Metrorail Service Alert for Summer 2019!
In summer 2019, Metrorail service south of National Airport, which includes Alexandria and points beyond, will be shut down while the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) makes structural improvements to station platforms. Work should be completed by fall 2019, at which point service will resume. WMATA is working with local jurisdictions to provide alternative transportation. If you plan to visit D.C., Old Town Alexandria, Mount Vernon, or other parts of Northern Virginia during that time, consult WMATA’s status and alerts webpage (www.wmata.com/service/status/index.cfm) for the latest transportation information. Rail service north of the airport—that is, into Washington, D.C.—continues without interruption throughout 2019.
The Visit Alexandria Visitor Center at Ramsay House, 221 King St., at Fairfax Street (www.visitalexandriava.com; tel. 800/388-9119 or 703/746-3301), is open April through September Sunday to Wednesday 10am to 6pm and Thursday to Saturday 10am to 8pm; October through March it’s open daily 10am to 5pm (closed Thanksgiving, Dec 25, and Jan 1). Here you can pick up a map/self-guided walking tour and brochures about the area, buy tickets to tours, shuttles, and nearby attractions (including Mount Vernon). Consider purchasing a $15-per-person Key to the City pass (here or in advance online), which covers admission to eight historic sites, a 40% off coupon for admission to Mount Vernon, and discounts at many attractions, shops, and restaurants. Valued at $49, the pass saves you $34 on admission prices alone, and more if you take advantage of the special offers.
Be sure to pick up a free copy of Old Town Crier (tel. 703/836-9132; www.oldtowncrier.com), a monthly magazine packed with information and news about special events, dining, shopping, and entertainment.
By Plane -- Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) is about 30 miles west of Alexandria (tel. 703/661-2700; www.mwaa.com). Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) is 2 miles north of Old Town via the George Washington Memorial Parkway (tel. 703/685-8000; www.mwaa.com). Washington's Metrorail provides easy transport from Reagan National to Alexandria via its Blue and Yellow lines. Taxis are available at both airports, and SuperShuttle (tel. 800/BLUE-VAN [258-3826]; www.supershuttle.com) operates frequent van service.
By Bike -- For spectacular views, consider biking to Old Town Alexandria. One of the nicest ways to see the Washington skyline is from across the river while biking in Virginia. You’ll have a breathtaking view of the Potomac and of Washington’s grand landmarks. Rent a bike at one of Bike & Roll’s locations or at Thompson Boat Center, across from the Kennedy Center and right on the bike path. Hop on the pathway that runs along the Potomac River and head toward the memorials and the Arlington Memorial Bridge. In Washington, this is the Rock Creek Park Trail; when you cross Memorial Bridge (near the Lincoln Memorial) into Virginia, the name changes to the Mount Vernon Trail, which leads straight to Mount Vernon.
Of course, this mode of transportation is also a great way to see Old Town Alexandria and Mount Vernon. The trail carries you past Reagan National Airport via two pedestrian bridges that take you safely through the airport’s roadway system. Continue to Old Town, where you should lock up your bike, walk around, tour some of the historic properties listed in this chapter, and take in some refreshment from one of the many excellent restaurants before proceeding on to Mount Vernon. The section from Memorial Bridge to Mount Vernon is about 19 miles in all.
By Car -- All the major car-rental firms are based at the airports. If you’re driving from the District, take the Arlington Memorial Bridge or the 14th Street Bridge to the George Washington Memorial Parkway south, which becomes Washington Street in Old Town Alexandria. Washington Street intersects with King Street, Alexandria’s main thoroughfare. Turn left from Washington Street onto one of the streets before or after King Street (southbound left turns are not permitted from Washington St. onto King St.), and you’ll be heading toward the waterfront and the heart of Old Town. If you turn right from Washington Street onto King Street, you’ll still be in Old Town, with King Street’s long avenue of shops and restaurants awaiting. Parking is inexpensive at nearby garages and at street meters, but if you want to pay nothing, drive a couple of blocks to streets off King Street, north of Cameron Street or south of Duke Street, where you can park for 2 or 3 hours for free. The town is compact, making it easy to get around on foot.
By Train -- The Amtrak station (tel. 800/872-7245 or 703/836-4339; www.amtrak.com) is at 110 Callahan Dr., at King Street.
By Metrorail -- The easiest way to make the trip is by Metro (www.wmata.com); Yellow and Blue Line trains travel to the King Street station. From the station, catch the free King Street Trolley, which operates Sunday to Wednesday 10am to 10:30pm, Thursday to Saturday 10am to midnight, making frequent stops between the Metro station and the Potomac River. The eastbound AT2, AT7, or AT8 blue-and-gold DASH bus (www.dashbus.com; tel. 703/746-3274) marked OLD TOWN or BRADDOCK METRO will also take you up King Street. Ask to be dropped at the corner of Fairfax and King streets, across the street from the Alexandria Visitors Center at Ramsay House. The fare is $1.60 in cash, or free if you’re transferring from Metrorail or a Metrobus and using a SmarTrip card. Or you can walk the 1 1/2 miles from the station into the center of Old Town.
By Water Taxi -- The Potomac Riverboat Company (www.potomacriverboatco.com; tel. 877/511-2628) operates year-round water taxi service between the Wharf and Georgetown, Old Town Alexandria, and National Harbor; and between Old Town Alexandria and a spot in the vicinity of the National Mall, at West Basin Drive and Ohio Drive SW, near the FDR Memorial. The 30-minute ride is not cheap ($28 per adult, $16 per child, round-trip), but is scenic for sure. Check the website for schedule and reservations.
Old Town Alexandria is laid out in a simple grid. The original town grew north-south along the Potomac River, but most of what you will want to see and do today is on, or a few blocks off, King Street, the main east-west drag, between the waterfront and the King Street Metrorail station. Until a few years ago, visitors to Old Town seldom wandered west of Washington Street. But the Metro has spurred development near the station, and new stores and restaurants have sprouted up all along King Street, and a large commercial real estate development known as Carlyle resides south of the station between Duke Street and Eisenhower Avenue.
Going west from the Potomac River, Union to Lee Street is the 100 block; Lee to Fairfax, the 200 block; and so on. Numbers on the cross streets (more or less going north and south) are divided north and south by King Street. King to Cameron is the 100 block north, Cameron to Queen the 200 block north, and so on; King to Prince is the 100 block south, and so on.
As a glance at the walking tour map later in this chapter will indicate, Old Town's prime historic sites are contained within several blocks. Park your car for the day, don comfortable shoes, and start walking -- it's the easiest way.
Alexandria's bus system, known as DASH (tel. 703/370-3274; www.dashbus.com), is primarily useful for getting from the King Street Metro station to the Ramsay House Visitor Center (take buses numbered AT-2 and AT-5). There's no service New Year's Day, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. The visitor center gives away route maps, as does the DASH Old Town Transit Shop, 1775-C Duke St. (tel. 703/299-6227), opposite the Embassy Suites Hotel Alexandria Old Town.
For a taxi, call Alexandria Yellow Cab Company (tel. 703/549-2500) or Alexandria White Top Cab Company (tel. 703/683-4004).
How to Avoid Gridlock -- Traffic in the Washington, D.C., metro area is so bad that a columnist for the Washington Post writes under the pseudonym "Dr. Gridlock." Although they start earlier and run later depending on distance from D.C., weekday rush hours generally run from 6:30 to 9:30am and from 3:30 to 6:30pm, but tie-ups can occur any time, especially in ongoing construction zones. Take the area's Metrorail or other public transportation whenever possible and try to avoid the roads altogether during rush hours. I keep my radio tuned to WTOP (103.5 FM), which gives traffic reports every 10 minutes.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.