I always have a soft spot for historic towns. This is why I had to add Alexandria to my itinerary during my visit to Virginia.
However, apart from being a great destination for history buffs, the town has other attractions that will fascinate you.
I’ve compiled a list of the best things to do in Alexandria, Virginia, covering all the must-visit sites.
1. Visit The Torpedo Factory Art Center
The Torpedo Factory is a unique and vibrant hub of art and creativity.
The center was once a munitions plant in 1918 during WW 1. When the war ended, the building was abandoned and was vacant for years.
Later in 1974, it was repurposed into an art center. Although the building has been renovated, it retains some of its historic charm. Today it is a thriving art center with over 82 artists` studios.
Visitors can pop in and enjoy the many galleries, workshops, and studios that specialize in a variety of mediums, including:
Aside from the art, the center also hosts a variety of classes and workshops. I had a chance to attend a painting class and was impressed by the instructor’s skill and patience with the students.
2. Visit The Carlyle House Historic Park
While you are in Old Town, you shouldn’t pass this Alexandria gem. Carlyle House Historic Park is National Historic Landmark and a popular tourist destination.
The house was among Alexandria’s best residences when it was constructed in 1753 by the rich Scottish merchant and land speculator John Carlyle. Today, the building is among the country’s best examples of Georgian-style domestic architecture.
In addition to the home, the park has many acres of meticulously preserved gardens. There are also nature walks with explanatory signs outlining the local history.
Lastly, you can also find children’s interactive exhibits and events, such as the “History Detectives” program at the museum.
3. Tour The Alexandria Black History Museum
I could not leave Alexandria without visiting this Black History Museum. It’s housed in a seemingly ordinary building, but the museum itself is full of rich culture and an intense appreciation for African-American history in the area.
The museum provides a unique opportunity to gain insight into the lives of African-Americans who were enslaved people Alexandria.
Here, you can understand the struggles these individuals faced in their fight for equality only a few decades ago. You will also get to learn and explore the works and civil activities of prominent black men and women in the area.
Other popular highlights of the museum include:
- African American Patriots Memorial
- African American Heritage Park
- Alexandria Colored High School Exhibit
- Old Town Colored Burial Ground
- Underground Railroad Exhibit
4. Visit The George Washington Masonic National Memorial
The George Washington Masonic National Memorial is a tribute to the first president of the United States, George Washington.
It was built in 1932 and features a Freemason structure that is uniquely designed and combines skyscraper architectural and Neo-Classical features with a dome on top.
Touring the inside of the building requires tickets, but it’s worth a visit. Depending on your guide, the tour can be long but incredibly educational. Our guide gave us a wonderful tour of this amazing building.
Inside, you can explore the memorial hall and the museum exhibits, including:
- A replica of Washington’s Masonic apron
- The Grand Masonic Bible
- A huge statue of George Washington wearing his Masonic regalia.
The fourth floor was dedicated to George Washington’s biography, with exhibitions ranging from his days as a Virginia planter to his presidency, military service, and many relics.
5. Explore Gadsby’s Tavern Museum
Gadsby’s Tavern Museum consists of two buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries – a 1785 tavern and a 1792 City Tavern and Hotel.
John Gadsby, a well-known character in Alexandria, operated the hotel in 1796. Since then, the house has been used as a home, bar, and public house for more than 150 years.
It was a well-liked location for shows, concerts, and other forms of entertainment.
It immediately gained popularity among many city inhabitants and tourists, including famous people, military leaders, and notable public figures like:
- George and Martha Washington
- Marquis de Lafayette
- Thomas Jefferson
- James Madison
The museum explores the stories of everyone who engaged in these venues as they navigated daily life in early America.
It houses a variety of artifacts, including pottery, furniture, and John Gadsby’s silver, with each piece conveying the tale of hospitality’s evolution in the 18th and 19th centuries.
There is also a photography collection that chronicles the transformation of run-down structures into a world-class museum.
6. Sip Some Craft Beer At Port City Brewing Company
Port City is a local brewery founded in 2011 by Bill Butcher, an accomplished home brewing competition judge.
The company has become one of the most respected breweries in Alexandria and has produced award-winning beers. Today it has over 300 locations across the mid-Atlantic.
Port City’s lineup of beers includes 12 different types of beers and has two to three special beers on the go. We decided to go all out and were delighted to sample completely new flavors.
7. Dine At Historic Eateries
There are several iconic restaurants in Alexandria with patios overlooking the Waterfront.
Some of the restaurants that you can visit include:
- Wooboi Hot Chicken
- Oak Steakhouse Alexandria
- Old House Cosmopolitan
- Nasime Japanese Restaurant
- Eddie’s Little Shop & Deli
These restaurants have worldwide culinary influences ranging from raw bar seafood to high-end Japanese tasting menus.
Take advantage of the great weather after a day of exploring some of Alexandria’s neighborhoods and visit one of these delicious dining establishments.
You will surely find a restaurant that suits your tastes, from fine dining to family-friendly.
8. Do Some Unique Shopping In The Independent Boutiques In Old Town
The cobblestone streets between Old Town metro and the Potomac River waterfront are lined with more than 100 boutiques.
Here you will find the latest fashion trends, vintage shops with hidden gems, and designer stores with exclusive collections all housed in historic buildings.
The old-style settings give each shop its distinct character, unlike other stores you find all over.
Sauntering along, you can fill your shopping bags with designer shoes, cosmetics, jewelry, art, antiques, high-end consignments, and a wide selection of apparel for all styles and budgets.
Here are some of the must-see shops:
- The Periwinkle Boutique
- The Shoe Hive
- The Antique Guild
- The Twig Thrift Shop
- The Old Town Shop
- Bishop Boutique
9. Visit Shadowland Family Entertainment Center
Shadowland is a fun-filled paradise for the whole family.
With over 40,000 square feet of space, you can get your adrenaline pumping and have a blast attending either of the following:
- Amega arcade
- Bumper cars
- Laser tag
- Mini glow golf
- Laser maze
Additionally, if video games are your thing, Shadowland has you covered with classic arcade games, including pinball, air hockey, dancing games, and much more.
You can also challenge your friends to virtual reality games, where you’ll be immersed in a 3D world and transported to new galaxies and exciting adventures.
And, of course, you can also take a break and grab a snack or a drink at the restaurant and bar, so you can refuel and enjoy some classic games.
The Alexandria Black History Museum was easily my favorite.
Exploring the museum was an incredible experience, as it gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of the African-American experience.
I highly recommend it to those seeking an educational and enlightening experience.
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