Updated May 2020.
This weekend, Americans will be taking time to remember those who fought for our freedoms. We will remember those who died for it and those who lived to tell unspeakable accounts of what they did, saw, and survived so their fellow Americans and America’s allies could secure and preserve freedom. There is no place I’ve been that fills me with pride and gratitude quite like Arlington National Cemetery. If you find yourself in the Washington, D.C., area, you will not regret spending some time here. I hope this guide gives you the information you need to make your visit a memorable and meaningful experience.
Arlington National Cemetery is open 365 days per year from 8:00am-7:00pm April-September and 8:00am-5:00pm October-March. You can get to Arlington National Cemetery three ways:
Type “Arlington Cemetery” into your GPS and it should come up for you. If not, you will find it on the Virginia side of the Potomac River (across from Washington, D.C., proper) off of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Just follow the signs, and parking is $2.00 per hour. Try not to get your ticket wet or bent; the machines don’t like it. You have the option to pay an attendant if the machine will not accept your ticket.
You will find Arlington National Cemetery on the Blue Line at the Arlington Cemetery stop. Need to know how to use the Metro? Check out D.C.’s Metro System: A Guide.
By Foot or by Bike
You can reach Arlington National Cemetery on foot or by bike by following the Mount Vernon Trail, which runs from George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate to the Francis Scott Key Bridge that crosses the river into Georgetown. If you’re staying in Arlington or Alexandria, this is a great option on a nice day.
Arlington National Cemetery is a place to be reverent and respectful. If you or someone in your party can’t quite handle that, please make a mature choice and do not make time to visit the Cemetery. By all means, come when you or the members of your party can handle the level of respect required. The Cemetery has some rules for visitors to follow here, but mostly it’s common sense: don’t damage anything in the cemetery, no protests or demonstrations are allowed, no pets allowed (except service animals or working military dogs), etc.
Finding a Grave
Arlington National Cemetery has done a great job of making it easy to find a grave. Their Grave Locator app asks for some key information, but only the last name is required, and you can filter through from there. I looked up Audie Murphy, and this is what I found:
The Changing of the Guard
The experience everyone wants to have at Arlington National Cemetery is watching the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. This takes place every day, at the top of each hour the cemetery is open. From April 1-September 30, it also takes place on the half hour. For some interesting facts and requirements about the guards, see the Arlington National Cemetery website.
You will want to arrive at Arlington at least half an hour before the the time you aim to see the changing of the guard. This will give you time to grab a map and walk to the Grave of the Unknown Soldiers.
Arlington House is the reason Arlington National Cemetery is in this location. It was the home of General Robert E. Lee and his wife Mary Custis Lee, Martha Washington’s great-granddaughter. I highly recommend the tour, so be sure to make the walk up the hill and take in the view of our Nation’s Capital. Also, don’t miss Pierre L’Enfant’s gravesite; he was the man tasked with designing the Capital City, and he now has a stunning view for eternity.
Beyond the Gravesites
While you’re at Arlington National Cemetery, be sure to check out the Memorial Amphitheater, Women in Military Service for America Memorial, and the Memorial Arboretum. If you are in town for Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day, please attend a ceremony at the amphitheater. I attended the 2008 Veteran’s Day ceremony, and it was a moving, memorable experience in my first year living in D.C.
In addition, you will find the Marine Corps War Memorial if you follow the Mount Vernon Tail north of Arlington National Cemetery. You can also start and end a tour of the major monuments and memorials of Washington, D.C. from Arlington National Cemetery. For my complete guide, take a look at my self-guided tour: D.C.’s Monuments and Memorials.
Want to know more? Visit Arlington National Cemetery’s website, and stop by the Visitor Center when you arrive.