Arlington, Virginia skyline

Just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., Arlington, Virginia, offers a perfect blend of history, culture, and entertainment. Arlington is a top-rated tourist destination known for its museums, memorials, and historical landmarks.

Arlington isn’t just monuments and memorials. Arlington has a vibrant arts scene, lively restaurant and nightlife scene, and vibrant neighborhoods that visitors can explore. Arlington is the perfect destination for a cultural experience, outdoor adventures, or a relaxing weekend getaway.

Why you should visit Arlington, Virginia

Here are some of the main attractions and features that make it stand out:

  • Arlington National Cemetery: This is one of Arlington’s most significant and moving attractions, as it is the final resting place for over 400,000 service members and their families. Visitors can witness the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and see the graves of many figures in American history.
  • National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial: This is another important and moving tribute to the victims of the September 11th attacks. The memorial features 184 illuminated benches, each representing a victim of the attack on the Pentagon.
  • Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: This museum is home to an impressive collection of aircraft and space artifacts, including the space shuttle Discovery and a Concorde supersonic jet.
  • The Pentagon: This is the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense and is an iconic symbol of American military power. Visitors can take a guided tour of the building and learn about its history and operations.
  • Vibrant neighborhoods: Arlington is home to a number of vibrant neighborhoods, each with its unique character and attractions. The Clarendon neighborhood, for example, is known for its nightlife and entertainment, while the Shirlington neighborhood is home to various restaurants, theaters, and shops.
  • Access to Washington, D.C.: Arlington is located just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., which means visitors can easily explore the many attractions of the nation’s capital, including the National Mall, the Smithsonian museums, and the White House.
Arlington cemetery.

City block and transport options

Arlington, Virginia, is a well-planned city with a grid system of streets that are easy to navigate. Many of the city’s attractions are concentrated in certain neighborhoods, such as the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, Crystal City, and Shirlington.

Visitors to Arlington have several transportation options.

  • Metro: Arlington is served by the Washington Metro system, which provides fast and convenient access to many of the city’s attractions. The metro has several stations in Arlington, including Rosslyn, Ballston, Crystal City, and Pentagon City.
  • Bus: Arlington also has an extensive bus system that serves many of the city’s neighborhoods and attractions. Visitors can use the Arlington Transit (ART) buses and the regional bus system operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).
  • Car: Visitors who prefer to drive can easily access Arlington via several major highways, including I-66, I-395, and the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Parking is available at many city attractions but can be limited and expensive in some areas.

Overall, Arlington is a well-connected city that offers a variety of transportation options for visitors. With a bit of planning, visitors can easily explore the city’s many attractions and neighborhoods.

Top-level itinerary ideas

If you only have 36 hours to spend in Arlington, Virginia, and you want to make the most of your time while focusing on the main attractions, here are some suggestions on how to maximize your stay:

Day 1

  • Midday: Start your day with brunch at a local restaurant like Tupelo Honey or Northside Social.
  • Afternoon: Head to the Arlington National Cemetery, a must-see attraction in Arlington. Spend a few hours exploring the cemetery, where you can visit the graves of famous individuals, including President John F. Kennedy, and watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
  • Evening: For dinner, head to the nearby Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, where you can find various dining options, including the popular Shake Shack. After dinner, take a stroll around the mall and enjoy some shopping.

Day 2

  • Morning: Start your day with breakfast at one of Arlington’s popular cafes, Commonwealth Joe Coffee Roasters or Bakeshop, and then head to the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial. This is a moving and poignant tribute to the victims of the September 11th attacks.
  • Late morning/early afternoon: After visiting the memorial, head to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, near the Dulles International Airport. This museum has an impressive aircraft and space artifacts collection, including the space shuttle Discovery and a Concorde supersonic jet.
  • Afternoon/evening: For your final afternoon and evening in Arlington, visit the Pentagon. You can take a guided tour of the Pentagon, which includes the 9/11 Memorial Chapel, and learn more about the history and operations of this important building. After the time, have dinner at a local restaurant, such as The Liberty Tavern, and enjoy some nightlife in the nearby Clarendon neighborhood, where you can find bars, clubs, and live music venues.

By following this itinerary, you can see the main attractions in Arlington, Virginia, while still having time to explore the city at your own pace and enjoy some great food and entertainment.

Specialty itineraries

Historical attractions itinerary

  • Morning: Start the day with a visit to Arlington National Cemetery to witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Afterward, explore the cemetery and visit notable graves, such as those of John F. Kennedy and Thurgood Marshall.
  • Afternoon: Head over to the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial to pay tribute to the victims of the September 11th attacks. Afterward, take a guided tour of the Pentagon to learn about its history and operations.
  • Evening: End the day with a visit to The Arlington Historical Museum, which showcases the history of Arlington through artifacts, exhibits, and interactive displays.

Instagrammable places itinerary

  • Morning: Start the day with a cup of coffee from Commonwealth Joe Coffee Roasters or Bakeshop, two of Arlington’s most famous cafes with beautiful, Instagram-worthy interiors.
  • Afternoon: Head to the Crystal City Water Park, which features a mesmerizing interactive fountain perfect for Instagram photos. Then, go to the iconic “Love” sculpture in Virginia Highlands Park, a popular spot for photos and selfies.
  • Evening: End the day with a visit to the Rooftop Bar and Lounge at the Clarendon Ballroom, which offers stunning views of Arlington’s skyline and the Washington, D.C., monuments.

Walkable attractions itinerary

  • Morning: Start the day with a stroll through the charming and historic Clarendon neighborhood, which features tree-lined streets, quaint shops, and restaurants. Don’t miss Clarendon Central Park, a beautiful green space in the heart of the neighborhood.
  • Afternoon: Head over to the Shirlington neighborhood, known for its walkability and pedestrian-friendly streets. Stroll through the Village at Shirlington, a vibrant outdoor shopping and dining destination featuring a theater and live music.
  • Evening: End the day with a walk along the Potomac River, which offers stunning views of the Washington, D.C. monuments and the Arlington skyline. Start at the Key Bridge and walk along the Mount Vernon Trail to Gravelly Point Park, a popular spot for watching planes take off and land at Reagan National Airport.

Travel tips for first-time visitors

If you are a first-time visitor to Arlington, Virginia, here are some special tips to help make your trip enjoyable and memorable:

Plan ahead

As mentioned earlier, planning is important to maximize your 36-hour visit. Research the attractions and activities you want to see and do, and plan your itinerary accordingly. You can also purchase tickets to popular attractions online in advance to save time.

Use public transportation.

Arlington is well-connected by public transportation, including the Washington Metro and bus systems. Public transit can save you time and money compared to driving and parking.

Dress appropriately.

Arlington can have various weather conditions depending on the season, so dress appropriately for the weather. Also, if you plan to visit Arlington National Cemetery or other memorials, dress respectfully.

Bring comfortable shoes.

Arlington is a walkable city, and you will likely do a lot of walking during your visit. Bring comfortable shoes to avoid sore feet.

Visit outside peak hours.

Popular attractions like Arlington National Cemetery can get crowded during peak hours. Consider visiting early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid crowds and long lines.

Explore neighborhoods.

While Arlington has many popular attractions, the city’s neighborhoods offer their own unique charm and character. Consider exploring areas like Clarendon, Shirlington, and Crystal City to experience the local culture.

Try the local cuisine.

Arlington has a diverse food scene, with many restaurants serving regional and international cuisine. Try local favorites like Virginia ham, Chesapeake Bay blue crabs, and Virginia wines.

Things to bring to an Arlington, Virginia getaway

Spring (March – May)

  • Light jackets and layers for chilly mornings and evenings
  • Umbrella or rain jacket for spring showers
  • Comfortable shoes for walking
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen for sunny days
  • Camera for capturing the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin in nearby Washington, D.C.

Summer (June – August)

  • Lightweight, breathable clothing
  • Comfortable shoes for walking
  • Sunglasses, hat, and sunscreen for protection from the sun
  • Water bottle to stay hydrated during hot days
  • Swimwear and beach towels for visiting the local pools, splash parks, or water parks

Fall (September – November)

  • Layers for changing temperatures throughout the day
  • Light jacket or sweater for cooler evenings
  • Comfortable shoes for walking
  • Umbrella for fall showers
  • Camera for capturing the fall foliage in nearby parks

Winter (December – February)

  • Warm, waterproof coat and winter accessories (gloves, hat, scarf)
  • Thick socks and insulated boots to keep your feet warm and dry
  • Layers of warm clothing for changing temperatures
  • Umbrella or waterproof jacket for winter precipitation
  • Camera for capturing holiday lights and decorations

Arlington safety tips

Arlington, VA, is generally a safe city, but as with any destination, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and take some basic safety precautions.

  • Stay alert: Be aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded areas or at night.
  • Use reputable transportation: Stick to reputable taxi companies or ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft. If you plan to use public transportation, keep an eye on your belongings and avoid empty train cars or buses.
  • Avoid dangerous areas: While Arlington is generally safe, some neighborhoods are less secure than others. Avoid areas known for high crime rates or with a reputation for being unsafe.
  • Secure your valuables: Keep your valuables, including your wallet, phone, and camera, secured in a zipped pocket or bag. Don’t leave your belongings unattended, especially in public areas like parks or coffee shops.
  • Be cautious of strangers: Use caution when talking to strangers and avoid giving out personal information or accepting offers of rides or assistance from strangers.
  • Know emergency numbers: Familiarize yourself with the emergency phone numbers for the area, including 911 for emergencies and the non-emergency police number.
  • Trust your instincts: If something feels off or unsafe, trust your instincts and leave the area or seek help.

The Arlington County Police Department provides several hotlines for emergency and non-emergency situations. In case of an emergency, please dial 911 immediately. For non-emergency problems, such as reporting a crime or requesting police assistance, you can call the police non-emergency number at (703) 558-2222.

In addition to the police department, several hotlines are available in Arlington for emergency services. The Arlington County Emergency Communications Center provides a 24-hour fire and emergency medical services hotline.

To report a fire or request emergency medical assistance, dial 911. You can also reach the Arlington County Emergency Communications Center at (703) 558-2222 for non-emergency fire and medical services.