Northern Virginia

View over I-395 towards the Pentagon, with the Washington Monument in the background

Northern Virginia is highly populated, and smashes most all stereotypes of Virginia, that one-time Southern state. Though much of it is considered a suburb of metropolitan Washington, D.C., the inner suburbs are really cities in their own right, with world class attractions and nightlife, and the ensuing sprawl is likewise dense with its own attractions and culinary gems.


While bigger than just its historic center, Old Town Alexandria is a great tourist destination for shopping, dining, boating, and colonial history.
Arlington County
A tiny Urban/Suburban county, very pedestrian friendly. Popularly thought of as southwest D.C. (which it historically was). If counted as a city (which it basically is) it would be the third largest in the state, ahead of Richmond, and potentially first in cultural vibrancy.
Fairfax County
A large Urban/Suburban county, mostly of it pedestrian unfriendly. The second tier suburbs of Fairfax, the state's most populous county by far, are home to enormous Asian immigrant communities (and correspondingly great food), as well as George Washington's estate and the area's largest shopping mall.
Loudoun County
Northwest of Fairfax, Loudoun is more rural in character, but a well-trafficked county nonetheless for Dulles International Airport and its outlet shopping.
Stafford County
Stafford County and its overwhelmingly rural exurbs... you mostly drive through.
Prince William County
A mix of Urban/Suburban and rural. Very pedestrian unfriendly; don't come without a car unless you plan on stinking to one of the Old Towns. Home to Bull Run National Battlefield, Quantico and the National Marine Museum, and Potomac Mills Outlets.

Cities and towns

Other destinations

George Washington's residence at Mount Vernon


Northern Virginia is emphasis on the Northern. No drawls here, the politics are liberal, and people aren't too sure what to make of grits. Actually, most Northern Virginians were born elsewhere, with nearly half of them either from a different country or born to immigrant parents. Outside the immigrant populations, which are fairly wealthy in its own right by any national standards, the native-born population is downright spectacularly wealthy. Polo shirts and khakis shorts rule, pearls adorn the night, mansions are so nouveau-riche (and prevalent), and world class golf is in every direction.

Northern Virginia has always been closely tied with the nation's capital. This part of the state benefits from the history and the cultural aspects of Washington D.C., featuring famous museums, cemeteries, and the home of the first president of the United States. Arlington and Alexandria, in particular, are every bit as dense urban areas as D.C. itself—if not more so. Fairfax County is only slightly less dense, and, with over one million residents, is the most populous county in the state by far.

Much of the northeastern corner of Virginia, aside from the cores of Arlington and Alexandria, was farmland for most of its history until the period immediately following World War II, when government employment increased and the population around Washington D.C. began to grow. The area experienced another explosion in growth due to tech industry jobs in the early 90s. Today it remains one of the fastest growing areas of the country. While Northern Virginia continues to expand, the region ranges from crowded planned cities with excellent shopping to soccer-mom suburbia, from ethnic neighborhoods full of authentic restaurants to the upper-crust style of the Hunt Country.

Get in

By plane

Dulles International Airport

Northern Virginia has two big airports: Ronald Reagan National IATA: DCA in Arlington, and Washington Dulles International IATA: IAD in Sterling. Baltimore-Washington International IATA: BWI is often cited as the area's third airport, but if you factor in the $100+ long cab ride, that Southwest Airlines flight isn't as good a deal as it seemed, right?

Private and charter craft can also land at Leesburg Municipal.

By car

A good long list of major interstates lead into Northern Virginia. I-495 (the Capital Beltway) and I-95 both lead into Arlington and Alexandria from Maryland, with I-395 being a special extension of I-95 at the Beltway into Washington, D.C. from the south. I-95 keeps heading south to Fredericksburg and on to Richmond. On the Maryland side of I-495, you can pick up I-95 north to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, and on to Boston, or I-270 to I-70 to Pittsburgh and on to the Midwest.

I-66 (paralleling US-50) comes in from West Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley via Front Royal, west of which it connects with I-81. Note the highway east of I-495 is HOV-2 (two people per car except motorcycles) only in the direction of rush hour, 6AM-9:30AM and 4PM-6:30PM.

Traffic on all of these highways and many of the other arteries around them is very heavy during morning and afternoon rush hours (about 7AM-9:30AM and 3:30PM-7:30PM). Washington, DC area traffic is now considered the worst in the country.

By train

Amtrak provides train service on a regular schedule between points north and Washington, DC's Union Station. Washington DC's mass transit (WMATA) provides service to Northern Virginia on the Blue, Yellow, and Orange lines.

From the south, Amtrak provides twice daily service from Newport News, Virginia with a last stop in Alexandria prior to arrival at Union Station.

Get around


Sunset parade at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington


National Marine Corps Museum in Quantico

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, March 26, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.