The city of Fairfax is an enclave surrounded by the separate political entity Fairfax County. Fairfax City also contains an exclave of Fairfax County, as detailed below.
The city is 17 miles (27 km) west of Washington, D.C. The Washington Metro’s Orange Line serves Fairfax through its Vienna station, which is a mile northeast of the city limits. CUE Bus and Metrobus operate in Fairfax. Virginia Railway Express’s Burke Centre station is situated three miles southeast of the city’s boundaries. Virginia’s largest public educational institution with 35,189 students in 2017 is George Mason University, which is located in unincorporated Fairfax County, along the city’s southern border.
In May 2009, Fairfax was rated as No. 3 in the “Top 25 Places to Live Well” by Forbes Magazine. Forbes commended Fairfax for its strong public school system, high median salary, and a rate of sole proprietors per capita that ranks it in the top 1 percent nationwide. According to the magazine, “These factors are increasingly important in a recession. When businesses and jobs retract, as they have nationwide, municipalities with strong environments for start-ups, and those that offer attractive amenities, are better suited to recover from economic downtimes, as there are more business activity filling the void.
The city derives its name from Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, who was awarded 5,000,000 acres (20,000 km2) of land in northern Virginia by King Charles.
The former Fairfax County Courthouse is the oldest and most historic building in Fairfax. The first Fairfax courthouse was established in 1742 near present-day Tyson’s Corner, and is the namesake for Old Courthouse Road. It intersects with Gallows Road, which today is a major commuter route, but at the time was the road where condemned prisoners were led to the gallows at the old courthouse.