Alexandria, VA, is a city steeped in intriguing colonial history. Just down the Potomac River from Washington, DC, many areas of Alexandria retain their colonial ambiance with brick-paved sidewalks, cobblestone streets, leafy neighborhoods, and lovely well-preserved historical buildings. During the Civil War, the Union Army occupied Alexandria, and it was an important Underground Railroad refuge for escaped African-American slaves. For a short time in its history, Alexandria was part of Washington, DC, and remains a critical location for headquarters of many federal government agencies, government contractors, non-profits, and related businesses which employ a large percentage of Alexandria’s residents.
Named a ‘Top Five Best Small City in the US 2018′ by Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards, and ‘South’s Prettiest Cities 2018 by Southern Living’, Alexandria is a thriving smaller town with a cosmopolitan vibe. Over 200 exclusive boutiques, locally-owned trendy restaurants, and fascinating historical attractions add character and charm to the city. In addition to excellent employment options, Alexandria is also a great place to raise a family. Whether you’re moving here for a job, schools, or some reason unique to you, welcome to Alexandria.
Living in Alexandria, VA: What to Know Before Moving to Alexandria
Alexandria, VA, is a vibrant town of around 160,500 residents, as of 2019. Located about six miles south of Washington, DC, Alexandria is home to many residents who work in the federal government, government contractor, and nonprofit sectors. When moving here, some new residents notice that locals can be status-oriented: who you work for and how much you make are key factors of your identity. However, the quality of life is excellent, services and amenities are abundant, and a good public transportation system is available.
Pros and Cons of Living in Alexandria
Living in Alexandria has its positive points and some negatives. To help you understand what living in this city is like, we’ve rounded up some pros and cons to give you the big picture.
First, the pros:
- Close to the nation’s capital: This is great, especially if you work for the federal government.
- Excellent public transportation: The DC metro system provides service to Alexandria.
- Low crime rate: The overall crime rate is about half of the national average or less.
- Plenty of local charm: Unique shops, eateries, and attractions are a hallmark of Alexandria.
- Diversity: People from all backgrounds live here, and it shows in the cultural offerings.
- High income: Alexandria has one of the highest per-capita incomes in the country.
And the cons:
- The high cost of living: Everything is expensive here, including housing, gas, and groceries.
- Horrible traffic: Lots of commuters and busy thoroughfares.
- Crowded: Alexandria has a high population density.
- Air pollution: Lots of cars and other vehicles contribute to this, as does being close to an airport.
- Income inequality: Socio-economic disparity.
- Property Tax: Alexandria charges 0.912% of assessed value. Compare this with 0.797% average for Virginia, and 1.211% average of assessed value nationwide. Property tax on a $500,000 house will be about $4,500 annually.
- Sales Tax: The combined sales tax in Alexandria adds up to 6%. Virginia charges 4.3%, Fairfax County levies 0%, Alexandria charges 1%, and the special rate is 0.7%. By comparison, the average US sales tax rate is 7.3%.
- State Income Tax: Virginia charges 3% on incomes of $3-5,000; 5% between $5,000 and $17,000; and 5.75% on over $17,000 gross income. There is no additional income tax for the City of Alexandria.
Housing in Alexandria is expensive. The median price of Alexandria homes currently listed, as of August 2019, was $595,000. Homes have held their value over the past year, and Zillow doesn’t forecast any significant price changes for 2020.
Just over half – 51.4% of residents rent their homes and pay a median rent price of $2,400. Only 2.5% of the housing inventory is available to rent, so if you’re planning to rent, find an agent to help you search. They often know when properties will be vacant before it’s advertised. For low-cost housing in Alexandria, check out the Mark Center neighborhood where you may find a three-bedroom apartment for under $2,000.
Cost of Living
Overall, Alexandria is a very expensive place to call home. Bestplaces.net uses an average cost of living index of 100 as the national average. The Alexandria cost of living index is 165.2/100. By comparison, the Virginia cost of living is 114/100. By far, the most expensive cost is housing at 277/100, followed by transportation at almost 150/100, and groceries 105/100. The least expensive items are healthcare at 93/100 and utilities at 97/100.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, an Alexandria family of two adults and two children requires an income of $105,200 to live a modest but comfortable lifestyle. The median household income is $87,319 compared to the US average of $53,482.
Weather and Natural Disasters
Like Washington, DC and the rest of Northern Virginia, Alexandria has variable weather. In January, the weather tends to be cool, with lows around 27F and highs of around 42F. In January and February, you’ll see some snow, though it tends to be only about five to six inches total per year, and some years there’s hardly any white fluffy stuff at all.
July tends to be the warmest and most humid month, with an average high of 87F and lows of 68F. Rain is plentiful overall, with about 41 inches per year and evenly distributed from month to month, except during the snowy season.
Being a bit inland from the coast, Alexandria isn’t especially vulnerable to hurricanes, though larger storms can have a residual impact. Large snowstorms are relatively uncommon, but they’re one of the major threats. Flooding from the Potomac River can be a problem in Old Town in the spring. For disaster preparedness info, see the municipal website.
Economy and Job Market
Alexandria has a thriving economy and a booming job market. The unemployment rate, as of August 2019, was a low 2.3%, compared with the national average of 3.9%. This low unemployment rate, combined with a very high per-capita income of $57,000 (vs. $31,200 nationally), and a median family income of $87,319 compared with $57,700 nationally indicates that Alexandria is a prosperous city. Job growth is almost 2% compared to the national 1.6%, and the ten-year job growth projection is a whopping 41%.
So, where do the residents of Alexandria work? By far, the largest industry is the federal government. In particular, the Department of Defense has several facilities here. Other government agencies call Alexandria home, including the Patent and Trademark Office, Food and Nutrition Service, and the National Science Foundation. Several nonprofits are headquartered in Alexandria as well. If large corporations are more your speed, consider working with Giant Foods, Inova Health, or the Home Depot, all of which have large corporate offices here. Naturally, a large assortment of law firms, trade groups, and advocacy organizations do business here too.
Want a job in Alexandria? Your best bet is to try and get a job with the federal government or one of its contractors. Securing one of these jobs is much easier if you’re a US citizen and can get a high-level security clearance, but that’s not your only option. Many clerical jobs have a very low-security requirement. Alternatively, high-paying jobs are in medicine, law, or various trade groups.
Traffic and Transportation
Overall, Alexandria has bad traffic, but a good public transportation system helps relieve congestion. Walking and biking are also good options for getting around. Walkscore.com rates Alexandria 60/100 for walking, and 55/100 for public transit. There are times you’ll want a car, but in the right neighborhood you can do a ton without needing one. For example, if you live in Old Town, you can walk if you work locally, or take the metro or a bus if you commute to DC. However, out in Mark Center and western neighborhoods, you’ll want a car.
Major east-west thoroughfares are Duke Street, Beauregard Street, Janney’s, W Braddock, and Glebe. North-south streets are Quaker Lane, N Jordan, Ft William Parkway, Russell Rd, Rte 1, and N Washington Street.
Interstate 395 runs through Alexandria, either northwest over the Potomac right into Washington DC, or southwest into Virginia. Interstate 495 runs west to east from central Virginia, through Alexandria, across the Potomac, and into Maryland. These interstates are part of the DC Beltway system, and during rush hour they’re constantly jammed, as are the east-west roads.
Weekday rush hours are long; you’ll fight congestion from 5:30 or 6:00 to 9:00 am, and from 3:30 until around 6:00 pm. Congestion is particularly bad in Old Town and near Mark Center due to the number of businesses in those areas and due to the large number of people cutting through Alexandria on their way to and from DC. When you drive, expect to pay through the nose for parking.
Using mass transit is great if you live near a convenient station. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) serves Alexandria with the green and yellow lines to DC. The City of Alexandria operates the DASH bus system which connects with Metrorail, Metrobus and the Virginia Railway Express (VRE). The free trolley runs from King Street Metro Station to the waterfront. If you are renting, you may be lucky enough to land a unit in an apartment complex that provides a shuttle to metro stations.
Water taxis and river service by the Potomac Riverboat Company offer another commuting option between the DC National Mall and Alexandria. If you’ll be planning a flight, Reagan-Washington National Airport (DCA) is just six minutes north of Old Town, and Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) is 33 miles northwest of Alexandria. Amtrak intercity services are accessible at the Alexandria Union Station, right next to the Old Town metro station.
What to Do
Alexandria offers an impressive selection of cultural activities. Although most of the national monuments are across the Potomac in Washington, DC, Alexandria has its share of interesting historical sites. The restaurant scene is lively, and you can get a fabulous meal at a significantly lower price than you would in downtown DC. The leafy green areas of Old Town are wonderful for walking or taking a stroll along the waterfront.
Other waterfront activities include boat cruises, waterfront dining, events and festivals in Waterfront Park, sailing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. A special ‘canine cruise on the Potomac’ is offered exclusively for well-behaved dogs and their well-trained owners. And you can even take a craft beer cruise, pirate cruise, or entertainment cruise.
For more family fun, check out Potomac Yard Park, situated on the banks of the river. Mt Jefferson Park is another greenway in the center of town, with hiking and walking trails. Four Mile Run Park has a baseball diamond, as well as recreation facilities for the whole family. Winkler Botanical Preserve, close to the Mark Center neighborhood, has lovely gardens to enjoy. A favorite pastime for locals is to jog, walk, or bike the beautiful 18 mile Mount Vernon Trail that hugs the Potomac River from the National Mall, through Alexandria, and down to Mount Vernon.
Colonial history buffs appreciate Alexandria’s museums. The George Washington National Masonic Memorial is a monument to the nation’s first president, one of the world’s most famous Masons. The memorial houses a museum and a library of Masonic history. Carlyle House is a late-colonial mansion with beautiful gardens. Since Alexandria played a unique role in Black history, the Alexandria Black History Museum is another interesting spot to visit.
You won’t find professional sports teams in Alexandria, but since you’ll be so close to Washington, DC, you can join other locals who are fans of the Washington Nationals and the Redskins, among other DC franchises. Besides this, high school teams are about the only show in town.
Schools and Universities
Like with sports, Alexandria largely plays second-fiddle to Washington, DC, in the public education realm. However, there are still some quality, even famous, educational options here. Alexandria City Public Schools serves 15,000 students, and the district spends $17,582 per student compared to the US average of $12,383. Although they have an ample budget and better than average elementary schools, the quality of education at the high school is controversial. The level of student success is high for those attending AP classes and those accepted by colleges and universities, but the test scores are low. On the other hand, the student body is mostly low-income and foreign-born students. Most students from average to high-income families attend private schools.
Beyond high school, there are a few options at several subsidiary campuses. George Washington University, based in DC, has an Alexandria campus, as does Virginia Tech. Virginia Commonwealth University holds social work classes in Alexandria, and Northern Virginia Community College grants two-year degrees and certificates. Virginia Theological Seminary offers graduate programs.
Of the many great things about Alexandria is its low crime rate. Bestplaces.net lists a violent crime index of 11.9, compared to a national average of 22.7. For property crime, the rate is 28.6 against a national average of 35.4. Although the property crime rate is closer to the national average, Alexandria is a safe city where you’re far more likely to have your wallet pinched than find yourself mugged. As for crime hotspots, the main problem areas are at mass transit centers and shopping areas. Some parts of Mark Center are a bit more prone to vehicle theft or violence.
- Gas Service: Washington Gas is the local provider. You can start your service here.
- Electric Service: Dominion Electric; contact them here.
- Water and Sewer Service: In Alexandria, these services are separate. Virginia American Water provides water, and Alexandria Renew offers sewage service. Alexandria Public Works maintains the water and sewer lines.
- Trash Pickup and Recycling Service: Handled by the Alexandria City government. Find details here for trash, and here for recycling.
- Phone, Internet and Cable Service: Verizon and Comcast offer all three services. Other options include Dish, DirecTV, and AT&T for satellite or phone.
Best Neighborhoods in Alexandria, VA
Choosing the right neighborhood for your family can be challenging. Deciding where to live means thinking about how much money you can spend on housing, where children might go to school, and the commute, among other things. To help, we’ve included information on some of Alexandria’s best neighborhoods.
A beautiful family-friendly neighborhood of 12,300 residents, North Ridge-Rosemont, is located in the north-central part of Alexandria. Rte 7 is to the south, Glebe Road is to the north, and the east-west boundaries are Russell Rd and N Quaker Lane. This area is mainly residential and has large homes on small lots, although there are some smaller condo units as well.
The main roads around the neighborhood boast plenty of shopping, most notably on Braddock Road. Goat Hill Park, Monticello Park, and Landover Park provide lovely green space, in addition to Ivy Hill Cemetery. Employers include Woodbine Rehabilitation Center, St. Steven’s and St. Agnes School. You’ll find a few hotels and various shopping and dining venues.
You can expect to pay $620,000 for the average home, although listings for small condos can be as low as $205,000 and large homes can set you back $2.6 million. Rent is fairly expensive at $2,100 per month, although a wide range of rents are available depending on the size of the home you want.
Students attend Barrett Elementary (greatschools rating 6/10), Gunston Middle (6/10), and Williams High (2/10, but see note about this in the education section).
Potomac West (Del Rey)
Close to Old Town and the Potomac River, this neighborhood of 24,000 residents is part of central Alexandria, and it’s sometimes called Del Rey. Potomac West is bordered by Rte 1 to the east, Russell Rd to the west, and is between Four Mile Rd and Four Mile Run to the south and north. Mount Vernon Avenue runs north-south, and along with Route 1 contains much of the shopping and other convenient businesses.
Braddock Road and King Street metro stations are in the southern part of Potomac West. A concert hall, The Birchmere, has hosted many major music performances in the past and remains a major attraction. If you like your green spaces, this neighborhood is wonderful. Several city parks are here, most notably Four Mile Run Park, which is partially in Arlington but mostly in Alexandria.
This neighborhood, considered an enclave for the arts, has a semi-urban mixture of residential and commercial elements. If you live here, there’s a chance you won’t feel the need to have a car. Real estate isn’t cheap – $660,000 will buy you the average house, with a price range between $225,000 and 1.7 million. Rentals cost $1650, and apartments tend to be pretty small for the price.
Children attend Mt. Vernon Community School (2/10), Gunston Middle (6/10), and Williams High (2/10). George Washington Middle School is also in the neighborhood, as is Commonwealth Academy.
Arguably the most iconic part of Alexandria, Old Town has 6,800 residents who live in a quaint, urban setting. Although this neighborhood has a fairly significant land area, there aren’t as many residents as expected because most of Old Town consists of commercial real estate. Apartments and row houses are quite compact, but some people choose to live here because of the charm and convenience of being able to walk to work.
Historic Old Town is shaped like a T, occupying Duke, King, and Cameron Streets from Sunset Drive to the river, Union Street from N Washington to the river, and the area south of Duke Street but east of N Washington. Old Town is where you’ll find most of Alexandria’s historical attractions such as the Lyceum Museum, Carlyle House, and the Alexandria Black History Museum. Locals love all the attractive waterfront restaurants, amenities, and events.
Many major employers are in Old Town, including the Patent and Trademark Office, United Way, and the National Association of Elementary School Principals. However, boutiques, sidewalk cafes, museums, and entertainment venues dominate the area.
Naturally, such a great neighborhood comes at a price. Homebuyers can expect to pay $825,000 for the privilege of living here and renting costs $1800 on average. Many of the apartments are very small, making renting a challenge for families. However, if you do have children, they’ll go to Jefferson-Houston Elementary (3/10), Washington Middle (2/10), and Williams High (2/10).
This neighborhood of 6,900 residents is west of Old Town and arguably serves as an extension of it. Bordered by N Quaker Lane, King Street, and Duke Street, Janney’s Lane also bisects the neighborhood. Also part of the main Alexandria business district, Taylor Run has a few car dealerships, an animal hospital, and several churches. Also, there are several small shopping centers, and the Alexandria Public Works Department is on Duke Street. You also find Chinquapin Park and Gardens, Angel Park, and the Masonic Memorial in Taylor Run.
Located among the neighborhood businesses are several sizeable residential areas. Most homes are large and built on expansive lots. Residents have a ton of open space to enjoy, and many families live here. If you’d like to join the many happy residents of Taylor Run, you’ll have to shell out an average of $488,000, though some homes are worth more than a million. Rentals are relatively reasonable by Alexandria standards at around $1300 per month. Children attend MacArthur Elementary (3/10), Washington Middle (2/10), and Williams High (2/10).
Between George Washington Parkway and Potomac Greens Drive, this area with a population of 1,100 fills an area between Old Town and the Potomac River. Most homes are row houses, condos, or apartments, though there are a few free-standing houses. Some shopping is available; however, Northeast is mainly a residential area, with a fire station and two small city parks. Most businesses in the immediate vicinity are just outside this neighborhood, which is essentially a residential counterpart to Old Town.
If you’re looking for an urban neighborhood with a historic vibe, Northeast Alexandria might be a good fit. Housing will cost you between $600,000 and $700,000 to purchase. However, if you don’t mind living in a tiny apartment, you can rent for around $900 per month. Students attend Jefferson-Houston Elementary (3/10), Washington Middle (2/10), and Williams High (2/10).
Bordered by I-395, I-495, North Quaker Lane, and Duke Street, Seminary Hill is a large section of Alexandria with 22,500 inhabitants. Residents can enjoy two city parks, Cameron Run Regional, and Fort Ward. Fort Ward has walking trails and offers the opportunity for people to decompress in the middle of their busy lives. At the heart of this area are Inova Alexandria Hospital, Virginia Theological Seminary, and Episcopal High School. Other businesses include the Alexandria Police Department, Islamic Relief USA, a construction company, and several shopping centers, one of which is quite large. Seminary Hill is a very diverse suburban neighborhood with a lot to offer.
When it comes to housing, Seminary Hill has a wide variety of options, with everything from small apartments to houses with multiple bedrooms. Prices are fairly reasonable for Alexandria. Expect to pay around $360,000 to purchase a home or $1250 for a rental. Lots of families live here, and students attend McArthur Elementary (3/10), Hammond Middle (3/10), and Williams High (2/10).
Eisenhower East, mainly a business district, is bordered by Duke Street, I-495, Four Mile Run, and Telegraph Road, with Eisenhower Avenue running right down the middle. Almost 4,300 people call this area home.
The federal government has many facilities here, including the Patent and Trademark Office, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S Courthouse. City offices are located here too, including the Alexandria sheriff’s office, jail, and sewer authority. Other interesting employers are the Society for Human Resource Management, the Motley Fool, and some law offices. Also, there are several good-sized shopping centers and a metro station. It’s fair to say that many residents can walk or take the bus to work because their jobs are just down the street. There is a payoff, however, of likely not having a yard for your kids.
Most of the homes here are small condos, townhomes, and apartments. Homes can be purchased for around $434,000, though these tend to be condos in large complexes. Rentals run a not-so-cheap $2,000 per month. Children attend Lyles-Crouch Elementary (7/10), Jefferson Middle (3/10), and Williams High (2/10).
One of the city’s larger neighborhoods, Landmark-VanDorn is located in western Alexandria and is between Holmes Run, Eisenhower Avenue, and I-395. Over 26,000 people call this area home. For a suburban neighborhood, residents have many options for greenspace among Landmark-VanDorn’s parks including Stevenson Park, All Veterans Park, Joseph Hensley Park, Bren Mar Park, and Armistead Booth Park, among others. Alexandria’s central library, several car dealerships, a recycling center, and several shopping areas with everything you might normally need are conveniently located throughout the neighborhood. But you’ll need a car to access these handy amenities. Landmark Mall is a local attraction which is undergoing redevelopment into a mixed-use shopping area.
Homes tend to be small, and the population density is relatively high. Housing is generally affordable – buying a place will only set you back about $239,000, which in Alexandria is a bargain. Likewise, rents are affordable at $1400. Children attend Patrick Henry Elementary (5/10), Hammond Middle (2/10), and Williams High (2/10).
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