About AlexandriaAlthough an integral part of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, Alexandria is a distinct city in its own right. It was established in 1749 by a group of Scottish merchants and named for John Alexander, who had purchased the land in 1669. During the Revolutionary period Alexandria was a principal Colonial port as well as a trade, social and political center.
George Washington maintained a town house in Alexandria. During his residence he was elected vestryman of Christ Church Parish and was a member of the Masonic Lodge, becoming its Charter Master in 1788.
Alexandria also was the home of Revolutionary War general Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, and the boyhood home of his son, Robert E. Lee. During the Civil War the city was captured and occupied by Federal forces, which used it as a base of operations for various Union campaigns in Virginia.
Through careful guardianship and planning, parts of Alexandria have managed to retain the appearance of another century. Old Town Alexandria, extending westward from the Potomac River, is the major historical area.
The city provides a free trolley service along King Street, with trolley stops every 2 to 3 blocks between the King Street Metro station and the Potomac River waterfront. The trolleys depart every 15 minutes Thurs.-Sat. 10 a.m.-midnight, Sun.-Wed. 10 a.m.-10:15 p.m. In addition the city's DASH bus system connects the King Street and Braddock Road Metro stations with various Old Town locations. The base fare is $1.60 (exact change only), and under 4 with adult are free; phone (703) 746-3274 for route and schedule information.
The Potomac Riverboat Co. offers water taxis linking Alexandria with the National Mall and Georgetown in the District of Columbia; Mount Vernon, Va.; and National Harbor, Md. Phone (877) 511-2628. The cruise ship Nina's Dandy, at the foot of Prince Street, is an enclosed ship offering three-course luncheon and four-course dinner-dance cruises on the Potomac River; phone (703) 683-6076 for information and reservations.
The Alexandria Visitor Center, 221 King St., is staffed by Visit Alexandria employees. Built about 1724 by William Ramsay, a founder and first lord mayor of Alexandria, the Ramsay House moved to the site of the current visitors center in 1749. In 1949, the building was reconstructed after a fire destroyed much of the structure, one of the oldest in Alexandria.
The special events hotline maintained by the Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities provides information about local music events; phone (703) 746-5592.
Visitor Centers Alexandria Visitor Center 221 King St. Alexandria, VA 22314. Phone:(703)746-3301 or (800)388-9119
Self-guiding ToursAmong the visitor center's offerings are walking tour brochures and bicycle trail maps.
ShoppingOld Town Alexandria's streets are lined with art galleries, antique shops and boutiques. The main thoroughfare, King Street, features more than 150 independent stores and restaurants as well as national brands housed in preserved warehouses and other historic buildings.
Antique enthusiasts looking to expand their collections should do some browsing at Eisenhower Consignment (4926-C Eisenhower Ave.), The Antique Guild (113 N. Fairfax St.), Silverman Galleries (110 N. St. Asaph St.) and BW Art, Antiques & Jewelry (108 N. Fayette St.). All are great places to peruse merchandise from yesteryear.
Many of Old Town Alexandria's boutique consignment stores sell high-end pieces by Ralph Lauren, Max Azria, Milly, Valentino and other designers. Give Current Boutique (1009 King St.) or Diva Designer Consignment (116 S. Pitt St.) a try for upmarket finds sold at a fraction of the usual asking price. Modern and eclectic fashions also are sold at shops like Imagine Artwear (1124 King St.) and Lou Lou (132 King St.).
Old Town is a great source for unique home furnishings as well. Fresh and sophisticated Coco Blanca (210 S. Union St.) sells everything from French farmhouse-style lamps to gilded nesting tables that would fit perfectly in a chic urban loft.
Of course, no shopping trip in Alexandria would be complete without a stop at the Torpedo Factory Art Center , an ammunitions plant-turned-visual arts center on Union Street that contains 82 working artists' studios and six art galleries.
NightlifeThere’s still plenty to see and do in Alexandria after the city's museums and historical sites shut down for the day. One hot spot, Union Street Public House (121 S. Union St.), calls a renovated Colonial warehouse on the waterfront home. After a long day of sightseeing, it's a chill place to kick back with a cold brew. Phone (703) 548-1785.
Another laid-back option—especially if you’re a fan of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy—is Bilbo Baggins (208 Queen St.). Dine in the upstairs restaurant or head downstairs to the Green Dragon Pub (named after the Hobbits' favorite meeting place) to enjoy a refreshing glass of Shire Spiked Cider or a Gandalf's Cask Manhattan. Phone (703) 683-0300.
Looking for something a tad more sophisticated? Drop in at Society Fair (277 S. Washington St.), where wine is the drink of choice. The bar offers up to 120 varieties, including a few on tap! The drink menu also features wine-based cocktails. Boasting a chic Parisian circus theme, the establishment encompasses a gourmet market and a demonstration kitchen as well. Phone (703) 683-3247.
You'll want to make reservations online for PX (728 King St.), an intimate 1920s-style speakeasy known for its expert mixologists. PX hearkens back to a golden age when ladies dressed to the nines and gents donned jackets. Be sure to look your best before setting out in search of the blue light marking the club's otherwise nondescript “secret” entrance.
Your toes will be tapping at Nick’s Night Club (642 S. Pickett St.), where live music performed by country bands gets boot-clad patrons moving on two spacious dance floors. If your line dancing's not up to snuff, don’t worry. Lessons are offered most weeknights. Phone (703) 751-8900.
Things to Do Alexandria Black History Museum
George Washington's Mount Vernon see Mount Vernon
Gunston Hall see Lorton
AAA Walking Tours
Old Town Alexandria
This tour of Old Town takes 2-3 hours, depending on your pace and the points of interest you choose to stop and visit along the way.
Served by both Metrorail's Blue and Yellow lines, the King Street Metro station is about a mile west of the Alexandria Visitor Center. A free trolley service connects the King Street Metro station with the Potomac River waterfront; the trolleys depart every 15 minutes Thurs.-Sat. 10 a.m.-midnight, Sun.-Wed. 10 a.m.-10:15 p.m. The city's DASH bus system connects the King Street and Braddock Road Metro stations with various Old Town locations. The fare is $1.60 (exact change only), and under 4 with adult are free.
If street-side parking is at a premium—and it will be on weekdays—there are several parking garages in the area as well. The most convenient is the City Hall garage (during evenings and weekends only) at the corner of King and Fairfax streets. Other nearby garages are across Union Street from the Torpedo Factory Art Center; at 10 Thompson Alley; at the Courthouse, 111 S. Pitt St.; at 418 Cameron St.; at 115 S. Union St.; and at 210 N. St. Asaph St.
Note: In keeping with Old Town's quaint ambience, many of its sidewalks are brick-paved. Watch your step or you'll risk tripping over the occasional protruding paver.
Few areas offer a more pleasant stroll into another century than Old Town Alexandria. Here visitors can enjoy shady cobblestone streets closely flanked by 18th- and 19th-century houses with leafy courtyards. Newer buildings emulate the prevailing architectural style, helping to preserve this historic district's charm.
Begin your tour at the visitor center, on the corner of King and Fairfax streets in the historic Ramsay House, then walk east on King Street toward the river. Turn left at Lee Street, and follow Lee to the corner of Cameron Street for a view of Cameron Mews, mews being another word for alley or back street. This Colonial town house development exemplifies Alexandria's approach to new housing in Old Town. Turn left on Cameron Street and walk past the lovely gardens on the southwest corner of Cameron and Lee. These belong to the Carlyle House.
John Carlyle, a Scottish merchant and city founder, built this grand Georgian Palladian manor 1751-53. Two years after its completion, Gen. Edward Braddock and five Colonial governors met there to discuss funding a campaign against the French during the French and Indian War. The issue of financing the war later became so contentious that it led to the American Revolution.
Continue west on Cameron, which is one of the city's most interesting shopping streets. The north side of the block between Fairfax and Royal streets has many boutiques and specialty shops. Opposite is the block-long, brick City Hall, and behind it is airy Market Square. The market held here every Saturday morning is reputed to be the nation's oldest.
The neat brick facades facing Cameron Street between Royal and Pitt streets hide Tavern Square, named for Gadsby's Tavern Museum, which forms its northeast corner. Made up of two historic buildings—a circa 1785 tavern and the 1792 City Hotel—Gadsby's Tavern prospered due to its location along the main stage route between Williamsburg and Boston. For many years it was a center for social and political life in the city.
Proceed 1 block west on Cameron past George Washington's reconstructed town house, which is the clapboard house on the street's south side. Washington stayed here when business or bad weather prevented him from returning to his Mount Vernon estate. Like many historic homes, it is a private residence not open to the public.
Turn right on tree-lined St. Asaph Street, where the town homes are beautified by landscaped courtyards and pocket gardens. As you cross Princess Street, look left to see a section of restored cobblestone roadway between St. Asaph and Washington streets.
Make a left at Oronoco, and on the right as you approach Washington Street you'll find the boyhood home of Gen. Robert E. Lee, which is a private residence. Lee lived here from age 5 until he left to enroll at West Point when he was 18. Across the street, on the southeast corner of Oronoco and Washington, is the 1785 Lee-Fendall House Museum and Garden. Home to generations of Robert E. Lee's relatives, the house contains a variety of items that once belonged to this celebrated Virginia family.
Head south on Washington Street. On the southwest corner of Queen and Washington is the 1797 Lloyd House, one of the city's best examples of late Georgian architecture. Turn left on Cameron; on your left, at 611 Cameron, is a small, red-brick house that once belonged to Revolutionary War hero Gen. Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee. Due to financial difficulties, Lee was forced to move his family—including young son Robert Edward—to this house from their Stratford Hall plantation in Stratford, Va. The Lees lived here 1810-12; it is currently a private residence.
The peaceful grounds of Christ Church occupy the southwest corner of Washington and Cameron. Completed in 1773, the Georgian-style church remains an active house of worship. George Washington was an early parishioner; his original pew is preserved inside. A silver plaque marks the spot where Robert E. Lee was confirmed in 1853.
The church grounds served as Alexandria's cemetery until 1809; its oldest tombstone is dated March 20, 1791. Just inside the wall on Washington Street, a mass grave holds the remains of 34 Confederate soldiers who were reburied here after the Civil War.
Continue south on Washington Street for a block and turn right on King Street. The tower you see ahead of you, west of the walking tour route, is The George Washington Masonic National Memorial. Dedicated in 1932, it stands atop Shooter's Hill, which was the site of a Civil War fort. An observation deck on the ninth level offers a fantastic bird's-eye view of Alexandria and the monuments and government buildings of the nation's capital.
Go 2 blocks west and turn left on Alfred Street. The Friendship Firehouse Museum, which by tradition claimed George Washington as a member, is on the west side of Alfred. The Friendship Fire Co. was founded in 1774, and the current building was completed in 1855. Among the historic firefighting equipment inside are leather water buckets, antique fire engines and ceremonial regalia used for parades.
Continue south on Alfred Street, and at the corner turn left onto Prince Street. Walk 2 blocks to the corner of Prince and Washington streets. The bronze Confederate Statue stands within the intersection. Dedicated in 1889, it depicts a Confederate soldier gazing south with head bowed and arms folded across his chest. The memorial, the base of which is inscribed with the names of 100 Confederate dead, marks the spot where more than 700 Alexandrians left the Union-occupied city to fight for the Confederacy.
Adjacent is the two-story, Greek Revival structure known as The Lyceum (lie-SEE-um), an interpretive center for the history of Alexandria. Lyceums were early 19th-century organizations that promoted public debates and lectures on a host of topics. Formed in 1834, the Alexandria Lyceum hosted its first programs at a local school. These programs were so popular that the organization was soon able to fund construction of a grand hall to serve as its headquarters and main venue, which is the building (completed in 1839) you see today. Eventually Alexandrians began applying the organization's name to the hall itself, and it remained the center of the city's intellectual life until the Civil War.
Cross Washington Street, continue east to Royal Street and turn right. The neat, well-maintained homes in this block of Royal are typical restored 18th-century houses, many marked with the oval Early Buildings Survey registry plaque.
Across Duke Street on the east side of Royal is St. Mary's Catholic Church; beyond the church, turn left into what appears to be a small grassy play yard. You are actually approaching the Old Presbyterian Meeting House through its churchyard, which contains 18th-century grave markers and the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier.
Upon reaching the front of the meetinghouse, turn left and proceed 2 blocks, crossing Duke and Prince streets. The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum is at 105 S. Fairfax St. This former pharmacy operated in this location under the same family from 1796 until the Great Depression forced it to close in 1933. At that time the entire contents were bought at auction by a pharmaceutical association for a museum, which opened in 1939. Inside the shop are wooden boxes hand-lettered with the names of medicinal herbs, along with a huge collection of drug tins and hand-blown bottles.
Return to Prince Street and make a left. Gentry Row, along the 200 block of Prince Street, boasts the Fairfax House, 207 Prince St., and other homes typical of those built by the city's wealthiest inhabitants during the late 1700s. Number 209 next door belonged at one time to George Washington's longtime physician, Dr. James Craik. Another physician of his, Dr. Elisha Cullen Dick, lived at 211 Prince St.
The 1850 Athenaeum (also known as the Old Dominion Bank Building), on the northwest corner of Prince and Lee streets, is an excellent example of Greek Revival architecture. Originally a banking house, the Athenaeum now houses contemporary art shows.
Continue east across Lee Street. You are now walking along Captains' Row, named for sea captain John Harper, who had many of the Federal-style houses built for his numerous children.
Turn left on Union Street and cross King. The Torpedo Factory Art Center is on your right. This waterfront facility, constructed in 1918, produced torpedo casings through World War II. For years afterward it was used for storage until someone hit upon the idea for using it to house art studios.
More than 165 artists working in such media as sculpture, photography, painting, printmaking, jewelry, ceramics and glass are represented, and numerous examples of their work are on display. The center also houses the Alexandria Archaeology Museum, where you can view items recovered from excavations throughout Alexandria. Most of these are from the late 1600s to the early 1900s, but many prehistoric artifacts are on display as well.
From the Torpedo Factory, return to Ramsay House by making a right on King Street. If your feet are willing, a stroll along this main thoroughfare, which is lined with specialty shops, pubs and ethnic restaurants, can be an enjoyable way to conclude your tour.
Two points of interest on the periphery of the walking tour route are the Alexandria Black History Museum, 902 Wythe St., which documents the history of African-Americans in Alexandria and Virginia from 1749 to the present, and the partially restored bastions of Fort Ward and its interpretive museum, at 4301 W. Braddock Rd.
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