In 1791, when the borders of the District of Columbia (DC) were drawn, the nation’s capital covered both sides of the Potomac River, crossing into today’s Maryland and Virginia state lines. The City of Alexandria and the surrounding area was ceded back to Virginia in 1846, prophetically ending the nation’s capital’s rule over both North and South. That was more than 150 years ago and the docks that once sold slaves and tobacco now sell art, french fries and ferry rides.
I’ve always felt at home walking around in Old Town, Alexandria; enjoying the city’s low skyline of 18th and 19th century architecture. It’s a town with a mix of mom and pop shops and modern chain stores. A town that feels miles away from the hustle and ego-driven world across the river; a place where you can easily find a café to sip some good coffee after a long day of boutique shopping.
Shopping aside, you won’t be at a loss for things to do; you can go on a river cruise with the Potomac Riverboat Company. The fleet of boats, departing from Alexandria with stops at National Harbor, Georgetown, the National Mall (perfect for cherry blossom viewing), or George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon. They’re all great options for relaxing or cooling off on a hot summer’s day.
Or you can get artsy at the The Torpedo Factory Art Center, right on the waterfront. The converted munitions factory is a great place for watching artists in residence work at their studios, which are open to the public. The art center is home to more than 165 artists and 80 studios that let you get personal with creative types who will answer your questions and discuss their work, without the pressure to buy (though that is an option). You should always check in advance because the factory hosts many special events throughout the year; there are times when parts of the center are closed to the public.
Hotels are plentiful and range from budget to 5-star, like the Hotel Monaco right in the heart of old town. On the budget side, there’s a Red Roof Inn just outside of the city. I do suggest you base your decision on location so you can enjoy the restaurants and bars. Try Chart House, located right on the water with stunning views of the Potomac River and the capital on the other side, or take a trip into the past at Gadsby’s Tavern, established in 1785 and a hunt of the original movers and shakers in Washington, including Washington himself.
The City of Alexandria is a perfect place to stay if you visit the DC area with easy access to the city via Metro, allowing you to see all the capital has to offer and still feel like you have a place to unwind at the end of the day.