The cityscape of Richmond, Virginia.

11 Most Charming Cities in Virginia

Virginia, the nation’s 35th-largest state by area, rests in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern regions bounded by the Appalachian Mountains on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. From notable historical sites, stunning natural sceneries, and vibrant cultural scenes, this diverse US State offers a memorable experience to everyone who visits it. Dotting this expansive 42,774.2 square mile state are fantastic cities, each with its attractive charm. Unique among all the American states, the cities in Virginia are "independent cities," which the US Census Bureau considers as "county-equivalents." This special designation, in addition to the rich colonial history and scenic natural surroundings, makes these Virginian cities worthy places to reside and explore.

Virginia Beach

The Virginia Beach Boardwalk
The Virginia Beach Boardwalk. Image credit RAF J via

The Mid-Atlantic’s 5th-most populous and Virginia’s most populous city, Virginia Beach, sits at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay bordering the Atlantic Ocean. As the biggest city in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area, Virginia Beach is known for the countless hotels, motels, and restaurants that line several miles of beaches along the oceanfront. Housing several attractive sites in the historical, scientific, and performing arts areas, Virginia Beach is a popular tourist destination. The resort city’s major places of interest include the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, Military Aviation Museum, Sandler Center, Veterans United Home Loans Amphitheater at Virginia Beach, Mount Trashmore Park, and Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Besides the tourist attractions mentioned above, Virginia Beach has about 18 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Adam Thoroughgood House, Cape Henry Lights, De Witt Cottage, Adam Keeling House, Francis Land House, etc. Moreover, the various annual festivals, like the East Coast Surfing Championships, Boardwalk Art Show, Something in the Water music festival, Neptune Festival, American Music Festival, and Last Night On The Town, attract thousands of merrymakers to Virginia Beach every year.


Sunset over the cityscape of Richmond, Virginia.
Sunset over the cityscape of Richmond, Virginia.

The state capital and its 4th most populous city, Richmond, is at the head of navigation of the James River in Virginia’s east-central portion, approximately 100 miles south of Washington, DC. Downtown Richmond, which serves as the city’s central business district, houses several important buildings, including the Virginia State Capitol, James Monroe Building, Richmond City Hall, and Central National Bank.

Richmond is home to several large general museums, such as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Science Museum of Virginia, Children’s Museum of Richmond, Virginia Holocaust Museum, and Edgar Allan Poe Museum. Tourists can also explore the National Theater, St. John’s Church, Richmond National Battlefield Park, William Byrd Park, Monroe Park, and the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.


Roanoke, Virginia, USA downtown skyline from above at dusk
Roanoke, Virginia, the downtown skyline at dusk.

Nicknamed "The Star City of The South," Roanoke occupies the heart of the greater Roanoke Valley along the Roanoke River in Virginia’s Ridge and Valley region. Being the state’s largest city, located to the west of the state capital Richmond, Roanoke serves as the commercial, recreational, and cultural center of a greater portion of Southwest Virginia. Downtown Roanoke, the city’s central business district, houses the Roanoke City Market, Virginia’s oldest continuously operating farmers market. Prominent tourist attractions in the city include the Taubman Museum of Art, the Science Museum of Western Virginia, Mill Mountain Park, the Roanoke Star, the Virginia Museum of Transportation, Berglund Performing Arts Theatre, St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, Elmwood Park, and the Blue Ridge Parkway.


A sailboat on the Great Dismal Swamp Canal.
A sailboat on the Great Dismal Swamp Canal.

The Mid-Atlantic’s 10th largest and Virginia’s 2nd most populous city, Chesapeake, forms a part of the South Hampton Roads region in the extreme southeastern portion of the state’s Tidewater region. Located on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, this diverse independent city contains miles of waterfront commercial and residential properties, besides many square miles of protected farmlands, forests, and wetlands. With varied shopping and dining spaces in its few urban areas and a multitude of recreational opportunities for outdoor lovers, Chesapeake is regularly ranked among the best places to live in the country.

Nature enthusiasts are primarily drawn to a significant portion of the Great Dismal Swamp located within the city limits. Placed along the Great Dismal Swamp’s eastern edge is the Dismal Swamp Canal, the nation’s oldest continually operating artificial canal that forms a part of the Intracoastal Waterway linking Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay with North Carolina’s Albemarle Sound.


Overlooking Portsmouth, Virginia
Downtown Portsmouth, Virginia.

Virginia’s 10th most populous city and a part of the Hampton Roads Metropolitan Area, Portsmouth, is just opposite the city of Norfolk on the southern shores of the Elizabeth River. Named after the English naval port of the same name, the city’s closeness to navigable waterways has played a critical role in its overall development, with primary economic activities taking place in the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, an active US Navy facility. Portsmouth’s Olde Towne Historic District features one of the most extensive collections of historically significant homes between Virginia’s Alexandria and South Carolina’s Charleston.

Other historic sites in the city include the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Hill House, Seaboard Coastline Building, Cedar Grove Cemetery, and the Governor Dinwiddie Hotel. In addition to these historic places, tourists can also visit the Portsmouth City Park, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum, Lightship Portsmouth Museum, the Railroad Museum of Virginia, Commodore Theatre, and the 142-acre Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve.


The James River, Lynchburg, Virginia.
The James River, Lynchburg, Virginia.

Nicknamed "The City of Seven Hills," Lynchburg sits along the James River at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, close to the state’s geographic center. Being Virginia’s 11th most populous city, Lynchburg occupies the heart of a wider metropolitan area and is home to several reputed higher learning institutions, including the Virginia University of Lynchburg, University of Lynchburg, Liberty University, Randolph College, and Central Virginia Community College.

Visitors can explore the city’s historic districts and other cultural attractions, including the Maier Museum of Art, Opera on the James, Art Alley, Academy of Fine Arts, and Renaissance Theater. Other must-visit sites of interest include the Amazement Square, Appomattox Court House, Poplar Forest (Thomas Jefferson’s retreat home), Old City Cemetery Museums & Arboretum, and Point of Honor Mansion of Dr. George Cabell, Sr.


Market Street in downtown Harrisonburg, Virginia
Market Street in downtown Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Placed in the western portion of the Shenandoah Valley region snugged between the majestic Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, Harrisonburg is an independent city that also serves as an administrative center of the neighboring Rockingham County. The area’s natural beauty, combined with various locally-owned businesses, makes Harrisonburg a perfect tourist destination. Visitors are primarily drawn to the city’s vibrant downtown district, designated as the Harrisonburg Downtown Historic District, which encompasses the historic commercial and institutional core of Harrisonburg.

Other notable sites of interest include the Rockingham County Courthouse, Harrison House, Hardesty-Higgins House, Anthony Hockman House, Virginia Quilt Museum, and Edith J. Carrier Arboretum on the James Madison University campus. Every year the merrymakers flock to Harrisonburg in large numbers to participate in various events, such as the Harrisonburg International Festival, Alpine Loop Grand Fondo road-cycling event, Skeleton Festival, and Rocktown Beer & Music Festival.


The beautiful city of Hampton along the water.
The beautiful city of Hampton.

Virginia’s 7th-most populous city, Hampton, forms a part of the Hampton Roads Metropolitan Area and is along Chesapeake Bay in the state’s southeastern portion. Blessed with several miles of waterfront offering breathtaking views and ample entertainment options, Hampton traces its history to the Old Point Comfort, located at the extreme edge of the Virginia Peninsula, which currently serves as the location of Fort Monroe National Monument and Continental Park.

In addition, Hampton’s must-visit attractions include the Downtown Hampton Historic District, Air Power Park, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia Air and Space Center, NASA Langley Research Center, and NASCAR short track. Besides this, Hampton houses several art venues and museums, such as the Casemate Museum, Hampton University Museum, Hampton History Museum, The American Theatre, the Charles Taylor Visual Arts Center, and the Hampton Coliseum.


St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Suffolk, Virginia
St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Suffolk, Virginia.

Forming a part of the Hampton Roads Metropolitan Area, Suffolk is the state’s 8th-most populous city and the biggest city in Virginia by land area. Initially founded as a port at the head of navigation of the Nansemond River and a principal railroad and highway transportation center, Suffolk remains a prominent peanut processing location besides being the birthplace of Mr. Peanut, the famed mascot of Planters’ Peanuts.

Suffolk offers visitors an array of cultural and historical sites, some of which are promoted as part of the state’s Civil War Trails program. Some of Suffolk’s notable attractions include the Old Nansemond County Courthouse, Riddick’s Folly House Museum, Heirloom Botanic Garden Boutique, Suffolk Visitor Center at the Historic Prentis House, and the Seaboard Passenger Train Station, which has been renovated as a railroad museum. Nature lovers can spend quality time at the nearby Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and the Nansemond National Wildlife Refuge.


Historic city of Alexandria and the waterfront property along the Potomac River in northern Virginia
Alexandria and the waterfront property along the Potomac River in northern Virginia.

Virginia’s 6th-most populous city and the 3rd-largest principal city of the Washington Metropolitan Area, Alexandria, is an independent city located along the western shores of the Potomac River, about 7 miles south of downtown Washington, DC Like the remaining portion of Northern Virginia and Central Maryland, modern Alexandria has been significantly influenced by its proximity to the country’s capital. Nevertheless, a major attraction for residents and visitors is the city’s historic center known as Old Town Alexandria, with its collection of historical townhouses, antique shops, art galleries, locally-owned boutiques, and famed restaurants, as well as the red brick-lined sidewalks and the distinctive cobblestone streets.

Alexandria’s must-see landmarks include the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, Gadsby’s Tavern, Lee-Fendall House, Christ Church, Alexandria Black History Museum, Torpedo Factory Art Center, Fort War Park and Museum, and Alexandria Market House & City Hall. Alexandria’s distributed park system encompassing over 950 acres manages 70 major parks and 30 recreation centers that offer an array of recreational facilities. The city serves as a venue for various annual events, including the Scottish Christmas Walk, Red Cross Waterfront Festival, Saint Patrick’s Day, George Washington’s Birthday, and “First Night Alexandria.”


The view of Freemason Street, the main street in Norfolk old town
 Freemason Street, the main street in Norfolk's old town.

The nation’s 94th-largest and Virginia’s 3rd-most populous city, Norfolk, is scenically placed along the meeting point of the Elizabeth River and Chesapeake Bay in the state’s southeastern corner. This independent city forms a part of the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC, Metropolitan Statistical Area and is its historical, financial, urban, and cultural center. With its coastline along many water bodies, Norfolk has several miles of waterfront properties and open spaces that offer an array of recreational opportunities for residents and tourists alike. The city is home to Naval Station Norfolk - the world’s biggest naval base, along with one of the Strategic Command headquarters of NATO. Norfolk is renowned for its “Mermaids on Parade” public art program, where tourists can explore the downtown on foot and locate all the 17 mermaid statues in the city.

As the cultural hub of the Hampton Roads region, Norfolk houses the nationally acclaimed Chrysler Museum of Art, Hermitage Foundation Museum, Nauticus (National Maritime Center), Norfolk Southern Museum, Hunter House Victorian Museum, and the MacArthur Memorial. The city hosts a variety of annual cultural festivals like the Virginia Arts Festival, Norfolk NATO Festival, Stockley Gardens Art Festival, Harborfest, Bayou Boogaloo and Cajun Food Festival, St. Patrick’s Day annual parade, and the Town Point Virginia Wine Festival.

From Virginia Beach to Norfolk, the "Mother of Presidents" is known for its many charming cities. The picturesque natural surroundings, rich heritage, multiple attractions, lively cultures, and dreamy Southern hospitality these cities boast of are sure to make the residents, as well as the visitors, develop a fondness for them. In short, the Virginian cities have something that would suit everyone. So, what are you waiting for? Pack your bags, and get ready to spend a fun-filled memorable vacation in the Old Dominion.

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