I saw the nation’s capital without ever visiting Washington itself.
If you’re wondering how that happened it’s because I stayed across the Potomac River in Virginia’s Arlington County.
Arlington, once part of the District of Columbia, is perhaps best known as the home of the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery and Reagan airport. Speaking of Reagan, many people are surprised to learn the airport they landed at isn’t actually in Washington proper. Arlington has also been in the news after successfully bidding for Amazon’s HQ2.
While plenty of people stay in Arlington — hotel rates are significantly cheaper than D.C. — many of those visitors wrongly think of it as a bedroom community with little to see and do.
Spending 48 hours on a citycation in Arlington gives one a unique experience. You get Washington without Washington because let’s face it: Two nights is hardly enough time to get to know the nation’s capital, but it’s the perfect amount of time to discover everything this side of the Potomac has to offer.
What to do and see
Arlington is home to five major memorials and monuments, including the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial and the U.S. Air Force Memorial, which reaches 402 feet into the sky. Of course, anyone who has ever seen the iconic photograph of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima will instantly recognize the Marine Corps War Memorial.
Then there is Arlington National Cemetery. Arguably best known for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the grave of slain President John F. Kennedy, it’s also the final resting place for thousands of other heroes buried in its sacred grounds.
The cemetery is also where you find Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Arlington House. Congress designated the Greek Revival stately home, which is closed through the fall for exhaustive restoration work, as a memorial to Lee in the 1950s. Today, you find it largely preserved as it would have been in the antebellum period.
Another must-visit is the Pentagon, though booking a tour isn’t as easy as it could be. Exhausting your patience going through the lengthy process is well worth the tour. Just be sure to book well ahead of time, especially during peak tourist season.
The relatively new Observation Deck at CEB Tower with its sweeping panoramic views of the region’s cityscape is beyond impressive.
In the warmer months the 88-acre Theodore Roosevelt Island is popular for outdoor activities. While part of the District of Columbia it is accessible by foot from Arlington.
Where to stay and eat
I stayed at The Ritz-Carlton, Pentagon City.
As you would expect from its name the hotel is located near the Pentagon. The luxury hotel is conveniently attached to a major shopping mall and sits above the Pentagon City Station on the blue and yellow lines of the Metro, as the subway is called.
I recommend booking a room with club lounge access, as the daily breakfast and open bar, which included Virginia wines when I stayed there, is worth the extra cost.
All of the major airlines fly into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Outside of some flights from Canada, international flights arrive farther away at Washington Dulles International Airport.