The allure of Alexandria: A small US city that holds old-world charm
The city likes to boast that the Founding Fathers met here when the US was just a nebulous idea and dined at the Gadsby’s Tavern, a charming colonial building, which now functions as a museum.
Published: 11th September 2022 05:00 AM | Last Updated: 10th September 2022 03:28 PM | A+A A-
In the fresh, hazy light of dawn, the riverside is devoid of any sound but alive with the incessant chatter of birds, hidden within the thick foliage of trees that line the banks. Along the river’s edge is a burst of colours; boats in various hues tethered to the intermittent wharves bob up and down noiselessly in the gently flowing river. Looking back from here, the little town of Alexandria, on the river Potomac in Virginia, US, catches the golden light and shimmers in warmth.
We’re on King Street, which has brick-lined pavements and buildings, some of which go back a couple of centuries. A few minutes from the river is the Old Town, Alexandria’s historic area that dates back to the mid-18th century. At the heart of it is the Greek Palladian-style Carlyle House, which was the home of John Carlyle, the founder of Alexandria. Nearby is the 18th-century English country-style Christ Church. On Queen Street, houses rest cheek-by-jowl and have colourful exteriors, pretty gardens and eye-catching frontages. But none is more fairytale-like than the brilliant blue Spite House, just seven feet wide, and built by its owner out of spite against horse carriages that used to hit his house. Today, it is an Instagram stop.
A few minutes downstream from the national capital, the little town could have disappeared in the towering shadow of Washington DC, but Alexandria held its own and turned its location into an advantage. There’s none of the frenetic paces of the big city, and yet, it has a lot of history. The city likes to boast that the Founding Fathers met here when the US was just a nebulous idea and dined at the Gadsby’s Tavern, a charming colonial building, which now functions as a museum.
And there are many more nuggets like these that dot the Old Town, without being stodgy about it. Voted among the top three small cities in the US last year, Alexandria is eminently walkable and there’s something to see around every corner—ancient architecture, pretty row houses, street lamps that still run on gas, a thriving waterfront with shops, restaurants, museums and farmers’ markets. And tucked away amid the tree-laden lanes are all kinds of trendy boutiques, such as Donna Lewis on Cameron Street, an upscale boutique which outfits Nancy Pelosi.
As lasting impressions go, however, Alexandria has an ace up the sleeve. Parallel to King Street is Prince Street, with similar buildings and establishments. But the last two blocks running towards the river are completely cobble-stoned, and legend has it that these were brought over from England as ballast on ships. As fantastic as it sounds, it adds to Alexandria’s allure.