Where Should You Live: Alexandria or Arlington?

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It's common for those moving to the area to be confused about the benefits and disadvantages of living in Alexandria or its boundary sharing neighbor, Arlington. In the densely populated cities and counties around Washington, D.C., mere miles often mean quick changes of locations and governments. This is true for the distinctions and distance between Alexandria and Arlington. 

 

To begin to understand which might be better suited to your living situation, you’ll need a quick description of all three locations: The City of Alexandria, Alexandria, Fairfax County, and Arlington. Each has their own governing bodies and all three share borders that distinguish jurisdictions. They are, however, tied together through public transportation options such as the Metro system. 

 

Arlington is not actually a city, like many believe. Yes, you’ll often hear, “I live in Arlington.” but, they are referring to the county. Arlington is home to highly desired neighborhoods (also known as urban villages) that include: Ballston, Clarendon, Columbia Pike, Courthouse, Crystal City, East Falls Church, Pentagon City, Rosslyn, Shirlington, and Virginia Square. 

 

We’ve discussed at length the differences between the City of Alexandria and Alexandria, Fairfax County, but here’s a quick refresher.

 

The City of Alexandria is home to what many envision when they think of Alexandria, because within its eastern city limits bordered by the Potomac River lies colonial Old Town, which drives much of the tourism to the city. The western side of the city is a hub for commercial activity. The City of Alexandria is not part of a county.


Alexandria, Fairfax County, is governed by Fairfax County and encompassses a large swath of economic and housing diversity. It lies to the south and west of the City of Alexandria and Arlington. Those who are looking for more space or single family homes tend to find more choices here.

 

Real Estate Characteristics

 

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Arlington and Alexandria aren’t really known for finding real estate bargains. Yes, you can find somewhat more reasonable housing options here and there, more so in Alexandria, Fairfax County, but having the mindset that a hefty shot of sweat of equity will bring you closer to your top priorities keeps the house hunt in perspective.

 

The Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (NVAR) supplied these stats for June 2019.

 

Arlington Home Prices: 

  • Average $737,905 
  • Median $565,310

Alexandria Home Prices:

  • Average $494,520
  • Median $599,581

The often quoted “Amazon Effect” made its presence known immediately, if not before, Amazon announced the location of HQ2 in Crystal City, Arlington. Nearby neighborhoods in Arlington and Alexandria are under intense demand, not only from individual buyers and renters, but from competing real estate developers domestic and foreign.

Transportation Choices

Crossing the Potomac River

Crossing the Potomac image via John Brigenti

Traffic, driving, commuting, whatever you want to call it, the to and fro of everyday life is severely challenged in Arlington and Alexandria. Northern Virginia's population reaches over 3 million, and a good chunk of those people live or work in Alexandria and Arlington, forcing serious transportation and parking issues to contend with. 

 

Get more info: Insider Tips for Your Alexandria, Virginia, Commute.

 

Most everyone is trying to discover the quickest and least expensive mode of transportation, whether the tactics are busing, biking, or using the Metro. Access to convenience and cost saving factors bleed into the real estate prices. Walking access to a Metro or bus station is highly desired and reflected in housing affordability and availability. Those looking to ditch their car altogether will find plenty of company, especially in Arlington.

 

Community Feel

 

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There isn’t a shortage of diversity amongst the three locations. No matter if your priorities are walkability, nightlife, or quiet parks, there’s a neighborhood and/or dog park for you. 


Both the City of Alexandria and Arlington are well known for their accessibility by walking or biking. Arlington was designed around the idea of leaving your car at home, and the county has purposefully built much of its activity near Metro stations. This is not to say that Alexandria, Fairfax County, is only accessible by car, because plenty of neighborhoods have walking and bike paths with local stores and schools along the way. But, there is more land to cover, and Fairfax County has more of a suburban vs. urban feel.

Quality Education

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A major draw to the Northern Virginia area is the abundance of well funded and high achieving public schools. Alexandria and Arlington aren’t exceptions to the rule. Parents and savvy real estate buyers have plenty of opportunity to find the perfect schools, whether public or private. Take a look at this Overview of Alexandria's Two Public School Systems.

 

If you are a strict rankings person, than Niche’s report that lists Arlington schools as the #1 school district in Virginia will make you very happy--not only because your chosen school will be top notch, but because your home’s resale capacity will stay strong.

 

If you’re leaning toward Alexandria, however, don’t worry; Niche ranked Fairfax County Public Schools at #6. That means there’s still plenty of amazing public school choices.

 

These days, everyone knows there’s not just one method to judge a school, as rankings only prove so much. Reviewing several sources of data, incorporating parent opinions, and school site visits is the best formula for choosing the right school.

 

Because Alexandria and Arlington cover so much ground, this is just a snapshot of what makes the locations different and similar. For anyone coming into the region, it's highly recommended to dive into the details of the lifestyles prior to arrival. Solid research of the pros and cons could avoid costly mistakes in home buying or renting. 

 

Want to learn more about living and working in the Alexandria area? Click below to download our free e-book!

 
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