The United States’ most prominent military cemetery contains graves of some 400,000 men and women honored for their contributions to the nation.
A number of well-known American leaders lie here in state.
There are also soldiers who’s identities will never be known but are still given the respect they deserve.
Situated just outside Washington, D.C. in northern Virginia, the Arlington National Cemetery offers a solemn walk through its country’s history in the person of memorials to its fallen soldiers.
We’ve picked out the best ways to tour Arlington National Cemetery.
War Memorials and Arlington National Cemetery Tour
Get picked up by a coach and see Washington’s most popular memorial sites including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the World War II Memorial, before visiting Arlington National Cemetery.
You’ll also have great views of the White House and US Capitol on this 5 hour tour.
Entry fees to the Arlington National Cemetery is included, along with access to the trolley and Arlington House – The Robert E. Lee Memorial.
Arlington National Cemetery Guided Walking Tour
Follow a seasoned guide on this 2 hour walking tour around Arlington National Cemetery.
You’ll learn about all the key historic moments and stories of greats like President John F. Kennedy and Robert Todd Lincolns.
See the Changing of the Guard and show your respects in this ceremonious ritual.
Arlington National Cemetery Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
Covering over 600 acres of land, the Arlington National Cemetery is not an easy walk if you want to cover a lot of ground.
The easiest way to see all the main attractions is on the hop on hop off trolley, which stops at 6 designated sites.
It takes approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour for a complete a loop of the cemetery as you listen to the commentary on board, learning about the sites as you pass each area.
What will you see on your visit to Arlington National Cemetery?
If you have a relative or friend buried here, of course, one of the simple white headstones may be the most important part of your visit.
Even without a personal connection, observing the dates and names and ranks of soldiers dating back to the Civil War makes for a moving experience.
The Arlington National Cemetery developed an app to assist in finding specific graves, available for web browsers and a number of mobile devices.
Famous Graves and Monuments
You can search out the graves of prominent Americans.
Two U.S. presidents, William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy, are buried here.
You may recognize the names of Generals Pershing, Marshall, and Sheridan and Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Warren Burger, and Earl Warren.
Other famous Americans interred here include boxer Joe Louis, politician William Jennings Bryan, Dwight Davis (creator of tennis’ Davis Cup), and World War II hero Audie Murphy.
English architect George Hadfield designed this Greek Revival-style house near the beginning of the 19th century.
Originally intended as a memorial to President George Washington, it now overlooks the memorial to President John F. Kennedy.
Monuments and Memorials
You can find mausoleums, sculptures, and memorials to specific units, soldiers, or events scattered throughout the grounds.
Subjects range from the Civil War to Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders to crews of lost Space Shuttles.
In addition, a number of trees have been planted and designated living memorials, including 36 dedicated to Medal of Honor recipients.
Tomb of the Unknowns – Changing of the Guard
This area houses the unidentified remains of a representative soldier from each of the country’s major 20th century wars.
The intent is to honor all soldiers who died in combat but could not be identified.
As a sign of respect, the graves are guarded 24 hours a day.
Rituals of marching and changing guards are executed with exacting precision to honour past soldiers.
Before visiting Arlington National Cemetery
As a functioning cemetery, the attraction requires visitors to act with decorum at all times since other visitors may have come to visit deceased friends or relatives.
You may have even notice a memorial service in progress.
Even though you are outside, avoid raising your voice or making other loud noises.
Part of the ANC’s visual appeal lies in the many headstones arrayed against green rolling hills.
When exploring the area, expect to do some climbing, which may be tiring when pushing a wheelchair.
If there’s anyone in your group with special need, you can obtain a handicapped parking card from the Welcome Center.
In the mid-1800s, George Washington Parke Custis owned the land which Arlington National Cemetery now occupies.
He was the adopted grandson of George Washington and built Arlington House as a memorial to the country’s first president.
His daughter, who married U.S. General Robert E. Lee, inherited the property but had to vacate it when Lee took the Confederate side in the U.S. Civil War.
The U.S. government used the property for a camp and a transition point for freed slaves before purchasing the property outright in 1864.
The first military burial happened on May 13, 1864 and a number of casualties from the Civil War followed.
Then-President Warren G. Harding officiated at the first interment of an unknown soldier on Armistice Day, November 11, 1921. President Dwight Eisenhower oversaw the reburials of unknown servicemen from World War II and the Korean War in 1958.
President Ronald Reagan saw an Unknown from the Vietnam conflict interred in 1984.
Modern testing later identified the Vietnam War representative and that crypt now sits intentionally vacant.
The cemetery will expand its 264-acre footprint in coming years to extend its ability to receive new burials.
How to get to Arlington National Cemetery
- Bicycle: Visitors with family passes can visit a gravesite via bicycle. The visitors center has a bike rack to park your bikes. Capital Bikeshare has a location just across the Potomac River bridge from the cemetery and there are several other stations in the immediate vicinity.
- Bus: Line 13F gets you to the Metrobus stop Memorial Drive and Arlington National Cemetery, less than half a mile away. Lines 13G and 4B can also drop you less than a mile from the cemetery.
- Car: The cemetery has a paid parking garage which closes an hour after the site does. They charge $1.75 per hour for the first three hours and $2.50 for each hour after that.
- Metro: The Metro‘s Blue Line has an Arlington Cemetery station stop. It sits just east of the Welcome Center.
Alternatively, if you prefer an to have an the itinerary looked after, join an organized tour.
There are a number of packaged tours from Washington to improve your experience at the Arlington National Cemetery.