Hugging a curve on the Potomac River, Arlington is a truly beautiful location. From its elegant architecture to its open green spaces, its natural beauty is often overlooked – this is, after all, an important community, home to many vital facets of the Federal Government. But Arlington has a fun, artsy side that surprises some. In fact, Arlington was once called by the Washington Post, “one of the hippest local jurisdictions at attracting adventurous arts and artists.”
Arlington feels like a big city – but it is actually one of the nation’s smallest self-governing counties, just 26 square miles. Arlington is directly across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. It is home to the Department of Defense at the Pentagon, the Transportation Security Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Washington National Airport. It is also the location of the Arlington National Cemetery, the US Air Force Memorial, the Marine Corps War Memorial, and the Pentagon Memorial.
Arlington is home to diverse neighborhoods, open-air farmers markets, car-free zones, fantastic shopping, 86 miles of biking/jogging trails, 630 (or so) restaurants, and seven live theaters. Arlington is one of the best cities for pedestrians, earning a Gold Level from Walk Friendly Cities. Renting an apartment in Arlington might surprise you – this is a serious, important city with a fun side.
Things to Do in Arlington:
Arlington balances its history and importance with a good dose of fun. Sure, there are memorials and landmarks, but there are also museums, walking trails, and ice hockey. The Kettler Capitals Iceplex is more than the home base of the Washington Capitals NHL team. It also offers year-round public skating, hockey, and broomball. Prefer art? Then you’ll have your pick from the Arlington Arts Center, Artisphere, Harman Center for the Arts, National Theatre, and Ford’s Theatre.
Of course, one of the first places you’ll want to add to your must-visit list is Arlington National Cemetery. Established in 1864, the 624 acres of small, white stones is an overwhelming sight. The cemetery, which was established during the Civil War, is located on the former estate of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. His home, Arlington House, was built in 1803. The house, cemetery, the Arlington Memorial Bridge, Memorial Drive, and the Hemicycle (the iconic ceremonial entry to Arlington National Cemetery) form the Arlington National Cemetery Historic District. The cemetery also contains the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a monument that honors American service members whose remains were never identified.
The United States Air Force Memorial is a true work of art. Although it is fairly recent (dedicated in 2006), it already has historical significance – it was the last project renowned architect James Ingo Freed worked on before his death in 2005. Freed also worked on the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. The memorial resembles the contrails of the Air Force Thunderbirds during their signature “bomb burst” maneuver.
After touring Arlington’s serious side, make some time to enjoy the fun side! Start with some shopping at Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, an upscale mall, or at Ballston Common Mall, a four-level, mixed-use development. This mall contains major stores, a movie theater, a health club, and several restaurants.
The Artisphere is a huge arts center in Arlington’s Rosslyn village. This center has a ballroom, a bar and lounge, three art galleries, four performance venues, studio space, and more. You can also catch a show at the non-profit, professional Signature Theatre, a theater group that performs contemporary plays and musicals, new works, and classical musicals.
The Potomac provides some beautiful locations for outdoor adventures. Go hiking in the Donaldson Run Nature Area, head to Potomac Overlook Park, or explore the historic Fort Ethan Allen. Gulf Branch Nature Center and Park is a terrific park located on Military road. This park has a nature center with exhibits, a classroom, a pollinator garden, and a children’s discovery room. The park also contains a pond, stream, and hiking trails. Bicyclists will enjoy the 4-mile, paved Custis Trail, which connects to the Mount Vernon and Capital Crescent trails.