European Charm Is Sprinkled All Over This Eastern City With So Much To Do

Do you love European cities for their charming cobblestone streets, sidewalk cafes, colorful buildings, and walkability? Great news! You don't need to travel across the ocean to enjoy these things. Alexandria, Virginia, allows visitors to feel like they've been airlifted to Europe without having to work out how to beat the jet lag. Sitting just south of Washington, D.C., on the Potomac River, Alexandria is a wonderful destination in its own right or a peaceful base for exploring the nation's capital.

Alexandria was founded in 1749 and thrived as a busy trading port. Its Colonial-era buildings lend it a European feel. Alexandria's history is diverse, unsettling, and fascinating. The city was heavily involved in the slave trade and had a substantial free black community. It was home to the first U.S. President, George Washington, and Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Visitors can explore this history as they wander through the Old Town, feeling like they've been transported back in time and across the Atlantic.

Explore Alexandria's European side

In Old Town Alexandria, Colonial-era buildings adorned with vibrant facades are reminiscent of those in European cities. Walk down the mile-long thoroughfare, King Street. Brick buildings line the sidewalks and house boutiques, galleries, and cafés in historic storefronts.

Branch off from King Street to explore more of the Old Town. Instagrammers and historians alike will want to see the charming Spite House at 523 Queen Street, which, at 7 feet wide, is one of the narrowest houses in the U.S. Its bright blue facade makes it incredibly photogenic. More gorgeous Colonial-era houses line Captain's Row on cobbled Prince Street.

Over on Fairfax Street, you'll find the Georgian-style Carlyle House, an imposing example of European architecture, and the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum. The apothecary operated from 1792 to 1933, and the shop is full of intriguing bottles and ingredients. The best news is for Harry Potter fans who haven't made it to London yet — the museum offers tours of the potions and herbs used by the boy wizard and his friends.

More to do in Alexandria

Conjure up a European feeling by renting a bike and exploring more of the city. Alexandria is wonderfully bikeable, with plenty of cycle lanes and shops to rent from. You can also hit the Mount Vernon Trail to stretch your legs. Cycle north and cross the river to the Jefferson Memorial to enjoy some of the most beautiful cherry blossoms in the U.S. in the spring, or go south to George Washington's estate at Mount Vernon.

If you want to eat European-style in Alexandria, French cuisine is on the menu at Fontaine and Bastille. Fontaine is famous for its crepes and other French-inspired fare, while Bastille offers a Parisian lunch menu and French classics like coq au vin for dinner. For an alternative, try Barca, a waterfront restaurant serving Spanish-inspired tapas.

Finally, you can even arrive in Alexandria in European style by taking the train. Amtrak services stop here regularly. Trains take just 15 minutes from D.C. and cost as little as $6. Alexandria is also served by the Metro from D.C. The King St-Old Town stop opposite the Amtrak station will likely be the most convenient for visitors. It's a 30-minute walk from here to the Potomac River.