During our summer road trip (click here to see our itinerary), we visited Arlington National Cemetery during our stop in Washington D.C. While I have travelled to D.C. several times, this was the first time I visited Arlington. We arrived at 8:00 am right when the gates opened so that we could avoid the summer crowds and there were very few people there when we first walked in to the Welcome Center where we picked up a map of the grounds and spent some time looking at the pictures and exhibits. Since we were traveling with our kids, I spent a few minutes explaining the importance of respectful behavior not only because of the history but because funerals continue to take place here each day. This is not a place for rough housing and play.
Tomb of the Unknowns
Our first stop was the Tomb of the Unknowns which honors soldiers “known but to God.” During the summer the Changing of the Guard occurs each half hour and this was an utterly mesmerizing ritual to witness. There is no way to not feel like you are witnessing something special when you see this ceremony. Even the children in attendance were utterly silent.
Our next destination was Arlington House. Located within the grounds of the cemetery, this National Park Service Memorial was the pre-war residence of Robert E. Lee and was also built by George Washington Parke Curtis, a grandson of Martha Washington. Definitely a house with stories to tell! If only the walls could talk…We spent an hour here learning the history of the house and the people who lived here while the kids earned their Junior Ranger badges. It was at this residence that Lee resigned from the United States Army to join the Confederacy. In fact, the Arlington Memorial Bridge from this side of the Potomac to the Lincoln Memorial is a symbolic reunification of the North and South. The house and surrounding gardens are beautiful as is the view of Washington D.C. across the Potomac River.
John F. Kennedy’s Gravesite
Visiting John F. Kennedy’s grave and eternal flame was also a memorable part of our visit and we joined the throngs of people at his gravesite honoring him. By this time it was about 10:30 and it was quite crowded as we headed back through the grounds as we prepared to leave. Not only were the grounds beautiful, the atmosphere at Arlington National Cemetery is a poignant reminder of the price paid by so many for the freedoms we often take for granted. I am so glad we decided to make this a part of our visit to Washington D.C.
If you go to Arlington National Cemetery and Arlington House:
-A fascinating account of the history of the cemetery is On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery. Reading this before our visit gave me a perspective and understanding I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
-Lodging is expensive in the D.C. area, so we decided to camp nearby at Cherry Hill Park. While this was the most expensive campground I have ever stayed at (we paid over $70 a night!), it was much cheaper than staying at a hotel for our family of 6. The campground is not perfect- it was pretty crowded during our late summer visit and the sounds of the highway are audible from the tent sites. However, it was safe and convenient and the kids enjoyed swimming in the pool. If you are traveling to D.C. on a budget, this is a good option.
-The cemetery is open from 8:00 AM until 7:00 PM during the summer. Hours are reduced during the winter months. For more information about the cemetery’s hours of operation, click here.
-There is plenty of parking in the lot adjacent to the cemetery. Rates were quite reasonable for the area with a rate of $1.75/hour for the first three hours and $2.50/hour for each additional hour. For $25, we parked our car there the entire day while we toured D.C. by walking across the Arlington Memorial Bridge into the city.
-While bus tours are offered for the cemetery and would benefit those with mobility issues, we walked ourselves and found this to be ideal. That being said, wear your comfortable walking shoes! I was more exhausted after our day in D.C. than I have been on long distance hikes. You will do a TON of walking!
-Make sure to have a map so you know where you are going as the cemetery grounds are large and spread out. Free paper maps are available at the Welcome Center.
-Get there early during the season! We arrived right when the gates opened at 8 AM and there were very few visitors at that time. By the time we left a couple of hours later, the Welcome Center was packed with people.