If you’re looking to live in one of our nation’s biggest, best-educated, and most vibrant metropolitan areas, you can’t do much better than the area many call the “DMV” — where the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia meet.
Known by many names (the National Capital Region, the D.C. metro area), the cities, towns, and suburbs that surround the U.S. capital have a lot to offer besides a short drive to monuments. Northern Virginia, the nearby counties of Maryland, and D.C. proper are awash in history, entertainment, natural beauty, excellent schools and universities, top-of-the-line healthcare facilities, and diverse communities.
That being said, D.C. and nearby Arlington are considered two of the most expensive cities in the U.S., and many of the surrounding areas aren’t much cheaper. On top of that, like most markets throughout the country, the DMV area is experiencing a housing boom in 2021. As the Washingtonian recently put it: “People in Washington these days don’t really buy houses. They win them.”
So if you’re looking to move to the region for work, school, or to be near the center of the political universe, you may not know where to start when it comes to the best places to live in the D.C. area. Where is it most livable? Affordable? Fun? The best place to raise a family, or to meet someone to start your own?
Below, you’ll find a roundup of some of the best places to live in Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.
No list of places to live in the DMV would be complete without Arlington County. Just across the Potomac River from D.C., Arlington is both a suburb of the capital and an urban center in its own right, with a variety of home types and lifestyles to choose from. On the whole, Arlington is known for its restaurant scene, high-ranking school system, and easy access to D.C. You might want to check out a few specific neighborhoods within Arlington, the best of which include:
The hip Clarendon-Courthouse neighborhood is one of the hubs of Arlington, with myriad restaurants, bars, grocery stores, stores, and studios to choose from. This walkable, urban-feeling suburb is a hit with Millennials and the over-60 crowd alike, but it’s also one of the more affluent and thus expensive neighborhoods in the area.
This haven for young professionals and young families is touted as one of the best places to live in all of Virginia. It’s a neighborhood with plenty of bars, restaurants, and coffee shops, but also highly rated schools and plenty of parks.
Just across the river from D.C., the neighborhood of Rosslyn is often described as an “urban village.” The North Rosslyn area is known for its bars and restaurants, while nearby Radnor/Fort Myer Heights is a highly walkable neighborhood with a mix of housing types. Rosslyn has become less affordable over the years, but it maintains a high quality school system and remains good for families and those who need to commute into D.C. for work.
Related: Best places in Northern Virginia for families, young professionals, and seniors
The city of Alexandria sits along the Potomac River and is another strong contender for the best city to live in outside of D.C. Known for its walkable, historic neighborhoods, Alexandria’s biggest weakness may be that it’s too popular. A couple of standout areas include:
Tourists and locals alike love walking the streets of Old Town Alexandria. You can stroll for a mile down King Street to enjoy ancient (by American standards) architecture and a wealth of small businesses and boutiques, or along the Potomac River Trail for water views. This is considered one of the nation’s top cities for living and working.
Young professionals seeking a small town vibe with an urban feel are flocking to Del Ray. This town’s booming restaurant scene and quirky, varied housing stock are just two of the area’s selling points. If you’re seeking a unique and relatively affordable place to live in NoVa, Del Ray might be the place.
Known as the “Little City” at around two square miles, Falls Church is another small town with an easy commute to the capital. Picturesque, independent, cultural, and global are all words that people use to describe Falls Church.
Also known as Tysons Corner, the city of Tysons is considered a perfect example of an “edge city” — a suburban or rural area outside of a traditional city that takes on the trappings of an urban center thanks to the buildup of business, shopping, and entertainment. As such, Tysons is well known for its shopping options, as well as proximity to wine country, museums, and excellent restaurants.
The town of Vienna in Fairfax County boasts friendly neighbors, beautiful scenery, and a vibrant downtown area. Go out to eat and shop in Fairfax Square, or catch shows at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.
Head a bit south of D.C. to find Lorton, a diverse and growing community that mixes suburban and urban life. Lorton is home to the renowned Workhouse Arts Center. Most residents own their homes in Lorton, and the area has a great collection of parks, and not quite as much nightlife as the bigger cities to the north.
If you’re seeking to go a bit further afield from the center of DMV, the community of Chantilly strikes a balance of affordability while remaining within reach of D.C. Chantilly also retains a relaxed, community feel.
Upriver from D.C., Leesburg is steeped in history — it was once the temporary seat of the U.S. government during the War of 1812. Now it is a bustling, picturesque town that values its culinary and cultural scenes, as well as its multiple breweries and beautiful homes.
The suburban city of Takoma Park is a great place to raise a politically active family — anyone over 16 can vote in the city’s municipal elections, and the area has been called “the capital of hippie-land.” But Takoma Park also boasts a stunning historic district, dedication to the arts and humanities, and expansive natural beauty. It’s a quick drive to downtown D.C., too.
A more affordable suburban D.C. neighborhood, Rockville provides excellent transportation options to the capital while offering a diverse housing stock, a Town Square with a variety of global culinary options, and lots of outdoor recreation opportunities.
The tight-knit community of Chevy Chase borders D.C., is home to outstanding schools, and features a varied mix of restaurants, bars, and businesses. If you want most of the trappings of D.C. life without living in D.C., Chevy Chase might be the place for you — if you can afford it.
Another town for affluent living, Potomac is a bucolic community devoted to large houses and equally large lawns. Families looking for a respite from the bustle of D.C. may find a home here.
The commute into D.C. may be longer than other spots on this list, but suburban-feeling Germantown provides perks in the form of tons of natural beauty and an attractive town center. The housing stock consists mainly of condos and townhomes, with some single-family homes as well.
Learn more about the best places to live in Maryland for families, young professionals, and seniors.
In the northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C. lies Petworth, a close-knit community with a low crime rate and a diverse range of eating options. Georgia Avenue in Petworth is developing into a powerhouse, with a collection of great bars and restaurants. Petworth is also considered highly walkable and bikeable.
It would be difficult to include a list of the best places to live in D.C. without mentioning Dupont Circle and Logan Circle, as these are two of the nicest and most developed areas in the city. Dupont Circle is popular for its stretch of restaurants, bookstores, and clubs, while nearby Logan Circle is an even trendier choice with a range of Victorian homes.
For those looking to be near the H Street Corridor and Union Market, the up-and-coming neighborhood of Eckington has many elm tree-lined streets awash with colorful row houses. This is a young professional haven that will probably see much more development in the years to come.
One of D.C.’s largest and oldest neighborhoods, Capitol Hill may be synonymous with the U.S. Capitol building, but it’s also a decidedly residential area with the perks of city life. Capitol Hill is accessible, relatively affordable, and close to the city’s famous Eastern Market.
Now that you’re a bit more familiar with the DMV area, it may be time to explore your housing options. There are tons of possibilities in this region, whether you’re buying or renting.
If you want to settle down around here and are looking for a permanent home, you’ll be glad to know that Orchard recently began offering its services in the DMV, helping homeowners buy and sell their homes in NoVa and Montgomery County.
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