A fact that amazes many Arlington visitors is that it is not a city but a self-governing county. The absence of towns inside its borders makes it the country’s smallest county that governs itself. If Arlington were a city, it would be the fourth largest in Virginia with its land area of 26 square miles and population of over 200,000. Located directly across from Washington, D.C., on the Potomac River’s south bank, all bridges connecting it to the nation’s capital have pedestrian lanes. Arlington is home for national museums and memorials, federal government agencies and service industries.
The most popular Arlington attraction is Arlington National Cemetery, established on the grounds of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s estate. One of two national cemeteries under the administration of the Department of the Army, the 624-acre cemetery serves as shrine and final resting place for over 300,000 US military veterans and casualties of war. The cemetery’s Welcome Center provides maps, information services regarding grave locations, guidebooks, exhibits, restrooms and a bookstore. Favored stops include the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which has been continuously guarded 24 hours a day with regularly scheduled changes of guard since July 1937; Custis-Lee Mansion, Greek Revival-style home of Robert E. Lee also known as Arlington House; and graves of Presidents John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft.
South of the cemetery is the Pentagon, another popular Arlington attraction. As headquarters for the country’s Department of Defense, this five-sided building covers five acres and houses all military branches. Hour-long tours are easily arranged and free of charge. The Pentagon Memorial, located on the Pentagon Reservation’s left side, preserves the memories of the 184 military personnel, federal and civilian employees, and flight crew members that were killed on September 11, 2001 when terrorists flew a hijacked plane into the Pentagon. The memorial, free and open to the public seven days a week, welcomes individuals and groups but does not offer tours.
Many Arlington visitors will find the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, commonly referred to as the “Iwo Jima Memorial,” a familiar image as it is an iconic statue of Marines raising the country’s flag, and stands to honor the memory all Marines who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country. The Air Force Memorial, located on a promontory next to Arlington National Cemetery, serves as national monument to the men and women of the U.S. Air Force.
Those looking for a break from the sight-seeing crowds can spend time walking or cycling on the Mount Vernon Trail. This paved trail runs parallel to the George Washington Parkway and the Potomac River, and most of its northern half has open views of the river and the nation’s capital city.
Arlington visitors will find hundreds of restaurants reflecting a wide range of tastes in the 12 neighborhoods known as “urban villages.” Options from casual to fine dining can be found concentrated in areas within walking distance of most metro transit stations.