Northern Virginia contains some of the richest neighborhoods and counties in the entire country, including Loudoun County, Fairfax County, Arlington County, Alexandria County, and the City of Falls Church.
The region boasts the best of both worlds, with close proximity to world-class culture, arts, sports, and entertainment in the nation’s capital of Washington, D.C., as well as excellent parks, lakes, streams, trails, and other great outdoor spaces.
The Northern Virginia places listed below generally do have a high cost of living. They also generally have excellent school systems and a low crime rate.
I have lived almost my entire life in Northern Virginia, and so I’m very familiar with many of the best areas in the region. Below I’ll share some of my top picks for the best places to live in Northern Virginia.
Fairfax County is the most populous county in Northern Virginia, and it is located just south of Arlington and Washington, D.C. It is also one of the richest counties in the country, and it has one of the best school systems in the country. Fairfax County is even home to one of the most elite high schools in the United States: Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
Fairfax County also has an excellent Parks and Recreation system, known as the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority includes nine Rec Centers that feature indoor lap pools, fitness centers, tennis courts, volleyball courts, basketball courts, fitness classes, and much more. You can learn more about all of the Fairfax Center Rec Centers.
Below are some of the best areas to live in in Fairfax County.
Great Falls is one of the best of the best areas in Fairfax County. It has some of the most expensive homes in the area, including many multi-million dollar estates and homes that have guest homes that are bigger than most single-family homes.
The area is nestled near the southern bank of the Potomac River, and features spacious multi-acre plots, despite its close proximity to Washington, D.C., and Arlington.
Great Falls is also close to the shopping and business epicenter of Tysons Corner Center and Tysons Galleria, which are some of the major shopping areas in Northern Virginia. Great Falls is also home to a fabulous restaurant known as L’Auberge Chez Francois, which I totally recommend you visit to celebrate a special occasion!
McLean is similar to Great Falls, and in fact, is located right next to Great Falls, but it is a little closer to the heart of Tyson’s Corner, which makes it a little more congested. As a result, property tends to be a little closer together here, and yards are smaller than in Great Falls.
There are more high-end condos near the major roads of Leesburg Pike and Chain Bridge Road. Property is still generally quite expensive in this area, and you are close to the great shopping and amenities of Tyson’s Corner.
There is now a metro stop in McLean too, that stops at Tyson’s and can take passengers to either Arlington and DC in the east or Dulles Airport to the west.
Vienna is close to McLean within the Tyson’s Corner area, but it tends to be a little older and more established than McLean. The neighborhoods tend to have a little more space and trees compared to the hustle and bustle of McLean. There is also a metro stop in Vienna.
Vienna is also home to Wolf Trap, which is a great performing arts venue that hosts many world-class artists, particularly during the summer months at the outdoor venue.
The city of Fairfax is located in the county of Fairfax, which can get a little confusing. It is home to the government center of the county. The heart of the city of Fairfax is filled with colonial brick buildings and streets, and it is filled with historic charm and character. Fairfax is also home to George Mason University.
There are a lot of more modern townhouses and single-family homes in the area as well, especially near the main road of Route 123 (which goes by the name of Main Street, Ox Road, and Chain Bridge Road, depending on what part of the road you’re traveling on.)
Fairfax City is perfect for people who want the historic charm and character of Virginia, with close proximity to modern amenities, shopping, and restaurants in the city of Fairfax.
Oakton is another fabulous established area located a little more to the west in Fairfax County. It features older neighborhoods with more room, trees and trails, which makes it a little more comparable to Vienna.
It is also home to one of the best and nicest of the Fairfax County Rec Centers – Oak Marr Rec Center. This Rec Center features one of the best indoor pools in the county – an immense olympic-size pool with platform diving. Oak Marr also has a state-of-the-art modern fitness center and even a miniature golf course.
Clifton is another great place to live in Fairfax County. It includes some of the richest areas in the county. It also includes the quaint and cute historic small town of Clifton, which includes crepe and ice cream shops.
Clifton also has some of the largest properties in the whole county. Many houses in the area are set off the main roads and include 5 or more acres. There are even houses here that have barns, stables, and horses on the property, which is rare for an area that is so close to Washington, D.C., where land can be at a premium.
One negative with Clifton is that it does not feature as many walkable sidewalks for running, walking, or riding a bike. Many of the roads in Clifton are windy country roads that can be hard for pedestrians to travel along.
Burke is an excellent area to live in because it features a lot of parklands, green space, and trails, but it is generally a little closer to major roads like the Fairfax County Parkway and even the I-95 interchange in Springfield. This means you can travel to various points around the D.C. area relatively easily while also having more space than in other parts of the county.
The houses in Burke tend to be a nice mix of older and more contemporary, with some nice single-family home and townhouse communities in the area, particularly off of Burke Center Parkway. The homes tend to have a little more land than other parts of the county, and some of them feature nice touches like ponds within the community and attractive landscaping.
Burke has always been one of my personal favorite areas in the county because of its mix of green space, trails, affordability, and proximity to major shops and roads.
There are also some excellent public schools in Burke, including Terra Centre Elementary School and Lake Braddock Secondary School. Burke also tends to be cheaper than many other parts of Fairfax County, such as Clifton, McLean, and Oakton.
City of Falls Church
The City of Falls Church is different from Falls Church (which can get confusing!) Both are located right next to each other, but the city of Falls Chruch is a smaller incorporated city. It is generally more expensive than Falls Church. It features cute, charming cape cod and cottage homes, though they tend to be on the small side, and they are packed closer together, making the area a little congested.
It features some of the best schools in the area though, and it is close to many great shops, restaurants, and amenities within the city itself. It is also close to Route 50, which is a busy but important road to travel east into D.C. or west into the western part of Virginia.
Arlington County features some of the best places to live in Northern Virginia. It is a short drive to Washington, D.C., and it also has many major metro stations just minutes away from some of the major attractions in D.C. such as the National Mall and Smithsonian Museums.
Arlington also features a great mix of older historic homes, plus modern condos and apartments that are close to a lot of great local restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and retail shops.
Arlington is generally a great place for young professionals who want the convenience of a more urban setting, with more parks and outdoor space provided by a more suburban location.
On top of all that, Arlington also features some excellent parks, plus walking and biking trails. I have personally run and walked on many of the trails. One of my favorites is the Custis Trail, which runs parallel to I-66 in Arlington, and goes all the way toward D.C. to the east, and Falls Church to the west. Another great trail is the W&OD Trail.
Arlington truly has something for everyone!
Ballston and Virginia Square
The Ballston and Virginia Square area of Arlington tends to be more heavily centered around businesses and office complexes, however there is a nice mall (Ballston Mall), plus lots of restaurants like Ballston Local and The Union Ballston.
Ballston in general has more apartments and condos because of its more urban makeup. Ballston also has the distinction of being the training site for the Washington Capitals NHL hockey team! They practice at the ice rink right at Ballston Mall, and you can even go to the practices and meet the players if you’re lucky!
Virginia Square is a little more residential, with many single family homes on quiet streets. It is also close to the Custis Trail.
Ballston also has a major metro stop (Ballston metro) for easy access to D.C. and other parts of Arlington and Northern Virginia. Virginia Square has the Virginia Square metro.
Clarendon is one of the best neighborhoods and one of the most modern sections of Arlington to live in. It is a very walkable area and vibrant city, with lots of cool bars, restaurants, and shops in the area around Clarendon Boulevard and Wilson Boulevard. It also has a major metro stop, Clarendon, that can get you into D.C. very quickly and easily.
Pentagon City is primarily comprised of highrise modern condominium buildings. It is very close to Washington, D.C., and has a metro stop, called Pentagon City, that’s located at the mall of the same name.
The Pentagon City Mall (also known as the Fashion Center at Pentagon City) is a major shopping center in the D.C. area, and it features a lot of great stores like Apple, Macys, Nordstrom, and much more. The area is also very close to the Pentagon (it’s technically across the street from it, although the street is I-395), Arlington National Cemetery, and Regan National Airport.
Crystal City is located just to the east of Pentagon City, and it is very similar to Pentagon City in terms of being dominated by modern highrise condos. It offers close proximity to the shops at Pentagon City, and easy access to Washignton, D.C. via the Crystal City and Pentagon City metro stops. It is also located right next to Regan National Airport. This area is also going to be the future location of a new major Amazon headquarters (HQ2), and so real estate in the area is likely to only go up in value in the coming years.
Alexandria is technically a separate county and a separate city (which can get confusing) within Northern Virginia. It is located to the south and east of Fairfax County and Arlington. Many parts of Alexandria, particularly in the eastern region, are filled with historic charm and character.
The area is home to Mount Vernon, which is the famous home of George Washington. Parts of Alexandria skirt the Potomac River, and feature lovely water views.
One thing to note about Alexandria is that parts of it, particularly near the Potomac River, are susceptible to flooding. The Huntington Area, Old Town Alexandria, and other areas near there have been known to suffer heavy flooding damage during heavy rains. This could get much worse over the years due to climate change.
Old Town Alexandria
Old Town Alexandria is full of rich history, and it is one of my favorite areas in Northern Virginia. I have often said, if I could afford to live there, I probably would! The brick streets and townhomes will transport you back to another era, and they are just brimming with historic charm and character.
The downtown area of Old Town Alexandria is very walkable (though parking can be a challenge, since there is limited street parking), and has many cute boutique shops lining streets like King Street, Prince Street, and Duke Street.
There are also taverns, pubs, ice cream parlors, and other eateries to explore right in your backyard. Another highlight is the Torpedo Factory Art Center located on the far eastern end of Old Town.
There are numerous historic buildings, homes, and landmarks throughout the area. There is even a metro stop, though it is a bit of a walk toward the western part of the area: the King Street Metro.
Old Town also has a water taxi service that can take you to National Harbor (across the Potomac River in Maryland, and another great spot for dining, shops, and entertainment); plus stops at Georgetown and The Wharf in D.C.
The Mount Vernon area of Alexandria is located to the south and east of Alexandria along the banks of the Potomac River. It is also the site of the famous home of George Washington. Mount Vernon is best known for historic brick homes with more land than in other parts of the county.
Mount Vernon also tends to be a little less expensive than some other Northern Virginia areas due to the fact that it has a variety of older homes that are more affordable.
The area also features the George Washington Rec Center, which is small but generally less crowded than some of the other rec centers. The center also includes an indoor pool, spa, and sauna.
Loudoun County is one of the richest counties in the country and has some of the top schools in the country. It features a lot of sprawling million-dollar homes with more land than is typically found in Fairfax County, however, the county has gotten much more popular and crowded in recent years, with many new subdivisions of single-family homes popping up.
Leesburg is the major city in Loudoun County. The county is also home to many major golf courses and wineries in Northern Virginia. It is closer to the Shenandoah Mountains and features some lovely scenic drives.
Some negatives about Loudoun County are that it generally gets worse weather compared to Fairfax County. Because it is located closer to the western mountains, it is susceptible to getting both more snow and thunderstorms.
Loudoun is also located further out from Washington, D.C., and some of the major routes to the city are toll roads, which can get expensive. For instance, the Dulles Toll Road, Dulles Greenway, and I-66 are all major routes to get from parts of Loudoun County to Arlington and Washington, D.C.
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