Where to eat, shop, and enjoy art in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia

Wander through this historic district to find unique local goods, colorful houses, and picturesque views of the Potomac River
Old Town district in Alexandria, Virginia

Illustration by Laura Hallett

You might expect nothing more than a cute street with a few “olde shoppes” from a neighborhood named “Old Town,” but this nationally designated historic district is the real deal, founded in 1749 and covering nearly 100 square blocks. Cobblestone roads are lined with charming multicolored row houses; by night, these homes are aglow with flickering lanterns reminiscent of Colonial times. Folks flock to King Street Mile, Alexandria’s main shopping and dining artery, with more than 200 independent retailers and restaurants. Every Saturday, Market Square hosts one of the oldest farmers markets in the country, dating back 270 years. Down by the Potomac River, dog walkers, joggers, and tourists take to the riverside paths, and D.C. is just a water taxi away.

Housed in a former munitions plant, the Torpedo Factory Art Center comprises three maze-like floors of studios, galleries, and classrooms. Visitors can watch the resident artists at work and shop their creations, which range from modern paintings to ceramic mugs to kitschy bottlecap magnets.

Situated right on the Potomac, Hotel Indigo Old Town Alexandria is the city’s only riverfront hotel. Guests wake up to views of the sun rising over the misty river, and scenic Waterfront Park is just steps away. Eight-time James Beard–nominated chef Cathal Armstrong oversees the on-site restaurant, Hummingbird, which draws visitors and locals alike with its seafood-focused menu and expansive patio.

Rain or shine, BARCA Pier & Wine Bar, well, shines. Situated in and around rehabbed shipping containers with a coastal-chic vibe, the outdoor pier portion of the restaurant wows with unbeatable river views and a Mediterranean-inspired menu, including fresh sangrias and to-die-for serrano ham croquetas. Meanwhile, the mostly indoor wine bar across the walkway has a more intimate feel ideal for sharing mezze plates and wine flights.

Shop Made in VA showcases gifts and home goods crafted by more than 150 Virginia makers. The light and airy shop is lined with shelves of homemade candles in creative shapes (cathedrals, Greek goddesses), custom pet portrait kits, framed prints of Old Town row houses, and Alexandria-themed totes, tees, and stickers.

Custom pet portrait

Photo courtesy of Shop Made in VA

Once a 1792 apothecary, the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum exhibits many of the pharmacy’s original products, including poison bottles, bloodletting devices, and gold-plated canisters of colorful powders and medicinal herbs. One glass case showcases a handwritten request from Martha Washington for castor oil to be sent to Mount Vernon.

Mason & Greens, a sustainable dry goods and vegan market, prides itself on its zero-waste focus. It offers ecofriendly makeup, recycled notebooks, and plant-based cookbooks, plus vegan goodies, customizable herb blends, and kombucha on tap.

Occupying a former 1800s feed house, Virtue Feed & Grain’s brick interior and warm lighting create a cozy atmosphere. Menu standouts include the prime rib French dip with duck fat fries. It’s also known for its extensive whiskey selection; with nearly 400 bottles (many of them top shelf), it has repeatedly been recognized by the Bourbon Review as one of the best bourbon bars in the country.


This article appears in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Southbound.