Northern Virginia (or NoVA) 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.
Arlington, Alexandria, and Falls Church are considered independent, but the rest of Northern Virginia is generally sorted into these counties:
A large urban/suburban county, most 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.
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 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 sticking 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
- 1 Alexandria — shopping, dining, and recreational options abound in the historic Old Town district as well as the unique neighborhoods inland from the waterfront.
- 2 Arlington — with its monuments, government offices, and density, practically an extension of D.C.—of which it was historically part.
- 3 City of Fairfax — the county seat of massive Fairfax County, but retaining a quaint colonial downtown.
- 4 Leesburg — seat of Loudoun County, with a historic downtown and outlet shopping beyond.
- 5 Middleburg — a beautiful, rustic village; the center of horse country and home to fine dining for Washington escapists.
- 6 Reston — an early "New Town" planned community, with abundant green space, arts, and dining amidst office towers and condominiums.
- 7 Vienna — Sachertortes, mountain scenery, lederhosen, the waltz—wait, just kidding! But it's home to the big Wolf Trap Performing Arts Center, and right next to Tysons Corner shopping malls.
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 their 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 1990s. 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.
- Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD IATA)
- Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA IATA)
- Leesburg Municipal Airport (charter and private planes only, no commercial service)
- Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI IATA)
Northern Virginia has two big airports: Ronald Reagan National (DCA IATA) in Arlington, and Washington Dulles International (IAD IATA) in Sterling. Baltimore-Washington International (BWI IATA) 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.
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.
Not a very common way to get to the region, but there are riverboat cruises and water taxis from DC.
WMATA provides metro service from Washington, D.C. and Maryland via the Blue, Yellow, Orange, and Silver lines. The metro is relatively frequent and runs from early morning to late evening. Regional train service is provided by VRE that runs commuter trains from Union Station and L'Enfant Plaza in Washington D.C. to several cities in Northern Virginia, mostly ones not covered by Metro.
For long-distance trains, there is Amtrak which has a hub in Alexandria in addition to Washington, D.C, and some Amtrak trains continue into other stations in Northern Virginia. From southern Virginia, there are daily services from Roanoke and Newport News via Richmond.
- Taking Metrorail might be a good option - there are many stations within the Beltway (near Washington, DC, in other words), including one that emerges right outside the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City. It is also the easiest way to enter Washington, DC.
- Driving can be convenient, unless you wish to enter Washington, DC, or cross the Beltway in either direction. The highways (I-395, I-95, I-495, and I-66) are extremely backed up during rush hour. The "Mixing Bowl" (the intersection of I-395, I-95, and I-495 south of Washington, DC) is especially notorious. Attempting to travel by road between 2:00 PM and 6:00 PM on any weekday (and, for that matter, on a weekend) is strongly discouraged.
- The Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington is a national military cemetery that includes John F. Kennedy's tomb and the house of General Robert E. Lee. Visitors can watch the changing of the guard ceremony in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
- Old Town Alexandria in the independent City of Alexandria. This highly walkable Old Town at the edge of the Potomac River features historic buildings, churches, museums and art galleries, a farmers market, and a variety of places to eat and shop.
- George Washington lived in the Mount Vernon country estate in Mount Vernon, Fairfax County.
- National Rifle Association Museum and Headquarters in Fairfax. Museum and firearms range.
- Pentagon in Arlington; just across the Potomac River from downtown DC. While lingering is not recommended for security reasons, you should know it is the largest office building in the world, and covers 4 zip codes. (Army, Navy, Air Force and Department of Defense.)
- Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center — National Air and Space Museum houses many air/spacecraft, including the SR-71 "Blackbird" spy plane, the Concorde supersonic jet and the space shuttle "Enterprise".
- Manassas National Battlefield Park was the site of two major battles of the American Civil War, also known as the First and Second Battles of Bull Run.
- National Marine Corps Museum in Quantico is a fabulous museum, often and wrongly overlooked by those unaffiliated with the Marine Corps.
- Great Falls Park, in McLean. Gorgeous national park with waterfalls and hiking trails, minutes from the beltway. Kayaking and rock climbing. Going to the park after a large rain storm provides different views as the water levels can change drastically.
- Potomac Mills Outlets in Woodbridge offers slightly better outlet shopping.
- Tysons Corner Center is the D.C. area's biggest shopping mall, set within its biggest suburban business center.
- Washington, D.C. -- lots of memorials and other government attractions in the nation's capital.