Car Free Journey

Car Free Journey: Alexandria, Virginia

Written by Steve Atlas

King St Trolley with George Washington Masonic National Memorial, Alexandria VA

W Connett for Visit Alexandria

Used with permission of Visit Alexandria

Alexandria, Virginia: A City with a Small Town Vibe

Alexandria is perfect for couples looking for a romantic getaway, history buffs, families with young children, and outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy biking and walking on waterfront trails and through pristinely preserved 18th-century neighborhoods.

Alexandria is a great choice for visitors who don’t want to drive. You can stroll down King Street, take a free trolley to the waterfront, walk to museums and independent shops, visit the George Washington Masonic National Memorial (did you know that our first president was a mason?), choose from a wide variety of chef-owned restaurants, and do it all at your own pace.

If you want to explore the museums and gardens of our nation’s capital, consider making Alexandria your base. There is so much to see and do right here, and the Smithsonian museums and the White House are just a few minutes away on the Washington Metro. Even closer is Arlington National Cemetery, just a few stations away on metro’s blue Line.

Getting Here

The best way to get here is on an Amtrak train. Northeast Corridor Regional trains, the Silver Meteor and Silver Star from Florida, and the Crescent from New Orleans and Atlanta all stop in downtown Alexandria (known as Old Town). You can also get here from Washington, and other parts of the Washington D.C. metropolitan area on the Washington metro’s yellow or blue rail lines.

If you arrive by air, fly into Ronald Reagan National Airport, go to Metrorail’s National Airport station, and take any southbound blue or yellow train to King Street.

If you arrive by Greyhound or Megabus, walk to Union Station’s metro rail station. Take any red line train marked Shady Grove or Grosvenor 2 stations to Gallery Place. Transfer there to a southbound yellow train marked Huntington, and take that train to King St. (A nice bonus is the elevated ride over the Potomac River.)

Where to Stay

Here are some places to stay near the Alexandria Amtrak (and Metro) station:

  •  Lorien Hotel & Spa: 1600 King Street Alexandria VA 22314, (877)-956-7436



  •  Embassy Suites by Hilton Alexandria Old Town: 1900 Diagonal Road, Alexandria, Virginia, 22314  703-684-5900



Getting Around

Alexandria has its own bus system: DASH ( or call (703) 746-DASH (3274). A ride costs $1.60 for all passengers. The best way to ride DASH is to purchase a Smart Trip card at any Metro rail station. (If you are visiting Old Town Alexandria, Metro’s King Street station, next to Amtrak, is the best place to buy this.) The cost is $10 which includes a $2 cost and $8 of value that can be used on DASH, Metro, and several other bus systems in the Washington, D.C. You can add value to the card at any Metro rail station. For more information about Smart Trip, go to or call (888) 762-7874 between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday-Friday.

When you use your Smart Trip card on DASH, the system deducts $1.60 and automatically adds a transfer that you can use any time within four hours. This transfer (automatically added to your Smart Trip card) can also be used for a return ride to where you originally began your trip.

Alexandria is also served by the regional Metro rail and Metro bus system that serves the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. The King St. station is served by Metro’s blue and yellow rail lines. During the Safe Track project, several rail lines may have delays, schedule changes, or be served by special buses instead of trains. For Metro schedule and fare information, and information about the Safe Track project, go to, or call (202)637-7000 from 6:00 a.m. -8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 7:00 a.m-8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Both Uber and Lyft serve Alexandria, Virginia and there are numerous local taxi companies, including:

Welcome to Alexandria

Landmarks within the city include the George Washington Masonic National Memorial (also known at the Masonic Temple) and Observation Deck, Christ Church, Gadsby’s Tavern, Carlyle House Historic Park, Lee-Fendall House, Alexandria City Hall, Market Square, the Jones Point Lighthouse, the south cornerstone of the original District of Columbia, Robert E. Lee’s boyhood home, the Torpedo Factory Art Center, and Virginia Theological Seminary. Other sites of historical interest in the city include the Alexandria Black History Museum, and Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site.

A personal favorite, of my wife and I, is the annual First Night Alexandria celebration of the New Year through the performing arts that is held every year on New Year’s Eve. For the cost of a single ticket for the entire event for each of us, we enjoyed several hours of music, with a choice of more than 100 performances of all types of music, plus special programs (such as clowns, face painters, and magicians) for children. Coffee shops, retail stores, hotels, museums and public buildings are turned into performance venues to showcase incredible local and regional talent. There are so many performance locations and performances that your biggest problem was choosing what you want to see. Everything is within easy walking distance. At midnight, everyone celebrates the dawning of a new year with a fireworks display on the Potomac River at the foot of King Street. For details about First Night Alexandria, visit

What to Do

Visit Alexandria has several suggestions for outings you can enjoy that are in Old Town and are either walkable from the Amtrak station, or are easy to reach by the FREE King Street Trolley:

  • Explore King Street

Take a stroll along Old Town’s 1-mile main thoroughfare, or hop on the Free King Street Trolley to explore King Street’s boutiques and vibrant culinary scene. Old Town Alexandria is the Shop Small headquarters of the DC region. 80% of shops and restaurants in Old Town are independently owned.

  • Visit the Alexandria Marina

Alexandria is undergoing a waterfront renaissance, with new outdoor dining, a new water taxi to the National Mall in DC, and the city’s first waterfront hotel, Hotel Indigo, which is opening in 2017. Walk through the marina for Potomac River views and people watching, tour the art center, and embark on a boat cruise. Enjoy a waterside pint of beer from Port City Brewing Co., named “Best Small Brewery in the U.S.,” or a glass of Virginia wine.

  • Tour the Torpedo Factory Art Center

Alexandria’s visual arts powerhouse on the Potomac River was a torpedo plant during World War II but now houses 82 artist studios, six galleries and the headquarters of the Art League Gallery and School. It is located at 105 North Union Street. Admission is free. For more information, go to or call (703) 838-4565.

King St in downtown Alexandria

 Cameron Davidson for VTC Used with permission of Visit Alexandria

  • Stroll by Captain’s Row: 100 block of Prince St., between S. Union and Lee Streets

Alexandria’s dreamy iconic cobblestone street is a popular spot for engagement and wedding photos, with historic Federal-style row houses and cobblestones dating to the 18th century. Alexandria was named top romantic city in the U.S. by Amazon and a best place for a first date by Washingtonian magazine.

  • Visit the Museums on Market Square

Start by buying a Key to the City museum pass for just $10. With nine intimate historic site museums in one square mile, Old Town Alexandria teems with history and stories of its famous citizens. Stop into some of the city’s best historic hotspots for an inside look at Alexandria’s 18th-century beginnings. Three of the museums are located within a block of Market Square. Visit Alexandria recommends that you choose one or two of the following museums to ensure you have ample time for touring.

Carlyle House – A Georgian Palladian manor house built in 1753 by merchant and city founder John Carlyle. Here, five royal governors and General Braddock met to discuss funding of the French and Indian War. This historic home now works as a window into 18th-century life in Alexandria. A 15 minute video is followed by a 45 minute tour. Located at 120 North Fairfax Street, Carlyle House is open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and 12-4 p.m. on Sunday. It is closed on 703-549-2997

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum – This historic apothecary once prescribed medications to George and Martha Washington and Civil War general Robert E. Lee. Its walls still hold jars with their original contents. Upstairs, visitors often feel like they are part of Harry Potter’s world when they spot a jar labeled “Dragon’s Blood.”

Tours run every fifteen minutes past the hour and fifteen minutes before the hour and last approximately 30 minutes. It is located at 105-107 S. Fairfax St.

April to October: Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 1-5 p.m. Sunday and Monday. Last tour at 4:45 p.m.

November to March: Open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 1-4 p.m. Sunday; Closed Monday and Tuesday. Last tour at 3:45 p.m. 703-746-3852

Gadsby’s Tavern Museum –
This 18th-century tavern serviced the first five presidents, including George Washington, who would pause here between trips to his home at Mount Vernon. Tours run every 15 minutes past the hour and fifteen minutes before the hour and last approximately 30 minutes. 134 N. Royal St

April to October: Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 1-5 p.m. Sunday and Monday. Last tour at 4:45 p.m.

November to March: Open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 1-4 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday and Tuesday. Last tour at 3:45 p.m. 703-746-4242

If you are around for a second day, visit the Del Ray neighborhood: “Where Main Street Still Exists.” Mount Vernon Avenue, made for strolling, is dotted with independent shops, a farmers market and a booming restaurant scene. Del Ray is also known as “Well Ray” for its large community of holistic health businesses. Eclectic shops and signature events like Art on the Avenue contribute to an artsy ambiance. Del Ray hosts the popular “First Thursday” events, in which every first Thursday of the month a new festival takes to the streets, attracting visitors and locals alike in search of family fun and a splash of local culture.

To get to Del Ray from King Street Station, take DASH route A10 marked Potomac Yards.

Get off at Mount Vernon and Bellefonte.

Ideas for Excursions Away from Old Town: The following two attractions can be reached by DASH buses that leave from the King St. Metro station in Old Town Alexandria (just around the corner from the Amtrak station):

  • Cameron Run Park: To get here on weekdays, take DASH route AT7 marked Landmark, and ask the driver to let you off at Cameron Run Park. On weekends (Saturday and Sunday), take route AT5 marked Landmark.

If the weather is hot, take a break and come here to enjoy the Water Park and enjoy a cool dip in the water. (There is an admission charge.) The park also has miniature golf and batting cages. Monday-Friday, take DASH’s route AT7 marked Landmark, and ask the driver to let you off at Cameron Run Park. Saturday and Sunday, take route AT5 marked Landmark. The park is only open between April and October. For more information, go to

  • Fort Ward Museum and Park: To get here, take DASH route AT5 marked Landmark.

Fort Ward is the best preserved of the system of Union forts and batteries built to project Washington, DC during the American Civil War. The Fort Ward Museum interprets the site’s history and offers exhibits on Civil War topics, education and interpretive programs, tours, lecture and video series, bus tours, and living history activities throughout the year.

The museum and historic site also interpret Alexandria, Virginia as an occupied city, the city’s role as a vital Union Army crossroads, life within the Defenses of Washington, and the everyday life of Civil War soldiers and civilians. The historic fort provides visitors with an excellent understanding of Civil War-era military engineering. About 90% of the fort’s earthwork walls are preserved and the Northwest Bastion has been restored and reconstructed to its original condition.

Walking Tours With and Without a Guide

Uncover the city’s colorful past by treading the same cobble-stoned paths on this self-guided audio walking tour:

Whether you’re a fan of PBS’ Civil War medical drama “MERCY STREET” or just want to see the historical sites and beautifully-preserved 18th-century architecture of Alexandria, the “MERCY STREET”-inspired self-guided walking tour is perfect. To learn about the tour, visit:

To learn about all of the tours (self-guided and guided tours) available in Alexandria, Virginia, visit On this web page, you can learn about boat Tours, history and ghost Tours, bike Tours, food Tours, and two self-guided walking tours: historic breweries walking tour, and self-guided audio walking guides.

Boat Rides or Water Taxis and More

Potomac Riverboat Company offers a cruise to Mount Vernon: Home of George Washington, first President of the United States. The $48 cost includes the round trip boat trip, plus admission to Mount Vernon. To buy tickets, go to

Are you a major league baseball fan who hates crowds and long lines? The Potomac Riverboat Company offers a Baseball Boat cruise to Washington Nationals home games. The Baseball Boat leaves the waterfront in Old Town Alexandria and offers one-way or roundtrip tickets. Free parking is offered with online ticket purchases. Refreshments are sold on the boat. Learn more at

Potomac Riverboat Company offers several other cruses. Here are direct links to some of popular cruises:

Alexandria Welcomes Visiting Bicyclists

Alexandria is a very bicycle-friendly community. There are currently 19 Capital Bikeshare stations throughout the city. For more information about Capital Bikeshare, go to

Visitors can also purchase a Mount Vernon by Bike and Boat pass from Bike and Roll, start their ride in Alexandria and cycle to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate. Bike and Roll rents bikes and offers several bicycling tours. The selection of bicycling tours is unusually large and varied. If you love bicycling, and enjoy bicycle tours, visit, or call (202) 842-2453.

Another fun option, sold through Bike and Roll in a partnership with the Potomac Riverboat Company, is called Mount Vernon by Bike and Boat. Read about it at

The Mount Vernon Trail, a popular path through Alexandria for both bicyclists and walkers, is an 18-mile paved multi-use trail stretching from George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate to Theodore Roosevelt Island.

To learn more about biking in Alexandria and for maps, visit This is an exceptionally informative site for bicyclists.

Do You Enjoy Festivals? Here is a small sample:


  • 46th Annual Campagna Center Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend & Parade.

This event is part of Old Town Alexandria’s most spectacular holiday weekend” the first weekend in December. At the Scottish Christmas Walk Parade, dozens of Scottish clans dressed in colorful tartans parade through the streets of Old Town, joined by pipe and drum bands from around the region, as well as terriers and hounds. More weekend events include a Taste of Scotland, Heather and Greens sale, Holiday Marketplace, the Campagna Center’s Holiday Designer Tour of Homes, and Deck the Halls with Santa.

  • 17th Annual Holiday Boat Parade of Lights, December 3, 2016 at 5:30 p.m.

On the first Saturday of December, at sundown on the day of the annual Scottish Christmas Walk parade, Alexandria’s harbor lights up as dozens of illuminated boats cruise the Potomac River at the historic waterfront, led by Alexandria’s fireboat The Vigilant and Washington, DC’s fireboat John Glenn. The boats are always dressed to impress a panel of judges who will award prizes in a dozen categories including Best in Show, Thinking outside the Christmas Box, and Hardiest Souls. The Torpedo Factory Art Center, located at the marina, will stay open until 9 p.m. with music, refreshments, and hands-on art-making, as well as opportunities to buy handmade, one-of-a-kind gifts of art.


  • Alexandria/USA Birthday Celebration, the Saturday after 4th of July weekend, Free, Oronoco Bay Park, 100 Madison St., Alexandria, VA 22314,

Tips from Locals

Two local residents shared some of their tips and suggestions for visitors to Alexandria who don’t want to drive. Amber Austin is marketing coordinator at Alexandria Children’s Dentistry. Annee Gillett is Director of Events for the Eat Good Food Group (including Restaurant Eve, Society Fair, PX, and Eamonns). She has lived in Alexandria for 15 years, and worked in the city for 10 years.

Amber Austin’s Suggestions for Visitors Who Don’t Want to Drive

“If you are staying in Alexandria, or want to visit here, stay somewhere close to a yellow or blue line station. Both the King Street and Braddock Road stops are near the heart of Alexandria.

“If you are spending just one day here, head down to Old Town Alexandria! Old Town’s great because you can walk around, do light shopping or eating or take in all the awesome history of Alexandria.

  • Visit the George Washington Masonic National Memorial
  • Take yourself on a walking tour of places George Washington himself frequented.
  • Take a walking or boating tour of Alexandria..
  • End your day by heading down to King Street. Take a walk along the lovely cobblestone with beautiful storefronts.
  • Have dinner at one of the many amazing restaurants along King Street.

“If you enjoy walking, King Street in Old Town and Mount Vernon Ave. in Del Ray are great for strolling. The Braddock Road Bike Trail starts at Braddock Road and takes you to East Monroe Ave. in Del Ray. East Monroe Ave. is right around the corner from Mount Vernon Ave which is great for walking.”

Annee Gillett’s Suggestions for Visitors Who Don’t Want to Drive

“Alexandria is a great walking town. We have the free King Street Trolley, which runs from the train station down to the waterfront, with stops every two blocks. Capital Bikeshare has stations throughout

Alexandria, while Bike and Roll can fully outfit guests with bikes, helmets, etc. Take a ride along the waterfront or bike the Mount Vernon Trail. More advanced riders can make the trek all the way to Mount Vernon!

“I love the evening boat ride to see the monuments at night. This cruise leaves from the Alexandria waterfront and is a unique way to see the majesty of DC.

“If you are here for just one day, stroll King Street and the nearby side streets for boutique shopping, extraordinary dining, and historical landmarks including the Carlyle House, Market Square, Gadsby’s Tavern, the Stabler Leadbeater Apothecary Museum and Alexandria Black History Museum. All are within walking distance of Old Town and you can always take a break or ride back on the free King Street Trolley.

‘The Key to the City museum available at the Visitor Center. This costs just $10 for nine museums and other attractions. I pick these up for my family history buffs when they visit.”

“If you are here for a second day, bike or boat out to Mount Vernon, explore the side streets, or enjoy one of the many seasonal events. There is a great events calendar on the Visit Alexandria website. Our big events of the year include the Scottish Christmas Walk, Boat Parade of Lights, and the Alexandria Birthday Celebration.”

Both Amber and Annee love to visit the Del Rey neighborhood and stroll along Mount Vernon Ave

Let’s Eat!

Alexandria’s restaurants have been praised by Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and The New York Times. The city is known for its chef-driven and independently owned eateries. Check out Alexandria’s blog for news of interest to foodies: For a complete listing of Alexandria’s restaurants, go to Here are some favorites of Visit Alexandria’s staff members:

  • Virtue Feed and Grain

Virtue Feed & Grain is an American tavern with modern-rustic decor and an upbeat atmosphere.

  • Magnolia’s One King

Magnolia’s Oen King offers Southern Immersion Cuisine in the heart of Old Town Alexandria. A contemporary twist on classics and new dishes sure to be favorites, our cuisine offers locally and sustainably sourced seasonal ingredients

  • Restaurant Eve

Located in a historic warehouse, Restaurant Eve is Alexandria’s finest restaurant and has been converted into a charming and sophisticated 100-seat restaurant. The restaurant’s menu is based on Chef Armstrong’s Regional American Cooking.

  • Columbia Firehouse

This modern American brasserie & bar In Old Town Alexandria is comfortable, unpretentious and affordable, and features oysters, charcuterie and steaks.

  • Society Fair

Society Fair is a boutique emporium of epicurean delight. Located in the heart of Old Town, this lifestyle food market offers a festival of palate alluring acts, a bakery, butchery and market plus wine bar and demo kitchen all under one roof.

  • Murphy’s Irish Pub

Murphy’s is an old world Irish pub featuring a beautiful roaring fireplace and serving robust Irish-American meals at fair prices.

  • Fontaine Caffe & Creperie

Captivating European cafe and wine bar serving mussels, steak frites, pate, savory and sweet crepes in style of Brittany, France.

  • Eamonn’s A Dublin Chipper

Inspired by an Irish “chipper,” this 20-seat spot is devoted to the Irish ritual of fish and chips plus fun Irish imports from Guinness to sodas, crisps, candies and biscuits.

  • Taverna Cretekou

Regional and classic Greek cuisine is served in a captivating and festive atmosphere.  There is live music, dancing and breaking plates on Thursday nights!

  • La Fromagerie Cheese and Wine Bistro

This is a perfect place to enjoy a cheese and meat board, lovingly prepared dishes, delicious wine and craft beer in a relaxed atmosphere.

  • Carluccios

Carluccio’s market, café and restaurant offers authentic food from all 21 regions of Italy and imported Italian products and gifts in a welcoming atmosphere from breakfast to bedtime.

  • BRABO Tasting Room

Adjacent to BRABO by Robert Wiedmaier, BRABO Tasting Room is situated in a 150-year-old historic building refreshed by renowned designer Vicente Wolf.


BRABO by Robert Wiedmaier unites traditional Belgian cuisine with contemporary creativity for distinctive Old Town Alexandria fine dining.

  • Vermilion

Simple, farm-driven American cooking by chef William Morris in the heart of Old Town Alexandria offering, dinner nightly and weekend bunch.

Favorite Eating Places of Alexandria Locals

Amber Austin’s Favorite Alexandria Restaurants

Most are easy to reach by Metro’s Blue or Yellow rail line. The following places are best for adult couples or friends:

  • Cheesetique: Wine, cheese, grilled cheese, etc.
  • Hanks Oyster Bar: Great oysters, brunch, generally a seafood place. Along King Street
  • Mason Social: Modern American cuisine. Best for couples or friends. Located in the Parker Gray/Braddock neighborhood on N. Henry St.
  • Vermilon: High end, unique, fresh and original American food. Great for friends and couples. Located on King Street.

The following are good choices for families with kids:

  • Bon Vivant Farm and Market: Sandwiches, coffee, open market. On MT Vernon Ave in Del Ray
  • Del Ray Café: Great breakfast and dinner, a delicious unique spin on typical eggs and toast but still very family friendly (Kids can be picky!) Right on Mt. Vernon Ave.
  • Del Ray Pizzeria: Pizza! And beer choices.
  • Hanks Pasta Bar. Pasta dishes. Great for families, friends and couples. Located in North Old Town
  • Lost Dog Café: Another good choice for families. Traditional and delicious American food.
  • It is located in the Parker Gray/Braddock neighborhood on N. Henry St.

Here is a good eating place for everyone:

  • Sugar Shack: :A great choice for everyone featuring delicious and unique donuts and coffee

A Few of Annee’s Favorite Restaurants in or near Old Town Alexandria

  • For fine dining: Restaurant Eve
  • For upscale casual: Society Fair, Hank’s Oyster Bar, and Fontaine Caffe & Crêperie;
  • For casual: Eamonn’s Fish and Chips, the market at Society Fair, Café Bahn Mi
  • Favorite coffee shops: Society Fair, Grape and Bean, Misha’s Coffee
  • Favorite ice cream places: Pops, Killer ESP.

After-Dinner Ideas

Alexandria has a vibrant arts scene. Music lovers will find street performers along the waterfront. There is live music around every corner on King Street at spots like waterfront restaurant Blackwall Hitch.

Enjoy a play at the Little Theater of Alexandria or MetroStage, or a concert by the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra.

Alexandria is home to the legendary Birchmere music hall celebrating its 50th year this year. Visit The Birchmere to see some of the greatest names in rock, jazz, folk and country. To get here, take DASH’s route AT10 marked Potomac Yards, and get off at Reed and Edison. A note of caution: The last AT10 bus leaves Potomac Yards at 10:17 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and 6:17 on Sundays, arriving at Reed and Edison a few minutes later. So if you will be here later, call Uber, Lyft, or a cab.

For More Information is the official source for travel information to Alexandria. You can call (toll-free) (1/800)388-9119, or (703) 746-3301 or email

For Public Transit Information: or call (703) 746-DASH (3274) for bus schedules and fares in Alexandria or call (202) 637-7000 for schedules and fares for regional buses and subways.

Do you have a favorite U.S. or Canadian city or vacation destination you would like to have featured in Car Free Journey? Email your suggestions (or any other comments about Car Free Journey) to steveatlas45@yahoo. com. In the subject line, put Car Free Journey.

About the author

Steve Atlas

Steve Atlas, author of two published books about parenting, has written newspaper columns and magazine articles about travel, career change, home-based business, parenting, and sales skills. Steve's column, “Single Parent Hotline,” was a weekly feature of Gannett News Service for several years. He has also been a contributing editor to Selling Power magazine. Currently Steve’s primary interest is reducing dependency on private automobiles. In addition to being a public transit advocate and author (since 2008) of Car Free Journey, Steve’s e-book: "Car Free at the Beach", and several reports he has written about Car Free Living can be viewed at