Arlington National Cemetery is the resting place of more than 400,000 veterans. A crisp fall day is my favorite time to visit this cemetery, since you will spend plenty of time walking outdoors. If you go when the leaves are changing in October, the sight is stunning when contrasted with the hundreds of thousands of white headstones throughout the cemetery.
If you are going to be one of the four million people who visit Arlington National Cemetery each year, here are a few tips to make your visit successful.
Teach children respect for the deceased
Arlington National Cemetery is a beautiful place to walk and spend time outdoors. However, it is not a great place for seven-year-old boys to run, climb and yell. If you are taking the family, which you should, make sure you review in advance that there will be sections of the cemetery where they will need to keep completely silent and show respect for the dead. Bottled water is the only thing allowed in the cemetery so eat before you come. Keeping silent was a bit hard for a few of my children, but I was still so glad I took them to the cemetery.
Plan to walk, walk, and walk
Arlington National Cemetery is large, and the three main sights (Kennedy graves, Tomb of the Unknowns, and Arlington House) are not right next to each other. If you choose to do it on foot, plan to spend a few hours walking on paved roads, up hills, and sometimes up and down steps.
Most of the grounds are stroller friendly. However, there are sections where taking the stairs was a significantly shorter path and we chose to carry the stroller up and down stairs a few times. Unless your little ones LOVE to walk, a stroller is a good idea. Don't forget your water because on a warm day you will get a real workout pushing a stroller up and down hills. The climb up to Arlington House is worth it, but feels especially steep when pushing a stroller.
Consider a bus or guided walking tour
If walking is difficult for any member of your party, you might enjoy the ANC tour of Arlington National Cemetery. I pride myself on walking everywhere and not spending extraneous money, so I had never taken the tour bus that costs $8.75 per adult until I took my 87-year-old grandmother with me to Arlington. We paid for the tour bus, and I was so glad we did.
The tour bus starts at the visitor's center and makes three stops. The first stop is the Kennedy graves, then the Tomb of the Unknowns (Changing of the Guard), and finally Arlington House. The bus takes the scenic route through part of the cemetery and I saw more of Arlington National Cemetery than I had ever seen on foot. I understood better how large the 624-acre cemetery is when I saw it from the tour bus.
The tour buses run every 15-30 minutes.
I have not yet experienced Free Tours by Foot, but they offer tours in many major cities, and have a guided tour of Arlington National Cemetery with a pay-what-you-wish cost structure. Reservations are required. Touring this historic cemetery with someone who could share the history would be a great experience. Free Tours by Foot also offers a self-guided walking tour of Arlington National Cemetery that is filled with helpful insights to the cemetery.
What to See at Arlington National Cemetery
Begin your tour at the Visitor's Center, where you can pick up maps and buy tickets for the tour bus if you want to. There are also kiosks to help you locate a specific grave site if you have one you would like to visit.
Visit the gravesides of John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Robert F. Kennedy, and Edward Kennedy. An eternal flame marks John F. Kennedy's gravesite and is the most-visited section of Arlington National Cemetery.
Tomb of the Unknowns (Changing of the Guard)
The Tomb of the Unknowns marks the burial place of an unidentified World War I soldier. It is a vivid reminder of the service rendered by those “known but to God.” The Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded 24 hours a day, every day, by Tomb Guard sentinels.
The Changing of the Guard ceremony happens every 30 minutes between April 1-September 30. The other six months it happens every hour on the hour. The guard changes every hour on the hour all night. The ceremony takes only a few minutes and is definitely worth waiting for.
Arlington House was the home of Robert E. Lee and his wife, Mary Anna Custis Lee (a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington). The fascinating history of that home is worth reading before you visit. The home was seized during the Civil War after Virginia seceded from the Union and Robert E. Lee was named a major general for the Virginia military in 1861. The first people buried in Arlington National Cemetery were buried just outside Arlington House.
Good to Know
Where: Just across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. Easily accessible by car or metro (blue line).
When: Opens daily at 8 a.m. From April 1 to Sept. 30 the cemetery closes at 7 p.m., the other six months it closes at 5 p.m.
How Much: Free. There is a small fee for the parking garage.
How Long: Plan to spent at least 2-3 hours if not more at Arlington National Cemetery.
Amenities: Restrooms, bookstore, and drinking fountains at visitor's center
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Need a place to stay? Allison has stayed at Kimpton Hotel Madera and Hotel Harrington, which are both within a short walk or Metro ride from most of these attractions. Read her review of Hotel Madera HERE. Check rates and read reviews at TripAdvisor.