I have done a fair amount of travelling over the years, but there is one city that I always love returning to. It is also the city I have called home on and off over the years. Alexandria, Virginia. To be fair, my love of this city covers mostly Old Town and Del Rey, a bit further west the city become more modern and not as fun! Many people are surprised by this fact. But Alexandria has it all: charm, history, character, the arts, great bars & restaurants, public transportation, parking. Although admittedly they no longer have a book store. It’s singles friendly, professional’s friendly, family friendly, dog friendly and even tourist friendly!
Located just south of Washington DC on the west banks of the Potomac River, the historic town of Alexandria has held its ground through war, weather and generations of people from all walks of life. A lot of people say “you never meet local’s” but that’s not true, so many of us haven’t ever strayed far, or have often returned after years away. It’s just that we are located outside of DC and near the pentagon so people are always coming and going, transplants as I enjoy calling them. For as many times as I have left, and as far away as I have lived, something continuously draws me back, and not just my family, the city itself.
One of the things I love most about the town is its history. Without even knowing anything about the area or much on the history of the states, just walking the streets one can feel the essence of another generation. We even have a couple of cobble stone streets left! Our city isn’t huge, and has nowhere to sprawl, but it has plenty of character.
Disclaimer: Admittedly, I grew up just south of the city, although my mailing address was still Alexandria, I grew up in Fairfax County (Lord Fairfax and Alexandria City had a long history of arguing over land!) I actually grew up a mile from Mount Vernon Estate, home of our first president, George Washington. Fairfax County offer’s a wide-spread area of townships, great shopping locations, restaurants, history and park land as well, but doesn’t offer any of the charm and character of Alexandria City itself!
The Torpedo Factory
The Torpedo Factory is our local arts center, and it gets its name from actually being a naval torpedo factory from the early part of the twentieth century through the end of the second World War. Eventually in 1969, the city purchased it, renovated it, and it became the current form of an Art’s center (although not overnight! the official opening to the public as an arts center was in 1974.) The Torpedo Factory’s website has a full history.
This is a must see. Most artist studio’s are open with small galleries, some have large windows where you can watch them work, and plenty have work for sale. This amazing complex looks out over the pier on the Potomac River. On the street side, at the corner of King and Union Street’s is a stone support column with height markings. This measuring device is because the river often floods. These day’s the flooding rarely gets as far as the curb, but I have plenty of memories of not being able to access those bottom blocks of King Street (The main East/West road though the city).
While on the topic of art, Old Town offer’s an Alexandria Festival of the Art’s where they close off the first 6 or 8 blocks of King Street and open stalls for people to display and sell their Art. This usually runs on a Saturday and Sunday in late summer/early fall and has free admission. The community just North of Old Town known as Del Rey also hold’s an art’s festival called Art on the Avenue, and contains music and community involvement. This festival is held the first Saturday of every October rain or shine.
Local coffee-house. These seem to be scarcer to come by as large name coffee house’s seem to move in on every street corner. In 17 blocks between the river and the metro station, I can think of 3 Starbucks on King Street alone. This city only covers 15.2 square miles, and Old Town, is only as wide as those 17 blocks, if you expand to the north and south of King Street by 2 blocks in either direction, you can find at least 2 more Starbucks… we are not that big of a city. But thankfully, we have our pride and joy, our own old town coffee shop known as Misha’s where they even roast their own bean’s. So if you’re a coffee fan, this is the place to stop. They generally have 3-4 brew’s a day and you can purchase coffee whole bean or ground bean. The roaster is in a large room off to the side with a huge wooden table for guests to sit around and socialize. It’s likely to find a few people working remotely for the day as they also offer free WiFi.
Not the military store, the speakeasy. What? Right. I realize speakeasy’s are a thing from the past. But we have this fabulous local restaurant chain around town, and when I say fabulous… I mean out of my budget. Although they have been spreading their wings and attempting to bring a little bit of everything to our city. They own the Irish Fish & Chip’s shop Eamon’s which has been a huge success since they opened, and upstairs they opened a speakeasy.
For those of you not sure what I mean as speakeasy’s are establishments that illegally sells alcoholic beverages, and it’s perfectly legal to sell them in the state of Virginia. It’s an upper class bar. Beautiful on the inside, but plain on the outside. One only knows they are open because of the blue lamp on outside. You must ring the bell and someone will come down and open the door just wide enough to speak to you. If you have a reservation (and these are almost nearly always required) then they will have you wait, make sure your table is ready, then come back and let you in. All very ominous, but I promise a great fun experience.
It’s by no means a cheap bar to drink at, and they do have a dress code, but the ambiance was well worth the adventure. Our adventure the evening I visited this awesome bar, was that we (three of us) were slightly under-dressed and had no reservation. As it turned out, someone hadn’t showed up for their reservation yet, and they had a spare seat or two we could occupy until the following reservation showed up. Worked out great for us, but the we did have to wait in the cold for almost 15 minutes! The group who arrive just about the same time we did, had tried on three separate occasions to be walk ins before they finally broke down and made reservations.
Old town has some beautiful water front parks, with benches, and green space, and running trails. Even during the cold winter days these green area’s are full of life. If you walk out far enough on one of the piers, you can actually get a glimpse of DC in the distance! My favorite walk is heading all the way to North Old Town, near the Canal center, there is a “face fountain”. As I said we have arts! Most people don’t understand what I mean by face fountain. We literally have a fountain/water feature, that is made up of stone face pieces, I am unsure of the artist, but it’s a beautiful location. The fountain itself faces the river and a marble sculpture of the Washington Monument.
I am pretty sure I have been to an Irish pub in almost every country I have ever visited. Old Town offer’s three Irish pub’s to choose from and Eamon’s, our local Fish and Chip shop. My favorite of the three pubs would be O’Connell’s. Located a block from the water front, this pub has amazing wooded decor from an old pharmacy to a pulpit. All items having been shipped from Ireland! They even have a few Irish accents working behind the bar. Out of all the Irish pub’s in town, O’Connell’s is the classy one. They have four bars and decent dinning area. I wouldn’t rank their food any higher than most other popular eats in town, but the atmosphere is always upbeat. I have never not felt welcome here.
However, if you are the type of person that prefers to drink in an Irish pub with a man playing the guitar singing bar songs, I would suggest moving on to Pat Troy’s or Murphy’s. Pat Troy is named for his owner, this elderly gentleman has been around town probably 2-3 times as long as he ever lived in Ireland! But his accent still hold thick. He own’s an Irish shop next door to his pub. Over the years he has attempted to get into local politics with no such luck, although his pub is highly decorated. Images of Ronald Reagan for starters, everywhere! He is also a huge support of armed forces and has a section dedicated to each branch as well as patches from untold amount of police forces around the US. One factor to take in about this pub, is that it’s one of the cheapest waterholes in town. My advice however, don’t eat here, they have never been known for quality food. On the upside, they do sell green beer around St. Patrick’s day. Pat Troy actually runs the St. Patrick’s Day parade on the first Saturday of March every year. My favorite aspect of this pub is their large (and dog friendly) beer garden. They have tables out front and out back of the pub in the square, this is one of Old Town’s few establishment that offer’s this outdoor dog friendly luxury!
Murphy’s tends to be my least favorite of the three. It is always packed, and always hot. It is one of Old Town’s only smoking bar’s left (the upstairs bar, only open in the evenings). Similar to Pat Troy’s, they offer live Irish music in the evenings, in both the upstairs and the downstairs bar. One great feature of this establishment is their fireplace, located in the center of the dining area. The upstairs bar also boasts a dart board, I recommend you to bring your own as the bar often tends to not always get their’s returned.
Not the character from Lord of the Rings, but named for him, the restaurant bar has been around for more than 30 years. I would highly recommend everything on their menu. They offer an extensive beer and wine list. They also have a fireplace near the bar and a large room with high table’s and bad stools with TV’s if you’re looking for a good place to catch the game somewhere that will not likely be overly crowded. They also offer a large dining area upstairs with plenty of space for large parties. Really, I just had to list this place because of its name!
Actually, I am not sure I have ever been on a ghost tour, in any city, which I find sad, I will need to start adding those to my list of things to do upon travelling to different places! But Alexandria has plenty of Ghost Stories, and the tours are extremely popular. All guides are dressed in proper colonial outfits and lead groups around town with a lantern. Seeing as our city dates back to the late 1600’s when the British started settling in the area, history and ghosts are not in short supply!