Commonly abbreviated NOVA it is a distinct region of Virginia that ecompasses Loudoun, Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William counties. On occasion some people will extend the definition as far west as Winchester and as far southwest as Warrenton/Front Royal due to the number of DC commuters that have flocked there.
Northern Virginia is a place of extremes. Fairfax and Loudoun counties are two of the richest and highly educated in the country. Additionally it has the highest concentration of office square footage anywhere in the country. It is also home to some areas of organized crime, but these areas are isolated in small sections of Falls Church, Arlington, Alexandria Manassas and southern Centerville. Some areas of Herndon and Sterling (south of rte 7) are on that path but most of these areas are safe.
Culturally, the area is distinct as it lies in the southern edge of the Bos-Wash corridor taking on a more "Mid-Atlantic" feel which annoys the Virginians to the south to no extent. What people from SOVA fail to realize is while Virginia historically was a part of the south during the civil war, it is a state that lies within three regions: Appalacia, the south and, yes, the Mid-Atlantic. The south usually begins after Fredericksburg on I-95 and Appalacia usually begins upon leaving the sprawl of NOVA towards I-81. Most people here are transplants from the midwest, the west coast, the northeast and the south and are immigrants (legal and illegal) from all over the world..
NOVA is different from the rest of Virginia in that it is a multi-cultural friendly enviornment. People from all ethnicities, religions and walks of life live here. There are vibrant Asian, Hispanic, African and Middle Eastern communities. A plethora of restaurants of different cuisines exist, there are over five Persian restaurants alone. The largest Afghan community of the United States also calls Northern Virgina. Needless to say, it is the most culturally vibrant place in Virgnia.
The economy here is a bit ahead of the rest of Virginia due to its proximity to DC and it's transportation hubs. Northern Virginia is home to the pentagon, the CIA, USGS, AOL and many other entities call this area home. The area is home to many high end malls including the malls of Tyson's Corner. Tysons II has been frequently dubbed "the Rodeo Drive of the East Coast" due to the high end stores within the mall, some of which have their only east coast location in Tyson's Corner. Office Space is plentiful in this part of Northern Virginia - the further towards Maryland you go, the more affulent it gets. Rte 267, the Dulles Toll Road is dubbed the "Dulles Technology Corridor" from Reston to Dulles Airport due to the high concentration of IT officies along the freeway towards Dulles Airport. Northern Virginia is also home to two of DC's airports - National and Dulles. Both are the more important airports of the region and are within an easy reach to downtown DC.
NOVA is more fast paced than SOVA and lacks a "southern charm" that SOVA people from Richmond and Hampton Roads possess which makes the area hated upon. However crime in SOVA rivals that of some areas of DC, in particular crime in richmond is just inches away crime in Alexandria. However, these people end up coming here in the long run due to the lack of high-paying jobs within these areas.
Sure, there are some areas that are wastelands of vinyl homes but that's just Ashburn and Sterling (north of rte. 7). Alexandria is a very historic city that lies upon the potomac and have homes dating back to the 17th century. Areas such as McLean, Annandale and Vienna are home to extremely expensive real estate that rivals places such as Seattle and San Francisco. Reston is a successful planned community from the 1960s that is filled with woods, trees, paths and commercial districts along with very uniquely designed homes. There are many historic sites within the area, the bull run battlefield in manassas being one of them. you're also within an earshot, bus ride and train ride to DC where there are many things to do on a weekend.
All in all, aside from the occasional traffic jam (unless you live in Woodbridge or Springfield - god help you if you do) NOVA is a great place to live. It is different from the rest of Virginia, which makes it a neat place and it its success story is something that the state should be proud of rather than something to degrade. After all Virginia is a great state due to its diversity, which stems from southerners, northerners and appalacians all calling our state home.
Bob: Where are you from?
Bob: Where in DC?
Amir: Vienna.. it's in Northern Virginia.