17 Free Things to Do in Arlington County, VA

Arlington

Embarking on a quest to uncover the best free things to do in Arlington County, VA?

In this comprehensive guide, we've melded insights from locals and travelers to present you with a mosaic of experiences that define this remarkable place. While we've highlighted some must-visit spots, it's imperative to understand that these recommendations are shaped by personal opinions and experiences.

There are countless other wonderful places awaiting your discovery. Our goal isn't just to point you to the well-trodden paths, but to inspire you to explore and truly immerse yourself in the city's essence.

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We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the following individuals for their invaluable contributions to this article: Thalia Noel, Benjamin Powell, Adeline Little, Sergio Henderson, Madison Jones, Miguel Ortiz and Tessa Proctor.

Take a Walk on the Mt Vernon Trail

Scenic view of Mt Vernon Trail
Robert A. Powell / Shutterstock.com

I've lived in Virginia for more years than I care to count, and one of my favorite spots to unwind is the Mt Vernon Trail.

This 18-mile paved trail is a haven for cyclists, runners, and walkers alike.

It's not just the physical benefits that draw me to this place but also the serene and beautiful surroundings.

The journey along the trail starts from George Washington's home in Mount Vernon and ends near Theodore Roosevelt Island, curving through Arlington, Alexandria, and Rosslyn.

It's a trip through history, nature, and beautiful landscapes.

On days when I want to clear my mind, I set off on this trail, letting the Potomac River's soothing rhythm guide my thoughts.

Cycling along this trail is like a visual treat, with the path surrounded by lush greenery on one side and the peaceful Potomac River on the other.

The beautiful scenery calms my mind, making it a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Moreover, the trail is dotted with picturesque spots, perfect for taking a moment to rest and soak in the beauty of nature.

For instance, the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve is a sanctuary for birds and wildlife, a little pocket of wilderness in the city's heart.

I love that the Mt Vernon Trail caters to all fitness levels, with its flat, smooth surface for beginners and its hilly, challenging sections for the more experienced.

Whether you're a hard-core cyclist or a leisurely walker, this trail has something for everyone.

The Mt Vernon Trail reminds us of the beauty and peace in our backyard. I urge you to explore it and see what it has to offer.

Uncover History at the DEA Museum & Visitors Center

Signage of DEA Museum & Visitors Center
Thomson200, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Whenever I have a spare moment and want to understand our country's law enforcement history better, I often wander over to the DEA Museum & Visitors Center.

It may be small, yet the wealth of knowledge from the exhibits is immense.

I remember how it only took me a quarter of an hour to see all the exhibits, read the details, and ponder the information.

The best part? No ticket is required!

The museum is free, while parking is conveniently available at a nearby Macy’s for a minimal fee.

This place pays a heartfelt tribute to the brave men and women of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) who risk their lives protecting our nation daily.

A memorial wall left me deeply moved, featuring the photos of fallen DEA service members.

It's a stark reminder of how much is at stake in the fight against drug abuse and trafficking.

While the museum doesn’t boast many exhibits, its information is insightful and educational, especially for those not versed in drugs and drug abuse.

The presentations, though few, are engaging and provide an intimate look at the lives of these heroes who are often overlooked.

I found the wall of photos of fentanyl victims particularly affecting, an acute reminder of the human cost of the drug epidemic.

If you happen to be in town or live nearby like me, the DEA Museum is a worthy place to drop by, gain some knowledge, and pay respect to our brave DEA heroes.

Explore the Wonders of Gulf Branch Nature Center & Park

Nothing beats strolling down the winding trails of Gulf Branch Nature Center & Park on a sunny afternoon!

The small parking lot adjacent to the nature center is so convenient, especially when I bring my kids to the center’s educational programs.

There's an outdoor terrace attached to the center, perfect for sipping my morning coffee while watching the resident owl in its cage.

It's such a peaceful sight, especially with the gentle rustling of the trees as the backdrop. It’s my favorite way to start the day.

Just a stone's throw from the nature center, you'll find a picturesque pond and a few surprises - a beautifully restored log cabin from 1871 and an old blacksmith's shop.

The blacksmith shop is still operational, and watching the blacksmith guild of the Potomac at work is captivating. It's like stepping back in time.

Meanwhile, the walking trail that begins from this point is a delightful route to explore different neighborhoods of Arlington.

Complete with benches for those much-needed breaks, picnic tables, and even tennis courts. The trail is popular among my fellow locals for walks and dog strolls.

But the crown jewel of Gulf Branch for me, and my kids, is the fantastic array of local animals on display.

From owls to turtles, each visit is a new opportunity to learn about the local environment and regional history.

It’s a hands-on experience that’s both fun and educational.

As someone who has the privilege of calling this place my backyard, Gulf Branch Nature Center & Park is not just another local green space.

It's a treasure trove of nature, history, and education. No wonder it's my most cherished spot in Arlington!

Witness the Changing of the Guard at the Arlington National Cemetery

A soldier marching infront of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers
Kamira / Shutterstock.com

Living near the Arlington National Cemetery, I am privy to the day-to-day solemnity that encapsulates the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

It's a constant reminder of the bravery and sacrifice of countless heroes who have given their lives for our ideals.

Just a short walk from my home, the tomb is an ever-present reminder of the cost of freedom.

Its immaculate condition is a testament to our respect for the fallen soldier it represents.

The discipline of the guards who maintain a constant vigil, rain or shine, day or night, is awe-inspiring; the precision with which they execute their duty reflects the dedication of our armed forces.

Tomb stones at Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers
Orhan Cam / Shutterstock.com

I marvel at the synchronization of the Changing of the Guard ceremony every time I watch it.

Each time I visit, I am filled with profound gratitude for these soldiers who have served our country.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is an absolute must-visit for anyone who wishes to pay their respects to our country's fallen heroes.

Take a moment to explore Arlington National Cemetery and watch the Changing of the Guard.

This experience reminds us of the courage and sacrifice of our armed forces and the values that make our country great.

National guards parade at Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers
Sergey Rusanov / Shutterstock.com

Visit Glencarlyn Dog Park

Not every day do you find a gem like the Glencarlyn Dog Park in a cozy residential area.

It's the ideal spot to let my dog roam free, like a dog paradise.

The park is abundantly shaded, making it a great spot, especially during hot sunny days.

There's nothing better than seeing my pooch happily exploring under the cool tree canopy.

And, if you're willing to venture a little further down the narrow path, you'll find additional parking.

The park also has several picnic tables, making it a great place to enjoy lunch while your dog plays.

However, the show's real star at Glencarlyn Dog Park is the lovely stream where dogs can take a refreshing dip.

My Lab can't seem to get enough of it. She adores swimming and splashing around in the water!

Remember that the park is off-leash, so ensure your pup is well-behaved and responds to your calls.

From my experience, most dogs here are friendly and well-mannered, but it's always better to be safe than sorry.

Trust me, the joy your dog will experience here is more than worth it!

Pay Respects at the US Marine Corps War Memorial

Daytime view of the US Marine Corps War Memorial
Jon Bilous / Shutterstock.com

I've lived in Northern Virginia my entire life but had never made it to the US Marine Corps War Memorial until recently.

I'd seen countless pictures, of course, but let me tell you, nothing compares to seeing it in person.

The monument, a statue honoring U.S. Marines that depicts the world-famous photograph of Iwo Jima during WWII, left me in awe.

My heart swelled with pride and respect for our brave servicemen and women.

I decided to visit on a weekday and found parking a breeze.

The park surrounding the memorial is impeccably kept, with an impressive bell tower that chimes the hour and wide, well-maintained walkways that guide you around the area.

Moreover, the spot offers excellent views of the DC monuments, providing the perfect backdrop for a picnic.

Close view of the US Marine Corps War Memorial
Rob Crandall / Shutterstock.com

There are even bathrooms and water fountains available.

However, the real showstopper is the monument itself.

As I stood beneath the towering sculpture, I felt profound gratitude for the sacrifices made by the Marines.

The attention to detail on the statue is nothing short of remarkable, capturing the unwavering spirit of those who served.

Moreover, the iconic monument embodies the courage of the Marine Corps, stirring deep respect in anyone who witnesses it.

As I left, I felt a sense of peace and reverence.

The US Marine Corps War Memorial is a genuinely awe-inspiring tribute to the courage and sacrifice of our servicemen and women.

It's an experience - humbling and moving. I'm already looking forward to going back.

Take a Stroll through Bon Air Park Rose Garden

There's a little piece of paradise in my town, hidden amongst the hustle and bustle of Arlington.

I'm talking about the Bon Air Park Rose Garden, an elaborate formal garden that is a joy to visit any time of the year.

Each visit to this magical place feels like stepping into a different realm.

I remember one particular day in late May when the roses bloomed.

The entire area was drenched in a sea of colors, with roses growing thick and plump everywhere you look.

You can see the meticulous care taken to maintain this garden's tidy and well-kept appearance.

The garden is also a photographer's dream.

Trust me, every shot you take here will turn out picture-perfect.

Unsurprisingly, this place is a favorite spot for wedding photos.

But what I love most about the park is its tranquil atmosphere.

Whether a casual stroll along the walkway or just sitting and admiring the ornamental trees, a sense of peace washes over you in this garden.

The sight of others doing the same, occasionally pausing to capture the beauty in their lenses, adds a certain charm to the overall experience.

One important thing to remember is that while it's tempting to pick a rose as a keepsake, please don't do it.

Let's preserve the beauty of the garden for everyone to enjoy.

If you're ever in Arlington, don't forget to “stop and smell the roses” at the Bon Air Park Rose Garden.

It's a beautiful place to walk around, take photos and enjoy life's simple pleasures.

Experience the Majestic Air Force Memorial

Daytime view of the Air Force Memorial
BrianPIrwin / Shutterstock.com

It's a typical Saturday morning for me, and the bright sun is a call to adventure.

I hop in my car and head towards the Air Force Memorial, a proud symbol of our nation's defense only minutes from home.

From a distance, I can see the towering spires, standing tall at 270ft, which never ceases to take my breath away.

The moment I step out of my car, the serene atmosphere of the memorial engulfs me.

I can see the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and the Capitol Building standing proudly at a distance, gracing the backdrop with their iconic silhouettes.

As I make my way up the steps toward the memorial, each step takes me closer to a poignant tribute to our nation's heroes.

The memorial is a marvel of architecture and a symbol of inspiration.

Moreover, the three stainless steel spires reaching up into the sky effortlessly embody the grace and strength of flight, a perfect homage to past and present members of the U.S. Air Force.

Statues at the Air Force Memorial
Jason and Bonnie Grower / Shutterstock.com

The bronze statues of airmen from different eras standing proudly around the memorial remind me of the sacrifices made to serve our nation.

Then, the memorial's "missing man" formation, a tribute to those who lost their lives in service, stirs deep gratitude in my heart.

Finally, the memorial's interpretive panels help visitors understand the Air Force's intricate history, sophisticated technology, and critical missions.

It's not just about honoring the past, but it also celebrates the present and looks forward to the future of the Air Force.

The Visitor Center is another favorite spot.

Whether I am exploring engaging exhibits or browsing through the gift shop's unique collection, every visit offers a new learning experience.

The Air Force Memorial is a cherished part of my local identity.

It's where I reflect, learn, feel inspired, and appreciate our military personnel's dedication and sacrifices.

Aerial view of the Air Force Memorial
Larry McCormick / Shutterstock.com

Take a Stroll in Long Branch Nature Center & Park

"There's no place like home," they say.

And for me, home isn't just where I live; it's a wildlife sanctuary with nature trails, educational exhibits, and a viewing pond known as the Long Branch Nature Center & Park.

Every morning, as the sun peeks over the horizon, I set out for a walk along the park’s winding paths.

My heart fills with joy as I watch my kids get their daily dose of nature, splashing around in the creek and trying their hands at the musical mushrooms - an innovative and adorable park feature.

Sure, they often come home with the earthy scent of the creek and the woods, but seeing their excitement and wonder is worth it.

Biking enthusiasts would find this park an absolute delight.

The terrain here is ideal for a leisurely ride while enjoying the beauty of Mother Nature.

I remember the first time I took my little ones to the park.

It was a lovely spring day in early April.

The nature center was closed that day, and the park was crowded.

But, even then, the paved trails, close to the river, were extremely stroller-friendly.

And, of course, the playground! The giant sand pit was like a mini beach vacation for my kids.

The Long Branch Nature Center & Park is a gem in our community, a great place to reconnect with nature and create lasting memories with family.

Discover the Tranquility at Potomac Overlook Regional Park

Mesmerizing view of Potomac Overlook Regional Park
Famartin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tucked away in the heart of Virginia is an oasis of tranquility, the Potomac Overlook Regional Park.

From the moment you step into this beautiful space, you can't help but feel a sense of peace wash over you.

The park is a haven for nature lovers like me. Its hiking trails wind through lush, verdant landscapes, offering breathtaking views at every turn.

Whether I'm in the mood for a stroll or a vigorous hike, I can find the perfect trail to suit my needs.

And the nature center, with its fascinating exhibits on local flora and fauna, is always a hit with my kids.

However, what I love most about Potomac Overlook Regional Park are the open spaces and picnic areas.

It's the ideal spot for a lazy afternoon with friends or family.

We love packing a picnic lunch and spending the day playing games, enjoying good food, and basking in the park's tranquility.

Water cascades at Potomac Overlook Regional Park
grandbrothers / Shutterstock.com

But the crown jewel of the park is undoubtedly the overlook.

You can enjoy stunning views of the Potomac River and the surrounding area from here.

It's the perfect spot for a bit of quiet contemplation or to watch a picturesque sunset.

And if you're lucky, you might even stumble across some of the park's resident wildlife.

On one of my recent visits, I had the delightful surprise of coming across the park's rescued owls and falcon.

If you're seeking an escape from daily life's hustle and bustle, I highly recommend visiting Potomac Overlook Regional Park.

It's a well-maintained, much-loved gem that offers something for everyone.

After just one visit, you'll understand why it's one of my favorite places to unwind and connect with nature.

Spend the Day at Shirlington Dog Park

Whenever I need some fresh air and quality time with my pup, we head to Shirlington Dog Park – a canine paradise nestled by the river in our charming town.

As you walk through its gates, you're greeted by a chorus of happy barks and the sight of wagging tails.

It's here in our town and is the favorite spot for all local dog lovers.

The park is thoughtfully designed and exceedingly spacious.

It's the biggest dog park in the DMV area I've ever visited.

My dog, a playful Labrador, loves the big dog park with its sprawling space where he can run, fetch, and interact with other dogs.

For smaller dogs, there's a separate section, ensuring everyone has a safe and fun time.

But what I admire most is the park's cleanliness.

It is well-maintained and regularly cleaned. The waste stations are never too far, making it easy for me and other dog owners to keep the park tidy.

It's a beautiful display of responsible pet ownership.

One of the other highlights of the park is the sense of community it fosters.

I've met numerous fellow dog lovers here.

Whether it's a weekend or a cold weekday, it constantly buzzes with activity. It’s not just a park but a vibrant hub for pet lovers.

Trust me, Shirlington Dog Park offers a great outdoor experience for your furry friend and you. So, leash up your pup and join us!

Enjoy an Afternoon at Gravelly Point

The grounds of Gravelly Point
Bill Chizek / Shutterstock.com

Have you ever felt the adrenaline rush of an airplane zooming overhead so close you could almost touch it? That's a typical afternoon at Gravelly Point.

Nestled on the banks of the Potomac River, this scenic peninsula has been my regular haunt for years.

Imagine sitting on lush green grass, a picnic basket at your side, while the river gently lapped at the nearby boat launch.

Then, a roaring engine fills the air, and a shadow passes over you.

You look up to see an airplane flying low, coming in for a landing at the nearby DCA. The thrill of it never gets old.

Regarding hobbies, Gravelly Point's paved trail is perfect for a leisurely bike ride.

Bicycle ride along Gravelly Point
John M. Chase / Shutterstock.com

The path is flat, easy, and surrounded by nature; it's the perfect spot to unwind or exercise.

And if you're like me, a photography enthusiast, prepare to click away.

Between the riverscape, the planes, and the general ambiance, there's always a great shot waiting to happen.

Whether you're a plane spotter, a nature lover, or just someone looking to spend a relaxing afternoon, Gravelly Point is a picturesque sanctuary hidden in plain sight.

Once you've spent a day here, you'll find yourself coming back.

Visit Crystal City Water Park

Fountain at Crystal City Water Park
Florin Cnejevici / Shutterstock.com

Every day, I am drawn to a little oasis in the bustling concrete jungle – the Crystal City Water Park.

Nestled amidst the towering buildings and the steady hum of city life, this park is my sanctuary.

The tranquil sounds of the water fountains instantly transport me to a world far away from the busy city.

It’s my little slice of paradise where I can unwind and recharge.

I often enjoy a quiet afternoon here, under the shade of the trees, engrossed in a good book.

The park has tables, chairs, and a shop serving light snacks and refreshing drinks.

Occasionally, I am treated to a radiant couple celebrating their special day, creating memories amidst the green scenery.

One of my favorite things about this park, especially on a beautiful day, is the community spirit that comes alive.

The park often hosts weekly events like live music sessions and beer gardens.

Huge chess board at Crystal City Water Park
Florin Cnejevici / Shutterstock.com

Joyous conversations and laughter fill the air, offering a delightful companionship for a solo park-goer like me.

The park welcomes kids and pets, making it a perfect spot for family outings.

My heart fills with joy whenever I see a child's excited face running freely around the park or a dog chasing a thrown ball.

These simple yet beautiful moments make Crystal City Water Park an escape within the city.

The night transforms the park into an enchanting spectacle; the trees come alive with twinkling lights, creating a romantic and peaceful ambiance.

It's the perfect setting to share a quiet evening with loved ones or challenge friends to a fun chess game on the giant chess set.

Crystal City Water Park is a community, a sanctuary, and a home away from home.

It's a testament to the fact that amidst the hustle and bustle of city life, pockets of tranquility and beauty are waiting to be discovered.

Colorful flowers at Crystal City Water Park
Elvert Barnes from Hyattsville MD, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Greet the Morning on the Custis Trail

Bright and early, as dawn breaks and the city of Arlington is still rubbing the sleep from its eyes.

I find myself lacing up my running shoes, ready to pound the pavement of the beloved Custis Trail.

There's no better way to kickstart the day than indulging in a brisk workout amidst the tranquil environment of this local gem.

The beauty of the Custis Trail is that it's smoother than the Mt Vernon trail, which is a joy for both joggers and bikers alike.

However, don't be fooled by its smoothness; the path has some hills that pose a fair challenge, enough to get the heart pounding and the adrenaline rushing.

It's a fantastic way to work up a sweat while enjoying some lush green vistas.

One of my top tips to avoid the weekend rush is to set your alarm early. It's well worth the effort, as the trail can get quite crowded on lovely days.

The Arlington loop is a fantastic detour if you're looking for a bit more excitement.

It adds ten miles to your journey and offers a different, equally beautiful perspective of our lovely city.

So, whether you're a seasoned athlete or simply looking for a serene spot to escape the hustle-bustle of city life, the Custis Trail offers a refreshing and calming experience.

There's always something gratifying about watching the city wake up as you complete your workout.

It reminds me of why I'm proud to call Arlington my home.

Unveil the Charm of the Netherlands Carillon

Colorful tulips at Netherlands Carillon
Cvandyke / Shutterstock.com

Living in the bustling city of Washington, DC, I continually find myself returning to the serene embrace of the Netherlands Carillon.

This towering structure, a gift from the Netherlands after WWII, symbolizes friendship, peace, and a spectacle of undeniable beauty.

As I stroll towards the Carillon, I am instantly gripped by its imposing presence.

Framed against the tranquil Potomac River, the structure commands attention with its stately design and intricate carvings.

It's like a silent sentinel standing guard over the city.

Around the structure, verdant greenery and meticulously manicured gardens lend a sense of tranquility that's hard to find amid the city's concrete jungle.

But there's much more to the Netherlands Carillon than its captivating aesthetics.

Its 50 bells chime daily, filling the air with musical tunes that resonate with the city's historical roots.

Bell tower at Netherlands Carillon
Cvandyke / Shutterstock.com

Spring adds another layer of charm to this enchanting place.

The sight of multicolored tulips blooming around the Carillon is one of the highlights of my year. It's a treat to the eyes and a feast for the soul.

And with a picnic basket in tow, there's no better place to watch the sunset and the monuments in the backdrop.

The Netherlands Carillon is a testament to architectural brilliance.

J.W.C Boks, Petit & Fritsen, and HT & AH Van Bergen created a structure that's as much a marvel of design as a symbol of enduring friendship.

A visit to this splendid place is a journey through history, a moment of tranquility, and an experience deeply rooted in the rich heritage of Washington, DC.

Vibrant color flowers at Netherlands Carillon
Jon Bilous / Shutterstock.com

Take a Stroll Around Fort Myer

One of my favorite pastimes is leisurely strolling around the historic Fort Myer.

Fort Myer, an active military base in Arlington, Virginia, holds a special place in my heart.

I could easily spend hours exploring the fascinating sights it has to offer.

The base is steeped in US military history, and the sense of patriotism is palpable.

Walking past the old barracks and administrative buildings, I often take myself to a different era.

I am especially drawn to the Summerall Field, where the US Army's Old Guard conducts their drills.

The precision and discipline displayed by the troops during these drills are nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Moreover, the lush greenery and manicured landscapes make Fort Myer a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city.

A sense of tranquility you feel here is hard to find in other parts of Arlington.

If you get the timing right, you might even glimpse the ceremonial units practicing on the parade grounds.

Fort Myer is a living testament to the values that America was built on.

It's a place where history comes alive, and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have it right in my backyard.

Join me for a stroll around Fort Myer, and experience this historical treasure.

Go Shopping at Fashion Centre in Pentagon City

Interior view of Fashion Centre at Pentagon City
Nate Hovee / Shutterstock.com

In the heart of Arlington, you'll find the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, a bright and spacious mall I frequently visit.

Here's the link, Fashion Centre at Pentagon City. It's worth checking out.

It's a hub of activity, especially during the spring and summer when tour buses from all over the country bring hundreds of visitors to its doors.

There are over 160 stores to choose from.

You'll find many high-end brands, making it a shopping haven for anyone with a taste for quality.

Anchor stores like Macy’s and Nordstrom are there, and there's a decent mix of other stores.

Beyond shopping, there's a great food court that offers many choices.

Welcome sign at Fashion Centre at Pentagon City
melissamn / Shutterstock.com

One particularly convenient thing about the mall is that it's built directly on top of the Pentagon City Metro station, making it easy to pop in for a quick shopping spree on my way home.

This is a great place to shop and dine, but remember to stay alert and mindful of your surroundings.

With these precautions in mind, I've always enjoyed shopping at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, and I'm sure you will too.

Interior view of Fashion Centre at Pentagon City
Alejandro Guzmani / Shutterstock.com

Final Thoughts

Arlington County, Virginia, is a place filled with treasures that are not only historical and educational but also fun and free.

Whether it's a day out with family or friends, or even a solo adventure, a day spent in this vibrant county guarantees a rich, rewarding experience that leaves you longing for more.

Visit Arlington County today!

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