Old Town Alexandria has everything that Washington, D.C., has, just in a much smaller scale. It’s got original cobblestone streets, federalist style homes, award-winning restaurants, charming boutique shops, and a buzzing waterfront marina. It’s also surprisingly easy to get to especially if you’re staying just across the river in Virginia. Many locals and tourists come here to escape the hectic pace of the District and enjoy the charms that these top 10 Old Town Alexandria attractions present.
Old Town Alexandria Attractions
Ramsay House/Visitor’s Center
Any visit to Alexandria should begin here at the Ramsay House, the recreation of an 18th century house that Scottish merchant William Ramsay once lived in. He, together with John Carlyle, founded the city of Alexandria. The place is also a popular meeting place. Most walking tours of Old Town Alexandria attractions start here. The address is 221 King Street.
The next stop should be the Lyceum, Alexandria’s history museum. You can learn about the city’s history as a trading port, find out which notable individuals called the city home, and see how the city has transformed for the past three centuries. The building itself has plenty of history, having been used as a Civil War hospital, a private home, an office building, and the nation’s first Bi-centennial Center. It sits at 201 S. Washington Street.
It’s very hard to miss this Greek Revival-styled building that houses Alexandria’s art gallery and serves as the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association’s headquarters. The building was built in 1851 on a land that once belonged to William Fairfax. It housed the Bank of Old Dominion until the Civil War. It then became the commissary quartermaster but was transformed back to a bank in 1870. In addition to being an art gallery, it’s also home to the Washington School of Ballet. The Athenaeum stands at 201 Prince Street.
King Street is one of Alexandria’s commercial thoroughfare and major road that cuts through Old Town. The road ends west near the Potomac River. From the Metro station westwards, King Street is full of delightful homes, independently owned shops, and local eateries. Most people who come and stay in Old Town Alexandria find themselves taking leisurely walks on this street. Folks who come to Old Town via public transport can take advantage of the free King Street Trolley that runs daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. just in front of the Metro gate.
This is perhaps the one of the most charming and picturesque Old Town Alexandria attractions and a great example of what a colonial block would have looked like. The Federalist-styled houses that line up Prince Street once belonged to seafarers and wealthy merchants. Today, every house on this block is fully restored to its original façade and is marked with a historic Alexandria plaque. Just a note of caution…the authentic cobblestone street can be difficult to walk on so watch your step.
Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum
One of the unique Old Town Alexandria attractions is this pharmacy once operated by Edward Stabler, a Quaker from Leesburg, VA. He opened it in 1792 and served individuals with the likes of Martha Washington and Robert E. Lee. His family continuously ran the pharmacy until it was forced to close in 1933. The building is now a museum that offers public and private tours for a small fee.
Located on 121 Fairfax Street, this Georgian style mansion once belonged to a wealthy Scottish merchant and city co-founder, John Carlyle. In addition to being the primary residence for the Carlyles, it also served as the initial headquarters for Major-General Edward Braddock and as a hospital during the Civil War. The Carlyle House is now a museum and the adjacent garden is now considered a historic park.
Gadsby Tavern Museum
The Gadsby Tavern Museum on 134 N. Royal is where the original tavern stood and was an important political and social gathering place in the 18th century. The likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Robert E. Lee were frequent visitors. Nowadays, there’s a restaurant adjacent to the museum that serves a combination of period and modern American cuisine.
Alexandria City Hall
Alexandria’s City Hall was originally built in 1871 as a courthouse. The current building is a replica of the 18th century original that was destroyed in a fire. The steeple towers above the city and can be seen for miles on a clear day. Adjacent to City Hall is Market Square, the same market space that was once frequented by George Washington. It continues the tradition of hosting a farmer’s market every Saturday morning. You can find City Hall at 301 King Street.
George Washington’s Townhouse
What you’ll see on 508 Cameron Street is a structured replica of a modest townhouse that General Washington built himself in 1769. In instances when he was unable to return to Mount Vernon due to weather, he would set up quarters in his Alexandria home.
Alexandria is just a short drive away from Mount Vernon, another worthy attraction just outside of Washington, D.C. Visit both to get a full experience of colonial America when staying in the District.