When most people think about the area in Northern Virginia, if they know anything about it, they will automatically think of the Washington, D.C. area. Northern Virginia includes Arlington, Alexandria, and a whole array of towns stretching out in a large inverted “V” shape, up toward the state of Maryland, and west to the West Virginia border. But Northern Virginia is so much more than just an extension of Washington, D.C. Northern Virginia is scenic, historic, international, southern, and so much more.
Two of the larger cities in Northern Virginia are the aforementioned Arlington and Alexandria. Arlington actually used to be an official part of Washington, D.C., but the 26 square mile area of city was returned to the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1846. Arlington sits just across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital, and is home to the Arlington National Cemetery and of course, the Pentagon. While Arlington has many quaint, old neighborhoods with World War II era brick homes, it also boasts more office space than downtown Los Angeles.
Just to the southeast of Arlington is the city of Alexandria, where American history abounds. Fifty years older than the city of Washington, D.C., Alexandria was the place where George Washington drilled his troops for the revolutionary war. Now a bustling city with a carefully preserved historic “Old Town” area, Alexandria is a beautiful suburb of D.C. Just nine miles south of the main part of town is historic Mount Vernon, home of George and Martha Washington. Mount Vernon sits on the banks of the Potomac River and it gives visitors a glimpse into the life of our first president.
Farther northwest, many miles from the busy Washington, D.C. area is Harper’s Ferry. Harper’s Ferry is a small town situated on the banks of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers in the northernmost corner of Virginia, where the states of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia meet. Located at the bottom of the ravine created by the two rivers, it is thus tucked within the surrounding mountains. Historically, Harper’s Ferry is best known for John Brown’s raid on the Armory in 1859. Today, the town is a wonderful place to visit with its scenic views, historical past, and tourist attractions.
Just a few miles south of Harper’s Ferry, near the town of Front Royal, visitors will discover the famous Skyline Drive which winds its way 105 miles down the Shenandoah range past the town of Waynesboro, to the tiny town of Afton. As part of the Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive is preserved and protected. There are no commercial areas and no homes or billboards; just a paved, well-maintained road that takes drivers through some of the most beautiful areas in Virginia. Wildlife abounds along Skyline Drive and there are many stopping points and overlooks along the way with amazing views of the Virginia Piedmont and the Shenandoah Valley. Hiking is popular along Skyline Drive and many of the hiking trails will access the famous Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail practically parallels Skyline Drive and through-hikers can often be seen at the local camping spots, as well as nearby stores and restaurants.
Not far down Skyline Drive, if one drives a bit east back toward highway 50, sits the town of Sperryville. While Sperryville holds no specific historical or touristy significance, it is a traditional Virginia mountain town that is off the beaten path. With nothing more than a restaurant or two, a large antique emporium, a few beautiful homes, and a small brook running through town, Sperryville is quiet and makes visitors feel as though they have traveled back through time into a simpler world.
Northern Virginia is nothing if not historic. All along Interstate 66, which runs from Arlington to Front Royal, there are several Civil War battlefields where visitors will find Civil War reenactments and historical tours. The town of Manassas is famous for the Manassas battlefield. There, visitors can walk around the battlefield and ponder the beauty of the area, while trying to imagine the place in the throes of war.
Lastly, a favorite activity in the Northern Virginia area is to spend time in or on the water. The Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers offer canoeing and swimming in various parts, and there are many other rivers, streams and “runs” in the area where locals and tourists alike will enjoy cooling off during the hot summer days.
The next time you consider visiting the Washington, D.C. area, remember there is much to see and do just across the river in Northern Virginia.