The first state to be settled in 1607, Virginia has a rich history, culture and heritage to delve into lots of spellbinding scenery. This makes it a fabulous place to live, visit and vacation with all its small towns and cities offering up something new, old and interesting to enjoy.
While the enormous Chesapeake Bay and endless Atlantic lie in the east, the Blue Ridge Mountains rise in the west with fertile fields and farms lying in between. Dotted about are historic cities, like Richmond and Fredericksburg, and lively college towns, such as Blacksburg and Charlottesville, with the state being particularly known for its Revolutionary War and Civil War sites.
Thanks to all its diverse geography and delightfully different seaside resorts and secluded mountain towns, Virginia truly has somewhere that will suit everyone. While some of the best cities in Virginia are perfect for retirees and families with young children, others are ideal for young professionals and outdoor enthusiasts. It’s no wonder that Virginia is often ranked among the best states to live in the nation.
Known for its colonial past and Civil War history, Fredericksburg is a lovely place to live and visit with a lot going for it. As it is set almost exactly halfway between Richmond and Washington, D.C., many people commute to the larger cities for their employment opportunities, attractions and entertainment options.
Once a key trading center due to its strategic setting along the Rappahannock River, the city is now most known for its famous Fredericksburg Battlefield. Plenty of other historic houses, museums and Civil War-era landmarks are dotted about town with the small liberal arts college lending a lively, youthful feel.
Although it has a lot of history to delve into, its revitalized downtown also has numerous art galleries, live music venues and top-class dining options for locals and visitors alike to enjoy. Many military families move here as Fredericksburg lies near the Quantico and Dahlgren naval bases.
A small, charming seaside town, Chincoteague is set just off the Eastern Shore of Virginia, not far from nearby Maryland. Occupying the whole island of the same name, it acts as a gateway to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge with beautiful beaches, nature spots and ocean views lying nearby.
As the area’s economy primarily relies on tourism, lots of little hotels, cozy B&Bs and campsites are located in and around town. Seafood restaurants and ice cream parlors also abound, as do miniature golf courses. Sightseeing cruises can take you around Chincoteague Bay, the open ocean and out to Assateague Island.
Here you can hike and bike about the scenic and serene wildlife refuge which is known for its wild ponies, wind-swept beaches and wonderful views over the surrounding waters.
Nestled away east of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Central Virginia is the peaceful and picturesque Lynchburg. Delightfully known as the ‘City of Seven Hills’ due to its distinctive topography, it acts as a cultural hub for the area with several institutes of higher education based in town.
The only city in the state not recaptured by Union forces before the close of the Civil War, it started out life in 1757 as a simple ferry crossing. Its vibrant downtown is now full of historic warehouses and mills, many of which house lofts and apartments, businesses, bars and boutiques.
Its numerous colleges and universities lend the city a lively yet laidback feel with concerts, cultural shows and art exhibitions constantly taking place. Add in all the nearby nature and Lynchburg really does make for a great place to settle down or stop by for a quiet weekend away.
Often included on lists of the best small towns to retire, raise a family or go to college, Blacksburg is based at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. While much of its cultural life and economy is dominated by the students and campus of Virginia Tech, there is also much more to see and do in the surrounding area.
One of the prettiest college campuses on the East Coast, Tech’s handsome ‘Hokie Stone’ buildings, sports arenas and green spaces sprawl across a massive part of the city center. Here you can attend thrilling basketball and football games or watch concerts and shows with Main Street’s innumerable restaurants, bars and shops also lying nearby.
Other than exploring its delightful downtown, you can hike and bike around the nearby mountains and forests. Tubing down the New River is also a popular pastime. Microbreweries, wineries and ski resorts can be found nearby with Roanoke lying just forty-five minutes drive away.
Sure to delight nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike, Chesapeake is home to vast swathes of farms, forests and wetlands. Regularly ranked among the best cities to live in the States, it lies along the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, just south of Norfolk.
As the Elizabeth River, various canals and the Great Dismal Swamp make up much of its territory, the sprawling city has relatively few urban areas. As such, residents benefit from the great outdoors lying all around them with Chesapeake also highly regarded for its excellent public school system and endless employment opportunities.
For those looking for a quiet pace of life, it is a fantastic option with the center of Norfolk and all its attractions and entertainment venues only ten minutes drive away.
As it lies upon the banks of both Chesapeake Bay and the Elizabeth River, Norfolk’s history, culture and heritage has long been shaped by the waters around it. Although mostly known for being home to the world’s largest naval base, the seaside city has much, much more going for it.
Located right at the heart of a major metropolitan area, the once raucous and rowdy port town now has a lovely winding waterfront for you to explore. It boasts both world-class museums and pretty parks with historic houses, exquisite performing arts centers and pristine beaches also dotted about.
Besides exploring the Waterfront District and checking out the Chrysler Museum of Art, visitors can learn about its rich history as the Nauticus National Maritime Center. As it has so many attractions, amenities, entertainment options and employment opportunities, Norfolk is a brilliant place to both live and visit.
6. Big Stone Gap
In the far west of Virginia is another superb spot to settle down and bring up a family. Calmer and quieter than almost all the places listed above, the small town of Big Stone Gap has outstanding public schools, low crime rates and great housing for locals to benefit from.
While it never did grow into the ‘Pittsburgh of the South’ as residents hoped, its early economy was long centered around coal and iron ore mining in the nearby mountains. Since they closed down, jobs have been somewhat hard to come by with the secluded settlement also not lying within commuting distance of any major city of note.
Wallens Ridge State Prison contributes a lot to the local economy and provides job opportunities as do Lonesome Pine Hospital and the satellite campus of King University. Some scenic hiking can be had in the mountains with beautiful historic houses and several museums being set in the center.
Awash with interesting historic sights and cultural landmarks, Richmond has impressively been Virginia’s capital since 1780. One of the oldest cities in the entire US, it straddles the James River with attractive antebellum architecture and centuries-old Civil War sites being scattered all around town.
A fascinating place to visit, its charming streets are lined by monuments, museums and memorials with standout sights including the striking State Capitol and St. John’s Church. While many come to see its extensive array of sites, others delve into its thriving art and music scene or stop by its dozen or so craft breweries. There are also plenty of picturesque riverside walks to enjoy with white water rafting being another exciting option.
Due to its fast-paced life, Richmond mainly appeals to millennials and young professionals with its relatively high crime rate also putting off families and retirees.
4. Virginia Beach
Although most people primarily see it as a holiday destination, the state’s largest city, Virginia Beach, is also an awesome place to live year-round. With around thirty miles of sun-kissed sandy shores for you to bask on and all kinds of fun, family-friendly attractions on offer, it certainly caters to all ages and interests.
Set at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay alongside the endless Atlantic, its broad beach is bordered by a long boardwalk lined by huge hotels, souvenir shops and seafood restaurants. Humming with life, it has everything from arcades and amusement rides to mini golf courses and live music to enjoy.
While the Ocean Breeze Waterpark and Virginia Aquarium attract the most attention, many visitors also go kayaking, whale watching or enjoy some of its other watersports. Thanks to its mild climate, miles of beaches and many attractions and outdoor activities, it is no wonder so many families have settled here over the years.
Set just south of Arlington and Washington, D.C. is the atmospheric Alexandria which boasts one of the best-preserved historic districts in the US. Thanks to Old Town’s beautiful old buildings and fine architecture, countless thousands visit each year to learn all about its interesting history and culture.
Once home to the second largest slave market in the States, it was founded in 1749 on the west bank of the Potomac River. Lining its cobbled streets are centuries-old houses, churches and a couple of excellent museums with award-winning restaurants and local boutiques being dotted here and there.
While many see it as the perfect quiet getaway, the small city’s proximity to the capital makes it a great place to live and commute to work.
If you’re after somewhere livelier, yet no less lovely, then the vibrant college town of Charlottesville just might be the place for you. Also steeped in history, it acts as a major cultural hub for Central Virginia with exciting shows, exhibitions and festivals constantly taking place.
The home of two former US presidents, life in town is now dominated by the prestigious University of Virginia, its pretty campus and sizeable student body. Besides exploring their old residences and taking in their striking architecture and gorgeous gardens, visitors can also enjoy the college’s grand Greek and Roman-style buildings and the surrounding countryside’s wineries.
Regularly ranked amongst the best places to live in the country, C’ville has a dynamic, youthful feel with its high-performing schools, affordable cost of living and innumerable outdoor activities only adding to its appeal.
Just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. is Arlington; one of the most liveable areas in not just the state but the nation as a whole. Mostly known for being home to both the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, its top schools, extensive employment opportunities and proximity to the capital make it a great place to raise a family.
Although characterized by endless urban sprawl, plenty of parks punctuate the place with a winding riverfront, bike paths and viewpoints also increasing its attractiveness. Arlington’s main attraction is of course though its cemetery which is full of moving monuments and memorials and the graves of famous figures from the country’s past. People also visit the Pentagon after having seen its attractive Arlington House.
Pockets of life can be found here and there with countless bars, restaurants and shops ensuring you don’t even need to head to the nearby capital for all the amenities and entertainment you need.