Why Visit the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia?
Arlington National Cemetery is the United States of America’s most famous cemetery with 624 acres of military dead buried in its hallowed grounds. Situated just over the Potomac River outside Washington DC in Arlington, Virginia, this cemetery contains the remains of more than 400,000 people.
It’s an important site to memorialise those who’ve fallen, but also to reflect on the horror and waste that comes with war. It is hard not to be overwhelmed when the rows and rows of white headstones appear – this is a place of tremendous loss.
The cemetery is full of graves and memorials to notable military personnel, former politicians and Presidents, astronauts from major space disasters and even the crew and passengers killed on the infamous PanAm 103 flight that was attacked by terrorists.
The cemetery is a peaceful place. The peace is usually only ever interrupted by the sounds of military funerals taking place with the full cannon-fire send off. From certain vantage points on the rolling green hills, the Washington Monument can be spotted in the distance. At another lookout spot, the mysterious centre of American military operations, the Pentagon can be seen clearly.
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How to get to Arlington National Cemetery from DC?
If you’re visiting the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, then a trip over to Arlington National Cemetery is walkable from there across the Memorial Bridge. A one-way walk will take around 25 mins. From further back into DC city in the Downtown area, the walk will take around an hour one-way.
The Washington DC Metro is fantastic and from Downtown will take just under 20 mins to get you to Arlington National Cemetery. Hop on the Blue line at McPherson Square Station and alight at Arlington Cemetery Station.
From the Lincoln memorial, it will take you almost just as much time to walk to the nearest train station in Foggy Bottom as it would to just walk across the bridge to the cemetery.
Ride a Bike
There are heaps of bike share stations around Washington DC that make it the perfect way to navigate the city. From Lincoln, a quick 6 minute bike ride will get you where you want to be and from Downtown its only 20 mins.
On a nice day, this is a brilliant way to get around to the monuments and to make your way over to Arlington National Cemetery.
Hop On/Hop Off Buses
I’m not going to lie, usually I run for the hills when someone suggests a hop on/hop off bus to me but when you’re in a city like Washington DC on limited time and want to make sure you see everything, then it is a great option.
I ended up with a two day bus pass which got me around to all the monuments and memorials I wanted to see as well as a shuttle up to Arlington National Cemetery. I was still able to explore at my own pace and loved it. Check out some hop on/hop off bus deals in DC here.
Finally, for the people who want to go visiting the Arlington National Cemetery in comfort but who don’t want to join a tour, there’s rideshares everywhere.
Uber and Lyft are the big two and a trip from Downtown will take around 10-20 mins (depending on traffic). An Uber X or Lyft will set you back around $11 USD for a shared ride and $12 USD for a private car.
(Side Note: both Uber and Lyft are super handy apps to have downloaded when travelling in the USA, so I would recommend you grab both and just go with whichever app is offering cheaper prices).
No matter which option you choose, how to get to Arlington National Cemetery is pretty simple.
How to Explore Arlington National Cemetery
It’s possible to explore Arlington National Cemetery any day of the year. Visiting hours vary depending on the time of year:
- From October to March, when I visited, the cemetery is open 8am – 5pm; and
- From April – September the opening hours are 8am – 7pm.
Be prepared for security screenings and bag checks on arrival as this is a highly significant place of burial for Americans. Also be prepared to see funeral processions and/or burials taking place. Be sure to remember that this is a place of burial and mourning and respect those that are grieving.
Arlington does offer a bus tour service to take people unable or unwilling to walk around the cemetery to key spots, which will cost you $15 USD. If walking is more your style, then you could try the Atlantis Audio Tour smartphone app which has an audio tour of Arlington National Cemetery for $2.99 USD.
Notable graves and memorials at Arlington National Cemetery
With over 400,000 remains buried at Arlington, there are bound to be some notable graves to visit and reflect at.
- Assassinated US President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie along with their deceased infant babies Patrick and Arabella are buried in Arlington with an Eternal Flame burning to memorialise them
- JFK’s assassinated brother, Senator Robert F. Kennedy
- George Washington Parke Custis, President George Washington’s adopted son
- Mary Randolph – the first person to be buried at Arlington Plantation and a descendant of Pocahontas
- Memorial to the astronauts killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster
- Memorial to the astronauts killed in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster
- Engraved bench memorialising the Korean War
- Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
- Memorial to bombed flight PanAm 103
- Nurse’s Memorial
Where to stay to visit Arlington National Cemetery
I’d recommend staying over in Washington DC to make the most of all the beautiful monuments and attractions on both sides of the river and just do Arlington as a day excursion.
In DC, definitely stay around Dupont Circle if possible – I love the Fairfax at Embassy Row for a gorgeous night’s stay.
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