Getting Oriented

Just across the Potomac River from the nation's capital is a region equally steeped in early American history. Although Northern Virginia is now home to mainly federal employees, past residents have included George Washington and Robert E. Lee. These are ideal regions in which to learn about colonial and Civil War-era America and enjoy the diversity of a region that continues to attract immigrants from around the world.

Alexandria. Among the northernmost cities in Virginia, Alexandria was once part of the District of Columbia and now shares its border. Buildings in Alexandria's old downtown, referred to as "Old Town," retain a unified style from the Federal period (1780-1830). Alexandria was a thriving Colonial port, and these days Old Town is also a bustling nightspot with a variety of ethnic restaurants and dozens of pubs.

Arlington. Slightly to the west of Alexandria and also along the D.C. border lies Arlington. Home to Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon, and the Marine and Air Force memorials, Arlington is to military history what Alexandria is to Colonial history.

Mount Vernon, Woodlawn, and Gunston Hall. These three estates on the shores of the Potomac were home to some of the most important figures in Colonial America. George Washington resided at Mount Vernon plantation. He gave his step-granddaughter a portion of the land, upon which she and her husband constructed Woodlawn. Another Revolutionary figure, George Mason, lived at Gunston Hall, where he developed a strong philosophy that heavily influenced the Bill of Rights.

Fairfax County. Moving even farther south and into the heart of Northern Virginia, Fairfax County is one of the most rapidly developing counties in the region, with office buildings and upscale shopping overtaking the Tysons Corner area. However, Northern Virginia's rural roots have been preserved in Manassas, where the Manassas National Battlefield Park honors the soldiers of two major Civil War battles, and at Great Falls Park, an ideal site for hiking and boating.

Loudoun County. Farthest away and to the west of D.C., visitors can find the capital of Virginia's horse country. Loudoun County plays host to various fox hunts and steeplechases each year. It is also the home of a burgeoning Virginia wine industry.

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