11 Unique Things to Do in Alexandria
As one of the oldest cities in the nation, Alexandria, VA, has no shortage of unique things to do. Located just 20 minutes from D.C., Alexandria is sometimes overlooked by its neighboring city. However, Alexandria offers a big city vibe while maintaining its historic charm.
Whether you’re considering living in Alexandria and looking to rent an apartment in Del Ray, or possibly in the market to buy a home in Eisenhower West, this city offers residents an endless number of things to do. Alexandria may be the right place for you. From museums and city tours to exploring new neighborhoods and trying new restaurants, there’s something for everyone. See what unique things locals love to do in Alexandria.
The Torpedo Factory is a can’t-miss attraction
Founded in 1974 and an Alexandria landmark for nearly five years, the Torpedo Factory Art Center is home to the nation’s largest collection of artists’ open studios under one roof. You’ll find a variety of art including paintings, ceramics, photography, jewelry, stained glass, sculptures, printmaking, fiber, and more.
Fun for all ages
“Located right in the historic waterfront area in Old Town Alexandria, the Art Center houses many artist studios and galleries, and visitors are welcome to pop in,” shares Linda Samuel of Kid Friendly DC, a blog that shares upcoming events in Alexandria. “There’s all kinds of art to see and shop, from classic to quirky, in various mediums with something that all ages will dig.”
Support local artists
Local writer Carrie Cochran of Cochran Writing & Editing says, “If you’d like a fun opportunity to support local artists, swing by the Torpedo Factory. This 3-story building used to be a functioning torpedo factory on the waterfront, but now it serves as a central hub to Alexandria’s art scene! Inside, you’ll find workshops and showrooms for dozens of artists who create everything from paintings to glasswork to paper mache sculptures. You’re sure to find something unique.”
Watch artists in action
“Our favorite free spot to spend time is the historic Torpedo Factory,” states FunFitnessFamily, a blog about local adventures everyone can enjoy. “Most artists work on-site, so you can watch them create. Don’t miss the Alexandria Archology Museum on the third floor. This small hidden gem has some interesting artifacts and hands-on activities.”
2) Take a boat tour of the Potomac River
Alexandria is home to what was once one of the ten busiest ports in America along the Potomac River. Today, the river offers plenty of activities to accommodate Alexandria’s residents, from boat cruises to tours.
Travel bloggers Cecilia and Scott at Lovicarious share, “It comes as no surprise that one of the most unique things to do in the waterfront town of Alexandria is to take a boat tour of the Potomac River. Visitors can choose between a romantic dinner cruise, a historic tour-by-boat featuring George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, or a memorable ride on board the Cherry Blossom, one of America’s last working sternwheeler ferry boats. Floating down the Potomac provides some of the best views of Old Town Alexandria and the surrounding landmarks, including National Harbor and Washington DC.”
3) Learn some history at the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum
Founded in 1792 by Edward Stabler, the Apothecary sold medicines, household supplies, and cooking supplies to the locals of Alexandria. Now, visiting this museum is like going back in time. Glass bottles still line the shelves containing the same medicines and herbs from when the business suddenly closed in 1933.
“The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum is one of Alexandria’s oldest continuously run businesses – it’s only ever been an apothecary and a museum,” states Paige Watts, travel blogger of Paige Minds the Gap. “It’s a small space, but 20,000 historical objects like hand-blown glass bottles, medical equipment, and herbal botanicals exist. A tour of the Apothecary offers a look at the medicines people used to take and which ones we still use today. You’ll also learn about some of the Apothecary’s high-profile patrons, like Martha Washington.”
The Apothecary also hosts special events, including the Attics and Alleys tour and two Harry Potter events, which are a big hit for fans of the Wizarding World.
4) Take your pup for a stroll along the riverfront
“Alexandria is inclusive — and not just for humans,” says travel blogger Corinne Mandell at Reverberations. “The riverfront town is very dog-friendly, and your furry friend will no doubt love walking along the waterfront with you or past the historic buildings. Countless restaurants in Alexandria’s downtown area in and around King Street offer dog-friendly outdoor seating and water bowls.”
5) Take a walking tour of Old Town
Founded in 1749, Old Town Alexandria is home to more than 200 restaurants and shops alongside historic museums and new experiences at the waterfront.
“Alexandria Colonial Tours is a local company that gives ghost and history tours around town,” says Whitney C. O’Halek, Travel Blogger of Quick Whitt Travel. “Both are fun, entertaining, and appropriate for all ages, as their guides make it a habit to read their audience. When I lived in Old Town, I loved learning about the history of my neighborhood on walking tours, including my building. It’s easily one of my favorite things to do and something I recommend to all my friends and family when they visit the area.”
6) Check out Queen Mother’s Fried Chicken
Sherree Williams, Executive Director and Publisher/Editor The Culinary Scoop explains, “In August of 2020, Chef Rahman “Rock” Harper opened Queen Mother’s Fried Chicken as a loving tribute to his mom Carole Harper, affectionately known to most as “Mother.” The “Hell’s Kitchen” season 3 winner has taken his mom’s culinary influences and his own professional twists to create a menu of fried chicken sandwiches, indulgent sides, tasty sauces, and classic Sunday eats.” Queen Mother’s Fried Chicken is located inside La Cocina Café, 918 South Lincoln Street, #2, Arlington, VA.
7) Let your competitive side shine during trivia
Playing Pour House Trivia is an opportunity to have fun and play against some of your fellow Alexandrians at team trivia. From Scooby Doo to geography and physics to the latest pop culture shenanigans (and infinitely more), Pour House Trivia aims to provide excellent, engaging questions while creating a fun atmosphere.
8) Spend an afternoon exploring Old Town
Go shopping and enjoy lunch or dinner
“We’re very proud of the Old Town community of boutiques and wonderful restaurants, says Amanda G. Mertins, President of retail store Patina Polished Living. “It is fun to walk through Old Town, visit all the unique businesses, and end the day with a delightful meal at any number of restaurants.”
Explore the neighborhood easily with the miles of trails
“With its large historic district, colorful art scene, and fine dining, Old Town Alexandria is one of Virginia’s most loved destinations,” says travel blogger George Kashouh of Travel the Whole World. “The city is pedestrian and biker-friendly, with miles of trails linking everything from George Washington’s estate to a former torpedo factory that is now a large art gallery. My favorite activity will always be sailing out of Old Town’s waterfront on a hot summer day with the nation’s capital in view.”
End your day along the Potomac River Waterfront
“Alexandria is one of my favorite northern Virginia destinations; there is so much to do and see,” shares travel blogger Amy Stark of A Traveling Broad. “I especially love Old Town Alexandria, its historic architecture, and cobblestone streets. A fun way to spend an afternoon is to walk down King Street, stopping to explore the variety of eclectic boutiques along the way. Next stop is The Charthouse Restaurant, a waterfront favorite, for a drink or delicious meal. Then end your visit with a leisurely walk along the beautiful Potomac River waterfront.”
9) Satisfy your hunger at Ada’s on the River
Built around a custom wood-burning oven with breathtaking panoramic views of the Potomac River, Ada’s on the River is a can’t-miss dining experience.
“One of the most unique things in Alexandria is brunch at Ada’s on the River,” says Kelci Reedy, writer of the restaurant blog Foodish Ways. “The menu has a stellar variety of food items, which includes vegan/vegetarian options. Their cocktail menu also has some of the best drinks in the area. Ada’s on the River also has gorgeous views of the Potomac River and is located near Waterfront Park.”
10) Check out the “Spite Houses”
“Old Town Alexandria is known for its historic houses dating back to the 18th century,” explains local blogger Matthew Eng of Offbeat NOVA. “One of my favorite things to do on a clear day is taking a brisk walking tour of the Old Town “Spite Houses.” These homes, often called alley houses, were seen as a cheap way to build a narrow home between two existing structures in an alleyway.”
Eng goes on to share, “The walking tour takes you on a large rectangle to the waterfront of Old Town and back. Start by getting an excellent cup of Panamanian coffee at Via Vulcan. Type in the following addresses for your miniaturized walking tour: 523 Queen Street, 205 King Street, 403 Prince Street, and 1401 Prince Street. Enjoy your coffee and walk while viewing these unique buildings.”
11) Enjoy outdoor activities along the Potomac River
“Explore the historic Old Town, bustling waterfronts, and the beautifully preserved 18th and 19th-century architecture in Alexandria, Virginia,” suggests Adrienne Brown, Owner & Lead Travel Advisor at Breathless Getaways. “Alexandria offers over 180 restaurants, boutiques, and intimate attractions.”
Brown also suggests overlooking the Potomac River while having brunch and watching the boats bobbing in the water. “After brunch, enjoy bikes, boats, kayaks, paddle boarding, and more.”