Boasting loads of beautiful parks and memorials, Arlington is located just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. in Northern Virginia. Despite being densely populated, the county is a lovely place to explore that is mostly known for being home to the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery.
Although it is no longer part of the District of Columbia, Arlington contains several important national monuments and federal installations. Like the rest of the Washington metropolitan area, its history and development have long been tied to that of the capital with both cities being seamlessly linked together by the Metro system.
While picturesque parks and trails wind their way all along the river, most of the things to do in Arlington can be found in Arlington National Cemetery. With interesting tours to take around the Pentagon and Washington D.C.’s attractions lying so close by, Arlington makes a great base for exploring the region.
14. Arlington Memorial Bridge
Connecting the county to the nation’s capital is the attractive Arlington Memorial Bridge. Spanning the Potomac River, it transports you from the Arlington National Cemetery to the National Mall and its many monuments and museums in no time at all.
Finally built in 1932 after decades of debate over whether it should be a memorial or not, the bridge exhibits some fine Neoclassical architecture and sturdy stone arches. Stretching 2,163 feet in length, the scenic causeway makes for some great photos with its views of the river being just as stunning.
At its northeastern end, it is flanked by The Arts of War sculptures that depict Valor and Sacrifice in honor of the nation’s military personnel. The bridge also symbolizes the reunification of the North and South following the Civil War with countless thousands passing over it each day.
13. Dark Star Park
Despite its small size, Dark Star Park is well worth stopping by for its unique and interesting public art pieces. Set just a stone’s throw from the famous U.S. Marine Corps Memorial, the little patch of grass is dotted with several large spheres that represent fallen stars.
Unveiled in 1984, the intriguing installation was designed by American sculptor Nancy Holt as part of an urban-renewal project. Its rather unusual mix of landscape architecture and astronomy sees the lunar-like spheres loom above small pools that are themselves designed to look-like craters.
Once a year on August 1st, the shadows cast by its spheres and poles align with tracks on the ground while the movement of the sun overhead also constantly alters the sculpture’s appearance. Through its clever use of shapes and spaces, the pretty park explores the concept of time and our relationship to the universe.
12. Air Force Memorial
Located just to the south of the Arlington National Cemetery, not far from the Pentagon, is the eye-catching Air Force Memorial. Visible from almost everywhere in D.C., the soaring sculpture makes for some fantastic photos and viewing as it stands out delightfully against the bright blue sky.
Towering between 201 and 270 feet in height, the monument’s three stainless steel spires gracefully arch their way towards the heavens. Completed in 2006, its distinctive shape replicates the contrails produced by the Air Force Thunderbirds when they perform their famous ‘bomb burst’ maneuver.
At the foot of the massive memorial are two well-polished inscription walls that list the core values of the Air Force and its Medal of Honor recipients. Four fine bronze statues representing its Honor Guard complete the moving tribute to the memory and service of members of the United States Air Force.
11. Netherlands Carillon
Right at the other end of the Arlington National Cemetery to the memorial is another lofty landmark for you to visit. Known as the Netherlands Carillon, the tall tower rises dramatically above the lush green grounds and gardens all around it with daily concerts featuring its bells also taking place.
Part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, the 127-foot campanile and its 53-bell carillon were gifted to the United States by the Dutch in the fifties. This was to thank them for American aid in liberating the Netherlands from the Nazis and helping rebuild the country after the end of the war.
Perched atop a ridge overlooking the Potomac River and Washington, D.C., the monument features a very sleek, modern design with each bell symbolizing a group within Dutch society. After hearing one of its automated concerts of armed forces anthems or the Star-Spangled Banner, you can amble about its colourful tulip library.
10. John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame
Just one of the many moving memorials in the Arlington National Cemetery is the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame. Lying alongside the assassinated president’s gravesite, the fire has burned bright ever since the site was consecrated and opened to the public on March 15, 1967.
Designed by Kennedy’s long-time friend John Carl Warnecke, the small flame and simple graves of JFK and Jackie lie just down the hill from Arlington House. Over the years, millions of people have visited the memorial which also contains an elliptical plaza inscribed with key quotes from some of Kennedy’s most famous speeches.
As well as paying your respects to the revered figure, you can also enjoy marvelous views over the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument from its prominent hillside setting.
9. Military Women’s Memorial
Another striking site to stop by is the Military Women’s Memorial which honors the brave women who have served in the nation’s Armed Forces. The first major monument of its kind in all the US, it lies at the western end of Memorial Avenue, right at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery.
While the Hemicycle was initially built in 1932 as a ceremonial gate to the cemetery, it was only in 1997 that it was turned into a memorial. Notable for its successful mix of modern and Neoclassical architecture, the two-story structure is made out of sparkling white marble with its outdoor terrace overlooking a fountain, pool and the avenue before it.
Inside the memorial, you can peruse informative displays on the history of female service members in America and see amazing old artifacts, uniforms and weapons.
8. Gravelly Point Park
Also part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway is the picturesque Gravelly Point Park. Set along the west bank of the Potomac River, it is a very popular place to picnic and walk about while watching the planes land and take off from the nearby airport.
In 1746, Gravelly Point was home to Gerrard Alexander and his family with the property later being purchased by John Parke Custis, the stepson of George Washington. Although Abingdon eventually burned down in the early twentieth century, visitors can still the see site of the former plantation in front of the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
Most people, however, come to the park to see the planes pass between 100 and 200 feet above their heads. Asides from experiencing the rush of adrenaline as they shoot by so close overhead, you can stroll and cycle about the park or launch boats and explore the river.
7. DEA Museum
Home to loads of interesting artifacts and exhibits, the DEA Museum chronicles the history of drug enforcement in the USA. A must for fans of shows like Breaking Bad, The Wire and Narcos, it lies just to the south of the Pentagon, along Army Navy Drive.
Founded in 1999, the fascinating museum covers everything from addiction and law enforcement to the cannabis, coca and poppy trades. Alongside thousands of historic photos, you can see old patent medicine bottles, paraphernalia and cunning modern containers for concealing illegal narcotics.
Besides learning about the creative ways people have gone about smuggling, going back centuries, its exhibits also list the dangers of drugs and the evolution of the Drug Enforcement Administration over the years.
6. The Pentagon & Pentagon Memorial
One of the most famous and important buildings in the country, The Pentagon is the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense. On tours of its colossal complex, visitors learn about the various branches of the military and their inner workings before stopping by the memorial outside.
The largest office building in the world, the immense, five-sided edifice was built in 1943 with each section representing one of the branches of the US Armed Forces. On hour-long tours, you’ll hear all about their history and purpose while walking roughly a mile and a half through the strictly guarded governmental facility.
After having seen its Hall of Heroes and 9/11 Memorial Chapel, guests can also pay their respects at the Pentagon Memorial outside. The thought-provoking site honors the 184 victims in the building and on American Airlines Flight 77 who lost their lives during the September 11 attacks.
5. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Along with JFK’s grave, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is one of Arlington National Cemetery’s standout sights. Set in a very prominent spot on a hill overlooking the capital, the marble monument is very humbling to visit with Changing of the Guard ceremonies also regularly taking place.
Dedicated to deceased US service members whose remains have sadly not been identified, the tomb was first unveiled in 1921 at almost the geographic center of the cemetery. Engraved on the side of its sarcophagus are figures representing Peace, Valor and Victory and six sculpted wreaths for major WWI campaigns.
Aside from honoring the unfortunate unknowns who fought and died in WWI, WWII, the Vietnam War and Korea, you can also watch the symbolic changing of the guard. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, sentinels guard the tomb with the soldiers being relieved of their prestigious post every hour or so depending on the time of year.
4. Theodore Roosevelt Island Park
Boasting lots of lovely wooded trails and scenic views of the river is the Theodore Roosevelt Island Park. As well as offering up all kinds of fun outdoor activities, it acts as a memorial to the great man himself and is a teeming habitat for local wildlife.
Surrounded by the rushing waters of the Potomac River, the idyllic island lies in between Arlington and Washington, D.C.. Once a training camp for the United States Colored Troops, it is now instead preserved as a park with verdant woodlands lying next to rocky parts and murky marshes.
Other than hiking along its shady paths, you can kayak and canoe along its shoreline or keep an eye out for warblers and raptors in the undergrowth. The highlight though is visiting the large memorial plaza and statue dedicated to the United States’ 26th president Teddy Roosevelt; a keen outdoors-man and conservationist.
3. Mount Vernon Trail
A wonderful way to see more of the county and its surroundings is to hike or bike along the Mount Vernon Trail. Winding its way parallel to the western bank of the Potomac River, it whisks you from Arlington to Alexandria and passes loads of stunning scenery, nature and views along the way.
Stretching seventeen miles in length, the multipurpose path connects Rosslyn in Northern Virginia to George Washington’s historic home at Mount Vernon. Set up in 1972, it meanders its way through woods, over creeks and along by the river with epic views of D.C.’s sparkling skyline emerging here and there.
Along the way, you can stop off to watch planes soar above Gravelly Point or stroll about Old Town Alexandria and its many historic sites. It also connects up with countless other regional trails should you want to explore further afield before reaching Washington’s former estate and its fine Palladian-style mansion.
2. U.S. Marine Corps Memorial
Arguably the most famed and photographed monument in all of Arlington County is that of the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial. An absolute must-see, the superb statue represents one of the most iconic images of the Second World War – the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima.
Dedicated in 1954, the memorial commemorates all Marines who have given their lives in defense of the US since 1775. Inspired by a photo taken in 1945, the colossal sculpture depicts six Marines struggling to raise the Stars and Stripes atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Besides snapping some photos of the massive memorial and paying your respects to the fallen, you can inspect the golden inscriptions of every Marine Corps major action engraved about its base. The Honor Guard of the Marines also put on regular military parades, marches and music performances at the memorial.
1. Arlington National Cemetery
The main reason people visit the county though is, of course, the Arlington National Cemetery which is full of impressive monuments and moving memorials. Lying just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., adjacent to the Pentagon, its pretty green spaces contain some of the State’s most renowned landmarks.
Since being established in 1864 during the American Civil War, it has grown and grown and is now the final resting place of many of the nation’s most famous figures. In total, the cemetery is thought to house the graves of over 400,000 veterans and their dependents with countless millions visiting it each year.
Among its standout sights are the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and JFK’s grave with the attractive Arlington House and Memorial Amphitheater also attracting lots of attention. Its many monuments and immaculate outdoor spaces make it a very peaceful and picturesque place to spend some time.