Alexandria Without a Plan

Had a chance to spend a sunny day in Alexandria, Virginia, recently. I couldn’t resist — an hour from my house and I’d never been to Old Town.

Even without taking the time — who has time? — to do much research before our visit, it turned out to be a good day. Sure we missed a few important stops — but we had such a nice time, we’ll be back.


George Washington dominates the main hall of the Masonic memorial in his honor. And his chair is huge.

We learned a few things, too.

Start at the Visitor Center on King Street. You’ll get your map here and the visitors guide.

Take the King Street Trolley. It goes from the Metro to the waterfront down Alexandria’s main thoroughfare (at least I think it’s the main thoroughfare). And it is free. Stops every 15 minutes and the drivers couldn’t be nicer. There are announcements of what attractions are near each stop. We took it just to get an idea of what the town has to offer. When it arrived at the Metro — and at the George Washington Masonic Memorial — we got off.

Go to the George Washington Masonic Memorial. The building is kind of a bore once you get past the cathedral-like main hall. But once you’ve climbed that hill — phew! — you’ll be delighted with the view. We hear the view from the top of the monument is even better but we really didn’t have time for the tour. We were happy just to see the 90-foot tower close up after seeing it for years as we passed by on Interstate 95. If you want to take the elevator to the top, you have to take the tour. They are offered at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., & 3 p.m. The tour costs $3 more than admission to wander by yourself ($5).

Come hungry. Alexandria has as many restaurants as there are visitors — well, it seems like it. You can have Persian, Italian, Moroccan, Irish, and good ole American.

We stopped at Gadsby’s Tavern. Since the 1785 tavern was a favorite of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, we figured it had to be good.

Gadsby's Tavern. Serving the public since 1785.

Gadsby’s Tavern.
Serving the public since 1785.

The menu probably has changed since the 18th Century but we had delicious soups and entrees. Not a bit stuffy or touristy, we decided. Since we weren’t going to have time for the Lyceum, the National Inventors Hall of Fame or Carlyle House (next visit!), this was our historical stop.

Expect to be tempted by all the shops in Old Town. They sell all kinds of stuff in small spaces with lots of nooks and crannies. Candy and cupcakes, dresses and aprons, books and furniture.

Wander the lovely side streets. Lots of colonial architecture makes every turn a delight for the eye. They say there are 4,200 historical buildings here.

Don’t miss the Torpedo Factory Art Center. This waterfront gallery/art studio really was built for the manufacture of torpedoes but now it’s filled with products of a more peaceful nature. Take your time. It’s huge. I’m sure the art will delight you.

We visited on a weekday and didn’t have any trouble parking — $8 for a day in the garage. I thought it would be more like $20. The Metro stop is right off King Street and the trolley’s there waiting for the tourists. Staying in National Harbor? There’s a water taxi that will bring you right on over.

Next time, I may plan my visit better. More importantly, I’m going to make sure I do visit. And soon.

© 2013 Photos and text. Mary K. Tilghman