Since it was first settled in 1669, and officially established in 1749, the city of Alexandria has played a crucial role in American history. It has existed as a tobacco trading post, a busy port, home to a large free-black community, and a Civil War supply center for Union troops. Famous figures such as George Washington, Robert E. Lee, and Mama Cass once claimed it as their hometown. Now, more than 260 years since the town’s first historic buildings were constructed, visitors can tour them year-round—with the aid of interpreters dressed in American colonial and Victorian garb.
The Alexandria Archaeology Museum displays artifacts unearthed from the city’s streets; the Alexandria Black History Museum welcomes visitors into African American heritage exhibits; and the Fort Ward Museum, a preserved Union fort, hosts regular Civil War reenactments and slumber parties. Along the town’s winding streets, visitors can also step over historic thresholds at Lee-Fendall House and the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum; Carlyle House Historic Park, a Union hospital during the Civil War; and Gadsby's Tavern Museum, a favored haunt of founding fathers, journalists, and military officers. Historians and staff also bring history into the present through weekly activities such as fencing classes at the tavern, farmers’ markets at Market Square, restoration workshops, 18th century fashion shows, and film screenings.
The Metropolitan School of the Arts - formerly the Metropolitan Fine Arts Center - was founded more than 14 years ago. This multidisciplinary performing-arts organization takes a holistic approach to teaching and encouraging performance-arts skills, creating performance opportunities in dance, music, and theater for a diverse population of students of all ages and abilities. Its students have gone to perform on Broadway, at The Juilliard School, and in highly esteemed companies, such as the Mark Morris Dance Company, The Washington Ballet, and Ford's Theater and Signature Theater. Youth programs include year-round programs in dance, theater, music, music-theater, and acting, as well as a performing-arts program in the summer, all for children as young as 2. Adult classes range from basic to advanced, including ballet, jazz, and tap lessons, plus yoga and ballet-barre fitness workouts.
At National Geographic Museum enjoy a wide variety of changing exhibitions that reflect the richness and diversity of our world. The Museum’s exhibitions and the scientific fieldwork and expeditions on which they are based are supported by National Geographic’s Mission Programs.
As the Potomac River flows in the distance, George Mason’s historical Georgian mansion overlooks sprawling fields, hiking trails, and a 250-year-old boxwood allée. A senior statesman, Mason laid the foundation for this site in 1755, building his new family home just yards away from the site of his grandfather’s house. Though the original 18th-century carriage roads, tree banks, and wide vistas have since disappeared, experts have reconstructed much of the property’s original splendor through archaeological digs; the written memoirs of George’s son, John; and the testimonials of kidnapped time travelers.
Today, trained guides lead guests on tours of the mansion, which features more than 50 pieces of art and furnishings detailing the life of the politician, his wife Ann, and their family. As guests learn about Mason’s role as the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights and as an advocate of freedom of the press and religious tolerance, they walk through opulent halls and rooms designed in French modern, neoclassical, and Chinese styles. In addition to tours, the house and grounds host seasonal events such as an old-fashioned candlelit Christmas celebration, a spring kite festival, and an autumn séance to summon the Great Pumpkin.
In 1959, David and Carmen Kreeger began a personal collection of modern art, forming a shared vision based on creative passion instead of investment. David Kreeger himself said, “Art that embodies the creative spirit of men transcends the value of money." In 1994, four years after David’s death, the Kreeger Museum opened under the direction of Judy A. Greenberg with the mission of enhancing “the understanding and appreciation of art, architecture and music,” three of the Kreegers’ lifelong passions and favorite Jeopardy! categories.
Today, their personal acquisitions form the foundation of a collection of 19th- and 20th-century paintings from masters such as Monet, Cézanne, and Picasso, along with works of traditional African and Asian art. Art pervades every inch of the museum campus, from the 5.5-acre wooded sculpture garden surrounding the building to the building itself designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Philip Johnson using a modernist approach and limestone imported from Italy. The building uses light and movement to guide visitors through the great hall, gallery spaces, and recital hall for performances of Beethoven’s B-sides.
The story of the descendants of the nation’s First Family is told at Tudor Place, an historic home hidden away on a Georgetown side street. The five-acre estate was the home of Martha and George Washington’s granddaughter Martha Parke Custis Peter. Five more generations of the family lived here before it became a National Historic Landmark in the 1980s, and now the notable home contains more of George and Martha’s memorabilia than anywhere outside of Mount Vernon. But because the home was occupied by members of the Washington family for nearly 200 years, its riches span the centuries, from original keepsakes handed down by Martha herself to more current pieces that tell the family’s rich history. The extensive gardens are particularly lovely in the spring, when many of the period flowers bloom.