Arlington County, more commonly known simply as Arlington, is an urban county in Northern Virginia, directly across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.. With a population of 210,000, yet a land area of only about 26 square miles, Arlington is one of America's mostly densely populated jurisdictions. Despite its density, Arlington mixes the best of both big city and suburban environments.
Arlington is frequently grouped together with the adjacent but politically independent cities of Falls Church to the west and Alexandria to the south, forming the northern Virginia side of the metropolitan core "inside the Beltway" (i.e. in the area encircled by Interstate 495). These areas, like the greater Washington area as a whole, have seen considerable economic and population growth as the size of the federal government and its contractors continues to grow, even during nationwide economic downturns.
Arlington is broadly divided into North Arlington and South Arlington, separated by Arlington Boulevard (US-50). You can often tell what section a location is in by its address. Locations in North and South Arlington will often have, respectively, a "North" or "South" (or "N" or "S") before the street name (e.g. 1234 S Example St, Arlington, VA). Within each the visitor can find several commercial districts of interest.
Parkland lines the Potomac along almost Arlington's entire riverfront, though there are few amenities or facilities for visitors. The parks and overlooks are accessible by driving along the George Washington Memorial Parkway or walking along the Potomac Heritage Trail and Mount Vernon Trail in their respective sections.
The dense Rosslyn-Ballston corridor is a series of five "urban villages" following Wilson and Clarendon Boulevards west from Rosslyn, just across the Potomac from Georgetown. This area has seen massive redevelopment since the 1980s. While Rosslyn is largely offices and hotels, and depopulated at night, the pricey high-rises and group houses to the west are home to the largest concentration of restaurants, bars, and entertainment in Arlington— and to the young professionals who patronize them. The corridor is literally a textbook case of transit-oriented development, with the thriving neighborhoods of Courthouse, Clarendon, Virginia Square, and Ballston clustered around their eponymous Orange/Silver Line Metrorail stations. At the center is the shopping and restaurant district of Clarendon, which was Arlington's "downtown" until the 1960s.
Crystal City is the principal commercial area in South Arlington, consisting of highrise buildings centered on U.S. Route 1 (Jefferson Davis Highway). Located adjacent to the airport, this neighborhood has perhaps the largest concentration of hotels in Arlington. Arlington has been redeveloping 1960s-era Crystal City, with a new restaurant district along Crystal Drive joining the established one on 23rd St S. Underlying it all, literally, is the Crystal City Underground, a subterranean network of interconnected shops and restaurants— and a handy alternative to walking in bad weather, provided you don't get disoriented. Adjacent to Crystal City to the north is the Pentagon City shopping district.
|Arlington National Cemetery
Just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., adjacent to the Pentagon, this national military cemetery includes John F. Kennedy's tomb and the house of General Robert E. Lee (whose property this was, before it was seized during the civil war).
The Columbia Pike corridor, centered on Columbia Pike east of Glebe Road, is an up-and-coming district, with a number of new high-rise developments, restaurants, and bars recently joining the landmark Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse. The Pike is served by frequent Metrobuses connecting it to the Pentagon Metro. Shirlington is a mixed use development with a variety of restaurants as well as art and event space, and of course shopping, accessed mainly via I-395 (the Shirley Highway).
The far northern region of Arlington is mainly an upscale residential area, similar to McLean which borders it to the north. Still, there are some points of interest there. The small western neighborhood of Westover has a selection of neighborhood restaurants along Washington Boulevard between North Mckinley and Longfellow Streets. It is noted for Westover Market's Beer Garden, offering food and live entertainment during the summer.
Arlington and "Old Town" Alexandria form part of the original "ten miles square" which the U.S. Constitution dedicated as the District of Columbia, the nation's capital. It was one of the District's original two counties; Arlington County (named Alexandra County till 1920) was the part on the Virginia side of the Potomac River, and Washington County (present day Washington, D.C.) was the part on the Maryland side. The law creating the District prohibited building government buildings in Arlington County, leaving it to be used for gambling and other vices. In the 1840s, as a result of issues relating to congressional representation, slavery, and the economy, the U.S. Congress returned Arlington County to Virginia.
While no longer part of the capital proper, Arlington's proximity to it has made it home to various national monuments and federal installations. Most travelers to Arlington will visit both Washington, D.C. and Arlington, and the two cities are seamlessly linked together by the Metro system— Arlington has more Metrorail stops than any other jurisdiction outside of Washington.
Arlington has maintained a healthy balance of urban and suburban life through its self-proclaimed "Arlington Way" of policy making. A large percentage of residents are involved in grassroots political and urban planning processes. Whatever your purpose in coming to Arlington, you'll find the area a friendly and convenient place to visit and explore.
When to visit
Most tourists come to the D.C. area during spring and summer weekends. If you want to avoid the crowds, consider visiting between November and March. Likewise, summer weekdays, as opposed to weekends, have fewer visitors and thus lower hotel rates. One of the busiest times to visit the Washington area is during the National Cherry Blossom Festival in early April. The springtime blossoms are a must-see, but hotel rooms fill up quickly.
- Reagan Washington National Airport (IATA: DCA) is in South Arlington, and served by most major domestic airlines. Lying just across the river from Washington on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, and served by its own Metro station on the Blue and Yellow Lines, DCA is by far the most convenient airport for visiting the area. As the most common landing path follows the Potomac River, flying right past the National Mall, it is also the most scenic. Due to restrictions, however, the majority of flights are under 1,500 miles long.
- Dulles International Airport (IATA: IAD) is in Dulles, Loudoun County. It is approximately 15 miles (a 45 minute drive during rush hour) outside of Arlington and accessible via Metrobus, shuttle bus, shared van, and taxi. Metrobus 5A, operates between the airport and Rosslyn Metro Station (Blue, Orange, and Silver Metro Lines) in Arlington. It generally departs from the airport every 40 minutes on weekdays and hourly (though not on the hour) on weekends, taking 40–50 minutes to the Rosslyn Metro Station. The fare is $6 one-way (no change given). The bus stops near Curb 2E outside of the terminal. An alternative to the 5A is the Silver Line Express bus connects Dulles with the Wiehle-Reston stop on the Silver Line, which operates every 15-20 minutes and costs $5 each way.
see also: bus travel in the USA
- Greyhound, MegaBus, and several other companies serve Union Station in Washington, D.C. Several bus companies operate from Washington's Chinatown to Philadelphia and New York City. First popular among the Chinese community, these bus companies have been used by students and others seeking an ultra-cheap ride to New York or elsewhere. Vamoose Bus and Tripper Bus operate direct service between New York City and Arlington. Pickup/drop-off points are located near the Rosslyn Metro Station.
- The closest intercity train station is Union Station in Washington, DC, located 10–15 minutes away by taxi or about 30 minutes by Metro. One of the busiest passenger rail terminals in the U.S., Union Station sees frequent service by Amtrak, VRE, and MARC. For southbound trips, Amtrak and VRE serve the smaller Alexandria Station, located three miles south near the King Street Metro station on the western edge Old Town Alexandria.
- Both VRE lines serve Crystal City, a surface station on Crystal Drive about one block from the Crystal City Metro station at the north end of Crystal City Water Park. No services are available.
- The Washington Metro has 11 stations in Arlington. The Orange and Silver Line stops are East Falls Church, Ballston-MU, Virginia Square-GMU, Clarendon, Court House, and Rosslyn. The Yellow Line serves Pentagon, Pentagon City, Crystal City, and Reagan National Airport. All Yellow Line stations in Arlington are also served by the Blue Line, which continues from Pentagon to Arlington Cemetery and Rosslyn into Washington.
- Highways entering Arlington include I-395 from the Southwest, I-66 and US-50 from the West, George Washington Memorial Parkway from the Northwest and South, and US-1 from the South. All connect to the Washington beltway (I-495). In addition, there are five bridges that cross the Potomac River to DC: Chain, Key, Roosevelt, Memorial, and 14th Street.
Note: Arlington County does not allow gasoline sales in residential neighborhoods between midnight and 6AM.
If you plan to stick to the urban areas, park your car and only travel on foot and public transport. Arlington has an excellent public transportation system, which includes four Metrorail lines, a public bikeshare program, and two bus systems. Driving an automobile can bring more troubles than it is worth, as many of Arlington's attractions suffer from a dearth of parking spaces, and the area is notorious for expensive parking tickets.
Many people visiting Washington, D.C. choose to stay in Arlington. Arlington hotels located along the Metro lines are just as convenient— indeed, sometimes more convenient— than hotels in Washington proper, and often more reasonable in price. If you are staying in Arlington primarily to see Washington sights such as the Smithsonian, it would be more convenient to leave your car parked at your hotel and ride the Metro to Washington.
Most destinations in suburban Arlington are accessible by bus, but a car is viable option.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is the regional transit operator. Its contactless smart card, the SmarTrip, costs only $2, making even a single round trip worth a purchase. The SmarTrip is rechargeable and, if registered, has its value protected if lost or stolen and can be refilled online. The SmarTrip and its Baltimore-area counterpart, the Maryland Transit Administration's CharmCard, are accepted on Metrorail and all regional bus operators.
- Washington DC Metro. The Metro system is considered one of the cleanest and most efficient in the world. The Orange, Silver, Blue, and Yellow lines serve the major commercial districts in Arlington as well as most major attractions in Washington, D.C. Fares start at $1.75 and are based on distance and time of day.
SmarTrip cards can be purchased at any Metro station, and can load up to $300 of value or various passes, including one-day ($14) or seven-day ($35) passes for unlimited rail trips. Paper farecards are also available, but Metro is phasing them out— and imposes a steep $1 surcharge per trip for their use. Handle your farecard gently; it's thinner than a business card, and the magnetic strip can't take a lot of abuse.
All the public bus systems serving Arlington accept WMATA's SmarTrip card, which allows free bus-to-bus transfers (excepting certain express commuter routes) and a $0.50 rail-to-bus and bus-to-rail discount.
- Metrobus. Metrobus operates throughout the Washington area, and for longer hours than the rail system it complements. You must have exact change for the fare of $1.75, or use a SmarTrip card. Buses can also accommodate up to two bicycles, at no additional charge.
An easy Metro bus for tourists and locals alike is the 38B aka "Orange Line with a View" begins at Farragut Square in downtown Washington and takes you through Georgetown, Rosslyn, Courthouse, Clarendon, Virginia Square and Ballston. Other buses of potential interest include the Pike Ride routes along Columbia Pike (mainly Metrobus 16), the 9S, a weekday shuttle looping through Crystal City, and the 23A/B/T, connecting Crystal City and Shirlington.
- Arlington Transit Buses (ART). The County of Arlington operates its own independent bus system, filling in some gaps in Metrobus coverage. Arlington uses natural gas powered buses painted distinctive green. Like Metrobus, the fare is $1.75 and buses can also carry bicycles. Children under 5 ride free.
- DC Circulator operates distinctive red and yellow buses every 15 minutes or so between the Rosslyn and Dupont Circle Metro Stations via Georgetown. The fare is $1.
Seven taxi companies are licensed to operate in Arlington. Arlington taxis are available at taxi stands around the county, by phoning the taxi company directly, and by mobile app. It is possible to hail cabs on the street in certain areas at certain times of the day; for example, on weekend evenings in Clarendon. All taxis are metered; fares start at $2.75 and are based on mileage. A $1 surcharge is charged for each additional passenger age 12 and over. Complaints about taxi service can be directed to the Arlington Police Department.
If you need a car for only a few hours, Zipcar is your best alternative. These cars are located in designated parking spaces near Metro stations and can be rented by anyone registered with the car share company. Begin your membership a few weeks before you head to Arlington.
Driving your own car
For information on parking, see Parking In Arlington County. If you decide to drive your own car in Arlington, first check with your hotel about parking arrangements. Some hotels offer free parking and others charge per day.
Arlington County provides a list of public parking garages. Many parking garages operate 24 hours and offer discounted rates on weekends and evenings. On-street metered parking is possible in business districts; rates and restrictions vary. Many meters accept credit cards.
Parking in residential districts is restricted to residents during weekday working hours. Arlington's parking regulations are strictly enforced and improperly parked cars will be ticketed.
Arlington's wide sidewalks, well-labeled intersections, and modern transportation system make it ideal for walking. Arlington's transportation systems and sidewalks are also fully accessible to the disabled. You can easily walk over the Key Bridge into Georgetown from Rosslyn— but watch for aggressive drivers, even in marked crosswalks.
For more information, see Bike Arlington. A network of dedicated bicycle/pedestrian paths crisscross the county, and many major roads feature dedicated bike lanes. The paths are well-signed and patrolled regularly for safety. They also offer beautiful scenery and the chance to ride your bike or walk without interruption form motorized vehicles. You can cross any of the bridges into Washington using your bike, but be aware that the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge has a very narrow path with barely any protection from the interstate right next to you. Note that children are required to wear helmets, and it's probably a good idea for adults as well.
Capital Bikeshare has dozens of stations in Arlington, mostly within a few blocks of Metro stations.
Many people come to Arlington as part of a trip to Washington, D.C. Still, Arlington itself is home to several destinations including the following:
Arlington is a rapidly growing county with a dynamic economy. The prospects for employment here are excellent. The bedrock of Arlington's economy remains the Federal government, the military, and companies that directly do business with the government. The process to start a career with the government is considerably longer than the typical entry process in the private sector. Those seeking Federal government employment in Washington, D.C. or elsewhere can generally apply from their current location, anywhere in the U.S.
During summertime the Washington, D.C. area fills with ambitious young people completing internships with the government, NGOs, PACs, think tanks, and related organizations. Such persons would do best to arrange their housing in advance. While the Arlington rental market is not as tight as, say, New York City, good apartments can be pricey and hard to find on short notice. The most sought-after neighborhoods in Arlington are those directly along the Metro lines, particularly the Rosslyn to Ballston corridor of the Orange line.
Arlington's main shopping districts are found along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and in the Pentagon City-Crystal City area. Arlington has just about every type of shop an upscale urban area would have.
You won't go hungry in Arlington. Arlington has over a thousand restaurants to fit every budget and taste. Arlington's diverse, well educated population has led to a plethora of ethnic restaurants. The Clarendon neighborhood probably has the largest concentration of restaurants. Within a few blocks of the metro station you can find all types of restaurants—from hole in the wall establishments to pubs to casual dining restaurants. For a slightly less crowded area, try the Shirlington neighborhood, which has about two dozen restaurants ranging from Thai to contemporary American. Note that Shirlington is not served by a Metro rail line. Crystal City has many fine restaurants for every budget. Some choices include Hamburger Hamlet, Bailey's, and Tapas. Make sure to venture west of Jefferson Davis Avenue on 23rd street to get a few smaller but equally as good choices. Some shopping malls, such as The Underground, also have full-service restaurants, as well as food courts.
In Arlington, the drinks can get pricey, but the bars are plentiful. Ballston Mall includes several pubs, while the Clarendon-to-Courthouse corridor has enough watering holes for a bar crawl. The entire area also has a high density of coffee houses.
Long-Stay Hotels and Corporate Apartments
Arlington is home to a sizeable number of government and military employees. Many people detailed on business to the Washington DC area stay in Arlington. If you will be in Arlington for longer than two weeks, but less than six months, a long stay hotel (also called a corporate apartment) is the best place for you.
When choosing a corporate apartment, consider its location carefully. Apartments very close to the Metro are considered highly desirable; some buildings further away operate shuttle services. Other considerations include the frequency of maid service, if pets are allowed, parking facilities, and if the neighborhood has good restaurants, stores and supermarkets in easy walking distance. Do inquire about price, and make sure the pricing structure is compatible your per-diem guidelines.
If your stay in Arlington will be longer than six months, you are probably better off renting a regular apartment from through a broker, the Washington Post classifieds, or an online site such as Craigslist. Most Arlington landlords are familiar with the transient nature of government work and will include a "government escape clause" or "diplomatic escape clause" in your lease if you ask. Such a clause states that the lease can be terminated without penalty upon 30 days notice of receipt of government or military travel orders.
Arlington is a very safe county with considerably less crime than its neighbor, Washington, D.C. While you are unlikely to be the victim of a crime here, you should take normal precautions that you would in any urban area, such as keeping your car and hotel room locked at all times. If you have a problem, dial 911 to contact the Arlington County Police.
Be aware that the Metro closes at midnight from Sunday-Thursday and at 3AM on Friday and Saturday nights. The time of the last train is posted in each station. Metro buses operate longer hours, but on a greatly reduced schedule outside of rush hour. If you anticipate being out very late at night it is a good idea to carry the phone number of a taxi company with you.
- Major regional (and national) attractions and fine dining in The National Mall and Georgetown are just across the Potomac via Arlington Memorial Bridge (or the Metro Yellow Line) and the Key Bridge respectively.
- Alexandria — the former hometown to famous American heroes and rebels that claims some of the richest history in the DC metro area is just south of the Reagan National airport, accessible via the Blue line on the Metro.
- Fredericksburg and Manassas — sites of key Civil War battles, including the first major battle of the war. Also in the area are the Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania battlefields.
- Great Falls — home to a rather pleasant national park.
- Mount Vernon — George Washington's home and gardens.
|Routes through Arlington (by car)|
|Middletown ← Falls Church ←||W E||→ Washington, D.C. → END|
|END ← Washington, D.C. ←||N S||→ Alexandria → Springfield|
|Baltimore ← Washington, D.C. ←||N S||→ Alexandria → Richmond|
|Ellicott City ← Washington, D.C. ←||N S||→ Falls Church → Charlottesville|
|Winchester ← Falls Church ←||W E||→ Washington, D.C. → Annapolis|
|Routes through Arlington (by subway)|
|Springfield ← Alexandria ←||S E||→ West End → East End|
|Vienna ← Falls Church ←||W E||→ West End → East End|
|Reston ← Falls Church ←||W E||→ West End → East End|
|East End ← Waterfront ←||N S||→ Alexandria → Huntington|
|Routes through Arlington (by commuter rail)|
|Fredericksburg ← Alexandria ←||SW NE||→ Washington, D.C. → END|
|Bristow ← Alexandria ←||W E||→ Washington, D.C. → END|