It’s home to the oldest English settlement in the Americas and the state where two American presidents launched their political careers. Virginia is sandwiched between Maryland and the D.C. area to the north and North Carolina to the south. Its location close to the East Coast’s most significant urban centres and Mid-Atlantic coastline makes many Virginian cities worth exploring.
From the history-packed coastal cities in Virginia that defined the North American continent to the bustling university hubs that produce some of the world’s sharpest thinkers and doers, here are the best cities in Virginia.
- Virginia Cities
Top tour: Americas Historic Triangle: Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown.
20 Cities In Virginia
The state’s capital and one of the oldest cities in Virginia, Richmond is among the most historic and culturally significant places to visit on the US East Coast.
Richmond was first settled by English colonists from Jamestown in 1609 and became an officially incorporated city in 1742.
It’s today among the largest metro areas in the state of Virginia.
The city is full of several amazing attractions and landmarks, many of which predate the founding of the United States, such as St. John’s Church and Libby Hill Park.
While Richmond’s undeniably a popular destination among historians, there are more than enough entertainment options and lively neighbourhoods to experience in Virginia’s capital, including the fascinating Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the hipster-friendly Carytown district.
Providing a balance between early American history, Civil War notoriety and colourful entertainment options, Richmond’s as great a place as any to visit in Virginia, conveniently situated just 92 miles (148 km) from Washington D.C.
Top tour: RVATukTuk Sightseeing Tour of Richmond.
A scenic coastal city that’s also a strategic military stronghold, Norfolk is a fairly large city in southeast Virginia, home to some of the state’s most fascinating attractions and museums.
Norfolk is best known as home to the world’s largest naval base and has been shaped by the waters of the Atlantic since the city’s founding in 1682.
Visitors to Norfolk’s shores can learn all about the city’s unique relationship to the ocean by stopping by Norfolk staples such as the Nauticus and the city’s charming Waterfront District.
There’s also plenty to see and experience throughout Norfolk, even for landlubbers.
The city’s Chrysler Museum of Art and the Waterside District are two popular Norfolk attractions catering to travellers of all ages and interests.
Rent an electric bike and explore downtown Norfolk on a self-guided tour.
Established in 1632 as ‘Little Plantation’, Williamstown was the Commonwealth of Virginia’s political, economic and cultural hub for nearly a century, serving as the fledgling state’s capital from 1699 to 1780.
Williamsburg played a pivotal role in the lead-up to the American Revolution and is today a tourist-centric destination in Virginia due to the city’s historical significance.
The city forms part of the popular Historic Triangle region in eastern Virginia, which attracts over four million annual tourists and is also home to the College of William and Mary, America’s second-oldest university.
4- Virginia Beach
In the Commonwealth of Virginia’s southeast corner, Virginia Beach is the largest city by population in the state and among the most populated in the entire Mid-Atlantic region.
Virginia Beach is widely considered to be the vacation destination of choice for most Virginians due to the city’s many golden sandy beaches, a plethora of attractions and a mix of culture, history, nightlife and entertainment, both indoors and outside.
The city sits roughly 18 miles (29 km) east of downtown Norfolk and is the perfect platform to explore all the beautiful scenery and world-class attractions that southeast Virginia has in store.
From the Virginia Aquarium and the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge to the restaurant-laden Oceanfront and ViBe Creative District, there’s no end to the fun and exploration to be had in this coastal city at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.
Top tour: Sunset Dolphin Kayak Tours.
Regularly ranked among the best small cities in the United States, Alexandria is a richly historic and low-key destination situated just 7 miles (11 km) from downtown Washington D.C.
Alexandria sits right on the shores of the Potomac River and forms part of the vast Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metro area, providing travellers with easy access to the US capital’s many attractions and museums without dealing with D.C.’s crowds or traffic.
While world-class cities on Alexandria’s doorstep make it an enticing place to visit, do not overlook Alexandria’s colonial-era buildings, cosy cafes, fascinating museums and vibrant arts scene.
George Washington’s hometown is a city you should not miss. Take a tour of Mount Vernon here.
For more ideas in Virginia and West Virginia:
Roanoke is a fairly large city in southwest Virginia that’s best known throughout the Commonwealth for its spectacular natural surroundings and thriving arts scene.
The city lies nestled between the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains.
It is an excellent destination from which to explore the nearby Shenandoah National Park, one of the East Coast’s most popular national parks.
Long since an enticing destination for hikers, mountaineers and sports fishermen, Roanoke is also home to the Roanoke Star, the Roanoke City Market and the Taubman Museum of Art, perfect for visiting when you’re done exploring the outdoors.
Top tour: Roanoke Downtown Food and Cultural Tour.
Situated roughly halfway between Richmond and Washington D.C., Fredericksburg is a small Virginia city that’s steeped in history and Virginia’s small-town charm.
Fredericksburg was the setting of two significant battles during the Civil War and is where you will find the University of Mary Washington.
The city’s top tourist attractions include the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts, the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County National Military Park, and George Washington’s Ferry Farm, providing travellers with plenty of attractions and landmarks to stop by.
The former home of Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, two former US Presidents, Charlottesville offers travellers a glimpse into Viriginia’s past.
Other important landmarks include the University of Virginia and Monticello, Jefferson’s former residence.
Charlottesville, commonly referred to as ‘C’ville’ by locals, was founded back in 1762 and is a popular hub for live entertainment, dining, shopping and exploring the great outdoors in north-central Virginia.
The Virginian city has several attractions, ranging from the only UNESCO-designated university campus in the United States to the breathtaking scenery within the nearby Shenandoah National Park, with some fascinating Virginia history sprinkled in too.
Even if you’re not much of a historian, the city’s restaurant-and-shopping-centric Downtown Mall and Monticello Wine Trail provide shopaholics, culinary explorers and vinophiles with plenty to do in and around Charlottesville.
On the opposite bank of the Potomac River to Washington D.C., Arlington is a popular destination made famous by its world-class museums, memorials and public parks.
Arlington is home to the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, the Arlington National Cemetery, the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial and the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, including many more museums and government buildings to tour or gawk at.
Regularly ranked among the best cities in Virginia to live in, Arlington’s list of one-of-a-kind attractions includes the popular DEA Museum & Visitors Center and the Signature Theatre, making Arlington truly one of Virginia’s must-visit destinations.
Top tour: Arlington Cemetery Private Tour.
Home to more than 250,000 people, Chesapeake is a truly modern city with a cosmopolitan feel conveniently sandwiched between the large urban metros to the north and the scenic Virginia outdoors to the south.
The city grew mainly as an extension of Norfolk and is among the most recently established cities in the Commonwealth of Virginia, only gaining its official status as an independent city in 1963.
Today, travellers to Chesapeake can expect to find a range of inviting cafes, boutiques and restaurants lined along downtown Chesapeake’s quaint streets, with nearby Virginia Beach and the Chesapeake Bay providing visitors with that much-needed outdoor getaway.
Surrounded by the scenic George Washington & Jefferson National Forests, the college town of Lexington feels like a world away from Virginia’s large urban centres.
The city has a permanent population of less than 8,000 people but attracts many visitors keen on exploring its rich Civil War past.
Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee, two of the Civil War’s most prominent figures, lay buried in Lexington.
Renowned for its pedestrian-friendly layout and proximity to some of northwest Virginia’s most stunning landscapes, Lexington is a great destination to plan a visit to if you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path city to explore that’s packed with history.
Stop by the Virginia Military Institute Museum, the Jackson House Museum and the Boxerwood Nature Center & Woodland Garden to get the most out of your visit to this one-of-a-kind Virginia city.
First settled in 1607, Jamestown is recognised as the oldest continuously inhabited English settlement in the Americas and served as the Virginia Colony’s first capital until 1699.
Modern-day Jamestown tells the tale of more than 400 years of American history through a collection of well-preserved sites that keeps the colony’s past intact.
Jamestown is an absolute dream destination for historians, with Historic Jamestowne, the Jamestown Settlement, the Tercentennial Monument and the Pocahontas Statue all great spots to check out when visiting this significant Virginia city.
Skip the line and book your ticket to the Jamestown Settlement American Revolution Museum.
The largest city in Virginia by sheer land sprawl, Suffolk comprises over 430 miles of woodlands, lakes and rivers to create one of the most scenic destinations in Virginia.
Suffolk was officially settled in 1742 as a port city along the Nansemond River but was inhabited by the native Nansemond people for centuries prior, making it a great destination to learn more about the region’s many forgotten native tribes.
The city has an impressive list of attractions, including the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, the Suffolk Seaboard Station Railroad Museum and the Planters Peanut Center, making Suffolk a great addition to any Virginia itinerary.
14- Newport News
Known by many throughout Virginia and beyond due to its very unique name, Newport News is recognised as the city with the oldest English city name in the Americas.
The region where the modern-day city is today was mentioned in the ‘Newportes Newes’ back in 1621, though the exact origins of the name remain a mystery.
Established shortly after Jamestown, Newport News is among the USA’s oldest continuously occupied cities and is conveniently situated right in the middle of Coastal Virginia, placing the city within a short drive from Virginia Beach and Williamsburg.
With a host of unique cultural and historic landmarks that includes the Virginia War Museum, the Ferguson Center for the Arts and Fort Monroe, it’s no wonder that Newport News is a popular seaside vacation destination.
Skip the line and book your ticket to the Virginia Living Museum here.
With a population of roughly 100,000, Portsmouth is among the largest cities in the Commonwealth of Virginia and is renowned throughout the state for its eclectic mix of restaurants and more than 300 years of history.
Portsmouth was first settled in 1752 and is a scenic waterfront city near downtown Norfolk steeped in naval history and colonial charm.
From the quaint streets and preserved architecture of Olde Towne Portsmouth to the Naval Shipyard Museum, which tells the tale of America’s oldest naval shipyard, there’s a laundry list of amazing places to discover throughout the city of Portsmouth.
Top tour: Lively Characters Guide You Through Olde Towne Portsmouth, VA (Norfolk County).
Forming part of the sprawling Hampton Roads metropolitan area, also commonly referred to as “America’s First Region”, Hampton is among the largest cities in Virginia, featuring a population of more than 130,000.
Hampton can trace its roots back to Old Point Comfort and the historic Fort Monroe and was settled in 1610 by the same English colonists who founded nearby Jamestown.
As one of Virginia’s oldest cities, Hampton has its fair share of historic landmarks and preserved attractions to explore and discover, however, Hampton is also not completely devoid of more contemporary tourist attractions.
From the interesting exhibits at the Virginia Air & Space Center to the historic Fort Monroe, a Civil War stronghold and the largest stone fort built in the US, there’s no shortage of destinations to discover in Hampton.
Situated in the Commonwealth of Virginia’s far northwest corner, Winchester is the oldest city west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, founded in 1744.
The city lies near the northern entrance of the Shenandoah Valley and was once home to notable American historical figures such as former president George Washington and Civil War general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
Winchester has quite a few interesting attractions for a city with a population of less than 30,000, ranging from the impressive Museum of Shenandoah Valley to the popular Patsy Cline House.
In the proverbial heart of the Shenandoah Valley, Harrisonburg is Shenandoah’s outdoor capital.
The valley’s best hiking pathways, mountain biking trails and waterways are a little more than a stone’s throw away from downtown.
Harrisonburg is one of the largest independent cities in Virginia, boasting a thriving population of roughly 130,000 people, which makes the city an important cultural and economic hub in Virginia’s northwest region.
Harrisburg’s downtown area is a designated First Arts & Cultural District and a First Culinary District.
It is also home to James Madison University, one of Virginia’s most prestigious universities, proving that there’s more to Harrisonburg than just the outdoors.
Steeped in charm and small-town character, Staunton is a fascinating Virginia city awarded the title of “One of a Dozen Distinctive Destinations in the United States” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Staunton was also the first of the cities in Virginia to receive the “Great American Main Street Award” thanks to the city’s many speciality shops, award-winning art galleries and top-notch restaurants, several of which are housed inside repurposed 19th-century buildings.
Downtown Staunton is surrounded by five unique historic districts home to several of the city’s most popular attractions, such as the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum, the Blackfriars Playhouse and the Frontier Culture Museum.
Founded in 1757 by local ferry magnate John Lynch, Lynchburg is a fairly large city near the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains that are known colloquially as the “City of Seven Hills”.
Lynchburg’s scenic location on the banks of the James River makes the city a popular tourist destination, with Lynchburg also serving as somewhat of a research hub in central Virginia due to the five major colleges and universities calling Lynchburg home.
The city remains the only city in Virginia not to be recaptured by the Union Army before the American Civil War ended, with Lynchburg serving as a vital transportation hub for the Confederacy.
Attractions in Lynchburg range from the Anne Spencer House & Public Garden to Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, making visiting Lynchburg a no-brainer.
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