Everything You Need to Know BEFORE You Visit Arlington National Cemetery

Everything You Need to Know BEFORE You Visit Arlington National Cemetery

From the giant sarcophagus containing the remains of an unknown soldier who perished in World War I to a sea of white marble headstones dotting the green rolling hills, every American should visit Arlington National Cemetery at least once to pay their respects. Here’s everything you need to know before you visit Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC.

While there is no cost to visit Arlington National Cemetery, I did pay full price to ride the shuttle bus through the cemetery. But you can count on me to always share my honest opinions, regardless of who foots the bill.

Before it was a cemetery, the wooded land on the west side of the Potomac River was the estate of General Robert E. Lee and his wife, Mary Anna Custis Lee. Known as Arlington House, the Greek Revival mansion was built by slaves at the direction of George Washington’s grandson. 

Related Article:  Arlington House – How Robert E. Lee’s Home Became a National Cemetery

The property was confiscated by the US government during the Civil War when Robert E. Lee left the Union Army to lead the South. And when the bloodiest war in American history quickly filled military cemeteries in Washington, DC, and Alexandria, Virginia, the Custis-Lee estate became Arlington National Cemetery.

If you’re planning a visit to the 624-acre site just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, here is everything you need to know before you visit Arlington National Cemetery.

Arlington National Cemetery sits on the grounds of the former Robert E. Lee estate
Arlington House, the former home of General Robert E. Lee, sits on a hill above Arlington National Cemetery.

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Where is Arlington National Cemetery?

Arlington National Cemetery is just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, in Arlington, Virginia. It can easily be reached by car or via the DC Metro on the blue line.

How Big is Arlington Cemetery?

Arlington National Cemetery spans 624 acres, which is roughly the equivalent of 472 American football fields. 

How Many People Visit Arlington National Cemetery Each Year?

More than three million people visit Arlington National Cemetery annually.

How Many Graves Are in Arlington National Cemetery?

During the Civil War, on May 13, 1864, Private William Christman of Pennsylvania became the first member of the military buried at Arlington National Cemetery. More than 150 years later, 400,000 men and women are interred at Arlington National Cemetery. 

Who is Buried at Arlington National Cemetery?

Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place of more than 400,000 people. The vast majority of those buried across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital are veterans who served the US in the Army, Air Force, Navy, or Marine Corps. But others interred at Arlington are high-ranking federal government officials, Medal of Honor recipients, famous actors, other notable Americans, and their loved ones.

Two US presidents are buried at Arlington National Cemetery: William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy.

What Does it Cost to be Buried at Arlington National Cemetery?

Provided the deceased qualifies to be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, there is no fee to be interred or inurned. 

How Many Funerals a Day are Held at Arlington National Cemetery?

There are about 25 funerals held each day at Arlington National Cemetery, and each service lasts approximately 20 to 30 minutes. Military funeral honors are based on the deceased’s rank, medals received, and circumstances. For example, any Medal of Honor recipient or person killed in action receives military funeral honors with a funeral escort regardless of rank. 

For half an hour before the first funeral and for half an hour after the last funeral, the flags at the cemetery are flown at half staff.

Who Can be Buried at Arlington National Cemetery?

Soldiers who perish while on active duty and retired members of the military are eligible for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Others may qualify for burial based on these requirements to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

What is There to See at Arlington National Cemetery?

The Tomb of the Unknown is one of the most visited graves at Arlington National Cemetery.
The Tomb of the Unknowns has been guarded 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, since 1937.

President Kennedy’s eternal flame, the Kennedy family plot, and the Tomb of the Unknowns are the most-visited graves within the 624-acre site. 

Visitors also stop at Arlington House, the former home of General Robert E. Lee that was confiscated during the Civil War to become Arlington National Cemetery.

Be sure to pay your respects at these Arlington Cemetery notable graves including:

  • Medgar Evers, a World War II veteran and prominent civil rights activist
  • John Glenn, a distinguished World War II fighter pilot and the first American astronaut to orbit the earth
  • Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr., the first African American four-star general
  • Pierre L’Enfant, the architect of Washington, DC
  • Joe Louis, a World War II veteran and heavyweight boxing champion
  • Audie L. Murphy, one of the most decorated soldiers in US history and a famous actor
  • James Parks, the man who was born enslaved to Robert E. Lee’s family on the Arlington Estate and became the first caretaker at Arlington National Cemetery
  • President William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States

Can You Visit JFK’s Grave?

President John F. Kennedy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
President John F. Kennedy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery with his wife, Jackie, and their two infant children.

Yes. With its eternal flame encircled with Cape Cod granite and First Lady Jackie by his side, President John F. Kennedy’s grave is one of the most-visited sites at Arlington National Park.

Where is JFK Buried?

In the shadow of Arlington House, the former Custis-Lee Mansion, that sits atop a hill overlooking the cemetery, President John F. Kennedy is buried in Section 45, Grid U-35 at Arlington National Cemetery.

Related Article:  5 Little Known Facts About the Kennedy Family Graves at Arlington National Cemetery

Who is Buried with Kennedy at Arlington Cemetery?

President John F. Kennedy is buried with his wife, Jackie, and their two infant children. Nearby are the graves of JFK’s two brothers, Bobby and Ted, and a marker honoring his older brother, Joe, who died when his plane exploded over the English Channel during World War II.

Related Article: 5 Places to Visit to Honor JFK’s Legacy

Is Kennedy the Only President Buried in DC?

No, William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States, is also buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Taft was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in March 1930 after passing away at his home. He was the first president and the first chief justice buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and he remains the only American in history to have served as both president and chief justice.

Why are There Coins on Graves at Arlington National Cemetery?

According to the woman narrating our bus tour of Arlington National Cemetery, a tradition rose to popularity during the Vietnam War where a single coin is placed on military graves:

  • A penny demonstrates that you knew them
  • A nickel says you trained with them
  • A dime shows you served with them
  • A quarter indicates you were there when they died
Jackie Kennedy is buried next to JFK at Arlington National Cemetery.
Regardless of what you observe, do not throw coins at the graves when you visit Arlington National Cemetery.

However, when you visit JFK’s grave at Arlington, you’ll likely observe people throwing coins of all kinds, sometimes in handfuls, at the grave. 

I found the scene so upsetting that I discussed it with a nearby guard. He explained that the family feels that the coin tossing is incredibly disrespectful, and that the coins are removed and donated to charity a few times each year. 

If you choose to respectfully place a coin on the gravestone of someone buried at Arlington National Cemetery following the tradition cited above, that is acceptable. But under no circumstances should you throw coins on any grave when you visit Arlington National Cemetery.

What Famous Boxer is Buried at Arlington National Cemetery?

Joe Louis' grave at the Arlington National Cemetery
Known as “The Brown Bomber,” boxer Joe Louis, is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

As reigning heavyweight champion of the world, Joe Louis enlisted in the US Army during World War II where he fought nearly 100 matches in front of more than two million troops. He died in 1981 at the age of 66, and President Reagan waived the technical requirements for burial at Arlington to allow the boxer to be buried at Arlington with full military honors. 

He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 7A, Grave 177, next to actor Lee Marvin. His tombstone features a bas-relief of the champion and his nickname, “The Brown Bomber.”

Related Article: 12 Graves to Visit in Arlington National Cemetery (After You’ve Paid Respect to JFK)

What Famous Actors are Buried at Arlington National Cemetery?

There are several famous actors buried at Arlington National Cemetery including:

  • Lee Marvin, a Purple Heart recipient and World War II veteran who starred in The Dirty Dozen
  • Audie L. Murphy, one of the most decorated soldiers in US history who went on to star in Gunsmoke and write To Hell and Back about his experiences in World War II
  • Maureen O’Hara, this actress, who starred in Miracle on 34th Street and The Quiet Man, is buried next to her husband, retired Air Force Brigadier General Charles Blair

Where is Audie Murphy Buried at Arlington?

Audie L. Murphy, one of the nation's most dedicated soldiers, is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Audie Murphy’s Gravesite, Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by Library of Congress [Public domain]
One of the most decorated soldiers in US history, Murphy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 46, Site 366-11.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Audie L. Murphy wanted to enlist and serve his country. However, the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps turned him down for being underweight and underage. Because he’d lost both parents by the age of 16, his older sister provided an affidavit that inflated his age by a year and Murphy joined the US Army in June 1942, a week after his 17th birthday.

During World War II, Murphy fought in North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany. He received every American combat award for valor available at the time of his service, including the Medal of Honor and recognitions from France and Belgium making him one of the most decorated soldiers in US History.

Murphy went on to be an actor and author. Based on his 1949 autobiography detailing his experiences during World War II, Murphy stars as himself in the movie To Hell and Back

Plagued by his own demons after World War II, Murphy became a vocal advocate for Korean and Vietnam War veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The Audie L. Murphy Memorial VA Hospital in San Antonio, Texas, was dedicated in 1973, in part due to his work championing post-service healthcare for veterans. 

Where is the Radioactive Grave at Arlington?

SPF4 Richard LeRoy McKinley is buried in Section 31, Lot 472 in a lead-lined casket sealed in concrete and placed in a metal vault. Included on his record of interment is this statement, “Victim of nuclear accident. Body is contaminated with long-life radio-active isotopes. Under no circumstances will the body be moved from this location without prior approval of the Atomic Energy Commission in consultation with this headquarters.”

McKinley was killed when a control rod was manually removed from a small experimental power station in Idaho in 1961, resulting in the first fatal US nuclear plant accident. An investigation into the accident determined that the rod was manually removed by one of the operators working the night shift in an act of suicide. 

Can You Take Photos at Arlington National Cemetery?

Be respectful when taking photographs at Arlington National Cemetery.
Be respectful when taking photographs at Arlington National Cemetery.

While photography is permitted within Arlington National Cemetery, visitors should be respectful of their surroundings at all times. Do not take photos of someone who is visibly mourning, and ask permission before photographing or filming someone visiting a grave.

Photography with a tripod or lighting equipment is only permitted with permission from the Office of Public Affairs.

How Do I Get to Arlington National Cemetery?

The address for the Arlington National Cemetery is simply Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. Most search engines and map applications can find the cemetery using that information. The cemetery is located just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, and can be reached using the DC Metro via the blue line.

Related Article: What’s in a Name? The People and Places Behind Popular Metro Stations in DC

What is the Best Way to Tour Arlington National Cemetery?

Tickets to the narrated bus tour are highly recommended when you visit Arlington National Cemetery.
Tickets to the narrated bus tour are highly recommended when you visit Arlington National Cemetery.

Once at the cemetery, consider taking the Arlington National Cemetery bus tour. Not only does it help you better navigate the expansive cemetery, but it also includes a narrator who will provide additional details and Arlington National Cemetery facts.

Pro Tip:  Download a printable map before you visit Arlington National Cemetery 

You may also want to take a guided walking tour of Arlington National Cemetery. This experience includes the changing of the guards ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns as well as some of the cemetery’s most important gravesites and memorials.

How Much Time Does it Take to Visit Arlington National Cemetery?

With 400,000 graves on 624 acres, a visitor could easily spend all day at Arlington National Cemetery and not see everything. However, a standard visit — using the Arlington bus tour and hopping off at the designated stops — will take approximately two to three hours.

What are Arlington National Cemetery Visiting Hours?

The cemetery is open daily from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm April through September and 8:00 am to 5:00 pm October through March.

Is Arlington Cemetery Free?

Yes. There is no admission fee to visit Arlington National Cemetery. However, tickets are required for the tram that winds through the cemetery. Discounted tickets are offered to active-duty military, veterans, seniors, and children, and they can be purchased just inside the Arlington National Cemetery entrance.

Have You Visited Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC?

What memorials and graves did you see when you were there? Any additional tips or advice to pass along to others who are planning a visit to Arlington? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Please note:  Photos not watermarked by me or clearly attributed to a specific photographer or organization are from the community of talented photographers over at Pixabay.

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10 thoughts on “Everything You Need to Know BEFORE You Visit Arlington National Cemetery”

  1. This is such an interesting post. I had the opportunity to chaperone a group of students to the cemetery a couple of years in a row. It was so moving to see their reaction to the changing of the guard and the story that accompanies that ceremony.

  2. We buried my grandfather at Arlington last year. He was a lifer in the marines and achieved the highest rank possible for a NCO (Master Gunnery Sergeant) and served three tours in Vietnam, so had a funeral with all the honors. It was a incredible service to be part of and I am sure he would have loved it.

  3. I visited Arlington a long time ago and only remember visiting JFK’s grave. The place was huge and I didn’t really know my way around it but JFK’s grave was an easy one. This was before Jackie passed away but I remember seeing the plaque for his son Patrick and thinking how sad it was. There was a third one but I didn’t remember it was another child… It was a very moving experience. Obviously there is a lot more to see in Arlington so I’ll have to spend more time there!

  4. We were in Arlington Cemetery ten years ago. We just took photos, especially of the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I didn’t know Taft was also buried there and that Robert E Lee’s house sits atop the hill.

  5. I can see why you might want to take a shuttle through the 624 acre site. I find cemeteries interesting to visit for all the history they can reveal. I am sure the 400,000 graves tell so many different stories. I am a Kennedy history fan so would definitely want to stop there. And I won’t be throwing coins on the grave!

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