After you’ve done your due diligence of contemplating Rembrandt’s Self Portrait at the National Museum of Art and standing in awe at the feet of the Lincoln Memorial at the National Mall, there’s a place right across the wild and wide Potomac River that is worth a brief respite from your Washington DC itinerary.
While the frequently visited and venerated Arlington National Cemetery is by far the tourism calling card of Arlington, Virginia, this county of roughly 230,000 residents is more than just the headquarters of the Pentagon, many varied government installations and the home of several important universities. Arts, culture, and nightlife are alive and well here, and you’d expect them to be when you consider that the county boasts the fifth highest median income in the United States. This area also has the highest concentration of unmarried people in the region. If these singles want to mingle, they’re going to have to have some places to go to do just that.
Here are 15 of the best reasons to spend a day in Arlington while on vacation in Washington DC.
Arlington National Cemetery
Established during the Civil War on land once owned by Robert E. Lee, Arlington National Cemetery is home to the Tomb of the Unknowns and the eternal flame marking President John F. Kennedy’s grave as well as the final resting places of numerous other famous Americans. Located near the entrance, Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial, overlooks the Potomac and National Mall. The site features the house, gardens and outbuildings, including former slave quarters. The cemetery is also the location for 28 major and 142 minor memorials and monuments. Check out some of these sites with our interactive Arlington map.
George Washington Memorial Parkway and Hemicycle
Several well-known monuments and memorials are located immediately adjacent to the national cemetery. Situated outside the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery, the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Hemicycle are erroneously assumed to be part of the famous burial ground. The parkway and Hemicycle are the setting for famous monuments and memorials, such as the Marine Corps War Memorial, commonly known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, the Netherlands Carillon and the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, which incorporates the Hemicycle near the entrance to the cemetery.
Arlington Memorial Bridge
Due to its location spanning the Potomac River, Arlington Memorial Bridge symbolically reconnects the north and south. The Neoclassical masonry and steel bridge, built in 1932, connects the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, the former estate of Robert E. Lee. Designed by McKim, Meade and White, the bridge is adorned with statues by sculptor Leo Friedlander depicting valor and sacrifice.
The world’s largest office building, the Pentagon is the headquarters for the Department of Defense. During a one-hour public guided tour of select sites in the interior, such as the Hall of Heroes, visitors will hear a narrative about the operation of the Defense Department and little known facts about the building. The grounds are the setting for the Pentagon Memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.
Theodore Roosevelt Island Park
Theodore Roosevelt Island Park is a national memorial situated on an 88.5-acre island in the Potomac River. A footbridge from the Virginia side of the river provides access to the island. In addition to the memorial plaza featuring a decorative fountain and a 17-foot-tall statue of the 26th president, the park has several hiking trails and boardwalks through the island’s natural habitats.
Mount Vernon Trail
The 17-mile Mount Vernon Trail is part of the larger Potomac Heritage Scenic Trail. The paved hiking and bicycling path travels between Mount Vernon and Rosslyn paralleling the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Stops along the route include Roosevelt Island and Gravelly Point, a popular spot for observing planes taking off and landing at Reagan National Airport. The open-air trail also provides scenic views of the Potomac and the capital skyline.
The DEA Museum
Opening in 1999, the various interactive exhibits and displays at the DEA Museum chronicle the history of the law enforcement agency as well as illicit drugs and their abuse over the past 150 years. The museum’s centerpiece is the exhibit entitled “Illegal Drugs in America: A Modern History.” Other displays include “Jimmy’s Joint,” a collection of various drug paraphernalia.
Arlington Historical Museum
Housed in the former Hume School built in 1891, the Arlington Historical Museum preserves the history of the local area from Captain John Smith’s first encounter with the Algonquins in 1608 to the present age. The museum features a rotating display of its collection containing more than 350,000 artifacts. The historical society also operates the 18th century Ball-Sanders historic museum house. Originally built in 1750, it is the oldest extant structure in Arlington.
Fort C. F. Smith Park
The beautiful 19-acre Fort C. F. Smith Park features a lush tree canopy, nature trails and an open meadow as well as preserved Civil War earthworks and the restored 20th century Hendry House. History buffs can explore gun emplacements and the powder magazine. The nature trails afford the opportunity to see wildlife like deer, fox and rabbits. The park is also home to the ornamental Peace Garden and Bird Creek, a man-made water feature that attracts native and migratory birds, such as Barred and Screech Owls.
Ocean Dunes Water Park
One of the popular things to do in DC with kids during warmer months is a trip to Ocean Dunes Water Park. The attraction contains slides and a large swimming pool as well as other water play structures like waterfalls, water jets and spray fountains. A favorite place to cool off, the splash zone is located within the larger Upton Hill Regional Park. The recreation area also includes a mini-golf course and batting cages.
Gulf Branch Nature Center and Park
Tucked away in a 38-acre wooded area of footpaths, streams formed by the nearby Potomac and lush greenery, is this little oasis perfect for some outdoor communing with friends or family. There’s a lot to take in here with the surrounding log cabins, the winding Potomac River Trail, and there’s even a blacksmith shop with a working forge. The park provides interpretive environmental education programs for all ages and for a wide variety of audiences including small groups. There are also exhibits, a children’s Discovery Room, a pollinator garden alive with colorful flowers, butterflies, and hummingbirds, a live animal exhibit room, a pond, a restored log cabin, and an observation beehive. This is a great way to decompress from the hustle and bustle of the Beltway.
Drug Enforcement Administration Museum & Visitors Center
You wouldn’t think that a museum whose mission is to educate the American public on the history of drugs, drug addiction and drug law enforcement in the United States would be an intriguing, much less kid-friendly activity but you’d be wrong. Located directly across the street from the Pentagon City Mall, the museum features rotating exhibits that explore the history of illicit drugs in American culture and the adverse effects of drug abuse. The collection has more than 2,000 objects ranging from old patent medicine bottles to modern drug concealment containers. There are also over 5,000 images from the late 1800s to the present. Whether on exhibit or not, the objects are used for research and study.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, an American Airlines flight destined for Los Angeles out of Washington Dulles Airport was overtaken by hijackers and forced to plummet into the western side of the Pentagon Building. Such was one of the several catastrophic and tragic events that marked that day forever in the minds of those who were alive when it happened. The souls that perished on that fateful day both on the plane and on the ground are forever memorialized here. Elegant and simple, a huge open space adjacent to the Pentagon building was allocated so that 184 curved benches, seemingly sprouting out of the ground, could be arranged to represent each of the people who died that day. Beneath each structure is a small pool of standing water where several lighting elements illuminate the whole memorial at night with an ethereal glow. Each bench has the name of the honored etched on it and victims from the same family are linked by a plaque at the end of the pool of water, which lists their family members who also died in the attack, forever binding them.
Arlington Farmers Market
Farms from all over Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and even as far as New Jersey make their way down to Arlington every Saturday all year round loaded with seasonal produce, artisanal cheeses, jams, jellies, baked goods, organic grass-fed beef and wild-caught salmon from Alaska for starters. This is a great way to meet the folks that till the local lands and sample the remarkable things they produce.
Since you’re right next to the Nation’s Capital, it’s only right to get your grub on American style. With its original location down in Asheville, North Carolina, this eatery specializes in dishes inspired by the American South. Think mac & cheese bites, BBQ chicken eggrolls, pimento cheese nachos and several mouth-watering preparations of both roasted and fried chicken dishes.