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Adventures in Old Town Alexandria

This post is part 4 of our Wednesday Adventure Series. Each week we will highlight something different in the Washington, D.C., Metro Area, many of which will be options for part of your own BookCrossing Journey. With so many things to see and do, how will you choose?

The town of Alexandria was founded by Scottish merchants in 1749 and was a major port on the Potomac River during colonial times, located directly across the river from Washington, D.C. Today it is one of America’s most historic destinations, rich with 18th and 19th century architecture, shops, attractions, and history. Old Town Alexandria is centered on King Street, roughly bounded on one side by the river and the other side by the George Washington National Masonic Memorial.

Old Town Alexandria was the third historic district to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Some of its attractions include Gadsby’s Tavern (frequented by Thomas Jefferson), Robert E. Lee’s boyhood home, a replica of the townhouse George Washington had in Alexandria, the Lyceum history museum, and the Athenaeum art gallery. Alexandria’s significance during the American Revolution and the Civil War can be seen on practically every street when walking around the town in the forms of large statues and buildings to tiny plaques.

The area is now primarily known for its history and its great shopping and dining. There are some wonderful restaurants, cafes, chic boutiques, antique stores, and of course bookstores! There are more than a hundred and fifty shops and restaurants to choose from.

Traveling to and within Old Town Alexandria is easy. The King Street Metro Station is on the blue and yellow lines and the free King Street Trolley runs from the Metro station all the way down to the waterfront and back. There are also river cruise boats, buses, several large parking garages, and street parking.

The Mount Vernon Trail, a popular walking and bike path, parallels the river. An old US Naval torpedo factory is situated at the waterfront. After the factory closed in 1945, the Smithsonian Institution and Congress stored items and documents there. It was renovated in the 1970s and reopened in 1983 as the Torpedo Factory Art Center, housing artists’ studios, shops, and an archeology museum with artifacts from the area dating back to 2,500 BC.

Market Square, the unofficial center of Old Town, is the oldest continuously operating marketplace in the United States and the site of the Alexandria City Hall. It was also once the site of the second-largest slave market in the US. Given all its history, it is not surprising that Alexandria was also important to the anti-slavery movement, with figures such as Edward Stabler, the Edmonson sisters, and Samuel W. Tucker.

Here are your convention planners’ favorite parts of Old Town Alexandria:

  • authorauthor- I love the Torpedo Factory. You can stroll from studio to studio, looking at the paintings, textile work, stained glass, pottery, jewelry, sculpture, and more, and you can buy directly from the artists. Step out the back and you’re on the boardwalk, where you can see street performers, boats, and a great view of the bridge.
  • crrcookie – I have always enjoyed the free King Street Trolley. It gives me the freedom to walk when I choose and know that I will always be able to ride back to the King Street Metro Station if I (or lilgrovers) get tired.
  • KateKintail- My favorite spot is a toss-up between two shops: the Scottish Merchant—an adorable little store with a wide selection of Scottish regalia, music, books, and other Celtic items—and the Christmas Attic—an amazing 3-story store packed full of ornaments, village scenes, and collectibles for all seasons.
  • mdm139- I love the small park near the marina. It’s a great place for a picnic. I get to watch the boats and planes and my son, T-train, gets to run around.
  • melydia- My favorite place is the Old Presbyterian Meeting House burial ground. It’s a Revolutionary War cemetery, with graves literally lining the walkways – and a playground at one end. I love the strange coexistence of youth and death.

Want to explore Old Town Alexandria while you’re here for the convention? You’re in luck, because you have three chances to visit it! We will have a trip to Old Town Alexandria on Friday afternoon for all early birds. This will include a ride on the free King Street Trolley, strolling along the waterfront, visiting the Torpedo Factory Art Center, and shopping near Market Square. On Sunday, one of the activities you can choose is to go on a special tour and release walk hosted by none other than our very own BookCrosser, ResQgeek. And for those BookCrossers sticking around after the convention, the hanger-on dinner Sunday evening will be in Old Town Alexandria as well, but the dinner is limited to the first 100 attendees who sign up so reserve your spot now!

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