Now that the holidays are upon us, many are looking for a little weekend getaway to a picturesque destination where you're able to enjoy some of the sights and sounds most frequently associated with the season. From Christmas trees to menorahs and carolers to kilted bagpipers, few places are as special as the extraordinary destination we have in mind.
Picture yourself strolling along historic brick sidewalks and cobblestone covered streets in a neighborhood where the likes of George Washington and Jim Morrison (yes, of The Doors) called home. Where you can duck into the corner chipper for a pint and the best authentic fish and chips this side of the Atlantic, or make a stop at the old fashioned ice cream shop where the servers still wear little paper hats.
Your stroll would allow shopping among the various boutique small businesses that line the city's main street for everything from clothing and home decor to cigars or that perfect bottle of wine, and everything in-between. You'd have the opportunity to tour 200+ year old museum residences or a WWII Torpedo Factory turned artists' studios.
When you're ready for a bite to eat prepare yourself for more delicious dining options, from the casual to very upscale, than you could likely handle over the span of several weeks. There are literally more than one hundred dining options within walking distance. And if that doesn't leave you feeling too tired or stuffed, pop into the local speakeasy or swanky bar for a modern twist on some classic cocktails or drop in for a little raucous Irish pub life. Does any of this sound like somewhere you'd like to be?
It's not often you can find a place to visit that combines history, charm, delicious dining, picturesque areas for exploration, unique shopping, and a quaint neighborhood setting within a stones throw of a major metropolitan area, but Old Town Alexandria, Virginia has each of these qualities in spades. Call us biased, but as Old Town residents for the last decade, we know there's absolute truth to the notion that the Old Town historic district and surrounding areas absolutely have something for everyone.
Over the years we've watched as our town has slowly transformed from a quaint historic district into an ideal destination to visit. And with its proximity to Washington, DC, just across the Potomac, on the Virginia side of the river, it's an appealing stop on many DC tourists' itineraries at any time of the year.
Getting to Old Town is actually quite easy by car, plane, or train. With three major airports within an hour drive, the easiest by far is an arrival via Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). DCA is just two metro stops from King Street Station on the Blue or Yellow line, just 5-10 minutes away by both Metro train or taxi. Alexandria is just an eight mile drive from the center of DC, and a 20-30 metro ride from most DC stations.
King Street, incidentally, happens to be that quintessential Main Street we described earlier. Centrally located and running about a mile from King Street Metro Station to the Potomac River, the sidewalks are packed with boutique shopping, dining, tourist stops, and specialty store options, along with several great hotels where you can stay while you're in town. During the holidays and beyond the towering trees along this main street are lined with twinkling white lights for the enjoyment of tourists and locals alike.
If you enjoy history and old homes/buildings, Alexandria has a tremendous number to offer. Designated as one of the country's very first historic districts in 1966, the city's streets are lined by a vast collection of 18th and 19th century homes that range from grand and impressive Federals...
...to handsome Victorians...
...to tiny and unexpected homes, like the "Spite House," the narrowest house in America.
Since it's founding in 1749, Old Town has played home and stomping grounds to many important American figures and families, from George Washington to the various famous family members of and including Robert E. Lee. The proximity of the town to the Capitol City of DC has resulted in a rather lengthy list of historically significant residents and guests and has also meant involvement in the Revolutionary Way, War of 1812, and the Civil War. It's not unlikely to see people in period dress in and around town, either for one of the city's parades, such as the Scottish Christmas Walk the first weekend in December...or just because.
No historic district would be complete without the available tours of impressive historic places. The city's visitor's center is located in the historic Ramsay House, and there are tours of the historic Stabler Leadbeater Apothecary (c. 1792), the Lee-Fendel House (c. 1785), and the Carlyle House (c. 1752) all available to the public.
One of the things we simply love about Old Town is its identity as a pedestrian's paradise. Warm or cold you can stroll the historic streets or city parks, jog or walk along the river, or wander aimlessly amongst the shops, we're sure you'll always feel comfortable. If you're anything like us, nonstop walking on vacation leaves us feeling rather famished, but that's not a problem in Old Town, it's a privilege.
When it comes to dining Old Town really packs in the options. As we mentioned, there are over 100 different restaurants and locations where you can have a meal in the one mile from the metro to the river, and the variety is equally as impressive as the quantity. From classic Americana to Asian, and Irish to French, traditional pub fare to delectable seafood, the choices are far too many to list, but the options will suit the most discerning palettes and varying budgets.
It's quite hard to narrow our favorite choices, but a few of our preferred places to dine are:
Lunch: Momo Sushi, Asian Bistro, Waterfront Market, or Bread & Chocolate
Happy Hour: The Fish Market or Austin Grill
Upscale Dinner: The Majestic, Columbia Firehouse, or Tasting Room
Low Key Dinner: Red Rocks, Chadwicks, Hard Times
Drinks: PX, Restaurant Eve, Grape + Bean, or Daniel O'Connell's
Dessert: Eamonn's for a deep fried Milky Way bar, Pop's Old Fashioned Ice Cream, or Alexandria Cupcake
With all there is to do and see in and around Old Town, remaining strictly on King Street is only the tip of a very large iceberg. If you venture towards the water you can grab a bike from one of the Capital Bike Share stations or from one of the bike rental locations and set out along the Potomac River Trail. Heading south towards the edge of town takes you under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and to the southern most point in Old Town at the Jones Point lighthouse. This also marks the southernmost boundary to DC with 200 year old "boundary stone" marker.
The truly adventurous can then take the additional eight miles of picturesque river views along the GW parkway all of the way down to George Washington's Mt. Vernon estate. Either by bike or by car, a stop at this one of a kind residence and museum is a must. During the holidays, their quieter time, they even offer a special tour that includes the typically unseen third floor of the residence.
If you'd rather head north the six to eight miles of trail takes you through multiple Alexandria parks, the marina, National airport, and into the heart of DC or Georgetown, but you're here for Alexandria, so we don't have to worry much about all those places have to offer.
Along the pier and Alexandria waterfront you'll find extremely talented street performers as well as the Torpedo Factory artists studios. This is absolutely worth a stop and gives you both an insight into what the city was in the 1940s, and how it's being used today as part of an overall urban revival.
If you happen to find yourself in Old Town on the weekend there's one event that's simply a "can't miss." The weekly Saturday morning farmer's market takes place on Market Square in front of Alexandria's City Hall, and it's the longest continuously operating open air market in the country and is a weekly event no matter where you are on the calendar. You'll find locals and tourists alike, sipping their morning coffee, catching up, and picking up delicious and locally grown produce, canned goods, flowers, or artists' work.
It's not possible to capture all there is to do and see in Old Town in one simple blog post, and we haven't even mentioned the nearby neighborhood of Del Ray, "where main street still exists," but we hope we've at least done an adequate job of giving you a glimpse into how special Old Town really is. However, in order to truly grasp all Old Town has to offer, especially during the holidays, you're just going to need to make a trip to see what all of the fuss is about. Who knows, maybe we'll even run into you. Unless you don't like fun, we're rather sure you'll have a great time!
Have any plans to drop by Old Town soon?