Old Town Alexandria: A Historic Walking Tour Guide

historic walking tour in Old Town Alexandria

Old Town Alexandria, located just a stone’s throw from Washington D.C., is a treasure trove of American history and colonial charm. This historic district, one of the oldest in the United States, offers a unique blend of well-preserved architecture, fascinating museums, and picturesque streets. Whether you’re a history buff, an architecture enthusiast, or simply looking for a scenic stroll, this walking tour guide will help you explore the rich heritage and hidden gems of Old Town Alexandria.

Key Takeaways

  • Old Town Alexandria was once part of the federal district and boasts a rich colonial history.
  • The walking tour covers numerous historic sites including Market Square, Gadsby’s Tavern, and the Carlyle House.
  • Visitors can start their tour at the Ramsay House Visitor Center and end at the Torpedo Factory along the waterfront.
  • The tour is approximately 2 1/2 hours long, excluding time spent in museums and shops.
  • Old Town Alexandria is best explored on foot, offering a walkable experience through its historic streets and attractions.

Discovering Market Square

Historical Significance

Market Square, located along King Street from Royal to Fairfax, has been a central hub of Alexandria since 1749. This open space in front of the Williamsburg-style Town Hall has served as a town market and meeting ground for centuries. Today, the market is held on Saturday mornings, continuing its long-standing tradition.

Events and Activities

Market Square is not just a historical site; it’s a vibrant part of the community. Every Saturday morning, you can explore the local farmers’ market, offering fresh produce, baked goods, and handmade crafts. Throughout the year, the square hosts various events, from holiday celebrations to art shows, making it a lively spot for both locals and visitors.

Nearby Attractions

When visiting Market Square, you’re in the heart of Old Town Alexandria, surrounded by numerous attractions. Just a short walk away, you can find:

  • Carlyle House
  • Gadsby’s Tavern
  • Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Shop
  • Christ Church

These sites offer a glimpse into the rich history and unique architecture of the area, making Market Square an excellent starting point for your walking tour.

Exploring Gadsby’s Tavern

Step into the 18th-century atmosphere at Gadsby’s Tavern, where you can enjoy a sandwich or salad in a setting that takes you back in time. The tavern complex includes a museum of 18th-century antiques and an Early American-style restaurant.

Gadsby’s Tavern has hosted many notable figures, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Imagine dining in the same rooms as these historical giants!

Visit Gadsby’s Tavern Museum either through a guided tour or by exploring the historic rooms and exhibits at your own pace. The museum offers a fascinating glimpse into early American life, making it a must-see on your tour of Old Town Alexandria.

Carlyle House: A Step Back in Time

Architectural Beauty

The Carlyle House, an elegant 1753 manor house, is a stunning example of Georgian architecture. Set off from the street by a low wall, this historic home was built by Scottish merchant John Carlyle. Its beautifully restored 18th-century design offers a glimpse into the colonial past of Alexandria.

Historical Exhibits

Inside the Carlyle House, visitors can explore a variety of historical exhibits that showcase the life and times of its original inhabitants. The museum features artifacts and displays that tell the story of John Carlyle and his family, as well as the broader history of Alexandria during the colonial era. Guided tours are available Monday through Saturday, providing an in-depth look at the house’s rich history.

Gardens and Grounds

The gardens and grounds of the Carlyle House are a peaceful retreat in the heart of the city. Visitors can stroll through the well-maintained gardens, which feature a variety of native plants and flowers. The serene setting offers a perfect spot to relax and reflect on the historical significance of this beautiful property.

A visit to the Carlyle House is not just a step back in time, but also a chance to appreciate the architectural and natural beauty that has been preserved for centuries.

Ramsay House Visitor Center

Visitor Information

Begin your walk at the Ramsay House Visitor Center, located at 221 King St., at Fairfax Street, in the heart of the historic district. Built around 1724, the center features a Dutch barn roof and an English garden. This is the best place to get your bearings before starting your tour of Old Town Alexandria.

Historical Background

The Ramsay House Visitor Center is one of the oldest buildings in Alexandria, offering a glimpse into the city’s colonial past. It serves as a gateway to exploring the historic Richmond: a journey through time. The center provides valuable information about the origins, monuments, and vibrant neighborhoods of Alexandria.

Starting Point of the Tour

The visitor center is the perfect starting point for your walking tour. From here, you can head north on Fairfax Street to visit the Carlyle House Historic Park, an elegant 1753 manor house. The Ramsay House Visitor Center ensures you have all the information you need to make the most of your visit to Old Town Alexandria.

Art and History at the Torpedo Factory

Art Studios and Galleries

The Torpedo Factory is a vibrant arts-and-crafts center where you can wander through numerous studios and galleries. Open to the public, this space allows visitors to engage directly with artists and their work, making it a must-visit for art enthusiasts.

Historical Background

Originally a munitions plant, the Torpedo Factory has been transformed into a hub for creativity and culture. This unique venue showcases a diverse range of artistic expressions, reflecting the rich history and evolving art scene of Alexandria.

Waterfront Views

Located at the waterfront, the Torpedo Factory offers stunning views of the Potomac River. After exploring the art studios, take a moment to enjoy the scenic beauty and perhaps even capture a few memorable photos.

Strolling Down Captain’s Row

Architectural Highlights

Captain’s Row is a picturesque cobblestone section of Prince Street, offering a glimpse into Alexandria’s colonial past. The charming row houses, with their well-preserved facades, are a testament to the town’s rich history. Explore the historic district of Alexandria and marvel at the architectural details that have stood the test of time.

Notable Residents

This historic street was once home to many of Alexandria’s prominent figures. Walking down Captain’s Row, you can almost hear the whispers of the past, as you imagine the lives of those who once resided here. The local leaders who made their homes in these three-story townhouses in the 18th and 19th centuries gave their name to the row.

Photographic Spots

Captain’s Row is a photographer’s dream. The cobblestone streets, lined with colonial homes, provide a perfect backdrop for capturing the essence of Old Town. Don’t miss the opportunity to snap a photo at the foot of Prince Street for a panoramic view of the Potomac riverfront. Stroll down to the little waterfront park for even more picturesque views.

Gentry Row: A Walk Through History

Gentry Row is a captivating stretch in Old Town Alexandria, where history comes alive through its well-preserved 18th and 19th-century townhouses. The local leaders who resided here have left an indelible mark, giving the row its distinguished name. As you stroll down this historic path, you’ll be transported back in time, witnessing the architectural grandeur that has stood the test of time.

Old Presbyterian Meeting House

The Old Presbyterian Meeting House is a significant landmark in Alexandria, where George Washington’s funeral sermons were preached in 1799. The 18th-century church is not only a place of worship but also a site of historical importance, with a graveyard that includes a marker commemorating the Unknown Soldier of the Revolutionary War.

Exploring the Lee-Fendall House

The Lee-Fendall House, a gracious white-clapboard residence, was home to several generations of the Lee family. This historic house offers a glimpse into the lives of one of Virginia’s most prominent families. Its historical significance is deeply rooted in the colonial and Civil War eras.

Visitors to the Lee-Fendall House can explore a variety of exhibits that showcase the rich history of the home and its former residents. The museum features artifacts, documents, and personal items that tell the story of the Lee family and their impact on American history.

The Lee-Fendall House is surrounded by a beautiful Colonial garden, providing a peaceful retreat in the heart of Old Town Alexandria. The gardens are meticulously maintained and offer a serene setting for visitors to enjoy. Strolling through the garden is a perfect way to end your visit to this historic site.

Christ Church: A Colonial Landmark

historic Christ Church in Old Town Alexandria

Christ Church, located on N. Washington Street, is an 18th-century English country-style church. The Washingtons and Lees worshiped in this Episcopal church, making it a site of significant historical importance. Discover colorful colonial homes on Queen Street nearby, including the tiny, cobalt blue Spite House.

The church’s architecture is a beautiful example of colonial design, featuring classic elements that have stood the test of time. The quiet graveyard entrance behind the church offers a peaceful retreat for visitors.

Christ Church has been graced by many notable figures throughout history. The Washingtons and Lees are among the famous congregants who have worshiped here. This adds a layer of historical significance to your visit, making it a must-see on your walking tour of Old Town Alexandria.

End by resting in the gardens at Christ Church, a serene spot to reflect on the rich history you’ve just explored.

Secret Garden Walkways

Hidden Gems

Old Town Alexandria is home to several hidden treasures that offer a peaceful retreat from the bustling streets. These secret garden walkways are perfect for those looking to explore lush urban oases and discover the rich history embedded within them.

Floral Displays

As you stroll through these walkways, you’ll be greeted by a variety of floral displays that change with the seasons. From vibrant spring blooms to the rich colors of autumn, there’s always something new to see. Discover hidden treasures and enjoy the natural beauty that these gardens have to offer.

Peaceful Retreats

These walkways provide a serene escape where you can relax and unwind. Whether you’re looking for a quiet place to read a book or simply want to enjoy the tranquility, these gardens are the perfect spot. Explore themed tours, scavenger hunts, and educational activities for all ages, making it a great destination for families and individuals alike.

Take a moment to breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. These secret garden walkways are truly a hidden gem in Old Town Alexandria.


Exploring Old Town Alexandria on foot is like stepping back in time. With its cobblestone streets, historic landmarks, and charming colonial architecture, this area offers a unique glimpse into America’s past. Whether you’re a history buff, an architecture enthusiast, or simply looking for a delightful day out, Old Town Alexandria has something for everyone. From the bustling Market Square to the serene waterfront at the Torpedo Factory, each stop on this walking tour tells a story of its own. So lace up your walking shoes, grab a camera, and get ready to discover the hidden gems and rich history of this enchanting town. We hope this guide helps you make the most of your visit and leaves you with unforgettable memories of Old Town Alexandria.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the starting point of the Old Town Alexandria Walking Tour?

The tour starts at the Ramsay House Visitor Center, located at King Street and Fairfax Street.

How long does the Old Town Alexandria Walking Tour take?

The tour takes approximately 2 1/2 hours, not including museum and shopping stops.

What are the best times to take the walking tour?

The best times to take the tour are anytime Tuesday through Sunday. Mondays are not recommended as many historic sites are closed.

Are there any self-guided tour options available?

Yes, there are self-guided tour options available. Check out our Guide to Visiting Alexandria for directions and audio tours.

What are some of the main attractions included in the walking tour?

Some of the main attractions include Market Square, Carlyle House, Gadsby’s Tavern, Secret Garden Walkways, and Christ Church.

Is the walking tour suitable for photography enthusiasts?

Absolutely! The tour includes many picturesque spots such as Captain’s Row and Secret Garden Walkways, perfect for photography.

Are private tours available?

Yes, private tours are available. Contact us for more information and to book a private tour.

Can I book the walking tour online?

Yes, you can book the walking tour online through our secure booking system. Visit our website to book now.

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