visit! If you don’t want to drive there from Old Town Alexandria, or just want to enjoy some views on the river, you can book a boat tour from Alexandria to Mount Vernon.
Overall, Mount Vernon is a fascinating place to visit, whether you consider yourself to be a history buff or not. You can click here to buy your tickets online and to find out more about Mount Vernon. This place is somewhere you cannot miss while in Alexandria!
8. Visit the Old Town Farmers’ Market
Old Town Farmers’ Market is the longest continuous farmers market in the United States, which makes it another very special thing to do in Alexandria. The farmers market first started in 1753, and it’s believed that George Washington sold his vegetables there. Majority of the produce sold is local, coming from Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Many of the seller’s families have been selling produce there for many generations, some dating back to before the American Revolution.
As the Old Town Farmers’ Market has grown and evolved, so have the variety of items for sale. Besides fresh food, you can also buy artwork and crafts, attend monthly yoga classes, watch cooking demos, participate in pumpkin carving, and enjoy many other events throughout the year. Finally, Old Town Farmers’ Market is open year round on Saturdays!
If you’re visiting around Christmas time, you should also check out Old Town Alexandria Christmas Market and Holiday Craft Show at John Carlyle Square!
9. Drink Boba Tea at Spill The Tea
Spill The Tea is known for their amazing selection of milk, fruit, and specialty teas. If you can dream of a flavor combination, they probably have it. My favorite is the Mangonificent tea with Black Boba, but you can customize any tea to your liking. I stopped here for the Boba Tea but also fell in love with their Asain inspired food menu. The mango sticky rice was to die for, and the fresh spring rolls were amazing. They even have a vegan Bahn Mi! I’ll definitely be stopping here again next time I’m in Alexandria, and I highly recommend adding it to your list! It’s also located near the Braddock Metro Center, which services the blue and yellow Metro lines.
10. Visit the Torpedo Factory Art Center
The Torpedo Factory Art Center used to be an actual torpedo factory! It was built in 1918 and was a fully operational US Navy Torpedo plant for 5 years. The building was also used to store military weapons and to manufacture parts for rocket engines, until it shut down in 1946. In 1950, the building was used as a Federal Records Center, to store Nuremberg War Crimes trial records, dinosaur bones, and even German war films.
Today, the Mark XIV green torpedo is displayed in the building, as a reminder of the building’s history. The torpedo was painted green so the US Navy could locate it after testing it.
Eventually, the City of Alexandria bought the building from the federal government for 1.6 million dollars in 1969. Since then, it has become, “home to the nation’s largest collection of working-artists’ open studios under one roof.” You can find all kinds of amazing art work here, including ceramics, stained glass, paintings, photography, and many other mediums. You can also interact with the artists and purchase art of your own. The Torpedo Factory Art Center is heaven for anyone who appreciates creative spaces.
You can also check out the website to learn about the upcoming events, artists, galleries, and classes.
11. Explore the Colorful, Historic Homes
Alexandria is filled with historic homes with gorgeous detail and colorful doors. It’s impossible not to see beautiful historic homes at every turn. My sister and I spent over an hour walking around and just admiring the houses. If you’re into photography, you truly can’t go wrong with just walking around here with your camera.