Where Should You Live: Alexandria or Arlington?

View of Rosslyn in Alexandria VA

Rosslyn, Arlington, VA. Photo from Canva.


It's common for those moving to Alexandria, VA,  to need clarification about the benefits and disadvantages of living in Alexandria or its boundary-sharing neighbor, Arlington. In the densely populated cities and counties around Washington, DC, 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 a governing body, 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, as many believe. Yes, you’ll often hear, “I live in Arlington,” but they refer 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. 


Alexandria homes


Photo from Canva


Here’s a quick refresher about the differences between the City of Alexandria and Alexandria, Fairfax County:


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 encompasses a large swath of economic and housing diversity. It lies south and west of the City of Alexandria and Arlington. Those looking for more space or single family homes find more choices here.


Real Estate Characteristics


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


front of blue home and porch with railing

Photo from Canva


The Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (NVAR) supplied these pricing stats:


Arlington Single Family Homes 

2023 Median Price in Peak Month April: $1,278,845


City of Alexandria Single Family Homes 

2023 Median Price in Peak Month July: $1,136,852


Fairfax County Single Family Homes

2023 Median Price in Peak Month June: $935,930


The often-quoted “Amazon Effect” made its presence known immediately, if not before Amazon officially announced the location of HQ2 in Crystal City (now National Landing). Nearby neighborhoods in Arlington and Alexandria are under intense demand, not only from individual buyers and renters but also from competing real estate developers, domestic and foreign. Although demand slowed in recent years thanks to high interest rates, National Landing’s development remains active. 



Transportation Choices

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 exceeds three 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.


Crossing the Potomac River bridge

Crossing the Potomac image via John Brigenti

Almost 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 will find plenty of company, especially in Arlington. 


Community Feel


There isn’t a shortage of diversity among the three locations. Whether your priorities are walkability, nightlife, or quiet parks, there’s a neighborhood and 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.


Alexandria neighborhood with lamppost flowers and American flag

Photo from Canva

Quality Education

The abundance of well-funded and high-achieving public schools is a significant draw to Northern Virginia. Alexandria and Arlington aren’t exceptions to the rule. Parents and savvy real estate buyers have plenty of opportunities to find the perfect public or private schools.

Take a look at this overview of Alexandria's two public school systems.



Photo from Canva


If you’re a strict rankings person, then Niche’s report that lists Arlington schools as the #2 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 are still plenty of excellent 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 data sources, 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, diving into the details of the lifestyles before arrival is highly recommended. Solid research on the pros and cons could avoid costly mistakes when buying or renting a home.


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