Regions of Virginia


When considering the present day geographical boundaries of the state of Virginia, it is important to first consider how this state acquired its shape. As Peter Wallenstein notes in his text on this state’s history, Cradle of America, “During the early years after Jamestown’s settlement, ‘Virginia’ lay along the Atlantic Ocean between New France to the north and Spanish Florida to the south, and it included an unimaginably vast area that stretched west to the Pacific Ocean.”[1] Virginians, thus, have lost a substantial amount of territory, though of course the meaning of “Virginia” has morphed drastically in 400 years as well. Ever since West Virginia (where “Mountaineers Are Always Free”) split off from Virginia during the Civil War, Virginia has retained its rather large size and significant diversity in terms of agriculture, economics, and culture, though the latter probably more so in recent years. There are certainly many different ways that one can arrange the regions of Virginia, but this research has selected eight areas: Northern Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley, the Virginia Piedmont (Central Virginia), the Eastern Shore, Coastal Virginia (Southeast Virginia), Southern Virginia, Blue Ridge, and Southwest Virginia. Undoubtedly, there are numerous overlaps between regions; however, some great distinctions will also be presented.

Beginning with the first “nation” within the state of Virginia, Northern Virginia, the discussion starts with an area that is quite peculiar in relation to the rest of the state. Some of have tinkered with the thought of Northern Virginia becoming a state of its own, though such a prospect is in doubt.[2] Meanwhile, back in 2008, John McCain referred to Northern Virginia as not being part of “real Virginia.”[3] A reasonable question that is assumed from these somewhat recent observations just noted would be, “Why is Northern Virginia so different?” One reason would have to be the influence of one of Virginia’s most populous cities (the 4th largest), Arlington. The choice for “capital” city within this “nation” is fairly easy, though another prolific, Northern Virginia city is Alexandria. Both are interestingly located immediately west of the Potomac River, barely separating them from Washington, D.C., as well as Maryland, just across the Potomac. This area of Virginia is heavily multicultural and many of those in the workforce are understandably involved with work in Washington, D.C. Politically, Northern Virginia is also quite liberal, compared to many other portions of the state, which are conservative.

The next “nation,” the Shenandoah Valley, is arguably one of the most beautiful places in Virginia, located along the I-81 corridor, just east of the West Virginia and the Appalachian Mountains. One of the major geographical features (other than the picturesque mountains in sight) is the Shenandoah River that essentially splits off the Shenandoah Valley region from the Virginia Piedmont, just east. While Harrisonburg is a seemingly thriving city, one that epitomizes this region most accurately as a whole would probably be Staunton. It is a historic city, but also rural and traditional to give a traveler a helpful glimpse at the culture of this region.

The Virginia Piedmont, located in Central Virginia, is a bit of a challenge to truly unpack. It resides east of the Shenandoah River, but not quite overlapping the coastal parts of Virginia (which includes some of the most populous cities in the state). One way to look at it would be to draw a triangle, beginning with the cities of Richmond and Fredericksburg, leading out to the city of Charlottesville. Though, more precision would argue for extended the barrier to the Shenandoah River still west. This area is filled with a lot of history (as much of Virginia contains), from the earliest of colonists, to the Revolutionary War, to the Civil War, to civil rights issues, and more. Furthermore, an important river, the James River, cuts through the middle of this region. Overall, the capital city would probably be best found in Richmond.

Although this next region can be easily overlooked (and confused with the state of Maryland), Virginian territory actually exists on the Eastern Shore in the Delmarva Peninsula. Contrasted with regions to the west, this possesses fertile lands close to the Atlantic Ocean and does not even touch the rest of the state of Virginia. Chincoteague Island is one of the most notable places in this small region (home of the wild ponies), and is well deserving of the capital. Thanks to modern transportation innovations, there is now the 23-mile long “Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel” that connects drivers from the peninsula to mainland Virginia via US Route 13.

Home to the three largest cities in Virginia, Coastal Virginia (Southeast Virginia), certainly plays a huge role in the state’s makeup. Like the previous region, Coastal Virginia is non-mountainous and is located nearby the Chesapeake Bay, though the Coastal region is west (rather than east, as in the Eastern Shore). This region houses six out of the ten largest cities in Virginia: Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Newport News, Hampton, and Portsmouth.[4] The largest city, Virginia Beach, is almost double the population of the second largest (Norfolk). Several notable rivers cut into this region from the Atlantic Ocean, namely, the James River, the York River, the Rappahannock River, and the Potomac River. If one city had to be chosen for the capital of the region, the city of Virginia Beach makes a lot of sense. It has a similar geographical makeup and the culture (though distinct in some ways from other cities) is well represented. But a couple of other extremely important cities for historical purposes that fall into this region include Jamestown and Williamsburg. Due to their smaller population, however, they probably should be left off the list as potential capital cities.

The next region, Southern Virginia, could very well have been excluded from this list, as it does not add a great deal of information and intrigue to the discussion. Still, there is value to considering this less appealing part of the state. Essentially, this region begins on the right side of the state, starting where I-95 runs north and south along coast. Moving toward the west, the region tapers off when it meets the Blue Ridge Mountains. Likewise, this region is considered south of Blacksburg and slightly below Smith Mountain Lake (lest it cut into the Blue Ridge region). There are a few notable features to this region. Running into the North Carolina border, there is the Roanoke River, with Occoneechee State Park at about its center. Two notable cities are Danville and Martinsville. Having driven through Martinsville dozens of times, it is easy to denounce that it is currently a struggling town—the one major feature being the Martinsville Speedway. On the other hand, Danville appears to be doing much better. Since not all of this hurting as much as Martinsville, Danville (being rural and strongly into manufacturing) would make a reasonable choice for the capital.

As the name suggests, one of the Blue Ridge region’s most significant feature is the Blue Ridge Parkway.[5] This region goes north to about the city of Lexington (very historically interesting), spreads east to the right of Lynchburg to perhaps Farmville (not to be confused with the game on Facebook), west to the Appalachian Mountains (which includes Jefferson National Forest), and south to the city of Rocky Mount. The city of Roanoke is a very solid choice for the capital of this region. While rural parts outside of Roanoke certainly have their particular features that are distinct from the suburban and urban areas, Roanoke fits right between the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Mountains, and it is also a very central location within the region. It is a family friendly area and is moderately affordable. The city of Roanoke is also not a very large city and does not have a wide variety of attractions. But for the lovers of the outdoors, Roanoke is a very good place to be.

The eighth and final region is Southwest Virginia. Marking the boundary for this region is incredibly easy thanks to the natural marker, New River, which sections off the Southwest region from Blue Ridge and Southern Virginia. Culturally, it is very rural and right in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. It is probably more reminiscent of West Virginia than its own state (as it borders West Virginia, as well as Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina). There are no major cities in this area (which suits its culture), but if one had to be noted, Bluefield would probably fit well (there’s a private college in this city). But nevertheless, Southwest Virginia makes up a portion of the wonderful whole of this state called Virginia. The slogan for the state is “Virginia is for lovers.” That is a very true statement, for while there are plenty of romantic relationships begun in this state, it is also a slogan for describing the tremendous variety of things people can enjoy in Virginia, whether it be history, the arts, academics, hiking, fishing, etc. It is (just about) all here.


For more about Virginia, consider buying my book,  A Brief History of Virginia, from, available in eBook and paperback formats.
[1] Peter Wallenstein, Cradle of America: Four Centuries of Virginia History (Lawrence, KS: Kansas University Press, 2007), xiv.

[2] See, for example, Drew Lindsay, “Will Northern Virginia Become the 51st State?” Washingtonian [accessed January 24, 2015].

[3] Matthew Mosk and Christopher Twarowski, “McCain Adviser Suggests NoVa Not ‘Real Virginia’” The Washington Post [accessed January 24, 2015].

[4] Statistics taken from [accessed January 25, 2015].

[5] I currently live in Troutville, Virginia (just northeast of Roanoke), and am able to see the mountains outside of my window. Therefore, this section is especially personally relevant.


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