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Northern Virginia
Tysons in Fairfax County
Tysons in Fairfax County
NOVA, NoVA, Nova
The counties of Virginia that form part of the Washington-Baltimore Combined Statistical Area.
The counties of Virginia that form part of the Washington-Baltimore Combined Statistical Area.
Country  United States
State  Virginia
Counties and Independent Cities Alexandria city, Arlington County, Clarke County, Culpeper County, Fairfax city, Fairfax County, Falls Church city, Fauquier County, Frederick County, Fredericksburg city, Loudoun County, Madison County, Manassas city, Manassas Park city, Prince William County, Rappahannock County, Spotsylvania County, Stafford County, Warren County, Winchester city
Largest city Alexandria
 • Land 11,425.6 km2 (4,411.45 sq mi)
  13 counties and 7 independent cities in Virginia within the Washington Metropolitan Statistical Area or Washington-Baltimore Combined Statistical Area
 • Density 279.82/km2 (724.72/sq mi)
Demonym(s) Northern Virginian

Northern Virginia, locally referred to as NOVA or NoVA, comprises several counties and independent cities in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States. It is a widespread region radiating westward and southward from Washington, D.C. With 3,197,076 people according to the 2020 Census (37.04 percent of Virginia's total population), it is the most populous region of Virginia and the Washington metropolitan area.

Communities in the region form the Virginia portion of the Washington metropolitan area and the larger Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area. Northern Virginia has a significantly larger job base than either Washington or the Maryland portion of its suburbs, and is the highest-income region of Virginia, having several of the highest-income counties in the nation, including 3 of the richest 10 counties by median household income according to the 2019 American Community Survey.

Northern Virginia's transportation infrastructure includes major airports Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International, several lines of the Washington Metro subway system, the Virginia Railway Express suburban commuter rail system, transit bus services, bicycle sharing and bicycle lanes and trails, and an extensive network of Interstate highways and expressways.

Notable features of the region include the Pentagon, headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the many companies which serve them and the rest of the U.S. federal government. The area's tourist attractions include various memorials, museums, and Colonial and Civil War–era sites including Arlington National Cemetery, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park Manassas National Battlefield Park, Mount Vernon Estate, the National Museum of the Marine Corps, the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum, United States Marine Corps War Memorial. Other attractions include portions of the Appalachian Trail, Great Falls Park, Loudoun Wine Country Old Town Alexandria, Prince William Forest Park, and portions of Shenandoah National Park.


Virginia Megaprojects Map
Northern Virginia megaprojects

The region is often spelled "northern Virginia", although according to the USGS Correspondence Handbook the 'n' in Northern Virginia should be capitalized since it is a place name rather than a direction or general area; e.g. Eastern United States vs. western Massachusetts.

The name "Northern Virginia" does not seem to have been used in the early history of the area. According to Johnston, some early documents and land grants refer to the "Northern Neck of Virginia" (see Northern Neck Proprietary), and they describe an area which began on the east at the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay and includes a territory that extended west, including all the land between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers, with a western boundary called the Fairfax line. The Fairfax line, surveyed in 1746, ran from the first spring of the Potomac (still marked today by the Fairfax Stone) to the first spring of the Rappahannock, at the head of the Conway River. The Northern Neck was composed of 5,282,000 acres (21,380 km2), and was larger in area than five of the modern U.S. states.

This monument, at the headspring of the Potomac River, marks one of the historic spots of America. Its name is derived from Thomas Lord Fairfax who owned all the land lying between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. The first Fairfax Stone, marked "FX", was set in 1746 by Thomas Lewis, a surveyor employed by Lord Fairfax. This is the base point for the western dividing line between Maryland and West Virginia.

Fairfax Stone inscription

Early development of the northern portion of Virginia was in the easternmost area of that early land grant, which encompasses the modern counties of Lancaster, Northumberland, Richmond, and Westmoreland. At some point, these eastern counties came to be called separately simply "the Northern Neck", and, for the remaining area west of them, the term was no longer used. (By some definitions, King George County is also included in the Northern Neck, which is now considered a separate region from Northern Virginia.)

One of the most prominent early mentions of "Northern Virginia" (sans the word Neck) as a title was the naming of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War (1861–1865).

Defining "Northern Virginia"

Washington-Baltimore-Northern Virginia CSA, 2005
A map of the former Baltimore-Washington-Northern Virginia, DC-MD-VA-WV Combined Statistical Area

The most common definition of Northern Virginia includes those counties and independent cities on the Virginia side of the Washington-Baltimore-Northern Virginia Combined Statistical Area. In 2010 this included the counties of Arlington, Clarke, Culpeper, Fairfax, Fauquier, Frederick, King George, Loudoun, Prince William County, Spotsylvania, Stafford, and Warren, and the independent cities of Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax, Fredericksburg, Manassas and Manassas Park.

Most narrowly defined, Northern Virginia consists of the counties of Arlington and Fairfax; as well as the independent cities of Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax.

Businesses, governments and non-profit agencies may define the area considered "Northern Virginia" differently for various purposes. Beyond the areas closest to Washington, D.C., many communities also have close economic ties, as well as important functional ones regarding transportation issues such as roads, railroads, and airports.


Colonial period

Northern Neck Proprietary map
Map of the Northern Neck Proprietary land grant c. 1737

Historically, in the British Colony of Virginia first permanently settled at Jamestown in 1607, the area now generally regarded as "Northern Virginia" was within a larger area defined by a land grant from King Charles II of England on September 18, 1649, while the monarch was in exile in France during the English Civil War. Eight of his loyal supporters were named, among them Thomas Culpeper.

On February 25, 1673, a new charter was given to Thomas Lord Culpeper and Henry Earl of Arlington. Lord Culpeper was named the Royal Governor of Virginia from 1677–1683. Culpeper County was later named for him when it was formed in 1749; however, history does not seem to record him as one of the better of Virginia's colonial governors. Although he became governor of Virginia in July 1677, he did not come to Virginia until 1679, and even then seemed more interested in maintaining his land in the "Northern Neck of Virginia" than governing. He soon returned to England. In 1682 rioting in the colony forced him to return, but by the time he arrived, the riots were already quelled. After apparently misappropriating £9,500 from the treasury of the colony, he returned to England and the King was forced to dismiss him. During this tumultuous time, Culpeper's erratic behavior meant that he had to rely increasingly on his cousin and Virginia agent, Col. Nicholas Spencer. Spencer succeeded Culpeper as acting Governor upon Lord Culpeper's departure from the colony. For many years, Lord Culpeper's descendants allowed men in Virginia (primarily Robert "King" Carter) to manage the properties.

Legal claim to the land was finally established by Lord Culpeper's grandson, Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, who became well known in the colony as "Lord Fairfax", in a survey authorized by Governor William Gooch in 1736.. They included the 22 modern counties of Northumberland, Lancaster, Westmoreland, Stafford, King George, Prince William, Fairfax, Loudoun, Fauquier, Rappahannock, Culpeper, Madison, Clarke, Warren, Page, Shenandoah, and Frederick counties in Virginia, and Hardy, Hampshire, Morgan, Berkeley, and Jefferson counties in West Virginia.

Lord Fairfax was a lifelong bachelor, and became one of the more well-known persons of the late colonial era. In 1742 the new county formed from Prince William County was named Fairfax County in his honor, one of numerous place names in Northern Virginia and West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle which were named after him. Lord Fairfax established his residence first at his brother's home at "Belvoir" (now on the grounds of Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County).

Not long thereafter, he built a hunting lodge near the Blue Ridge Mountains he named "Greenway Court", which was located near White Post in Clarke County, and moved there. Around 1748 Lord Fairfax met a youth of 16 named George Washington, and, impressed with his energy and talents, employed him to survey his lands lying west of the Blue Ridge.

Lord Fairfax stayed neutral during the American Revolutionary War. Just a few weeks after the surrender of British troops under General Cornwallis at Yorktown, he died at his home at Greenway Court on December 9, 1781, at the age of 90. He was entombed on the east side of Christ Church in Winchester. While his plans for a large house at Greenway Court never materialized, and his stone lodge is now gone, a small limestone structure he had built still exists on the site.

Statehood, Civil War

Mount Vernon, the plantation home of George Washington

Following the American Revolutionary War, when the thirteen colonies formed the United States of America, war hero and Virginian George Washington was the choice to become its first president. Washington had been a surveyor and developer of canals for transportation earlier in the 18th century. He was also a great proponent of the bustling port city of Alexandria, which was located on the Potomac River below the fall line, not far from his plantation at Mount Vernon in Fairfax County.

With his guidance, a new federal city (now known as the District of Columbia) was laid out straddling the Potomac River upon a square of territory which was ceded to the federal government by the new states of Maryland and Virginia. Alexandria was located at the eastern edge south of the river. On the outskirts on the northern side of the river, another port city, Georgetown, was located.

However, as the federal city grew, land in the portion contributed by Maryland proved best suited and adequate for early development, and the impracticality of being on both sides of the Potomac River became clearer. Not really part of the functioning federal city, many citizens of Alexandria were frustrated by the laws of the District government and lack of voting input. Slavery also arose as an issue. To mitigate these issues, and as part of a "deal" regarding abolishment of slave trading in the District, in 1846, the U.S. Congress passed a bill retro-ceding to Virginia the area south of the Potomac River, which was known as Alexandria County. That area now forms all of Arlington County (which was renamed from Alexandria County in 1922) and a portion of the independent city of Alexandria.

Slavery, states' rights, and economic issues increasingly divided the northern and southern states during the first half of the 19th century, eventually leading to the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865. Although Maryland was a slave state, it remained with the Union, while Virginia seceded and joined the newly formed Confederate States of America, with its new capital established at Richmond.

The Supreme Court of the United States has never issued a firm opinion on whether the retrocession of the Virginia portion of the District of Columbia was constitutional. In the 1875 case of Phillips v. Payne, the Supreme Court held that Virginia had de facto jurisdiction over the area returned by Congress in 1847, and dismissed the tax case brought by the plaintiff. The court, however, did not rule on the core constitutional matter of the retrocession. Writing the majority opinion, Justice Noah Swayne stated only that:

The plaintiff in error is estopped from raising the point which he seeks to have decided. He cannot, under the circumstances, vicariously raise a question, nor force upon the parties to the compact an issue which neither of them desires to make.

Arlington House front view
Arlington House, a mansion commissioned by a step-grandson of George Washington, last used as a residence by Robert E. Lee

With barely 100 miles (160 km) separating the two capital cities, Northern Virginia found itself in the center of much of the conflict. The area was the site of many battles and saw great destruction and bloodshed. The Army of Northern Virginia was the primary army for the Confederate States of America in the east. Owing to the region's proximity to Washington, D.C. and the Potomac River, the armies of both sides frequently occupied and traversed Northern Virginia. As a result, several battles were fought in the area.

In addition, Northern Virginia was the operating area of the famed Confederate partisan, John Singleton Mosby, and several small skirmishes were fought throughout the region between his Rangers and Federal forces occupying Northern Virginia.

Well after the war, the conflict remained popular among the region's residents, and many area schools, roads, and parks were named for Confederate generals and statesmen, for example Jefferson Davis Highway and Washington-Lee High School.

Virginia split during the American Civil War, as was foreshadowed by the April 17, 1861 Virginia Secession Convention. Fifty counties in the western, mountainous, portion of the state, who were, for the most part, against secession in 1861, would break away from the Confederacy in 1863 and enter the Union as a new state, West Virginia. Unlike the eastern part of the state, West Virginia did not have fertile lands tilled by slaves and was geographically separated from the state government in Richmond by the Appalachian Mountains. During this process, a provisional government of Virginia was headquartered in Alexandria, which was under Union control during the war. Notably, Arlington, Clarke, Fairfax, Frederick, Loudoun, Shenandoah, and Warren Counties voted in favor of Virginia remaining in the Union in 1861 but did not eventually break away from the state.

As a result of the formation of West Virginia, part of Lord Fairfax's colonial land grant which defined Northern Virginia was ceded in the establishment of that state in 1863. Now known as the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, the area includes Berkeley County and Jefferson County, West Virginia.

20th century and beyond

The Pentagon January 2008
The Pentagon, headquarters of the Department of Defense

The Department of Defense's increasing reliance on information technology companies during the Cold War started the modern Northern Virginia economy and spurred urban development throughout the region. After the Cold War, prosperity continued to come as the region positioned itself as the "Silicon Valley" of the Eastern United States. The Internet was first commercialized in Northern Virginia, having been home to the first Internet service providers.

The first major interconnection point of the Internet, MAE-East, was established in the 1990s at Ashburn after Virginia-area network provider operators thought to connect their networks together while drinking beer. This infrastructure legacy is ongoing, as data center operators continue to expand near these facilities.

History was made in early 2001 when local Internet company America Online bought Time Warner, the world's largest traditional media company, near the end of the dot-com bubble days. After the bubble burst, Northern Virginia office vacancy rates went from 2% in 2000 to 20% in 2002. After 2002, vacancy rates fell below 10% due to increased defense spending after the September 11 attacks, and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars causing the government's continued and increasing reliance on private defense contractors.

Regional organizations

Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments

Northern Virginia constitutes a considerable portion of the population and number of jurisdictions that comprise the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG). Founded in 1957, MWCOG is a regional organization of 22 Washington-area local governments, as well as area members of the Maryland and Virginia state legislatures, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives. MWCOG provides a forum for discussion and the development of regional responses to issues regarding the environment, transportation, public safety, homeland security, affordable housing, community planning, and economic development.

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, a component of MWCOG, is the federally designated metropolitan planning organization for the metropolitan Washington area, including Northern Virginia.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1900 188,919
1910 194,731 3.1%
1920 206,504 6.0%
1930 229,205 11.0%
1940 298,588 30.3%
1950 488,945 63.8%
1960 788,162 61.2%
1970 1,118,064 41.9%
1980 1,357,387 21.4%
1990 1,805,091 33.0%
2000 2,253,251 24.8%
2010 2,794,957 24.0%
2020 3,197,076 14.4%

As of April 2020 there were 3,197,076 people in Northern Virginia; approximately 37 percent of the state's population.

These population counts include all counties within Virginia that are part of the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area or the Washington-Baltimore-Arlington, DC-MD-VA-WV-PA Combined Statistical Area as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget within the Executive Office of the President of the United States.

Of the 3,159,639 people in Northern Virginia in the 2019 estimates, 2,776,960 lived in "central" counties, or those counties and equivalent entities as delineated by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget as forming part of the urban core of the Washington Metropolitan Statistical Area. These counties include Arlington, Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun, Prince William, Stafford and the independent cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, Manassas Park and Fredericksburg

An additional 390,679 people lived in counties of the Washington Metropolitan Statistical Area or the Baltimore-Washington Combined Statistical Area not considered "central." These counties, largely considered exurban or undergoing suburban change, include Clarke, Culpeper, Frederick, Madison, Rappahannock, Spotsylvania, Warren, and the independent city of Winchester.

In addition, there are counties outside of the Washington Metropolitan Area that under more broad definitions are referred to as being part of Northern Virginia. The University of Virginia Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service categorizes King George County as part of Northern Virginia, though the county was removed from the Washington Metropolitan Area in 2003. King George County and Orange County also include areas, such as Lake of the Woods, where the cross-commuting interchange with the Washington Metropolitan Area is high enough to merit inclusion in the Metropolitan Area, although more far-flung parts of these counties still cause the county-wide commuter interchange to fall below the threshold for inclusion in the Washington Metropolitan Area or Washington-Baltimore Combined Statistical Area. The demographic figures above do not include population counts for these two counties.

Racial and ethnic composition

The 2020 U.S. Census resulted in the following racial and ethnic composition for Northern Virginia:

Jurisdiction Population (2020 Census) White alone, not Hispanic or Latino Hispanic or Latino Black or African American alone Asian alone American Indian and Alaska Native alone Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone Two or More Races
Alexandria city 159,467 51.9% 16.7% 21.8% 5.9% 0.2% 0.0% 5.3%
Arlington County 238,643 61.4% 15.6% 9.7% 11.0% 0.6% 0.1% 3.6%
Clarke County 14,783 85.3% 6.4% 4.7% 1.4% 0.7% 0.1% 2.5%
Culpeper County 52,552 69.8% 11.6% 14.6% 1.7% 0.8% 0.2% 3.3%
Fairfax city 24,146 56.2% 17.2% 4.9% 17.2% 0.1% 0.0% 5.1%
Fairfax County 1,150,309 50.0% 16.5% 10.6% 20.1% 0.5% 0.1% 3.9%
Falls Church city 14,658 71.2% 10.6% 4.8% 10.0% 0.6% 0.1% 4.7%
Fauquier County 72,972 79.0% 9.2% 7.8% 1.7% 0.5% 0.1% 2.8%
Frederick County 91,419 82.3% 9.3% 4.7% 1.8% 0.5% 0.1% 2.4%
Fredericksburg city 27,982 54.3% 12.4% 21.2% 4.7% 0.3% 0.1% 5.8%
Loudoun County 420,959 54.8% 13.9% 8.1% 20.3% 0.5% 0.1% 3.9%
Madison County 13,837 84.3% 3.2% 9.3% 0.6% 0.3% 0.0% 2.9%
Manassas city 42,772 39.5% 38.1% 15.4% 6.3% 1.4% 0.2% 3.6%
Manassas Park city 17,219 31.2% 41.0% 15.6% 11.5% 1.6% 0.3% 3.5%
Prince William County 482,204 41.5% 24.5% 22.2% 9.4% 1.1% 0.2% 4.7%
Rappahannock County 7,348 88.3% 4.4% 4.2% 1.0% 0.4% 0.1% 2.0%
Spotsylvania County 140,032 66.6% 10.7% 17.5% 2.8% 0.5% 0.2% 3.6%
Stafford County 156,927 59.3% 14.2% 20.0% 3.6% 0.8% 0.2% 4.5%
Warren County 40,727 86.0% 5.3% 5.0% 1.3% 0.6% 0.1% 2.6%
Winchester city 28,120 65.7% 18.3% 11.3% 2.7% 0.9% 0.1% 3.6%

Northern Virginia as a whole is 51.2% White, 17.4% Hispanic, 16.3% Asian, 14.1% Black, and 2.4% Other.


Demographics in Northern Virginia's five largest jurisdictions
Household income No. VA U.S.
($200k+) 13.6% 3.7%
$100k+ 46.1% 19.0%
$75k-100k 15.1% 12.1%
$50k-75k 16.3% 18.8%
$25k-50k 14.2% 25.6%
$25k or less 8.4% 24.5%
Race No. VA U.S.
White 67.2% 74.1%
Black or African American 11.6% 12.4%
Asian 12.5% 4.3%
(Hispanic or Latino) 13.9% N/A
Some other race N/A 6.2%
Two or more races 2.4% 2.1%
Educational attainment No. VA U.S.
(Graduate/professional) 25.2% 9.9%
Bachelor's or higher 55.5% 27.0%
Associate's 5.7% 7.4%
Some college 14.8% 19.5%
High school/equivalent 15.8% 30.2%
Less than high school 8.1% 15.9%

Northern Virginia is home to people from diverse backgrounds, with significant numbers of Korean Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Bangladeshi Americans, Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, Russian Americans, Arab Americans, Palestinian Americans, Uzbek Americans, Afghan Americans, Ethiopian Americans, Indian Americans, Iranian Americans, Thai Americans, and Pakistani Americans. Annandale, Chantilly, and Fairfax City have very large Korean American communities. Falls Church has a large Vietnamese American community. Northern Virginia is also home to a small Tibetan American community as well.

There is a sizable Hispanic population, primarily consisting of Salvadorans, Peruvians, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Bolivians, Mexicans, and Colombians. Arlington is the center of the largest Bolivian community in North America (mostly immigrants from Cochabamba). Many of these immigrants work in transportation-related fields, small businesses, hospitality/restaurants, vending, gardening, construction, and cleaning.

Of those born in the U.S. and living in Northern Virginia's four largest counties, their place of birth by census region is 60.5 percent from the South, 21.0 percent from the Northeast, 11.5 percent from the Midwest, and 7.0 percent from the West. 33.7 percent were born in Virginia, which is categorized as part of the Southern United States along with neighboring Maryland and Washington, D.C., by the Census Bureau.

Educational attainment

The core Northern Virginia jurisdictions of Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William comprising a total population of 1,973,513 is highly educated, with 55.5 percent of its population 25 years or older holding a bachelor's degree or higher. This is comparable to Seattle, the most educated large city in the U.S., with 53.4 percent of residents having at least a bachelor's degree. The number of graduate/professional degree holders in Arlington is relatively high at 34.3 percent, nearly quadruple the rate of the U.S. population as a whole.


The region is known in Virginia and the Washington, D.C., area for its relative affluence. Stafford, one of the core counties in Northern Virginia, is one of the seven counties in America where black households make more than white households. Stafford County actually topped the list with African-Americans in Stafford County making the highest amount on the list. Of the large cities or counties in the nation that have a median household income in excess of $100,000, the top two are in Northern Virginia, and these counties have over half of the region's population. However, considering that Northern Virginia has one of the highest costs of living in the nation, the actual purchasing power of these households is considerably less than in other less "affluent" areas. According to Nielsen Claritas, Loudoun County and Arlington County have the highest concentration of 25- to 34-year-olds with incomes of $100,000+ in the nation.

Reston, an internationally known planned community, seen from the Dulles Toll Road

In 1988, the Tysons Galleria mall opened across Virginia Route 123 from Tysons Corner Center with high-end department stores Neiman Marcus and Saks 5th Avenue, hoping to become the Washington area's upscale shopping destination. The mall had trouble with sales and attracting high-end boutiques well into the 1990s and faced competition from Fairfax Square, which opened nearby in 1990 with the largest Tiffany & Co. boutique outside of New York City. The Galleria was able to attract high-end stores after a 1997 renovation, and in 2002 National Geographic described it as "the Rodeo Drive of the East Coast." In 2008 luxury home service Sotheby's International Realty – which had three offices in Virginia serving the rest of the state, and two in the District of Columbia serving the Washington metropolitan area – opened a new office in McLean to sell more high-end real estate in Northern Virginia.


Udvar-Hazy Center center outside view
The National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center

The region's large shopping malls, such as Potomac Mills and Tysons Corner Center, attract many visitors, as do the region's Civil War battlefields, which include the sites of both the First and Second Battle of Bull Run in Manassas. Old Town Alexandria is known for its historic churches, townhouses, restaurants, gift shops, artist studios, and cruise boats. The waterfront and outdoor recreational amenities such as biking and running trails (the Washington and Old Dominion Rail Trail leads all the way from tidewater Alexandria to the foothills of the Blue Ridge; the Mount Vernon Trail and trails along various stream beds are also popular), whitewater and sea kayaking, and rock climbing areas are focused along the Potomac River, but are also found at other locations in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. Scenic Great Falls Park and historic Mount Vernon (which opened a new visitor center in 2006) are especially noteworthy. Woodbridge is home to two minor-league sports franchises, the Northern Virginia Royals soccer team and the Potomac Nationals baseball team.

Arlington National Cemetery is located in the area, as is the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, an annex of the National Air and Space Museum that contains exhibits that cannot be housed at the main museum in Washington due to space constraints. Many concerts and other live shows are held at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, a setting which has attracted many famous productions over the years.


Due to the proximity to the capital, many Northern Virginians go to Washington, D.C. for cultural outings and nightlife. The Kennedy Center in Washington is a popular place for performances, as is Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts near Vienna. Jiffy Lube Live (near Manassas), the Patriot Center at George Mason University in Fairfax, and the Verizon Center in Washington serve as popular concert venues, and the Verizon Center also serves as the home of sporting events. Smithsonian museums also serve as local cultural institutions with easy proximity to Northern Virginia, and the new Udvar-Hazy center of the National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly is popular as well.

Tysons Galleria Dec 2009 (4228555779)
The Pentagon City and Tysons Galleria (pictured) malls are both attached to their own Ritz-Carlton hotels.

Tysons Corner Center ("Tysons I") is one of the largest malls in the country and is a hub for shopping in area. Tysons Galleria ("Tysons II"), its counterpart across Route 123, carries more high-end stores. Tysons Corner itself is the 12th largest business district in the United States. Other malls include Springfield Mall, Fair Oaks Mall, Manassas Mall, and The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City. Dulles Town Center is the region's newest mall, serving the eastern Loudoun County area. Reston Town Center is a high-density mixed-use retail, commercial, and residential development located just off the 267 Toll Road in Reston. Potomac Mills, located in Prince William County, is the largest outlet mall in the region. The town of Leesburg in Loudoun County contains the Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets outlet mall.

Since the mid-1990s, Loudoun County has been known as America's fastest-growing county, having grown by almost 50% from 2000 though 2005. Since the 2000 census, both Loudoun and Fairfax counties are the top large U.S. counties by median household income. Loudoun County has branches of at least five higher education institutions.


Northern Virginia is home to many activities for families and individuals, including biking/walking trails, sports leagues, recreation facilities, museums, historic homes, and parks.

It is home to the Northern Virginia Swim League, which comprises 102 community pools, and NVSL-Dive, which is composed of 47 teams in Fairfax and Arlington counties. The swim and dive teams compete over the course of 5–6 weeks from the end of June through the first weekend in August.


Former Republican delegate Jeannemarie Devolites Davis expressed a common sentiment when she said "The formula for funding school construction in Northern Virginia requires that we pay 500 percent more than the actual cost of a project. We have to pay 500 percent because we give 400 percent away to the rest of the state." The state government's funding level for transportation projects in Northern Virginia is a perennial issue that often causes consternation from the region's politicians and citizens.

Many people consider the idea of secession a rhetorical one used to express frustration with the treatment of Northern Virginia by the state government as well as the occasional opposing political sentiments between it and the rest of Virginia. Critics often point out that all states include regions of varying income and political discrepancies within their borders. Nevertheless, the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. are often seen as an extension of the more urbanized Mid-Atlantic and the Boston-Washington corridor, even though Virginia as a whole is considered a Southern state. This perception is especially fueled by the region's growing cultural diversity as well as an influx of Northern transplants.

A tongue in cheek editorial in a Fredericksburg weekly paper suggested the rest of Virginia would like to separate Northern Virginia from the remainder of the commonwealth. Nevertheless, there is no serious secessionist movement.


National Airport Station
The Metro station at Washington National Airport

The area has two major airports, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport. While flights from the older National Airport (a hub for American Airlines) are restricted for distance, frequency, and flight paths due to the proximity to federal facilities, Dulles is the region's second busiest airport in both passenger loadings and aircraft movements, and the sixteenth-busiest airport in the United States by takeoffs and landings in 2007. Dulles is the region's primary international gateway, serves as a hub for United Airlines, and has recently improved its low-cost carrier offerings with the addition of multiple flights by Southwest and JetBlue.

Commuters are served by the Washington Metro subway and the Virginia Railway Express, a commuter railroad. Metro is the second-busiest subway system in the nation; only New York City's subway system carries more passengers. A planned expansion project will extend the system past Dulles Airport into Loudoun County. The VRE has two lines adjacent to I-66 and I-95 starting in Union Station and extending to Manassas and Spotsylvania respectively. VRE service is significantly more limited, but nevertheless saw over a year of continuous ridership increase from 2007 into 2008. Bus service is provided by WMATA's Metrobus and several local jurisdictions.

The Washington metropolitan area has the worst traffic in the nation, and Northern Virginia is home to six of the ten worst bottlenecks in the area. To alleviate gridlock, local governments encourage using Metrorail, HOV, carpooling, slugging, and other forms of mass transportation. Major limited- or partially limited-access highways include Interstates 495 (the Capital Beltway), 95, 395, and 66, the Fairfax County Parkway and adjoining Franconia–Springfield Parkway, the George Washington Memorial Parkway, and the Dulles Toll Road. High-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes are used for commuters and buses on I-66, I-95/395, and the Dulles Toll Road. A study done by INRIX Roadway Analytics ranked Southbond I-95 from Washington D.C to the southern tip of Stafford County the worst single traffic hotspot in the nation. It also ranked Northbond I-95 from Spotsylvania County to the northern tip of Stafford County the seventh worst traffic hotspot in the nation. Northern Virginia is also home to the Express Lanes. These express lanes are where a car has an E-ZPass transponder and is charged for riding a distance on the express lanes. They are currently being built on I-66, and are currently available on I-395, I-495 from the Springfield Interchange to Tysons Corner but are being extended to the Maryland-Virginia border, and I-95 from the end of I-395(Springfield Interchange) to central Stafford County and are being extended to Fredericksburg.

Two major regional bottlenecks, the Springfield Interchange and Woodrow Wilson Bridge, were massively reconstructed with completion in 2007 and 2008. Generally, Potomac River crossings remain major choke points; proposals to add crossings (such as near Leesburg or Quantico as part of a long-proposed Outer Beltway) are opposed by Virginia communities near the suggested bridge sites, and by Marylanders who fear that new bridges would bring new housing development to green space in that state such as Poolesville. Because of Northern Virginia's high housing costs, tens of thousands of employees there choose more affordable housing far away in outer Virginia exurban counties, or in Prince George's County and Southern Maryland, thus creating tremendous traffic congestion on the Potomac bridges. This situation is much like metropolitan areas of California. Furthermore, Fairfax County localities such as Great Falls, Dranesville, and Clifton impose low-density, large-acreage residential zoning, which forces developers to leapfrog into Loudoun and Prince William counties to build housing, thus increasing commuters' driving distances. In recent years, developers have continued to develop in Loudoun County but have filled Prince William County. Therefore, many developers have been moving south to Stafford County where local government has been more receptive to developments.


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Arlington is home to some of the tallest high rises in the Washington metropolitan area.

Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell described Northern Virginia as "the economic engine of the state" during a January 2010 Northern Virginia Technology Council address.

As of 2007 the Northern Virginia office submarkets contain 172,000,000 square feet (16,000,000 m2) of office space, 33 percent more than those in Washington, D.C., and 55 percent more than those in its Maryland suburbs. 8,000,000 square feet (740,000 m2) of office space is under construction in Northern Virginia. 60 percent of the construction is occurring in the Dulles Corridor submarket.

In September 2008 the unemployment rate in Northern Virginia was 3.2 percent, about half the national average, and the lowest of any metropolitan area if ranked. While the U.S. as a whole had negative job growth from September 2007 to September 2008, Northern Virginia gained 12,800 jobs, representing half of Virginia's new jobs. As of July 2010 the unemployment rate of the region 5.2 percent, down from 5.3 percent in the previous month. In the mid-2000s Fairfax County was one of few places in the nation that attracted more creative-class workers than it created.


Crystal City Metro headhouse 2016
The Crystal City area was selected as the final location in Amazon's highly publicized Amazon HQ2 real estate search. The regional headquarters complex will include up to 6,000,000 sq ft (557,400 m2), rivaling the nearby Pentagon.

Northern Virginia is the busiest Internet intersection in the nation, with up to 70 percent of all Internet traffic flowing through Loudoun County data centers every day. It is the largest data center market in the world by capacity, with nearly double that of London, as well as the world's fastest growing market in 2018. Loudoun County expects to have 6,500,000 square feet (600,000 m2) of data center space by 2021. By 2012 Dominion Energy expects that 10 percent of all electricity it sends to Northern Virginia will be used by the region's data centers alone. Accenture estimates that 70 percent of Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud servers are located in their Northern Virginia zone. A 2015–16 estimate by Greenpeace puts Amazon's current and upcoming power capacity in Northern Virginia at over 1 gigawatt.

Notable companies

Capital One World Headquarters
Capital One Tower in Tysons, the tallest building in the Washington metro area and centerpiece of the 5,000,000 sq ft (464,500 m2) headquarters campus for Capital One.
Largest public companies (Fortune 500 2021)
Company Industry Headquarters National rank
AES Corporation Utilities: Gas and Electric Arlington, Virginia 313
Beacon Building Products Wholesalers: Diversified Herndon, Virginia 420
Booz Allen Hamilton Information Technology Services McLean, Virginia 391
CACI International Information Technology Services Arlington, Virginia 473
Capital One Financial Commercial Banks McLean, Virginia 99
DXC Technology Information Technology Services Tysons, Virginia 152
Freddie Mac Diversified Financials McLean, Virginia 47
General Dynamics Aerospace and Defense Reston, Virginia 84
Hilton Hotels Corporation Hospitality McLean, Virginia 324
Leidos Information Technology Services Reston, Virginia 248
Northrop Grumman Aerospace and Defense Falls Church, Virginia 86
NVR, Inc. Homebuilders Reston, Virginia 383
Science Applications Information Technology Services Reston, Virginia 412
Largest private companies (Forbes America's Largest Private Companies 2021)
Company Industry Headquarters National rank
Bechtel Construction Reston, Virginia 15
Carahsoft Information Technology Services Reston, Virginia 44
Mars Food and Drink McLean, Virginia 4

Additionally, Verisign, the manager of the .com and .net top-level domains is based in the region.

Major companies formerly headquartered in the region include AOL, Mobil, Nextel/Sprint, PSINet, Sallie Mae, MCI Communications, Transurban, and UUNET.


GMU fall
George Mason University, the largest university in the state by student population.

Fairfax County's public school system includes the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, an award-winning magnet school. Nineteen of the region's schools appear in the top 200 of Newsweek's 'America's Top Public High Schools', and Thomas Jefferson is ranked number one. In comparison, Washington, D.C., Maryland, and the rest of Virginia have 10 schools between them in the top 200.

Although Northern Virginia contains a large portion of the commonwealth's population, there are only a handful of colleges and universities in the region. The largest and most well-known is George Mason University in Fairfax, the largest public university in Virginia.

Other higher education institutions include Northern Virginia Community College (colloquially known as NOVA) in Annandale (with several branch campuses throughout Northern Virginia), the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Patrick Henry College in western Loudoun County, and Marymount University in north Arlington. In addition, the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech maintain a Center in Falls Church, and George Washington University has a campus in Loudoun County. Virginia Commonwealth University Health Systems has a satellite campus in Fairfax at the INOVA healthcare system.

Black History Month on Kiddle
Renowned African-American Artists:
Kyle Baker
Joseph Yoakum
Laura Wheeler Waring
Henry Ossawa Tanner
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Northern Virginia Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.