Founded in 1864, the cemetery sits on the former grounds of Arlington House, the onetime mansion of George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of Martha Washington and step-grandson of George Washington. Originally built as a memorial to President Washington, the ground became a burial site for Civil War soldiers with the first military interment for Private William Christman.
Perched on a hill overlooking the cemetery, Arlington House — also known as the Robert E. Lee Memorial — passed to Custis’s daughter Mary Anna Randolph Custis, who was married to Robert E. Lee. After the Lee family vacated the estate in 1861 at the start of the Civil War, it served as a military headquarters, a community for emancipated enslaved people (and their graves) and eventually a national military cemetery. Today, you can tour this preserved historic home daily.
More than 3,000 ceremonies and memorial services take place at the cemetery each year, including national observances for Memorial Day and Veterans Day held at the Memorial Amphitheater. Each year for Memorial Day, volunteers place a flag by every tombstone, monument and columbarium row in the cemetery.
Throughout the year, visitors can take one of countless tram and guided or self-guided walking tours of the property. Most feature the signature points of interest, while others focus on natural highlights such as the Memorial Arboretum, rain gardens and plants. You can join Arlington’s horticulturist, for example, on a memorable walking tour of the well-tended flora at its peak of seasonal splendor.
How to Visit
The cemetery is accessible via the Arlington Cemetery Metro station and via a commercial parking facility located next to the entrance Welcome Center. It’s open seven days a week, 365 days a year.