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War Memorials and Arlington National Cemetery in Washington

On a trip to Washington you can't miss a visit to the famous Arlington Cemetery. In this post I tell you which are the best tours to visit it.

Isabel Catalán

Isabel Catalán

9 min read

War Memorials and Arlington National Cemetery in Washington

Arlington Cemetery Graves | ©Chris Gainor

Separated from downtown Washington on the other side of the Potomac River is Arlington Cemetery, where thousands of U.S. soldiers are buried and which you will recognize from seeing it so many times in the movies. It is one of the essential visits to make in Washington. I'll tell you why!

The most complete option

Arlington National Cemetery Tour

Arlington National Cemetery

On this approximately 2-hour tour of Arlington National Cemetery with a professional historical guide, you will discover the history of this legendary site.

In this tour of Arlington National Cemetery, one of the most historic in the United States that houses the burial of military personnel who have served the country in local and international wars since the nineteenth century, you will visit monuments such as the tomb of President John F. Kennedy; USS Maine Memorial, which is located on the other side of the Potomac River, and the USS Maine Memorial, which is located on the other side of the Potomac River. Kennedy; USS Maine Memorial, which honors the soldiers killed in the explosion of the battleship USS Maine (ACR-1) in the port of Havana, or the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, considered the most emblematic place in the cemetery. There lie the remains of an unidentified soldier who died in World War I.

A walking tour of approximately two hours with a professional guide who will explain the history of the place. The tour begins at the Welcome Center, which has a series of historical objects alluding to the importance of the military cemetery for the country's society. In addition, you will also see the changing of the guard of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment.

Recommended if... you are a history buff.

Walking Tour of Arlington Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery| ©S Turby
Arlington National Cemetery| ©S Turby

With an extension of 250 hectares, this military cemetery is the largest cemetery in the world. Given its characteristics, to get to know a place like this in depth, it is advisable to opt for a visit to Arlington Cemetery with a professional guide who will show you its history in detail and its most emblematic spaces.

Although it is predominantly a military cemetery where the remains of more than 400,000 Americans who participated in all the war conflicts that the country has been part of since the Civil War rest, civilians who provided valuable services to the nation and presidents such as William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy are also buried there. Kennedy on which rests the "eternal flame".

On a walking tour of Arlington Cemetery you can discover other important places such as Arlington House (the former residence of Confederate General Robert E. Lee), the memorial to the USS Maine, the Pentagon memorial, the memorials to the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia or the changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, among others. During your trip to Washington you can dedicate part of the morning to this visit. It won't take you long and you will see one of the most outstanding American National Parks.

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Arlington National Cemetery Sightseeing Tram Tour

The Arlington National Cemetery streetcar tour is a very comfortable way to visit this monumental enclave, as you will see the graves of soldiers who participated in wars and armed conflicts since the nineteenth century and you will learn the history of the place from a professional guide.

In addition, you can get off and on the streetcar whenever you want to enjoy the experience in the most personalized way possible. A historical journey through the military culture of the United States.

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Washington DC Sightseeing Tram

There is also the option of taking a 90-minute sightseeing streetcar tour of Washington DC with free stops. A comfortable way to get to know the capital of the USA and its main attractions with the commentary of a professional guide.

You will see the most emblematic places of Washington DC such as the White House, the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial, among many others. Also, if you specify you can add a visit to Arlington National Cemetery to this experience.

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Arlington National Cemetery Tour for small groups

And if you are looking for the most personalized experience possible, you can opt for the Arlington National Cemetery tour for small groups, where you will walk for about two and a half hours in small groups of up to eight people, this emblematic place that honors the memory of the military dead in battle in different wars.

The professional guide expert in history will explain the facts and details essential to understand the importance of this legendary space of American culture and you will visit monuments such as the Eternal Flame of John F. Kennedy. And, of course, you will also witness the famous changing of the guard of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment.

You also have the option of taking the tour exclusively with your group. To do so, simply request the private tour option at the time of booking.

Arlington National Cemetery Tour Reservations

Arlington Cemetery Bus Tour

Guided bus tour of the cemetery| ©Arlington National Cemetery
Guided bus tour of the cemetery| ©Arlington National Cemetery

If during your trip to Washington you don't have much time to make this visit but you don't want to miss the opportunity to see the most famous cemetery in the United States, then I recommend you to choose a bus tour of Arlington Cemetery with free stops.

The great thing about the Hop-on Hop-off system is that you can create your own route to visit the cemetery at your own pace, getting off at the stop of your choice to explore a particular area and then hopping back on the tour bus to continue the itinerary until the end.

During the visit to Arlington Cemetery by bus you will have a guided narration that will explain the places you see on the route. Once you get off the vehicle to get to know an area, I recommend you download the ANC Explorer app on your cell phone, which has self-guided tours and helps you locate specific graves you want to see, such as that of President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie or the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, among others. You can find it on iOS or Android.


How much does it cost to take a tour of Arlington Cemetery?

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier| ©Philippa Rose-Tite
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier| ©Philippa Rose-Tite

Although the entrance to access Arlington Cemetery is free and you could visit it for free, given its large dimensions, as well as its importance and background for the feeling of the country, in my opinion the best way to know its history in depth and that of its most outstanding spaces is to take an organized tour along with a professional guide. Besides, it is much more entertaining.

There are different organized tours to Arlington Cemetery that have different prices. These vary depending on factors such as their duration, the size of the group, whether it is done on foot or by bus, whether you have the services of a guide or the number of locations to be visited on the route. You can find options starting at 14 euros.

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How long are the Arlington Cemetery tours?

Cemetery Tomb| ©Forrest Smith
Cemetery Tomb| ©Forrest Smith

Arlington Cemetery is open from 8 AM to 5 PM. During its opening hours you can visit this National Park by choosing the tour that best suits your schedule.

The shortest Arlington Cemetery tour lasts about 30 minutes while the longest tour can last approximately 5 hours.

There are different schedules available! At Hellotickets you can compare tours, schedules and prices to choose the most suitable for you.

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Can I take a guided tour of Arlington Cemetery?

Guided tour| ©Nicole Saavedra
Guided tour| ©Nicole Saavedra

Of course you can! In fact, a visit to Arlington Cemetery is the most recommended option because it is huge and has a lot to see.

To make sure you don't miss any detail, it is best to join a guided tour of the cemetery that will show you its most emblematic sites and explain its history and origins.

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What graves and memorials will I see at Arlington Cemetery?

Tomb of Kennedy and his wife| ©Arlington National Cemetery
Tomb of Kennedy and his wife| ©Arlington National Cemetery

Some of the highlights of visiting Arlington Cemetery include:

  • Welcome Center: a small museum related to the military theme that is worth a look to learn about the history of Arlington Cemetery and its importance to the country.
  • Arlington House: former residence of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
  • Tomb of President John F. Kennedy: above the tomb is the eternal flame, which has burned since his funeral on November 25, 1963.
  • Memorial to the USS Maine: in honor of the victims of the explosion of the Maine in 1898.
  • Tomb of the Unknown Soldier: memorial to the unidentified fallen soldiers who perished in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
  • Pentagon Memorial: honoring the victims of the Pentagon during the 9/11 attacks.
  • Space Shuttle Challenger and Columbia Memorials: honoring the crew who perished in both accidents.
  • Civil War Unknowns Memorial: honoring soldiers who perished in the American Civil War.
  • Confederate Memorial: pays tribute to the soldiers of the Confederate Army.
  • Tomb of President William Howard Taft: 27th President of the United States and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • Tomb of General John J. Pershing: the only U.S. serviceman to earn the rank of general of the armies during his lifetime, second only to George Washington who was retroactively awarded it with greater seniority.
  • Tomb of George C. Marshall: the Army Chief of Staff during World War II whose name gave the plan for the post-war reconstruction of Europe its name.
  • Memorial Amphitheater: a space where funerals and memorial services are held on Veterans Day or Memorial Day.

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Why is it worth taking a tour of Arlington Cemetery?

Directions to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier| ©Sara Cottle
Directions to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier| ©Sara Cottle

Although it is a cemetery and at first it may not seem like a touristy place, on a visit to Arlington Cemetery you can learn about the history of the United States contemplating the tombs and monuments dedicated to personalities or relevant events of the nation.

It is also a very touching and moving place because here are buried thousands of soldiers and veterans who gave their lives for their country. Watching the long rows of white tombstones that we have seen so many times in the movies is something that truly impresses. As is attending the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

In addition, Arlington Cemetery surprises with the solemn beauty of its gardens and the sense of calm it conveys. In fact, in 2004 it was declared a National Park so it is an excellent place to stroll around on a sunny day and take beautiful pictures of nature and the colors of spring and fall. Did you know that it has more than 8,500 exotic and native tree species? Amazing!

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When is the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery?

Changing of the Guard| ©Doug Keeling
Changing of the Guard| ©Doug Keeling

If you would like to witness the famous Changing of the Guard ceremony at Arlington Cemetery, it takes place from October 1 through March 31 every hour on the hour and from April 1 through September 30 every half hour.

It takes place in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and is conducted by soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment known as "The Old Guard," the oldest active duty infantry unit in the Army serving since 1784, who have guarded the tomb every day, 24 hours a day since July 2, 1937.

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What to bring to Arlington Cemetery?

Arlington House| ©Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington House| ©Arlington National Cemetery

Documentation

To enter Arlington Cemetery and visit the cemetery, it is essential that all foreign tourists present their passport at the security checkpoint, as foreign identity documents are not accepted.

On the other hand, Americans must provide a photo ID issued by the government or by the States that are part of the country.

Dress

Arlington Cemetery is a huge place and you will have to walk quite a bit between the different points of interest so I advise you to wear comfortable shoes during the visit.

Regarding clothing, as it is a visit to a cemetery I advise you to wear smart-casual clothes out of respect.

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When to visit Arlington Cemetery?

Veterans at a ceremony| ©Arlington National Cemetery
Veterans at a ceremony| ©Arlington National Cemetery

Any time is a good time to visit Arlington Cemetery, but if your trip falls in November, you can reserve your tickets for the special occasion of Veterans Day (November 11).

On that day you can go to the Memorial Amphitheater to listen to the President's address to veterans and watch a small military parade in full dress uniforms.

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