Aerial view of the skyline of the Virginia Beach cceanfront

Discover The Largest Cities In Virginia

Virginia has a population of 8.68 million people. While many are familiar with its storied past and scenic outdoor offerings, Virginia is also home to some impressive urban centers. As the birthplace of eight U.S. presidents and a pivotal player during the nation's early days, Virginia's cities have grown from colonial settlements into bustling metropolitan hubs.

1. Virginia Beach - 455,618

Virginia Beach, Virginia - Kyle J Little /
Virginia Beach, Virginia - Kyle J Little /

Virginia Beach enjoys the Atlantic Ocean waters of Chesapeake Bay and is renowned for its summer tourist frenzy. It is Virginia's largest city and America's 42nd-largest city as of 2022, with an estimated population of 455,618 people. Virginia Beach is a very sought-after vacation for visitors all around the state and beyond. In the summer, tourists swarm to the 3-mile boardwalk and its sandy beaches. Besides its tourism, Virginia Beach is one of America's "Manufacturing Boomtowns." The city's business is renowned for its highly diverse industries, including internationally known corporate headquarters, billion-dollar defense contractors, technologically advanced manufacturers, and locally owned shops. The city is a tier-one digital port city; the world's fastest and most resilient subsea cables are located here, fueling data centers near and throughout the U.S. Virginia Beach is the absolute biggest city in Virginia. Still, many people are surprised to​ learn that the resort city's agriculture is the city's third-largest industry. The city is home to about 23,000 acres of green farmland, generating more than $170 million in economic impact. Virginia Beach, which covers more than 497 square miles, is not just shores and beach umbrellas. The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center hosts rays, sea turtles, and sharks in habitats with global themes. 

2. Chesapeake - 252,488

Vertical lift bridge for railroad over the Elizabeth River on the border of Norfolk and Chesapeake Virginia
Vertical lift bridge for railroad over the Elizabeth River on the border of Norfolk and Chesapeake Virginia

With a population of 252,488 people, Chesapeake is the second-largest city in Virginia. Chesapeake's population has grown by 1.22% since the most recent census, and it is currently expanding at a rate of 0.55% each year. Chesapeake's economy is recognized as one of the strongest, most highly skilled, and resilient workforces in the U.S. The city has achieved great success in attracting and retaining new and existing companies that have an impact and strong community presence. Known for its excellent telecommunications and transportation infrastructure, Chesapeake has become a desired location for business. In fact, nearly 20 percent of the region's largest employers, like Canon, CapitalOne, and Cox, are located here. For centuries, Virginia's deepwater canals have drawn people to the state for relaxation, recreation, and healing. Chesapeake spans 350 square miles and has more deepwater canals than any other city in the country. Furthermore, the FBI regularly lists Chesapeake as one of the safest cities of its size in the nation.

3. Arlington - 235,764

Arlington, Virginia
Arlington, Virginia

Arlington is part of the historic "ten miles square," which the U.S. Constitution assigned as Washington DC, the nation's capital. In 1846, as a result of issues relating to worries by Arlington residents that D.C. would ban slavery, the U.S. Congress returned cities that were located on the northern side of the Potomac River, including Arlington and Alexandra, to Virginia to prevent an economic downturn. Due to the large number of federal government employees and its contractors, Arlington has grown with the D.C. area, even during the nationwide financial crisis. The city is known for being the location of the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery, the United States Air Force Memorial, and the Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima). Arlington is the third biggest city in Virginia, with a population of 235,764 people.

4. Norfolk - 232,995

Norfolk, Virginia
Norfolk, Virginia

Norfolk developed in the late-17th century as a "Half Moone" fort was put up, and 50 acres were acquired from the local Powhatan Confederacy's natives in exchange for 10,000 pounds of tobacco. Following the Revolutionary War's burning, Norfolk and its citizens struggled to rebuild. In 1804, another massive fire along the city's waterfront destroyed nearly 300 buildings, and the city suffered a severe economic setback. Today, Norfolk holds a strategic position as the financial, urban, cultural, and historical center of the "Tidewater" region (Hampton Roads). Hampton Roads is a major United States Navy military center as it serves as the home for Naval Station Norfolk. The installation is the current headquarters of the Atlantic Fleet, which comprises 62,000 active duty personnel, 75 ships, and 132 aircraft. With an estimated population of 232,995, Norfolk is the fourth biggest city in Virginia.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

5. Richmond - 229,395

Richmond, Virginia
Richmond, Virginia

Richmond, the capital of Virginia, is among America's oldest major cities. In 1775, the founding father Patrick Henry notoriously declared, "Give me liberty or give me death" at the St. John's Church, leading to the Revolutionary War and influencing Virginia's participation in the First Continental Congress. Richmond recovered quickly from the war, managing to thrive within a year of its burning. The James River splits the city down the middle, giving it unique commerce and commercial opportunities. To bypass the rapids on the upper James River and provide a feasible water route across the Appalachian Mountains to the Kanawha River, the community built the James River and Kanawha Canal, which starts in Westham and cuts east to Richmond, facilitating the transfer of cargo. Richmond was and still is an industrialized urban center with some strong economic ties to the rest of the country. Current estimates put Richmon in the fifth place of the largest cities in Virginia, thanks to its 229,395 citizens.

6. Newport News - 184,306

 Newport News, Virginia
 Newport News, Virginia

Where the waters of the James River and the Chesapeake Bay meet, Newport News stands, providing a commanding view of the scene. It is the sixth-largest city in Virginia, with an estimated population of 184,306 as of 2022. Comprising more than 120 square miles, the Newport News area boasts a well-known culture and delectable cuisine. The name of this harbor town can perhaps be traced back to Captain Christopher Newport, who brought English settlers and supplies to America in 1621. Thanks to the defying Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, founded in 1886, Newport News has gained recognition as one of the most important shipbuilding pillars in the country. The Enterprise, Washington, Kennedy Vinson, and Roosevelt are only a few of the American super aircraft carriers that were built in the Newport News dry docks. Newport News is considered part of the Hampton Roads metropolitan area and possesses a varied economy, including shipbuilding, technological research, and international trade. 

7. Alexandria - 155,525

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

Just a stone's throw from Washington, D.C., Alexandria lies on the Potomac River banks and enjoys an "Old Town" look. With a colorful cityscape and over 155,525 people, Alexandria is the seventh largest city for its sheer size, but it might fare much better in terms of beauty. Although we are not in one of the ancient seven Hellenic wonders of Egypt, the expansive green spaces like Founders Park, the red brick walls of its historic center buildings, and the streets lined with cherry blossom trees, Alexandria, Virginia, grants a memorable landscape. Like Arlington, the city has had an eventful history. Alexandria's largest employers are the Institute for Defense Analyses and the U.S. Department of Defense, making the city largely populated by professionals working in the federal civil service or in the U.S. military. It is renowned for its Historic Old Town with its spectacular arts and culture and cobblestone streets surrounded by buildings reminiscent of the colonial era.

The Takeaway

Ultimately, the Commonwealth of Virginia is not the "Old Dominion" anymore. A thriving economy and growing population make this state a high-tech powerhouse. With the impressive shipbuilding endeavors of Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock, the world's fastest subsea cables of Virginia Beach, and the crucial Atlantic Fleet headquarters of Norfolk, these cities are not typical Southern towns. Enriched by the breathtaking shoreline along the busy Hampton Roads harbors, the mesmerizing sandy dunes of Virginia Beach, and a strong economy, these cities allow citizens and guests to enjoy nature's best with all the city life comforts.

30 Biggest Cities In Virginia

Rank City Population
1 Virginia Beach 455,618
2 Chesapeake 252,488
3 Arlington 235,764
4 Norfolk 232,995
5 Richmond 229,395
6 Newport News 184,306
7 Alexandria 155,525
8 Hampton 138,037
9 Suffolk 98,537
10 Roanoke 97,847
11 Portsmouth 97,029
12 Lynchburg 79,287
13 Dale City 73,716
14 Centreville 73,064
15 Reston 62,453
16 Harrisonburg 51,158
17 McLean 49,31
18 Leesburg 48,974
19 Tuckahoe 48,187
20 Blacksburg 45,61
21 Charlottesville 45,373
22 Ashburn 44,95
23 Lake Ridge 44,697
24 Burke 44,191
25 Woodbridge 42,734
26 Manassas 42,642
27 Danville 42,229
28 Linton Hall 42,089
29 Annandale 41,869
30 Mechanicsville 37,767
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