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Skyline of Alexandria by the Potomac River.

12 Things to Know About Living in Alexandria

Moving to Alexandria? Part of the Washington, DC metro, historic Alexandria has been ranked among the best small cities to live in America and best places for veterans. With its prime location along the Potomac River, stable job market, rich history, and fare-free transit to the surrounding metro, here are 12 things to know about living in Alexandria!

Plant Your Roots in Desirable ALX

The facade and yard of a historic home in the Rosemont Historic District of Alexandria. Photo by Instagram user @scenefrommyrun

Photo via @scenefrommyrun

Alexandria has an exceptionally high quality of life, which has led to consistent population growth that naturally impacts affordability. Despite this, Alexandria’s overall cost of living is still 13.2% more affordable than neighboring Arlington, and 7.3% more than Washington, D.C. Not only that, but the median household income in Alexandria is significantly higher than the U.S. average. The city is also full of beautiful, historic homes, which tend to come with increased maintenance costs. However, Alexandria’s growing job market, high income, and property tax incentives all help to mitigate the cost of real estate and home repairs.

Enter Alexandria’s Strong Job Market

The stone face of the Department of Commerce headquarters with an American flag blowing in the wind. Photo by Instagram user @iams_rain.

Photo via @iams_rain

Alexandria’s unemployment rate at 3.1% offers promising opportunities for those looking to find employment in the Washington, DC metro area. Given its proximity to the nation’s capital, it makes sense that many Alexandrians work with local government employers—like the National Science Foundation, Water Environment Federation, Department of Defense, and Department of Commerce. Alexandria also has a large military presence and is an accessible distance from several bases like Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Joint Base Andrews, and Fort Belvoir. Look into employment with nonprofit organizations in Alexandria, including the headquarters of Salvation Army and United Way. Or take advantage of Alexandria’s growing tech sector and work at Amazon’s HQ2, which is estimated to bring more than 25,000 jobs to the region.

Enroll in Top-Tier Institutions

A stone sign that reads "Virginia Tech" on the campus of the school. Photo by Instagram user @vt_engineering.

Photo via @vt_engineering

As a city with many professional job opportunities, it makes sense that Alexandria has some of the best colleges in the nation. Take advantage of Virginia’s growing tech market by getting your degree at Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus, which has received several top-30 rankings for its engineering and computer science programs. Get certified in paralegal studies, healthcare corporate compliance, publishing, and more at George Washington University’s College of Professional Studies. Earn a degree in liberal arts, homeland security, criminology, and more in the top-ranking programs at Northern Virginia Community College. Explore master’s and doctoral programs in theology, religious studies, and more at the Virginia Theological Seminary, a school founded nearly 200 years ago!

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Build a Connection to Nature

A gorgeous sunset view of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge at Jones Point Park. Photo by Instagram user @visitalexva.

Photo via @visitalexva

The city’s miles of hiking and biking trails, 70 parks spread across 950 acres, and awesome views of the Potomac River demonstrate why Alexandria is one of the best U.S. cities for outdoor recreation. Trek the 18-mile, multi-use Mount Vernon Trail on foot (or rent a bike from a Capital Bikeshare station) to see the vistas and green spaces between George Washington’s Mount Vernon home and Theodore Roosevelt Island. Go birdwatching at the Dora Kelley Nature Park, a 50-acre wildlife sanctuary tucked into the metro area. Spend a day with the whole family at the Cameron Run Regional Park, where you can enjoy the Great Waves Waterpark, miniature golf, batting cages, picnicking areas, trails, and more. Learn about 18th-century sea life on a reproduction of the first ship authorized in the Continental Navy, and take a cruise on the Potomac when you visit the tall ship, Providence.

Experience Old Town Alexandria

Pre-dating the Revolutionary War, Old Town Alexandria was the third neighborhood in America to be designated a historic district—making it a treasure trove of historical landmarks. Wander the picturesque block of Captain’s Row, and walk on 200-year-old cobblestone near the Potomac. Snap a few Instagram-worthy pictures of the quirky Spite House, which was built seven feet wide to spite people who loitered in the alley. See a production of classic plays like Sister Act and Something Rotten! at the Little Theatre of Alexandria. Hop on the King Street Trolley to shop around the most independent boutiques in the D.C. area—on King Street. Visit the nearly 200-year-old Gadsby’s Tavern, where notable figures like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were known to visit for drinks, entertainment, and impactful political discussions—you might even see the ghost of the Female Stranger there!

Alexandria Is for Dog Lovers

Ranked as one of the most pet-friendly places in the U.S. and certified as one of the BETTER CITIES FOR PETS, Alexandria is full of restaurants, activities, shops, and parks that allow four-legged friends to join in on the fun! Walk around the loop or play fetch with your pooch at Fort Ward Park. Let your dog off the leash at fenced-in Simpson Stadium Dog Park. Go on a sunset stroll through the trails at the 4.67-acre Founders Park if you like letting your dog roam an open, fenceless area. Sit on the back porch at Lost Dog Cafe with Fido to enjoy a Pit Bull Pie or Tiki Vibez Sour. Pick up a new chew toy, flashy collar, or gourmet treats at The Dog Park. Bring your four-legged friend to play in Frolick Dogs‘ gym and agility courses. Or treat your dog to a luxury spa experience at VIP Pet Salon.

Attend Alexandria Festivals & Events

A group of tartan-clad musicians marching in the Scottish Christmas Walk Parade. Photo by Instagram user @visitalexva.

Photo via @visitalexva

No matter the time of year, chances are there’s a festival going on somewhere in Alexandria! Check out the four-week celebration of spring at the National Cherry Blossom Festival and enjoy great food, fun events, and spectacular views of the blooming trees. Snack on cupcakes provided by City Council members, witness a grand fireworks display at midnight, and enjoy live music from the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra at the joint USA/Alexandria Birthday Celebration. Head over to John Carlyle Square to support local artists and purchase handmade jewelry, woodcrafts, paintings, and more at the Alexandria Old Town Art Festival. Participate in a variety of Juneteenth events in Alexandria and support one of ALX’s Black-owned businesses. Or honor Alexandria’s Scottish heritage with pipe and drum bands, tartans, and delicious food at the annual Scottish Christmas Walk Parade.

Explore the Torpedo Factory Art Center

Artist Blu Murphy speaking in front of an audience at her "LE DRIP: The Unobtainable Sauce of Black Essence" exhibition. Photo by Instagram user @targetgallery.

Photo via @targetgallery

Alexandria boasts the Torpedo Factory Art Center—the country’s largest collection of open art studios, which attract about 500,000 visitors every year. This art center began as a munitions plant in 1918 that made and stored naval torpedos, but production was stopped in 1946 after the end of WWII. You can even see a Mark XIV torpedo on display in the main hall! In the 1970s, the Torpedo Factory was commissioned by The Art League to become a rentable art studio and has since expanded to become an artist’s haven in the Greater Washington, DC metro area. View exhibits based on the latest trends in Contemporary art in the Target Gallery. Check out the variety of dynamic ceramic creations at the Scope Gallery. Boost your skills in drawing, painting, photography, ceramics, and more when you take classes at The Art League School. Or participate in hands-on activities using real historical artifacts at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum.

Tour History Museums in ALX

Among its annual events and artistic cornerstones, Alexandria has an abundance of historical sites and museums! Step into the past at the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, where you can see over 15,000 pharmaceutical artifacts dating back as early as the late 1700s. Foster a greater understanding of Black cultures at the Alexandria Black History Museum, which seeks to enrich the lives of Alexandria’s residents and highlight the contributions and experiences of Black Americans throughout history. Reserve tickets in advance to see the moving exhibits at the Freedom House Museum. Or tour the mansion, take lunch in the garden, enroll your kids in Girl Scout programs, and more at Carlyle House Historic Park.

Have Family Fun in Alexandria

There are plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy in ALX! Let your kids participate in nontraditional sports like parkour, free-running, and acrobatics at Urban Evolution. Wander the exhibits, learn about the history of Freemasonry, enjoy an aerial view of Alexandria from the Observation Deck, and more at George Washington Masonic National Memorial. Walk through the Old Town Farmers’ Market—where George Washington once sold produce from Mount Vernon—to pick up fresh foods and homemade crafts from more than 70 vendors. Bring the family along to one of Alexandria’s Ghost & Graveyard Tours around Old Town, where you’ll hear entertaining ghost stories and local legends with historical context. Ring in the New Year with more than 150 live performances (including magic shows at the Little Theatre of Alexandria), food trucks, fireworks, and an annual scavenger hunt that awards prizes to children and adults at First Night Alexandria.

Sample ALX’s Culinary Classics

A platter of peel-and-eat shrimp with cocktail sauce from Hank's Oyster Bar. Photo by Instagram user @hanksoysterbar.

Photo via @hanksoysterbar

Food is an important part of any city’s culture, and Alexandria is no exception. Stop by Cafe du Soleil for a French breakfast of Cafe Au Lait and the Je Suis Unique (a delicious ham, egg, and cheese crepe). Enjoy a Mimosa Bucket over brunch at Cheesetique while you try The Brie & Pearsciutto grilled cheese, or tuck into a helping of their Lobster Mac over dinner. Order homemade pasta or authentic Italian pizza cooked in a wood-burning oven at local favorite, Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza & Tap. Dig into Warren’s Fine Fried Chicken & Waffles from Hen Quarter on King Street. Take in a stunning view of the Potomac over a Wood-Fired Bone-In Pork Chop with Coal-Roasted Mushrooms at Ada’s on the River. If being close to the coast has you in the mood for seafood, stop by Hank’s Oyster Bar for a plate of Hog Island-Style BBQ Oysters and a Shrimp Po’boy. For an upscale, intimate dinner, try a Swordfish Skewer served over wild rice at The Wharf in Old Town—or sample The Wharf’s Famous All-Lump Crab Cakes.

Discover Alexandria’s Nightlife

A bottle of Port City Brewing Company's spring beer, Helles. Photo by Instagram user @portcitybrew.

Photo via @portcitybrew

No night on the town would be complete without stopping by Alexandria’s nightlife spots! Don’t miss out on tastings, tours, trivia contests, BeerYoga, and other awesome events at Port City Brewing Company. Get tickets to see legendary music acts like Johnny Cash and Esperanza Spalding at The Birchmere, a top live music venue in Northern Virginia. Try any of their experimental beers on ranking lists, or a “softer, juicier” IPA at Aslin Beer Company. Stop by the Del Ray neighborhood for a small bite to eat, Southern-inspired cocktails, and live music shows on Wednesdays and Thursdays at Evening Star Cafe. Listen to live jazz and blues in the Basin Street Lounge, head down to the Bayou Room for a live DJ set, or enjoy a premium cigar in the Cigar Lounge at 219. Have a full night of live performances, pool, and shuffleboard over specialty cocktails at the Light Horse Restaurant & Bar. Head to one of Alexandria’s best nightlife spots to enjoy Irish food, music, and a Guinness on tap at Daniel O’Connell’s Irish Restaurant & Bar. Or stop by Murphy’s Irish Pub for more Emerald Isle entertainment and brews, and to win awesome prizes from their pub trivia contests.


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Living in Alexandria. 12 Things to Know.

About Mike Beutler

Mike Beutler is a writer and digital content specialist who transitioned to self storage in 2020 after several years in the airline industry. His travels cultivated a passion for exploring cities across the U.S. and abroad and inspired him to learn more about practical insights for urban living. With 14 moves under his belt, both locally and cross-country, he also has a passion for minimalism and organization, and sharing tips to help others make any space feel like home while staying organized.