Given a virtual knot K, we introduce a new group-valued invariant VGK called the virtual knot group, and we use the elementary ideals of VGK to define invariants of K called the virtual Alexander invariants. For instance, associated to the zeroth ideal is a polynomial HK(s, t, q) in three variables which we call the virtual Alexander polynomial, and we show that it is closely related to the generalized Alexander polynomial GK(s, t) introduced by Sawollek; Kauffman and Radford; and Silver and Williams. We define a natural normalization of the virtual Alexander polynomial and show it satisfies a skein formula. We also introduce the twisted virtual Alexander polynomial associated to a virtual knot K and a representation ϱ : VGK → GLn(R), and we define a normalization of the twisted virtual Alexander polynomial. As applications we derive bounds on the virtual crossing numbers of virtual knots from the virtual Alexander polynomial and twisted virtual Alexander polynomial.