20 Free Things to Do in Arlington, VA

Arlington, VA

Here are 20 free things to do in Arlington, Virginia:

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the following individuals for their invaluable contributions to this article: Lina Huie, Joseph Lapham, Bobbie Prince, Damaris Weathers, Jennifer Short, Kimberly Lindsay and Rachel Burnette.

Pay a Visit to the US Marine Corps War Memorial

Scenic view of the US Marine Corps War Memorial
Mihai_Andritoiu / Shutterstock.com

My heart swells every time I visit the US Marine Corps War Memorial.

It's a place that exudes immense respect and overwhelming gratitude for those who've served our nation.

As a veteran, I deeply understand the sacrifices that service entails.

The Memorial itself is an imposing sight, a thoughtful representation of WWII's iconic Iwo Jima scene.

Every detail of the statue highlights the courage and dedication of our marines.

In the hours of the day, every chime from the bell tower serves as a poignant reminder of the brave souls who paid the ultimate price in service to our country.

When the weather permits, I often bring along a picnic basket.

Closer view of the US Marine Corps War Memorial
Vlad G / Shutterstock.com

The grounds are expansive and immaculately kept, providing the perfect backdrop for a quiet afternoon.

There are enough amenities available - bathrooms and water fountains, ensuring comfort for all visitors.

Another striking aspect of my visits is the impressive view of the Nation's Capital.

As someone who's lived in Northern VA my whole life, this vista never fails to stir a sense of awe.

You also get an incredible view of the DC monuments - a sight to behold, truly!

Despite its popularity, I've never found parking to be a problem, especially during weekdays.

The place manages to accommodate both tourists and locals like me.

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

Have a Great Adventure at Rocky Run Park

Every weekend, my kids and I are eager to explore Rocky Run Park, our city's best-kept secret.

The park, tucked away among the busy streets of Arlington, is a breath of fresh air for families like us who crave outdoor fun.

Right in the heart of the park, a towering rope climbing structure stands, daring all kids to conquer it.

My ten-year-old son, a fearless adventurer, makes it his mission to reach the top every time we visit.

His younger sister, though not quite up to the challenge yet, loves to swing on the round swings – a modern take on the classic tire swing that brings back memories of my childhood.

As for me, I love the simple joys – watching my children laughing as they hang on to the revolving circular monkey bars, getting a kick-start from me to spin them round and round.

I also appreciate the shaded picnic tables where my partner and I can enjoy a peaceful break while still keeping an eye on the kids.

The park also boasts a multi-use oval field where locals, like my neighbor and his son, often practice their soccer skills.

There's also a basketball court, which becomes the center of action, especially during the summer evenings.

The best part? It's never too difficult to find a parking spot.

There's ample street parking available, making our trips to the park hassle-free.

And while the restrooms were unfortunately closed during our last winter visit, they are usually clean and well-maintained.

Explore the Gulf Branch Nature Center & Park

The waters of Gulf Branch Nature Center and Park
Kevin Borland, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite the urban hustle and bustle, I have found my slice of tranquil green paradise at the Gulf Branch Nature Center & Park.

Nestled in our city, it's a world full of natural wonders and historical gems.

Every morning, I stroll into this park, using the small parking lot near the nature center as my starting point.

During the quieter times, the center was bustling with various engaging and educational programs.

Now, I often find myself soaking in the serenity from the outdoor terrace, my eyes inevitably drawn to the owl in the caged area.

Just a stone's throw away from the center, you'll find a charming pond and a restored 1871 log cabin.

It's an interesting mix of history and nature, with the old blacksmith shop by the trailhead adding a unique character to the scene.

The trails themselves are a delight, leading me through different Arlington neighborhoods and offering idyllic picnic spots, tennis courts, and quaint bridges over a bustling creek.

One of my favorite activities is bringing my nephews and nieces to the Nature Center.

It's not often that you find a place in the city where kids can come face-to-face with local wildlife and learn about the environment.

The owl steals the show every time!

The trails are also perfect for dog walks, offering a refreshing change of scenery for our four-legged friends.

The icing on the cake? It has to be the historic blacksmith shop, which still actively functions.

It's almost like stepping back in time, watching the Blacksmith Guild of the Potomac at work.

Witness the Natural Beauty of Potomac Overlook Regional Park

There's something inherently peaceful about immersing oneself in nature, and for me, there's no better place to do that than at Potomac Overlook Regional Park.

Nestled in Virginia, this park has become my go-to spot for relaxation and rejuvenation.

I often wander the numerous hiking trails, each offering a unique perspective of the breathtaking natural landscape.

But be prepared – the trails down to the river can be quite a challenge.

The streams reshape frequently due to erosion, and you must be somewhat nimble to navigate them.

Despite this, the beauty of the journey and the reward of reaching the river make it all worth it.

Every visit to the park offers something new.

I have spent countless hours exploring the nature center, where you can find a variety of live animals and exhibits.

It's an educational spectacle providing insights into our local flora and fauna.

I remember spending a summer afternoon at the organic garden, surrounded by the serene atmosphere and vibrant colors.

One of my favorite activities at the park is enjoying a picnic with my friends and family.

The park has many open spaces and picnic areas that are perfect for a lazy afternoon.

There's a certain charm about enjoying a picnic lunch surrounded by nature, and this park offers that experience in spades.

As you might expect from its name, the park also boasts an impressive overlook that provides stunning views of the Potomac River and the surrounding landscape.

It's a sight that never fails to leave me in awe.

The overlook is a must-see whether it's a beautiful sunset or a serene mid-day view.

Revisit the City's History at Arlington National Cemetery

Headstones at Arlington National Cemetery
Guillermo Olaizola / Shutterstock.com

Living just a stone's throw away from the Arlington National Cemetery, I've had the privilege of becoming well-acquainted with the serene beauty and somber history of this revered place.

The first time I visited, I was taken aback by the sheer vastness of the grounds.

The cemetery stretches for as far as the eye can see, a sea of white headstones marking the final resting place of our nation's heroes.

I often find myself walking in the well-kept cemetery, absorbing its tranquility and reverence.

Trail along Arlington National Cemetery
Lux Blue / Shutterstock.com

The tombstones, each bearing the name of a soldier, tell tales of wars fought and sacrifices made.

Visiting the eternal flame marking President John F.

Kennedy's grave is always a poignant experience, as is the Memorial Amphitheater and the Tomb of the Unknowns.

The solemn ceremony of the guard changing every half hour at the Tomb of the Unknowns resonates with a sense of honor and duty that's hard to put into words.

Memorial amphitheatre at Arlington National Cemetery
Jack Nevitt / Shutterstock.com

Discover the Wonders of Long Branch Nature Center & Park

It was a brilliant sunny morning in early April when I decided to take my little ones on an adventure to Long Branch Nature Center & Park.

Packed with anticipation and snacks, we joined the throngs of like-minded nature enthusiasts.

True to its reputation, the park was bustling with activity.

Our footfalls echoed on the paved trails as we navigated through the park with our trusty stroller.

Lush greenery framed the river that meandered alongside the trails, providing a stunning backdrop to our expedition.

We were so close to the river that it felt like we could reach out and skim our fingers on the water's surface.

Although we didn't get to explore the entire park, it was the perfect opportunity to introduce the littles to the wonders of the natural world.

They were enchanted with the playground, with its massive sandpit proving to be the star attraction.

The squeals of laughter and delight as they played were music to my ears.

We also stumbled upon a delightful surprise - musical mushrooms!

The kids had a blast creating their very own symphony.

However, be warned, if your kids are anything like mine, they won't resist the allure of the nearby creek.

So, come prepared for a fun (and potentially smelly) aftermath.

Unwind at Lubber Run Park

Signage of Lubber Run Park
Branko Hodzic / Shutterstock.com

The daily grind of life can get a bit overwhelming, but I've found the perfect antidote right in my backyard.

I've been coming to Lubber Run Park for years now, and it's hands down my favorite place to unwind.

Located just a stone's throw away from DC, it's a slice of tranquil paradise amid the urban hustle and bustle.

Nothing beats starting my day with a dog walk through the park.

My furry friend and I love exploring the trail on the west side of the stream from rt 50.

It's unpaved and brings you closer to nature than any other part of the park.

The babbling stream is music to my ears, instantly calming my nerves and preparing me for the day ahead.

On weekend afternoons, the park transforms into a bustling mini-amusement park.

There's nothing quite like seeing kids squealing in delight as they zip down the two big yellow slides - a definite crowd favorite.

A clever addition is a climbing wall by the side of the slides for those looking for an extra dose of adventure.

Footbridge at Lubber Run Park
Lee Kozier / Shutterstock.com

And for the little ones not quite ready to scale the wall, there's always the option of the steps.

The park also boasts a sand pit that's perfect for little builders.

A few sand toys and your child can be occupied for hours.

And if your kids are like mine, they'll also love the seesaw and the small playground.

Plus, there's also a wooden climbing structure for older children.

However, if there's one thing I'd like to see more of, it's swings.

It can get crowded on weekends, and more swings would be a plus!

Aside from the playground, Lubber Run Park is also equipped with a clean indoor rec area.

It's very convenient for bathroom breaks or even a quick workout on the indoor track.

There's also ample street parking, making it super accessible.

Walk Through the Bon Air Park Rose Garden

Every time I visit the Bon Air Park Rose Garden, it never ceases to amaze me.

The scent of the roses hits you as soon as you step out of your car; it's overpowering in the best way possible.

I remember my last visit was at the end of May; the place was teeming with roses of all hues and varieties, including some that astonishingly looked like peppermint candies.

It's a well-kept secret, always neat.

It's not just a rose garden but a paradise of ornamental trees and elaborate formal designs as well.

It's always bustling with activity, from strolling visitors admiring the beauty of the roses to photographers capturing breathtaking shots amidst the roses.

Even if you're just there to take in the scenery, you can't help but get caught up in the beauty of it all.

The garden has a surreal charm to it.

Everyone and everything here appears beautiful, as if under a spell.

It's such a fantastic place to take pictures that you'd want to capture each moment.

But remember, the roses are not to be picked; they're to be admired and preserved.

The park is a popular spot for shoots, and it's common to see wedding and candid shoots happening.

You might be lucky enough to come across one on your visit.

The parking can be limited, but you can usually find a spot quickly.

See the Gleaming Spires at the Air Force Memorial

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

Every morning, I walk my dog up the hill to the Air Force Memorial, a towering, majestic tribute to the brave men and women of the U.S. Air Force.

From my first glimpse of the three gleaming spires reaching into the sky, I'm reminded of the grandeur of flight and the courage of those who dedicate their lives to protect our nation.

Ascending the steps to the memorial, the panoramic view of the Washington skyline – from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial and Capitol Building – is simply breathtaking.

The iconic landmarks stand proudly in the distance, adding to the overwhelming sense of patriotism and reverence that sweeps over you.

The design of the memorial is a marvel.

The stainless steel spires, soaring 270 feet into the air, mimicking the graceful ascent of an aircraft.

Bronze statues of airmen from different eras stand guard around the memorial, a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made in service to our country.

Perhaps the most touching display is the "missing man" formation, a stark tribute to the airmen who have given their lives in the line of duty.

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

While the memorial is a place of reflection and respect, it's also an educational experience.

Interpretive panels scattered throughout the grounds tell the story of the Air Force, its history, and its mission.

It's a fascinating journey through time, exploring technological advancements and the evolution of aviation.

The memorial site is not only beautiful but also thoughtfully equipped.

There's plenty of parking, and the well-paved paths make it accessible for everyone.

The Visitor Center is a treasure trove of information, filled with interactive exhibits and a gift shop stocked with commemorative items.

The friendly staff is always on hand, eager to answer questions and share anecdotes about the Air Force.

Visit the Arlington Forest Park

Arlington Forest Park is not just a park; going here is an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

The subdued whispers of the park's breezy greenery and the gurgling sounds of the river always encourage me to pause, breathe, and be.

A morning stroll along its half-paved, half-rugged trail is my daily ritual.

The blend of concrete and dirt paths perfectly balances a leisurely stroll and a genuine hiking experience.

Even though the trail isn't long, it's just right for a morning jog or an afternoon walk with my golden retriever, Buddy.

The park is also a gem for biking.

I have spent countless afternoons on a leisurely ride, enjoying the calming nature views and letting my mind wander.

But the true magic of Arlington Forest Park lies in its peaceful serenity.

On lazy Sunday afternoons, I often find myself perched on a boulder by the river, soaking up the tranquility and beauty around me.

This park is more than just an arrangement of greenery; it's a haven, a sanctuary, an oasis—it's my oasis.

Pay a Tribute at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial

View of the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial at night
stock_photo_world / Shutterstock.com

I find solace in visiting the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial on my morning walks.

There's a profound sense of quietude and respect that permeates the air.

Perhaps it's the tranquility of the location or the gravity of what happened here on that fateful day in 2001.

The memorial is truly a sight to behold.

The designers have done an incredible job.

The 184 granite-covered benches, each engraved with a victim's name, stand as a poignant tribute to those who lost their lives on Flight 77.

The water feature underneath each bench makes the stone look like the wing of an aircraft, a subtle yet powerful reminder of the tragedy.

Daytime view of the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial
M.Antonello Photography / Shutterstock.com

The layout of the tributes is thoughtful and purposeful.

As I wander through, every element seems to carry a deeper meaning, a silent narrative of that horrible day etched in our collective memory.

I often find myself sharing stories of that day with visitors, hoping to keep the memory alive for the younger generation who were not there to witness it.

Night visits hold a special charm.

The serenity of the memorial under the moonlight, coupled with the solitude, is an experience in itself.

It's a place of remembrance, a timeless reminder of our resilience and unity.

See the Natural Gem of Donaldson Run Park

The thrum of the city becomes a distant hum as I step into Donaldson Run Park, a perfect sanctuary for those who crave tranquility amidst the urban rush.

As an avid trail runner, the park offers advanced trails that test my endurance with several stream crossings and steep inclines.

An invigorating challenge that rewards with breathtaking views of the majestic Potomac.

Watching the sun cast its golden rays over the quiet river is a sight that never gets old.

Winding through the park is a solid hiking trail that weaves in and out of a small river or creek.

The trail, leading to the Potomac, allows a little 'escape' from the hustle and bustle without having to venture far from home.

Every meandering bend in the river trail promises a new surprise- be it a blooming flower or a curious squirrel.

One of the highlights of the park is its dog-friendly nature.

My furry companion and I often enjoy the peaceful solitude, a surprising luxury even on nice weekend days.

The park truly is a haven for all, humans and their four-legged friends alike.

In the early mornings, as the day breaks, the park comes alive with the beauty of nature; it's the ideal setting for a morning run.

Every breath of the fresh, crisp air, every chirp of the waking birds, serves to set the tone for a good day.

The sight of the Potomac River, bathed in the morning sun, is sure to lift anyone's mood.

Spend a Wonderful Day at Long Bridge Park

Signage of  Long Bridge Park
Joseph Gruber / Shutterstock.com

Picture this - a sunny Sunday afternoon at Long Bridge Park.

The sun is shining, the air is fresh, and the park is alive with laughter, chatter, and the occasional drone of an airplane overhead.

The park is a gem in the city, with its manicured turf fields that are always kept in pristine condition.

It's not rare to find a game of soccer or flag football in progress, the players reveling in the spirit of friendly competition.

As for me, I prefer the peaceful walking paths.

It's the perfect spot to enjoy a casual stroll, a morning jog, or even a vigorous run, if you're up for it.

The play area is a fun-filled paradise for kids of all ages.

Sports field at  Long Bridge Park
Cvandyke / Shutterstock.com

My boys, aged 11 and 6, love exploring the three distinct sections of the playground, each separated by lush bushes.

I often find myself sitting on one of the benches, watching them play and laugh, with the convenience of clean bathrooms just a stone's throw away.

And then, there are the views.

The park offers a stunning vista of nearby monuments, and if you're a fan of planes, you're in for a treat.

Depending on the wind direction, airplanes from National airport fly directly overhead, transforming the sky into a dynamic landscape.

The park also boasts water features and kinetic sculptures that are a visual delight.

Trail at  Long Bridge Park
Joseph Gruber / Shutterstock.com

Enjoy the Tranquility at Fort Bennett Park and Palisades Trail

I'm lucky enough to live right by the blissful serenity of Fort Bennett Park and Palisades Trail.

It's an 11-acre gem in the heart of the city, a perfect spot for when you need a break from the hustle and bustle.

The park is compact yet charming, with a few short, popular trails that provide an easy and quick hike.

Some days, I feel adventurous and decide to explore the off-the-beaten-path.

Sometimes, I choose to sit on the park benches, soaking in the lush green surroundings.

It's a great place to unwind and enjoy the peace, with the occasional sound of birds chirping being the only gentle disruption.

What I love about this place is its educational aspect.

Along the trails, there are a couple of informative guides that enhance your knowledge about the local ecology.

It's always a delight to learn something new during a casual hike.

April is perhaps the most beautiful time to visit this trail.

The park explodes in a riot of colors as flowers bloom, painting a picturesque vista.

But don't miss the Autumn either.

The sight of leaves changing colors, creating a beautiful fall foliage, is equally breathtaking.

Feel the Tranquility at Freedom Park

The grounds of Freedom Park
Jon Bilous / Shutterstock.com

I never really understood what they meant when they said, "The best surprises come in small packages," until I found myself in Freedom Park.

Now, don't be fooled by the name; it's not your typical park.

There aren't endless acres of grassy landscape or canopy of towering trees.

Instead, it's a small urban escape in the heart of bustling Rosslyn.

It's the kind of place where concrete steps lead the way, perfectly lined with a selective assortment of flora.

You'd think in a place like this, the greenery would be somewhat lacking, but quite the contrary.

The park hosts an inventive array of plants and flowers that represent countries from all around the globe.

I've seen more diverse plant species here than I have in any botanical garden.

Entrance to Freedom Park
melissamn / Shutterstock.com

The real magic of Freedom Park, at least for me, is the elevated walkway.

It's a place where you can escape from the noise of the city and enjoy a peaceful stroll.

It is almost akin to the Highland in New York City but without the heavy foot traffic.

Up here, it's just you, the sky, and a spectacular view of the city's monuments.

However, my favorite part is how this little park transforms into a complete zen garden.

When the city's hustle and bustle becomes too much, I find solace here.

It's an oasis of calm, a place where you can sit back and let the world pass you by.

I often find myself on one of the benches, book in hand, enjoying the serene surroundings.

Trail at Freedom Park
Jon Bilous / Shutterstock.com

Have Great Escapades at James Hunter Dog Park

Every city-dweller understands the struggle of finding a decent spot for their four-legged friends to hang out.

Luckily, I've discovered the perfect spot not far from my doorstep - the James Hunter Dog Park.

My pooch, Olly, adores the freedom to roam, sniff, and explore, making this park a consistent favorite.

The waterfall and pool are charming features that add an unexpected tranquility to this urban setting.

Not to mention the ample seating for humans to unwind while our pups play.

My favorite spot? Undoubtedly, the shaded benches - an oasis on a sunny day.

Explore the City's History at the Arlington Historical Museum

Exterior of the Arlington Historical Museum
Dmadeo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stumbling upon the Arlington Historical Museum tucked away on South Arlington Ridge Road was like finding a hidden treasure right in my city.

The folks at the Arlington Historical Society have brought history to life in the old Hume School building.

I've had the pleasure of visiting the museum a few times, and each visit is a unique experience.

The museum volunteers are dedicated to sharing their love of local history.

They go above and beyond to engage visitors, making the entire experience feel special.

On one memorable occasion, I had the privilege of taking a tour led by a volunteer named David.

His passion for Arlington's history was contagious, and he had a wealth of knowledge to share.

The highlight of the tour was getting to ring the old-school bell.

Even though I've lived in the DC area all my life, that day I learned something new.

Other Things to Do Nearby

See the Sacred Ground of Arlington's Unknown Soldier

Tomb of the unknown soldier at Arlington National Cemetery
evenfh / Shutterstock.com

Every Sunday morning, rain or shine, my stroll takes me through the immaculately maintained paths of the Arlington National Cemetery, reaching the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

This monument, marking an unknown WWI soldier's grave, is a humbling reminder of the sacrifices made for our freedom.

The hour's top is the ideal moment to arrive, as the ceremonial guard change takes place, a meticulously choreographed ritual that never fails to bring a tear to my eye.

Sometimes, it's the sight of a veteran presenting a wreath that stops my heart, a silent "thank you" reverberating through the air.

Amid the hustle and bustle of daily life, this place feels like an oasis of calm and reverence, where the fiery energy of politics gives way to a quiet, dignified love for our fallen heroes.

Each visit leaves me with a deep sense of patriotic pride and a profound respect for those who've made the ultimate sacrifice.

Closer to the monument lies a beautiful marble amphitheater, often missed by hurried visitors.

and guard's slow, deliberate movements create a symphony of respect and reverence, a melody that's played uninterrupted since 1948.

Free entry to the park, ample parking space, and a $10 parking fee make the visit hassle-free.

However, I'd recommend taking a tram if you're short on time as the monument lies deep within the park.

But if you can, take that extra time to walk - it's worth it.

Discovering History at Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site

Entrance to Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site
Jon Bilous / Shutterstock.com

Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site is one of those places in the city where you can smell the history in the air.

I've always been drawn to this place.

Maybe it's the carefully preserved fort or the fascinating exhibits on Civil War topics that beckon me.

If you're curious about the Civil War, you'd find it hard to find a better place to feed your curiosity.

I've spent many quiet afternoons here, poring over the historical artifacts tucked away in every nook and cranny of the museum.

And the best part? It's completely free!

Not many people frequent the place, making it a peaceful getaway, perfect for indulging in some solitary reflection on the past.

Feel free to capture the moments as you're allowed to take pictures.

The staff here are a friendly bunch, always ready to share their knowledge.

They make history come alive with their passionate storytelling.

Of course, a visit to the Fort Ward Museum would be incomplete without a tour of the fort.

It's an awe-inspiring sight that never fails to leave me in wonder.

When the weather is pleasant, the historic site outside the museum transforms into an ideal spot for a casual picnic.

The area is dotted with tables and benches and even welcomes pets.

Imagine enjoying a picnic in the shadow of a historic fort - it's quite the experience!

The park surrounding the museum is a great spot for a brisk walk or a quick run.

I often bring my dogs here for some exercise.

The park buzzes with a lively crowd over the weekends or during the summer.

Despite the bustle, the place has a unique charm that never loses appeal.

Final Thoughts

After years of living in Arlington, I've found that the city's greatest treasures are often the ones that don't come with a price tag.

Visiting these sites has provided me with a profound sense of appreciation for the city's rich history, stunning landscapes, and vibrant community atmosphere.

Not only will you learn about the past, but you'll also become part of a community that cherishes its history, celebrates its present, and is hopeful for its future.

There's truly no better way to experience Arlington than by immersing yourself in these wonderful, free activities.

Spotted a mistake, have some feedback, or just want to chat with our editorial team? Click here to get in touch.
Find out more about Travel Lens and read our editorial guidelines here.