One could learn a lot of history by studying Alexandria from afar, but what a shame to miss this extraordinary city — one that George Washington called home — up close. Come follow in his footsteps and shop at the Market Square Farmers Market where he traded goods; dine at Gadsby’s Tavern where he ate; and visit Christ Church where he worshiped.
Washington owned a town home in Old Town Alexandria, but his estate, Mt. Vernon, is just eight miles to the south. Today, visitors can drive, bike or boat there.
Alexandria sits on the Potomac River across from D. C. It has been an important seaport since colonial times, through the Civil War and beyond. Today, it is a vibrant place where visitors can gather, dine, see the national monuments across the river, catch a river cruise or taxi from Old Town to the National Mall in D. C. Though drenched in history and beautiful historic architecture, a modern Alexandria is inside and spills out onto the streets with an upbeat vibe.
The city is a shopping mecca with all sorts of creative shops. Roam up and down King Street, the core of Old Town, via the step on/step off trolley. Feel free to bring Fido along because this is a most canine-friendly environment with water and treats set out about town.
Chef Cathal Armstrong’s restaurants, including Restaurant Eve — the Obama’s celebrated their anniversary there — have helped to bring recognition to Alexandria as a dining destination. Some favorite spots include Columbia Firehouse, BRABO Tasting Room, Cheesetique, Bastille and Society Fair.
A few must-sees are the Torpedo Factory Art Center; the skinniest house in America, the Spite House; the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, where George and Martha Washington got their prescriptions filled; and the Carlyle House, part of the true story behind Mercy Street, an upcoming PBS drama based on a Union army hospital during the Civil War.
Tall Ship L’Hermione, Alexandria Marina, O Cameron Street June 10-12: Tour L’Hermione, an authentic, handcrafted, life-sized reconstruction of the 18th century wooden ship that brought General Lafayette to George Washington in 1780 with full French aid. Explore this three-masted, 177-foot-long ship and enjoy rope and sail-making demonstrations by the crew on a public tour. Stroll through the Heritage Village along the waterfront for exhibits, living history characters and more. Free timed tickets available by reservation at www.shop.alexandriava.gov. For more information, visit www.visitalexandriava.com/hermione .
Alexandria Live Music Week, venues throughout Alexandria, July 10-19: This summer, music fans can take part in the first Alexandria Live Music Week, with 10 days of live music at more than 30 restaurants and venues. Live Music Week will feature acts ranging from jazz to bluegrass, folk rock, country and more. Admission varies by venue. For more information, visit www.LiveMusicWeek.com.
Alexandria/USA Birthday Celebration, Oronoco Bay Park, 100 Madison St., from 7 to 10 p.m., July 11: Visitors celebrate America’s 239th birthday and Alexandria’s 266th along the Potomac waterfront at Oronoco Bay Park and enjoy live music by the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra, patriotic birthday cake, food vendors and a dazzling fireworks display. Free. For more information visit, www.VisitAlexandriaVA.com/calendar-of-events/summer.
King Street Art Festival, Alexandria, Sept. 19-20: At this popular art festival, King Street from Washington Street all the way to the Potomac waterfront is transformed into a gallery filled with art from more than 300 artists from the U.S. and abroad. Visitors can purchase original artwork, participate in hands-on art activities at the Torpedo Factory Art Center and enjoy a scoop of ice cream at The Art League’s annual Ice Cream Bowl Fundraiser. Free. For more information, visit www.visitalexandriava.com/artfest.