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Travel Tip Tuesday | Visiting Arlington National Cemetery

How & What to See @ Arlington National Cemetery

Procession at Arlington National Cemetery.

Established by George Washington’s adopted grandson, George Washington Parke Curtis, Arlington was initially designed to be a living memorial to the first president. After Curtis passed away, Arlington was left to his daughter and upon her death, her eldest son inherited the property that was abandoned by Robert E. Lee, the executor of the will. In May 1861, the U.S. Army took control of the abandoned Arlington Estate to defend Washington D.C. during the Civil War. The estate’s hill-top location gave the Union Army a strategic vantage point.  The U.S. Army did not want Lee to return to the estate so they made it into a cemetery.  In May 1864 the first burial was conducted, and on June 15, 1864, Arlington became a national cemetery by order of the Secretary of War.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Today, Arlington National Cemetery is considered to be the premier national military cemetery in the United States. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated here on November 11, 1921, with the interment of the Unknown from WWI, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Today, there are approximately 400,000 veterans and their eligible dependents buried here. Service members from the Revolutionary War to current conflicts are interred here. Arlington is a place for reflection and a testament to the bravery and courage of so many. Depending on what you want to see, a minimum of a two-hour visit is recommended.

Thank you to our heroes.

The pristine rows of seemingly endless white grave markers and stately military ceremonies and funerals that take place here daily reflect American history and remind us of the many sacrifices made in service to the United States. In order to best prepare for a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Be prepared to do a lot of walking

Wear comfortable shoes. If you are visiting in the late spring, summer, or early fall, it is best to bring water and sunscreen because there is not a great deal of shade. Depending on what time of year you are going, consider taking insect repellent.

2. Before heading out stop at the visitor center information desk

The staff will help you get the lay of the land of this large cemetery that is extremely well marked. The visitors center also has bathrooms and is air-conditioned.

3. The Changing of the Guard 

At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, this is an elaborate ceremony that happens every hour on the hour from October 1 through March 31 and every half hour from April 1 - September 30.  This is a highlight of any visit to Arlington and should not be missed. If you stand alongside the stairs you will have a good view of this ceremony. 

The changing of the guard is not to be missed.
4. No food or beverages

Though you cannot bring food or beverages, you are allowed to bring bottles of water. Only water is allowed on the grounds.

5. Make the most of your time 

To best plan for your visit to Arlington it is important to download the ANC Explorer app that will help you locate graves in the cemetery. In addition to locating graves, this will also help you find events and other points of interest located throughout the cemetery. When searching for a gravesite, start with the last name and the first initial rather than filling in all the fields.

6. If you are not up to walking, Arlington National Cemetery offers a guided shuttle tour

On this tour, you will learn about the cemetery’s history and heroes and be transported to see notable graves and memorials. The shuttle tour is a hop on and hop off tour that gives you time to see interments up close. The best way to experience Arlington is walking from area to area, it gives you a chance to absorb and reflect on the valor that dots the landscape.

7. Stop by a shop that sells flowers on the way to Arlington

You are allowed to lay flowers on a grave to honor the sacrifices of those that have served.

Notable graves are well categorized.
8. Notable Graves 

Landmark gravesites are categorized and include Medal of Honor, African American, Astronauts, Culture and Arts, Explorers, Foreign Nationals, Hispanic Americans, Medicine, Military Leaders, Politics and Government, Presidents, Revolutionary War, Science and Technology, Sports, Supreme Court, and Women. The ANC Explorer app will help you located areas and gravesites of interest.

9. Prominent gravesites

Some notable gravesites included President John F. Kennedy (Jacqueline and two of Kennedy’s children are also interred next to the President), President William Howard Taft, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, world champion boxer Joe Louis, the seven Space Shuttle Challenger Astronauts, and the Tuskegee Airmen.

10. Arlington House

The house was constructed between 1808 and 1818 as the first memorial to President George Washington by his adopted son. It was built in the Greek Revival style and is similar to Mount Vernon. It sits on a hill overlooking the cemetery. It was used as a plantation estate and was home to 63 slaves, it was also a military headquarters, a community for emancipated slaves, and a national cemetery. 

We hope these eight tips help you plan your visit to Arlington National Cemetery with Tours of Distinction’s Washington D.C. trip.