Anyone that has visited Washington DC will know everything in this area generally revolves around the White House, the National Mall, the Smithsonian museums and the iconic monuments and memorials in this part of the nation’s capital. And all of this would be for very good reason! But did you know that just a short walk from all of these infamous landmarks across the Potomac River in Northern Virginia is an eclectic, diverse blend of neighborhoods that collectively make up the town of Arlington? Let’s take a look at the best things to do while spending 48 hours in Arlington, Virginia.
Before you start throwing out landmarks such as The Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, be prepared to keep reading this post because, by the end, you will realize that this area is well worth exploring the next time you head to Washington DC.
Whether you only have a few hours, a few days or you are fortunate to spend longer in this part of the nation, Arlington is a place that deserves to be on everyone’s radar given the diverse range of things to do, places to eat and experiences unlike anywhere else in the United States.
48 Hours in Arlington
You could certainly be forgiven for “assuming” that Arlington’s recognition solely surrounds those iconic landmarks such as the cemetery, but after reading this post, I am convinced that you will likely have a desire to enjoy a few other experiences just as we did during our weekend getaway in Northern Virginia.
Just to entice you a little before we highlight some of the best experiences you can enjoy during a 48 hour getaway, how does the thought of sampling Serbian, Lebanese, Irish, American and Asian cuisine all in one visit sound? Pretty appealing I’m sure, especially if you are a global cuisine connoisseur!
The beauty of Arlington is that despite the myriad of global options available, it’s a relatively small collection of communities that are all easily accessible (majority of them can be accessed on the Metro). We will go into a little more detail later on the best places to eat but you can be sure that every type of traveler, every appetite and every individual will have something they can enjoy while in Arlington!
Arlington is a place that you could quite easily visit with the sole purpose of spending your entire trip there, just as we did on our recent visit. However, given it’s close proximity to Washington DC, it’s feasible that you may be staying in the nation’s capital but still want to experience a variety of experiences in Arlington. Regardless of your preference, Arlington is a place that can accommodate any type of visitor.
Here are just a few of the experiences you should consider adding to your Arlington itinerary.
- Arlington National Cemetery
- The Pentagon 9/11 Memorial
- Pentagon Row & Pentagon City
- The View of DC (CEB Tower)
- Rossyln Self-Guided Public Art Tour
This is by no means an exhaustive list but we will go into a little more detail later in the post on each of these experiences along with a few reasons why Arlington is a “foodie” paradise!
Where is Arlington, Virginia?
But first…let’s start with a quick geography lesson for those of you that are still unaware of Arlington’s location. All those images that you see of the President in the White House or the iconic memorials scattered around the National Mall in Washington DC…well, Arlington is just a few minutes walk from this. Although Washington is in the District of Columbia, Arlington is across the river and inside the “state” of Virginia.
I hesitate to say that Arlington may as well be part of Washington DC (please don’t be offended folks if you are proud Virginians!) but in terms of the infrastructure and connection between the two, it’s easy to see how they are so closely related. The Metro system in DC and Arlington makes it incredibly easy to connect between the two and honestly, based on our experiences, it’s the ONLY way you should consider traveling around the neighborhoods.
We stayed in Rossyln at the Residence Inn Arlington Rossyln hotel which was perfectly located on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines of the Washington Metro. From here, you are just a few minutes from the heart of DC or alternatively in other directions, you can experience all of the diverse neighborhoods that you will quickly fall in love with when you visit Arlington.
Arlington National Cemetery
400,000 individuals honored…624 acres of hollowed ground in Arlington County….anywhere from 10-25 active funerals each day…these are some of the astounding statistics associated with perhaps the most infamous cemetery in the world – Arlington National Cemetery. When you set foot inside this cemetery, it’s unlike any other burial ground that you will likely have visited before.
I will openly admit that writing about cemeteries, taking pictures inside cemeteries and even talking about them isn’t generally very high on people’s lists of things to do but there is something quite unique about Arlington National Cemetery.
Whether you are visiting Arlington to pay your respects to John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) or simply honoring all the amazing individuals that served in the US army over the years to keep this nation safe, this is a place that epitomizes poignancy and uniformity.
Heather is a huge JFK fan and after visiting the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, the site of his tragic assassination, it was at the very top of our list to head directly to his memorial (along with wife and two deceased children).
And it shouldn’t be any other way right? One of the main philosophies of anyone serving for a national army/navy/air force/coast guard is working collectively as one and being a “uniform” unit.
While you walk around Arlington National Cemetery, you see this in full force with the majority of graves standardized, with just a few exceptions paid for by friends and families. This is a place you can easily spend a full day experiencing. We strongly recommend paying for the “hop on, hop off” trolley tours that will take you around the cemetery.
A number of iconic locations that you will likely want to visit include the following:
- JFK Memorial
- Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Changing of the Guard
- Arlington House
- William Howard Taft (Former US President) Memorial
The cemetery is divided into sections and the knowledgeable tour guides on the trolleys will detail some of the key memorials in each section as you pass by. It’s also worth noting that this cemetery is a Memorial Arboretum and it’s definitely apparent as you see the gorgeous trees on display throughout the area.
As mentioned, when you visit this cemetery, it’s likely there will be one or more funerals occurring. Fortunately, the tour guides are respectful enough to keep the trolley’s a safe distance from the funeral site and you may well visit the cemetery without actually noticing this. If you do, please pay your respects by remaining silent and do not take pictures!
Perhaps the most interesting and poignant experience is watching the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, an activity that occurs every 30 minutes.
Did you know that there is someone guarding this 24/7, 365 days of the year, regardless of the weather? This ceremonial proceeding is an integral part of Arlington National Cemetery and it goes without saying, it’s the highest honor for any of the guards to actually perform in this.
Minimum Time Required – 3 or 4 Hours
National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial
On September 11, 2001, the lives of so many people changed. Whether you were directly or indirectly impacted by the tragic events that unfolded on that morning in New York City, Pennsylvania and in Arlington, Virginia, visiting the various memorial sites is an experience everyone should have on their radar.
The National 9/11 Memorial in New York City is undoubtedly the most iconic because of the Twin Towers but that should take nothing away from the experience available at the Pentagon Memorial.
As you walk towards the memorial and notice the towering sight of the Pentagon in the background, it immediately puts into perspective what occurred on that catastrophic day in 2001. 184 lives were lost and today, these individuals are memorialized by benches that are strategically placed on the site next to the Pentagon.
The following quote can be seen on a black granite stone at the entrance to this memorial…
We claim this ground in remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001, to honor the 184 people whose lives were lost, their families, and all who sacrifice that we may live in freedom. We will never forget.
As you walk around the memorial, you will notice years which reflect the year the individuals were born. From a 3-year old to a 71-year old, this was a tragedy for so many people and it’s only appropriate that we honor those lives that were lost.
The benches have water running beneath them and can be seen illuminated at night. The direction of the benches is also significant as it represents whether the individual was on board the American Airlines Flight 77 versus those who were located in the Pentagon during this horrific event.
Minimum Time Required – 30 minutes to 1 Hour
If the first part of your visit was spent exploring the poignant and rather somber sites aforementioned, you could be forgiven for being ready to enjoy something a little more upbeat. The perfect place to experience this is just a short walk from the 9/11 Memorial and is an upscale retail complex.
Pentagon City is a vibrant and thriving neighborhood home to the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City and also Pentagon Row, an eclectic blend of storefronts offering delicious global cuisine and upscale boutique shops.
Visitors to Pentagon City will immediately feel as if they are on 5th Avenue in New York City with the collection of high-end retailers but all packed into a relatively small area. A relaxing and trendy vibe can be felt throughout this part of Arlington and it’s no surprise that you can easily spend several hours enjoying the atmosphere, while of course, sampling the delicious cuisine available.
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that Arlington is home to diverse, global cuisine offerings. Pentagon Row is perhaps the focal point of this as it is home to Lebanese, Asian, Irish and South African cuisine, all within a few doors of each other.
Spend some time relaxing with your favorite beverage from Starbucks while playing a game of checkers before deciding which of the appetizing cuisine options entices you through their doors. Don’t forget to save room for dessert as the local “cupcakery” is sure to have something to satisfy your sweet tooth!
Minimum Time Required – 2 or 3 Hours
The View of DC
I love skyscrapers! I don’t know if it’s the architectural brilliance or the epic panoramic views but any opportunity I get to visit a high rise building, I’m ready to go. Our first stop during our visit to Arlington was The View of DC, also referred to as The Observation Deck at CEB Tower, a 390-feet high rise overlooking Washington DC and the surrounding area. The observation deck has only been open since June 2018 but in terms of technological advancement, this is definitely taking these types of decks to the next level.
Everything around the deck is touch-screen technology with visitors able to learn all about the history and key figures associated with Arlington and DC. The Watergate scandal, MLK’s speech and many more stories can be experienced throughout the self-guided tour of the observation deck.
The moment you leave the elevator after arriving at the observation deck, you can watch a hologram display depicting Ida B. Wells, Frederick Douglass, and Susan B. Anthony sharing their opinions on suffrage.
But despite this plethora of easily accessible information, the real reason for climbing to the 31st floor is the collection of breathtaking 360-degree views across the region. If you have the opportunity to visit The View of DC at the start of your visit to Arlington (or even Washington DC), I highly recommend it.
This definitely puts the region into perspective and is a great way of gaining a geographical understanding of the proximity to the National Mall, White House, Arlington National Cemetery and other iconic landmarks.
Head to the 32nd floor for a champagne lounge experience and spend some time outside admiring the spectacular views. Are you brave enough to head to the corner and look over the edge? Before you leave, get ready for the ultimate adrenaline rush by taking the Hover DC experience.
Whether you are an aviation connoisseur or not, this is an awesome experience to see “hidden” footage as you cruise around DC and surrounding region. You even have the opportunity to see inside the Pentagon from an overhead perspective!
As we think about the CEB Tower in general, I love how this location is thinking outside the box in terms of their positioning in the local area. Ok, the panoramic views are amazing and well worth the visit without any other perks. But when you hear that this place is frequently offering different events such as Sunrise Yoga and other social activities, this is definitely a place you should consider visiting on your next trip to the area.
Minimum Time Required – 1 Hour
Rosslyn Public Art Tour
Did you know that Arlington was home to a collection of awesome art designs? Whether you love critiquing artwork or simply appreciate the novel ideas that artists utilize to construct their works of art, taking a self-guided public walking tour of the Rosslyn neighborhood is a great way to appreciate these awesome designs.
Despite walking around the neighborhood during our first day in Arlington and heading to the Observation Deck at CEB Tower, we had no idea the “hidden gems” that we had simply passed by without noticing. It goes without saying that you should always keep your eyes peeled because you never know what creative artwork will be on display. Some of the iconic pieces on display have particularly creative names such as Cupid’s Garden, Anna and David and Dark Star Park.
Our favorite creative masterpiece is the Liquid Pixels art display found at 1801 N. Lynn Street. This artwork, designed by Ned Kahn, features 42-foot panels on the facade of the building, covered with 450,000 brushed stainless steel disks.
Through kinetic force created by wind and light, it gives the illusion of air flow as the pixels are constantly moving. It’s undoubtedly a mesmerizing display and you cannot help but be fascinated by this design.
Check out the self-guided tour and the various works of art on display here: Rosslyn Public Art Tour Guide
Minimum Time Required – 1 or 2 Hours
Other Experiences in Arlington
If you have time, we strongly recommend considering a visit to Theodore Roosevelt Island. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate during our visit and we will be saving this for our next visit. However, if you are looking for the perfect spot to get away and relax, exploring this area of green space in the heart of an urban environment is definitely a great option. Another landmark well worth visiting is the the Netherlands Carillon, a memorial dedicated to thanking the United States for their efforts and sacrifice in helping the Dutch during the Second World War.
Another area of “green space” worth experiencing is Potomac Overlook Regional Park. Here you can admire views across the Georgetown neighborhood of DC, the iconic landmarks within the city, while enjoying the natural environment within this park.
Feel free to share any other experiences that folks cannot afford to miss when visiting Arlington in the comments section below…we are always ready to be inspired and add things to our future itineraries.
Where to Eat in Arlington
As promised, let’s take a look at some of our favorite “foodie” finds in Arlington. Please remember though, there are A LOT of options in Arlington and dependent on personal preference, there is likely a cuisine type to fit everyone’s palate.
We want to share a couple of unique experiences that we enjoyed during our visit and perhaps inspire you to try them for yourselves. Two very simple words and easy to remember…Jaleo and Baba! You will not be disappointed with either.
Jaleo – A José Andrés Restaurant
After spending a few days in Barcelona, it’s fair to say we fell in love with Spanish tapas. The whole concept of indulging in a myriad of small dishes and being able to sample a variety of different cuisine options at a restaurant is such a wonderful idea.
When we heard that the world famous chef, José Andrés, had a restaurant by the name of Jaleo in the heart of Arlington, we couldn’t resist visiting. We were fortunate to find some of the best tapas in Barcelona, so it was definitely a challenge to see how Arlington’s iconic restaurant fared in comparison.
If you have never been to a Spanish style tapas restaurant, well you really are missing out. Seriously though, it can be an overwhelming experience the first time you visit, particularly if your knowledge of Spanish is minimal because the menu options are vast, sometimes rather confusing and honestly, you are 100% relying on either your intuition or the expert opinion of your waiter to help you out.
Our Jaleo visit was all about sampling everything José Andrés is famous for. We strongly recommend purchasing one of the “taster” menu options…ok, it may be a little more expensive but you get to sample pretty much everything Jaleo is famous for. The most basic taster option, the Classic, gives visitors the opportunity to sample 8 or 9 tasting dishes.
From traditional Patatas Bravas to Gin and Tonic (and Olive) infused spheres (yes, they really are as cool as they sound!), Jaleo’s dining experience is one that you cannot help but fall in love with.
If Spanish tapas wasn’t enough, how does the sound of sampling a delicious Serbian brunch sound? Located in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington, Baba is a speakeasy style cocktail bar offering a decadent menu of options typical of those that you may find in Eastern Europe.
The best time to visit is Sunday to enjoy the delicious brunch offering. Not only can you experience a diverse selection of Serbian (and other Eastern European delicacies), you can also enjoy 25 cent cocktails…that’s right 25 cents, you read that correctly! With a variety of awesome concoctions to choose from, this is definitely an experience you won’t want to miss out on.
The brunch is famous for the “farm display” section of menu items. Take a stroll along the buffet line and fill your plate full of delicious cuisine options. From traditional Hungarian goulash to Chicken Tinga and Smoked Salmon, there is a plethora of other options available to satisfy everyone’s tastebuds.
You can also choose from a separate menu of a la carte options, including Baba’s Perfect Bowl (a twist on oatmeal), Ham and Cheese Crepes (a combination of an egg roll and traditional crepe) and much more!
For $29 per person, visiting Baba for Sunday brunch is certainly that should be on your Arlington itinerary. Be sure to check out Baba’s menu online for latest offerings but there is nothing quite like the experience itself – words and pictures will never do this brunch enough justice!
Arlington, Virginia frequently lies in the shadow of Washington DC but after spending a weekend here, we would argue that the eclectic blend of neighborhoods across this town are well worth adding to any DC itinerary. In fact, as we proved, you can easily take a trip here without having any desire or need to head across the Potomac River and explore the nation’s capital.
From delicious global cuisine to a plethora of cool and unique attractions, Arlington is a place that deserves plenty of recognition. We look forward to returning in the near future to see how this area continues to develop and expand. With Amazon setting up a headquarters in Arlington, it will be no surprise to see this area flourish in the future!
We would like to thank Stay Arlington for hosting us on this trip. We were not financially compensated and the views in this post are completely honest based on our experiences.