Arlington National Cemetery: What to See and Do

Arlington National Cemetery

Victoria Chamberlain / TripSavvy

Arlington National Cemetery serves as a cemetery and a memorial to America's persons of national importance, including presidents, Supreme Court justices, and countless military heroes.

The Cemetery was established during the Civil War as a final resting place for Union soldiers on approximately 200 acres of Mary Custis Lee’s 1,100-acre Arlington estate. The property was expanded over the years to encompass more than 624 acres of burial grounds of more than 400,000 American servicemen.

Each year, more than three million people visit Arlington, attending graveside services and special ceremonies to pay tribute to veterans and historical figures.

How to Get to Arlington National Cemetery

The Cemetery is located across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. at the west end of the Memorial Bridge in Arlington, Virginia. However, it's pretty easy to get to from anywhere in the city using a variety of transportation methods—including walking and driving.

To get to the cemetery, take the Metro to the Arlington National Cemetery Station; take the express bus from the National Mall; or walk or bike in across the Memorial Bridge. The cemetery is also a stop on most Washington, D.C. sightseeing tours, and there is a large parking garage with plenty of spaces if you want to drive yourself (rates are only $2 per hour).

Hours of Operation and Tours of the Cemetery

Because Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place of family members and heroes alike, it is open daily throughout the year, including on Christmas and other major holidays. However, the hours vary slightly depending on the season:

  • April to September: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • October to March: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Cemetery Visitors Center is a good place to start your visit where you will find maps, guidebooks, exhibits, a bookstore, and restrooms. You may walk the grounds on your own or take the interpretative tour, but be sure to allow several hours to explore the grounds and be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes.

Stops on the tour include the Kennedy gravesites, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Changing of the Guard), and The Arlington House (Robert E. Lee Memorial). Driving into the Cemetery is only allowed for handicapped visitors and those attending a burial or visiting a private gravesite, and a special permit is required.

Changing of the Guard,Arlington National Cemetery
Peter Unger / Getty Images

What to See and Do at Arlington National Cemetery

  • Visit Famous Gravesites: Among the notable Americans buried here are Presidents William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Robert Kennedy.
  • See the Monuments and Memorials: Among dozens of memorials on the property are the Coast Guard Memorial, the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial, Spanish-American War Memorial, the USS Maine Memorial and many more. 
  • Attend a Special Event: Memorial services are held in the Arlington National Amphitheater on Easter, Memorial Day and Veterans Day and are sponsored by the U.S. Army Military District of Washington. Many military organizations conduct other annual memorial services throughout the year. More than four million people visit the cemetery each year and approximately 27-30 graveside funerals are held here each day.
  • Visit the Women in Military Service for America Memorial: This is the main entrance, also known as the Memorial Gate, and houses a visitors center which houses special exhibits that change periodically.
  • Watch the Changing of the Guard: The Tomb of the Unknowns, also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, stands on a hill overlooking Washington, DC. The tomb was dedicated in 1921 and contains the remains of soldiers from WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam. The tomb is guarded 24 hours a day and each hour (each half-hour in summer) there is a changing of the guard ceremony with a special march and salute.
  • Tour Arlington House: The former home of Robert E. Lee and his family is located on a hill, providing one of the best views of Washington, DC. George Washington Parke Custis, Lee’s father-in-law, originally built the house as his own home as well as a memorial to George Washington, his step-grandfather. Arlington House is now preserved as a memorial to Robert E. Lee, who helped heal the nation following the Civil War. Arlington House is temporarily closed through the fall of 2019. Visitors are encouraged to visit the Arlington House temporary Visitor Center currently located in the Women's Memorial.
  • Take a Shuttle to Visit a Grave: Whether you have a family member buried in the cemetery or you want to visit a particular famous resting place, you can take a free shuttle exactly to the site you where you want to pay your respects. Shuttles depart from the Visitor Center and must be booked at the reception desk there.

Latest Improvements

In 2013, Arlington National Cemetery unveiled the first major upgrade to the historical displays in over 20 years. The renovated Welcome Center now presents information on Arlington's annual rituals and military tradition that honor our veterans, helping visitors to remember the key historical events and encouraging guests to explore the 624 acres of this national shrine.

The upgrade also included six panel displays that feature a cemetery overview; the history of the Arlington House estate; a Freedman's Village history; the evolution of becoming the national cemetery depicted in a vertical glass panel; a retrospect of the JFK procession; and a ritual panel outlining how the military performs funerals.

However, the cornerstone of 2013's new exhibits was a life-size a statue of a bugler. Staff Sergeant Jesse Tubb, who is a bugler in U.S. Army Band, "Pershing's Own," that served as the model for the statue.

Additionally, Arlington National Cemetery is currently renovating historic Arlington House and preserving the exterior of the Memorial Amphitheater. The Arlington House is expected to reopen in January 2020.

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