Due to their proximity to the nation’s capital, both Arlington and Alexandria are often overlooked by travelers to the Washington, DC area. But both cities are incredible travel destinations that have so much to offer, particularly for family travelers. These cities feature walkable neighborhoods, historic attractions, marvelous waterfronts, and a variety of wonderful restaurants that families will enjoy.


Originally planned to be part of Washington, DC, Arlington is one of the smallest self-governing counties in the U.S. Despite its size, the county has a wealth of entertainment, recreation, and historic attractions on seemingly every street.

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The county’s most famous landmark is undoubtedly the Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense. Though tours of the Pentagon were halted due to the pandemic, visitors can access the on-site National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, a memorial dedicated to the 184 people who lost their lives at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

Photo Credit: Fred desousa

Located a short distance from the Pentagon are two additional military-related sites. The Air Force Memorial was completed 2006 and has three large stainless spires of varying heights that represent flight. Just across the Potomac River from DC, Arlington National Cemetery is a military cemetery that was established on the grounds of Arlington House.

Photo Credit: Tom Hamilton, @tomhamiltonphotography

While at Arlington National Cemetery, you can visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the neighboring Netherlands Carillon—a symbol of gratitude from the Dutch government for American aid during World War II. Every day, you can listen to automated concerts featuring the 53 carillon bells or attend the Saturday evening concert series during the summer.

Aside from historic sites, there are many places in Arlington for families to visit for adventure and fun. Within Upton Regional Park, Climb UPton is a 90-element aerial climbing adventure that provides a thrilling experience for the entire family. For entry to Climb UPton, you can purchase individual tickets or book the All-Adventure Pass, which also includes entrance to the waterpark (open seasonally), batting cages, and mini-golf course.

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Two of Arlington’s most interactive attractions are the Electric Gamebox in Ballston and the DEA Museum. The Electric Gamebox’s hyper-immersive games like Ticket to Mars and Rescue the Royals feature digital rooms with touch screens, motion tracking, and surround sound. The DEA Museum has more than 40 hands-on activity stations related to the science and history of drugs, drug laws, and law enforcement. The museum also allows kids under 12 to earn a Junior Special Agent badge by completing word searches, letter scrambles, and other challenges.

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Given that Arlington County is blessed with miles of waterfront trails, you’ll want to take a family bike ride along the Mount Vernon Trail from Theodore Roosevelt Island or Gravelly Point, which was named one of the top locations for plane-spotting due to its proximity to Reagan National Airport. Renting bikes is relatively easy with Capital Bikeshare, which has more than 100 stations in Arlington County.

Where to Eat in Arlington


For a large selection of family-friendly dining options with outdoor space, visit The Village at Shirlington in South Arlington. Head to Busboys & Poets, a socially conscious restaurant that frequently hosts events and serves delicious and healthy fare such as sweet potato pancakes and red curry risotto. Carlyle is also an excellent place to dine in the area. It’s part of the Great American Restaurants group, which serves some of the best grilled salmon you’ll ever try. Other great places to dine in Arlington include We The Pizza, Tupelo Honey, and Yayla Bistro.

Where to Stay in Arlington

For an upscale stay near Reagan National Airport and the Pentagon, book a room at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City, which is also adjacent to the Fashion Square at Pentagon City. The Residence Inn Arlington Ballston is also worth considering. This conveniently-positioned hotel has large, multi-bedroom units and is across from Mosaic Park—a modern playground with a climbing wall.


Like Arlington, Alexandria is full of historic attractions and was formerly part of Washington, DC. The city was founded in 1749 and was once one of the largest ports in the country. 

Photo Credit: Adedayo "Dayo" Kosoko for Visit Alexandria

Old Town Alexandria is the nation’s third oldest locally designated historic district, with well-preserved cobblestone streets and 18th and 19th century buildings that are examples of everything from Georgian to Victorian styles. You’ll definitely want to walk the King Street Mile and visit the city’s charming boutique shops, art galleries, and restaurants.

The Alexandria History Museum at the Lyceum is the place to go to learn more about the city’s origins. The museum contains exhibits illustrating Alexandria’s history and provides a series of cultural events and educational programs. 

Photo Credit: Adedayo "Dayo" Kosoko for Visit Alexandria

Aside from the museum, other ways to learn about Alexandria’s history include visiting the city’s African American Heritage Trail and sites like the Freedom House Museum, the African American Heritage Park, and the Alexandria Black History Museum. For guided Black history tours focused on the underground railroad and urban slavery, book a spot with Manumission Tours.


A nighttime ghost tour is one of the most unique activities to try in Alexandria. Companies like Alexandria Colonial Tours offer ghost tours in which costumed guides share ghost stories, legends, and folklore while navigating six blocks of Old Town Alexandria with lanterns. Other unique activities include listening to a Secret Garden concert held by Classical Movements and visiting the Torpedo Factory Art Center, a welcoming space for the public to interact with artists that create a variety of mixed media art, including jewelry, painting, and stained glass.

Photo Credit: Adedayo "Dayo" Kosoko for Visit Alexandria

Given the city’s maritime history and proximity to the coast, activities on or near the water are a must. Whether you’re a veteran boater or taking lessons for the first time, you can enjoy an amazing view of downtown DC while sailing, kayaking, or gliding on a stand-up paddleboard around Daingerfield Island at Washington Sailing Marina. In addition, you can board water taxis and sightseeing cruises connecting to D.C., Maryland, and Mount Vernon at the City of Alexandria Marina.

Photo Credit: Cameron Davidson

References to famed Virginian George Washington can be found all around Alexandria. The nine-story George Washington Masonic National Memorial, which was modeled after the lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt, pays tribute to Washington and the freemasonry movement and is a noticeable landmark of the city’s skyline. Several miles south of the Old Town Alexandria is Washington’s home, Mount Vernon.

A few of the notable homes in and around the city are the Spite House, the skinniest historic house in the country at just seven feet wide, and the Pope-Leighey House, the only Frank Lloyd Wright house open to the public in the DC area.

Photo Credit: Carol Stalun, @caroljeanphotography

The city has several waterfront green spaces, including Waterfront Park, which features an annual series of temporary public art installations from late March to November.


Other Alexandria-area parks that families should visit include Chessie’s BIG Backyard, which has a traditional playground, splash pad, carousel, treehouse, and trails for scavenger hunts and easy hikes. Jones Point Park  contains the last remaining riverine lighthouse in Virginia and has two playgrounds, two basketball courts, and multi-use fields. Kids can participate in two ranger-led programs: Learn to Ride and Lighthouse Life. Huntley Meadows Park also offers kid-friendly programs and is home to Great Waves Water Park, where you can ride a pair of thrilling speed slides and float in a giant wave pool.

Where to Eat in Alexandria

Photo Credit: Todd Wright, @toddwrightphoto

Alexandria offers a wide array of places to dine, from fine dining destinations to locally beloved hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Virtue Feed & Grain is a modern American tavern serving intriguing menu items like fried avocado tacos and umami burgers, while historic Gadsby’s Tavern has been operating since 1785 and was visited by the likes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Chadwicks is a popular dining spot that offers casual American cuisine and more than 70 beers, and Vola’s Dockside Grill has a fabulous waterfront location, where you can sit outside and enjoy some of the finest seafood and American cuisine in the city.

Kilwins Chocolates & Ice Cream is the destination for delectable chocolates, hand-crafted popcorn, and homemade ice creams like their signature Superman ice cream—a swirled mix of pink, yellow, and blue ice cream. Another popular ice cream shop is Jeni’s, a national chain serving flavors like Frosé and Brandied Banana Brulée.

Where to Stay in Alexandria


Located right across from the King Street metro station, the Hilton Alexandria Old Town is a convenient base for exploring the city and has a stop along the free King Street Trolley route. Hotel Indigo Old Town Alexandria holds a prized position as Alexandria’s only waterfront hotel and offers 120 spacious luxury rooms, amazing water views, and its own signature restaurant, Hummingbird Bar + Kitchen.

Use this family-friendly guide to plan your next getaway to Alexandria or Arlington and experience all there is to LOVE about the Northern Virginia region!