Things to do on a budget in Alexandria, Va


Nestled along the Potomac River, Alexandria, Virginia, exudes historic allure and modern charm with its cobblestone streets and captivating museums just minutes from Washington, D.C.

The King Street Trolley/ Photo Courtesy of Macieklew, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Alexandria captivates visitors with its timeless charm and rich history. As a tourist destination, Alexandria invites exploration of its well-preserved architecture, waterfront parks, and vibrant neighborhoods. Immerse yourself in the city’s fascinating museums, stroll through Old Town’s quaint boutiques, or savor local flavors in diverse eateries. This article unveils the allure of Alexandria on a budget, presenting 10 affordable or free activities that promise an enriching experience for those seeking to discover the heart of this destination.

King Street Trolley

Ride the free King Street Tolley and you’ll get to absorb all the beauties and wonders of King Street Mile with its brick-lined sidewalks and cobblestone alleys studded with centuries-old architecture, historical attractions and independently owned restaurants and boutiques. It runs every 15 minutes between Alexandria City Hall/Market Square and King Street/Old Town Metrorail station from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week, including holidays.

Self-Guided History Tour

Edmonson Sisters Statue/ Photo Credit Evan_Michio_Photography_for_the_City_of_Alexandria via Visit Alexandria

Head to Visit Alexandria and take one of the three self-guided history tours that they have curated. One is called “Courageous Journey African American History Driving Tour” and takes you to nine stops including a Black Baptist church, a statue honoring abolitionists, the site of the nation’s first sit-in, Freedom House Museum, a cemetery of “contrabands and freedmen” and more. The second is a walking waterfront tour along the African American Heritage Trail. Recently expanded, it highlights the people, places and neighborhoods along the Potomac from the time of Alexandria’s founding through the 20th century. Another self-guided walking tour takes you through a square mile of historic streetscapes in Old Town Alexandria and its iconic historic sites.

Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon/Photo Courtesy of Smilla4 via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED

Alexandria has more than 140 locations associated with the nation’s first president. The quintessential experience is eight miles north of Old Town at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the historic home of the nation’s first president. Entry fees are $28 for adults, $15 for children 6-11 and free for children under 6. The fee includes entrance to the estate, museum, gardens, George Washington’s tomb, the shops and Mount Vernon and an audio tour. If you purchase your ticket at least three days in advance, you’ll save $2 on each ticket. Colonial-style dining is available at the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant.

3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, VA

Torpedo Factory Art Center

The Torpedo Factory Art Center/Photo Courtesy of Paul Hohmann via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED

Once home to a World War II torpedo factory, this facility now hosts the largest collection of publicly accessible working artist studios in the U.S. Founded in 1974, the art center contains three floors of 72 artist studios featuring a variety of media including painting, ceramics, jewelry and printmaking. An additional 10 galleries feature 150 artists. Within its walls you can also find the Alexandria Archaeology Museum on the third floor and The Art League Gallery and School on the first and second floor. The Center is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily with individual artists maintaining their own studio hours.

105 North Union Street, Alexandria, VA

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum

The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum/Photo Courtesy of Julian Dunn via Flickr CC BY 2.0 DEED

This historic apothecary was founded in 1792 and operated continuously until 1933 when it was preserved as a museum. View more than 15,000 objects from herbs to medical devices. Learn about the “potion” ingredients that were used throughout the 1800s including dragon’s blood, mandrake root, castor oil and many more. Now a National Historic Landmark, its collection includes herbal botanicals, medical equipment, hand-blown glass, journals, formula books and ledgers. Self-guided tour tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 5-12. Guided tour tickets are $8.

301 King Street, Alexandria, VA

Old Town Farmers’ Market

The nation’s longest continually operating farmers’ market, the Old Town Farmers’ Market is open every Saturday morning and features up to 70 vendors. Open for more than 260 years, it is the farmers market to which George Washington sent his produce from Mount Vernon. Open year-round, there is free parking in the nearby Market Square garage during market hours. Vendors sell such things as fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, cheeses, breads, pastries, fresh pasta, pickled vegetables, cut flowers, potted plants, soaps, fabric art and paintings.

301 King Street, Market Square, Alexandria, VA

Mount Vernon Trail

Mount Vernon Trail/Photo Courtesy of Bobco85, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Outdoor enthusiasts can take advantage of 20 miles of trails and 900+ acres of protected open space in Alexandria, including eight waterfront parks. The Mount Vernon Trail is 18 miles long and stretches from George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate in Alexandria to the national monuments and memorials in Washington, D.C. It is a section of the 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway that extends from Maine to Florida. Visitors to Alexandria can bike or hike along this trail.

National Inventors Hall of Fame

National Inventors Hall of Fame/Photo Courtesy of Threeblur0 at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you are fascinated by those brilliant minds who have filled our world with wonders, then you may want to stop at the newly renovated National Inventors Hall of Fame, inside the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office campus. There are ore than 600 inductees and the galleries illustrate each one of them and what they created. Designed to encourage young people to become inventors, it is filled with interactive and learning activities. Open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the first Saturday of every month, it is always free. While parking is $3 an hour, parking validation up to $8 is sometimes available.

600 Dulany Street, Alexandria, VA

The Athenaeum

The Athenaeum/Photo Courtesy of NCinDC via Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0 DEED

A building with a long history and fetching architecture, the Athenaeum is now home to the Northern Virginia’s Fine Arts Association which hosts exhibitions throughout the year. It is a Greek Revival Building that was built as a bank in 1851. During the Civil War, federal troops commandeered the building to use as commissary headquarters for the Union Army. It became a triage facility for wounded Union soldiers after the Battle of Bull Run. Open from Thursdays through Sundays from noon to 4 p.m., the exhibition “A Delicate Balance” will be on display from Jan. 11 to Feb. 18.

201 Prince Street, Alexandria, VA

River Farm

While many people enjoy renting the American Horticultural Society’s River Farm for weddings, workshops and retreats, it is also open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays and  9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays from April to October. The historic 25-acre property was part of George Washington’s original farmlands and features a manor house and gardens along the Potomac River. It is known for its beautiful views, children’s gardens, flower displays and a four-acre meadow. Admission is free, but they do welcome donations to support the horticultural programs and upkeep of the grounds. The manor house hosts botanical themed exhibitions by local artists.

By Bridgette Redman