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8 Best Places to Live in Virginia

By: Davina Ward
August 6, 2021

Moving to Virginia is enough to make any renter feel overwhelmed! There are so many awesome cities to choose from, each with its own unique value and charm.

Luckily, narrowing down your choices starts here. We’ve got you covered with this guide exploring the best places to live in Virginia.

1. Virginia Beach

  • Population: 449,974
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,642
  • Median Household Income: $76,610
  • Walk Score: 32
  • Transit Score: 21
  • Bike Score: 44

Though it sees its fair share of tourists each year, Virginia Beach is more than just a prime vacation destination.

Beyond its amazing oceanfront views, Virginia Beach boasts a collection of suburban neighborhoods, affordable living, and tourist attractions.

New residents move to Virginia Beach from Washington, DC, New York City, and Richmond, Virginia, meaning there are many city-slickers looking to make a much smaller city their home.

Luckily, that means you’ll be surrounded by a diverse group of people. Paired with the significant tourist presence, it’ll make for very interesting people-watching.

That said, Virginia Beach is a beach city down to its bones and there’s no escaping it. So, if you’re moving to the city, you’ll need to consider the neighborhood you choose very carefully. Little Neck, Town Center, and Chick’s Beach make for great starting points.

Renting in Virginia Beach isn’t necessarily a break the bank experience, but you’ll need to set your apartment budget accordingly if you want to land a unit that lets you live like a king.

As the city’s primary economy is driven by large corporations, including Busch, CBN, and Virginia Wesleyan University, there will be plenty of steady job opportunities to choose from during your job hunt.

Better yet, if you're ever looking to pick up extra side hustle work, the busy season is your friend. Resorts, hotels, and restaurants are always looking for extra help to accommodate the population surge during the warmer months.

2. Chesapeake

  • Population: 244,835
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,279
  • Median Household Income: $78,640
  • Walk Score: 21
  • Transit Score: 13
  • Bike Score: 40

Chesapeake hasn’t really earned its designation as a city — at least, not according to the archetype of city living that most renters are in search of. Yes, Chesapeake does feature a bonafide city area, but it’s also brimming with natural rural glories and few apartment rentals.

There are six distinct Chesapeake boroughs to choose from during your apartment hunt. Stick to the city’s northern region if you prefer more urban living. Chesapeake’s Washington borough contains the most urban parts of the city.

If you’d like to live closer to Chesapeake’s natural wonders, Pleasant Grove is the place to be. Otherwise, the remaining four boroughs may be more your speed.

Regardless of the neighborhood you choose, you may not have a ton of rental options, as the majority of the city is composed of homeowners and single-family homes.

However, because Chesapeake is made up of primarily single-family homes, you’ll have the ability to rent a home cheap.

Renters usually have access to amenities such as full backyards, on-site washers and dryers, and all the space and luxury that comes with living in a home as opposed to an apartment.

Better still is Chesapeake’s lovely outdoors. Within its borders, you’ll find the wetlands, a part of which is the wonderfully named Great Dismal Swamp, which also doubles as a wildlife sanctuary.

On your days off, you can take a quick trek to the Chesapeake Arboretum with its 48 acres of lush landscape and hardwood forest. You’ll have to drive there, though. Chesapeake is a car city, so you’ll absolutely need a car to get around conveniently.

3. Norfolk

  • Population: 242,742
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,059
  • Median Household Income: $51,590
  • Walk Score: 45
  • Transit Score: 36
  • Bike Score: 51

Norfolk is a fun little city with tons of neat attractions, an interesting demographic, and a rental market boasting several great apartments to choose from.

Though somewhat slow-moving, Norfolk is considered the heart of the Hamptons Roads metro area.

The city stays true to its roots, bursting with historic buildings and sites. However, you’re more likely to find an apartment in one of the luxury apartment buildings and communities in the area.

Wherever you go, you’ll likely be greeted by some of Norfolk’s older residents, as the city is home to many seniors.

Luckily, newly developed and renovated neighborhoods have attracted a cohort of young professionals, as well, so you’ll never be too far from a party.

If that sounds like your scene, start your apartment search in Norfolk’s Ghent neighborhood. Its plethora of recreation options, prime location, and lovely views make it one of the best (and most expensive) neighborhoods in the city.

Though Norfolk is near Virginia Beach and the Chesapeake Bay, it doesn’t get too much tourist traffic.

That said, the city’s location at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay has cemented it as a trade hub and an essential naval asset.

Norfolk is home to the world’s largest naval installation, Naval Station Norfolk. It’s not uncommon to see naval officers around town. This is especially true considering the 60,000+ naval personnel working and living within the station.

All in all, Norfolk is a city with more to it than meets the eye and a unique culture all its own.

4. Arlington

  • Population: 236,842
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,970
  • Median Household Income: $120,071
  • Walk Score: 69
  • Transit Score: 62
  • Bike Score: 72

If you are looking to rent in Arlington, the first thing you need to know is that it’s a city with a high price tag. With a median household income in the six figures, it’s no secret that you’ll need a decent salary to live comfortably.

The gorgeous views of the Potomac, proximity to Washington, and the city’s high safety rating make Arlington one of the most in-demand cities in Virginia.

Not to mention, the fact that Nestle and Amazon are to be headquartered in the city makes Arlington a veritable gold mine of future job opportunities.

Residents can spend the day exploring the city’s many major attractions, including the National Cemetery, touring The Pentagon, or simply enjoying the river’s views.

When you get home, it’ll likely be to one of Arlington’s luxury apartment units, as the city is practically bursting with them. However, you may not have to pay an arm and a leg to live large.

Arlington’s many available rental units mean that if you play your cards right, you’ll have a good chance of finding a unit at a decent price.

To land an affordable apartment in Arlington, you’ll need to create a strategy that includes renting at the best time of year and keeping an eye out for move-in specials.

The Ballston/Virginia Square neighborhood is a great place to start your Arlington apartment search. You’ll find a selection of newer condos and townhomes in the area with tons of amenities for those that like to live large.

Better yet, the neighborhood boasts its own Metro stop, which stays quite busy as the city’s residents flock to its many restaurants, shops, and bars.

5. Richmond

  • Population: 230,436
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,025
  • Median Household Income: $47,250
  • Walk Score: 52
  • Transit Score: N/A
  • Bike Score: 52

Continuing the trend, Richmond is another Virginian city with a lot of historic relevance. Residents love its historic charm but have also fallen for the melding of the modern and the antiquated that makes up the city’s culture.

There are a ton of interesting historical sites, including Richmond National Battlefield Park and Hollywood Cemetery. There are also the modern headquarters of six (!!!) Fortune 500 companies in the city.

So, yes. Richmond is a history lover’s paradise, but it’s also the modern job hunter’s dream. Beyond economic prospects and history, Richmond is a great city in which to rent.

Not only do renters outnumber homeowners in Richmond, but there are also tons of awesome units to choose from. You’ll find that most apartment buildings in the city are quite old. However, most units have been renovated and updated to reflect modern living.

You’ll likely have amenities including a dishwasher, in-unit washer and dryer units, and central air. Better yet, all those amenities will be bundled within a charming old-school package.

Ward is the name of the game when it comes to renting in Richmond. Jackson Ward and Monroe Ward, to be precise. You’ll find great units in these downtown neighborhoods, right in the heart of the city.

Just be sure not to underestimate your rental competition. Richmond attracts ex-pats from Washington DC, Virginia Beach, and New York City — all of whom will likely be well-seasoned renters who can sniff out a great deal a mile away.

In short, you’ll need to be on your A-game.

6. Newport News

  • Population: 179,225
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,057
  • Median Household Income: $53,215
  • Walk Score: 33
  • Transit Score: 27
  • Bike Score: 42

Newport News is the oldest English name of a US city, which explains some of its… originality. What sounds like the name of a sitcom town’s local newspaper, is actually quite an interesting town with quite a bit going for it.

For starters, Newport News has a strong military presence as a direct result of its nearby Air Force base and other nearby military bases. That said, you’ll find a large number of military personnel around town while you’re perusing Newport News’ many shops and restaurants.

Even if you’re not big on eating out, you’ll likely find yourself drawn to the city’s many seafood restaurants (oysters are Newport News’ specialty). However, even if you’re not partial to seafood, there are many delicious options to choose from.

Beyond eateries, Newport News Park has nearly 8,000 acres of green space to explore on your off-time. It’s the city’s largest park and offers a ton of fun recreational activities ranging from disc golf to hiking trails.

However, with Newport News’ low walk score and poor public transportation options, hikes in the park are about the only time you’ll be walking to get from place to place.

It’s definitely a car city, but you may be able to reduce your need for a car by renting in a neighborhood that’s within walking distance of your workplace.

If you’re not sure where to start your apartment search, check out Oyster Point. It’s the heart of Newport News and is close to pretty much everything you’ll need. That said, its prime location means higher rent costs compared to other neighborhoods in the city.

7. Alexandria

  • Population: 159,428
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,747
  • Median Household Income: $100,939
  • Walk Score: 60
  • Transit Score: 55
  • Bike Score: 61

Alexandria is definitely one of the more popular Virginia cities. Its proximity to DC, booming rental market, and awe-inspiring views of the Potomac draw in prospective renters like bees to honey.

It’s a diverse city that has experienced steady population growth for the past 11 years, with that trend expected to continue into the future. It’s easy to see why. When you put down roots in Alexandria, you won’t want to leave!

If you’re considering taking the plunge and making this city your home, check out the Old Town neighborhood when starting your apartment search. It has a lot of the old Virginia charm that makes the state so special.

You’ll find that many units are located in historic buildings and have been renovated for a more modern look and appeal. That means a lot more amenities without raising the price of rent to exorbitant levels that are usually associated with new builds. Due to these lower costs, great amenities, and location, Alexandria is among the best cities for remote workers.

Moreover, there are a lot of spots for dining, entertainment, and recreation located nearby.

Though you’ll usually be able to hop on a bus to get to where you need to go, you’ll still likely want to own a car to get around. This is especially true if you choose to live in one of Alexandria’s far-off suburbs.

Alexandria is almost synonymous with DC commuting. Its location makes it the perfect place to call home if you want to escape the higher rent rates in Washington.

Not to mention, Alexandria’s public transportation system is excellent across state lines and offers direct access to downtown DC.

8. Roanoke

  • Population: 99,143
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $814
  • Median Household Income: $44,230
  • Walk Score: 90
  • Transit Score: 52
  • Bike Score: 85

Roanoke isn’t as glamorous as the other Virginia cities on this list, but it has a unique appeal for someone who wants to live in a city that feels a lot more like a small town. It’s the smallest city on the list in terms of population, and you’ll certainly notice it if you’re coming from a larger city.

While this might not be what most renters are looking for, the Blue Ridge Mountains and exceptionally low cost of living compared to the cost of living in Virginia, are enough to draw prospective renters in.

Renting in Roanoke would cause even the most seasoned renter some pause. It’s not the most ideal rental market in terms of options and supply. There simply aren’t a ton of apartments on the market or a variety to choose from.

That said if you want to broaden your options, start your apartment search in Northeast Roanoke, as you’ll find a decent selection of units in the neighborhood. If you prefer to live in a more traditional large apartment building with more amenities, check out Gilmer.

Regardless of where you choose to live, you’ll need your own set of wheels to get around if your destination isn’t within walking distance. Luckily, Roanoke is a walker’s dream, with an enviable 90 Walk Score.

You’ll also have an easy time getting around via bike if you fancy yourself a cyclist.

Final Thoughts - Where Should I Live in Virginia?

Virginia’s rich history, battle-worn exterior, and beautiful outdoor landscape make it one of the best places to live in the US. Choosing the right Virginia city to call home will take some planning on your part, but it’s worth the effort! If you’ve already narrowed down your list of options, take our quiz and register with Apartment List to find your dream Virginia apartment.

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AUTHOR
Davina Ward is a contributing author at Apartment List and freelance writer specializing in real estate and digital marketing. She received her B. Read More
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