Everything You Need to Know BEFORE You Visit Arlington National Cemetery

View of Lincoln Memorial from Kennedy Family Graves

From the giant sarcophagus containing the remains of an unknown American soldier 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 the military cemetery in Washington, DC.

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.

Here is everything you need to know before you visit Arlington National Cemetery.

Arlington House on a Hill Above Graves at Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington House, the former home of General Robert E. Lee, sits on a hill above Arlington National Cemetery.

From its location to the best way to get there, these helpful tips will help you make the most of your visit to Arlington National Cemetery. Scroll up to the top of this post and expand the “In this Article” table of contents to quickly navigate this article.

    

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Graves at Arlington National Cemetery

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. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Grave at Arlington

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 Funeral Services are Held at Arlington National Cemetery Daily?

There are about 25 people buried daily at Arlington National Cemetery, and each funeral 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.

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Soldier Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The Tomb of the Unknowns has been guarded 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, since 1937.

What is There to See at Arlington National Cemetery?

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. The mansion and surrounding grounds were confiscated during the Civil War to become Arlington National Cemetery. Today the mansion is known as the Robert E. Lee Memorial, and it is operated by the National Park Service. 

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 born enslaved to the Lee family on the Arlington Estate who became the first caretaker at Arlington National Cemetery
  • President William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States
JFK Grave with Eternal Flame
An eternal flame burns at JFK's gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Can You Visit JFK’s Grave?

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

Where is JFK Buried?

President John F. Kennedy is buried in Section 45, Grid U-35 at Arlington National Cemetery. Marked by an eternal flame, his grave is just down the hill from Arlington House, the former Custis-Lee Mansion.

Sage Advice: As you turn to leave John F. Kennedy’s gravesite, don’t miss the impressive view of the Lincoln Memorial on the other side of the George Washington Memorial Parkway and Arlington Memorial Bridge.

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, Robert Kennedy (AKA Bobby) and Edward Kennedy (AKA Ted). You’ll also find a marker honoring his older brother, Joseph Kennedy, 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

President Taft's Grave at Arlington National Cemetery

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. As of 2022, Taft is 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 our trolley tour guides, a popular tradition beginning with the Vietnam War is to place a single coin on military graves. This is what each symbolizes:

  • 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 Grave Covered with Coins
Regardless of what you observe, do not throw coins at the graves when you visit Arlington National Cemetery.

However, when you visit the Kennedy family graves 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. But to make the best of the situation, the coins are collected a few times a year and donated to charity. 

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.

Do Not Toss Coins Sign at Arlington National Cemetery
Joe Louis's grave at Arlington.
Boxing great Joe Louis is buried at Arlington in Washington, DC.

What Famous Boxer is Buried at Arlington National Cemetery?

As reigning heavyweight champion of the world, Joe Louis enlisted in the US Army during World War II. He fought nearly 100 matches in front of more than two million troops. When Louis died in 1981, 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. Murphy starred in Gunsmoke and wrote To Hell and Back about his experiences in World War II.
  • Maureen O’Hara, the actress who starred in Miracle on 34th Street and The Quiet Man. She is buried next to her husband, retired Air Force Brigadier General Charles Blair.
Audie Murphy Grave at Arlington National Cemetery

Where is Audie Murphy Buried at Arlington?

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, 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. He lies in eternal rest 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 radioactive 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 intentionally removed by a civilian scientist working at a small experimental power station in Idaho in 1961. It was the first fatal nuclear plant accident in the US. 

Can You Take Photos 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

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

What is the Best Way to Tour Arlington National Cemetery?

Once at the cemetery, consider taking the Arlington National Cemetery bus tour. Not only does the tram help you better navigate the expansive cemetery, but it also includes a narrator. As you move between stops, this guide will provide additional details about Arlington National Cemetery.

Sage Advice: Download ANC Explorer from either the App Store or Google Play. This web-based mobile app helps visitors obtain directions to gravesites and other points of interest at Arlington National Cemetery. 

You may also want to take a guided walking tour of Arlington National Cemetery. This experience includes the changing of the tomb guards 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?

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. Purchase tickets at Arlington National Cemetery, or skip the line and purchase your tram tickets in advance here.

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.

Looking for more information to plan your Washington DC vacation? Check out my additional recommendations to help you plan your trip to Washington, DC, including what to see and do in Washington DC, the best places to stay in Washington DC, where to eat in Washington DC, and more!

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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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