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The Arlington National Cemetery: What to Know Before You Go

Arlington National Cemetery is a United States military cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. The cemetery is 624 acres and is where the dead of the nation’s conflicts have been buried, beginning with the Civil War, as well as re-interred dead from earlier wars. The Arlington National Cemetery is the resting place of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis as well as other members of the Kennedy family.

arlington national cemetary graphic

Arlington National Cemetery

  • The address for Arlington National Cemetery is:
    Arlington National Cemetery
    Arlington, VA 22211
  • Hours of operation: 365 days a year. 8am-7pm (April-September)
    8am-5pm (October-March)
  • Phone: 877-907-8585
  • Cost: Free
  • Paid parking: $2 per hour, $8 per hour commercial rate

If you are visiting the Washington DC area then you’ll definitely want to make a stop at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington Virginia.

It’s only a few minutes drive from Washington DC and easily accessible by car or transit.

I recently visiting Washington DC and Virginia for a blogging conference and had just enough down time that I was able to do some sightseeing including visiting the Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial.

The 9/11 memorial is only a few minutes away from the cemetery and is the perfect excursion to fit in before or after a visit to the cemetery.

As you enter the cemetery you will have to go through security. They will have you go through a metal detector and check your bags.

The grounds of the cemetery are very lovely and well maintained. There are a few drinking fountains on the premises and public bathrooms.

Although entry to the cemetery is free and if you want to go on a guided tour there is a nominal fee. You can purchase tour tickets in the welcome center after you pass through security. If you have time I would recommend taking a paid tour. You get to ride on the trolley rather than walk for miles on foot and they will bring you right to all the notable graves.

You may also like: The 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon- Everything you need to know before you go

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jfk grave site

John F Kennedy Gravesite

President John F Kennedy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Only one other president is buried there, William Howard Taft, who died in 1930.

The tomb and memorial to President John Fitzgerald Kennedy is located in lot 45, Section 30 of Arlington National Cemetery. It is a 10 minute walk from the Visitor Center. It’s well marked and easy to find.

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis was laid to rest next to President Kennedy on May 23, 1994. JFK and Jackie’s graves are side by side and an eternal flame burns from the center of a five-foot circular granite stone at the head of the grave.

Other Kennedy family members are buried nearby. Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated on June 6, 1968, was interred at Arlington in 1971. Senator Edward M. Kennedy was buried in an adjacent plot after his death in August 2009. 

You may also like: The National Mall Washington D.C.- 10 Tips for First Timers

tomb of the unknown solider
tomb of the unknown soldier at arlington national cemetery

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery’s most iconic memorial, stands atop a hill overlooking Washington, D.C. The tomb sybolizes the sacrifices of all American service members

The neoclassical, white marble sarcophagus depicts three carved Greek figures representing Peace, Victory, and Valor. Six wreaths, three sculpted on each side, represent the six major campaigns of World War I.

The Tomb sarcophagus stands above the grave of the Unknown Soldier of World War I. To the west are the crypts for Unknowns from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, each marked with a white marble slab flush with the plaza.

The Changing of the Guard

The military guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is changed in an elaborate ceremony which happens every hour on the hour from October 1 through March 31, and every half hour from April 1 through September 30.

Twenty-four hours a day, soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard,” stand watch over the Tomb. The Tomb Guards, also called Sentinels, are chosen for this prestigious and highly selective post only after rigorous training and a demanding series of examinations (see below). The Old Guard has held this distinguished duty since 1948.

An impeccably uniformed relief commander appears on the plaza to announce the changing of the guard. Soon, the new Sentinel leaves the Tomb Guard quarters and unlocks the bolt of his or her M-14 rifle, signaling to the relief commander to begin the ceremony. The relief commander walks out to the Tomb and salutes, then faces the spectators and asks them to stand and remain silent during the ceremony.

graves at arlington national cemetery

Other notable graves as the Arlington National Cemetery:

  • Lee Marvin (1924-87)
  • William Howard Taft (1857-1930)
  • Anita Newcomb McGee (1864-1940)
  • Grace Hopper (1906-92)
  • Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis (1788-1853)
  • Mary Randolph (1762-1828)
  • Joe Louis Barrow (1914-81)
  • Thurgood Marshall (1908-93)

Memorial Amphitheater

Arlington National Cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater was dedicated on May 15, 1920. While Memorial Day ceremonies are held throughout the United States, many consider the services at Memorial Amphitheater to be the nation’s official ceremony honoring American service members. The president of the United States traditionally gives an address during Memorial Day ceremonies at the amphitheater.

5,000 visitors attend each of the three major annual memorial services in the Amphitheater, which take place on Easter, Memorial Day and Veterans Day and are sponsored by the U.S. Army Military District of Washington. The Easter sunrise service begins at 6 a.m.; Memorial Day and Veterans Day services begin at 11 a.m. Many military organizations also conduct annual memorial services at the amphitheater.

FAQ for Arlington National Cemetery

Is there a dress code at Arlington National Cemetery?

If you’re attending a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery – or any other ceremony there such as a wreath ceremony – business casual dress is required for both men and women. If you are just a tourist jeans and shorts and a t shirt are fine. Just be respectful and mindful that you are at a cemetery.

Is it free to visit Arlington National Cemetery?

Yes. The site is open to the public 365 days a year with free admission for those who wish to tour the site and pay their respects.

Is there public parking at Arlington National Cemetery?

Ample paid parking is available to visitors and is accessible from Memorial Avenue. The parking garage closes 1 hour after the cemetery.

How long does it take to tour Arlington Cemetery?

For a self guided walking tour you will need about 3 hours.

Can you take photos at Arlington Cemetery?

Photography is permitted within the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. Public use of a tripod or lights is not permitted without permission from the Office of Public Affairs

Can you leave flowers at Arlington National Cemetery?

Fresh cut flowers may be placed on grave sites at any time. Arlington National Cemetery provides portable cones for flowers that the public may use.

Have you visited the Arlington National Cemetery? Let me know about your experience in the comments.

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