The bustling, affluent, forested county of Arlington, Virginia is a popular area to visit in the United States for its proximity to many Washington, D.C. attractions.
Minutes from the nation’s capital, with its museums, monuments and nightlife attractions, Arlington also offers hiking trails to the Potomac River and short drives to historic Alexandria, Reagan and Dulles airports, and the more rural areas of Virginia to the south and west.
But beyond its central location, Arlington County itself has much to offer in the realms of dining, shopping, parks and recreation, and entertainment that will rival any in the commonwealth of Virginia.
And it’s right across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.!
What You Need to Know About Arlington, VA
Arlington is made up of a number of smaller residential neighborhoods, with a range of housing options from large historic homes to high-rise apartments where every amenity is within walking distance. On its hilly, tree-lined blocks, big-city streets alternate with more slow-paced suburban communities.
Like most of the DC metro region, Arlington has a high median income and therefore a relatively high cost of living.
However, there are deals to be found, with new apartment complexes constantly in construction to create an urban village, and older homes often shared among roommates or large families.
The diverse area, which is also home to the Pentagon, welcomes visitors from all over, with hotels ranging from quaint and old-fashioned to modern luxury, and frequent special events and festivals throughout the county.
Why Visit Arlington?
Arlington has a lot to offer for a wide range of interests, whether you’re planning a weekend visit or a longer stay.
With four campuses in the county and dozens more in the surrounding area, parts of Arlington have the flavor of a college town, with quirky shops, community events and several nightclubs.
Nine robust farmer’s markets appear around the county in the warmer months, and community gardens abound, while the annual Taste of Arlington festival highlights the incredible number of restaurants in the area, both large and small. Just like the population, the food in Arlington comes from all over the world.
Entertainment seekers will find four movie theaters, an array of live entertainment options, and outdoor movie nights provided by many neighborhood organizations over the summer. There are two main shopping malls, but smaller, locally-owned shops can be found on every corner.
One major advantage for tourists is the accessible public transportation, with two bus systems (Metro and the local ART Bus) reaching every corner of the county, and the Metro subway system giving easy access to Washington, D.C. and beyond.
For those who like to travel by foot or bicycle, an elaborate, unbroken system of walking/bike trails circles Arlington and neighboring Falls Church, Fairfax County and Alexandria, taking hikers past pleasant suburban neighborhoods, through small wooded areas and along the region’s numerous creeks and streams.
Tips you should know before your Arlington visit
Many people think of Arlington is a city of transplants, and indeed new residents do come from every corner of the country and the world, attracted by DC jobs, great school districts, and an ever-growing housing market.
But a closer inspection reveals many families who have lived in Northern Virginia for generations, and long-time residents are often glad to tell you stories about the old days.
In fact, history abounds in Arlington; if you take the time to stop by the small monuments and plaques all over town, you’ll be rewarded with fascinating tidbits of history from the Revolutionary War to the Civil Rights movement.
Before visiting, any traveler planning to take advantage of the public transportation should invest in a Metro card: a refillable tap-to-pay card which works on WMATA (Metro) buses and trains as well as the local transit systems for Arlington, DC, Falls Church and Alexandria.
While any season in Arlington comes with its own benefits, spring is an especially good time to visit, because the cherry blossoms and other flowering trees that DC is famous for also beautify this neighboring district, and the weather is usually at its best.
Weekends can be a busy time at many attractions in this high-population area, particularly outside, so it is a good idea to include some weekdays in your trip itinerary if you prefer fewer crowds.
What to do in Arlington, Virginia
You can never get bored when you stay in this suburb outside of D.C. There are just too many things to do in Arlington.
- Arlington National Cemetery
- Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse
- Signature Theater
- Theodore Roosevelt Island
- Mount Vernon Trail
- Pentagon City
- Central Library
- Farmers markets
- Upton Hill Regional Park
- Arlington Historical Museum
- Weekend in Clarendon
- Fort C.F. Smith
- Arlington House
- Rosslyn, VA public spaces
- Bon Air Park
- Bluemont Park
- DEA Museum
- US Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima memorial)
- Air Force Memorial
Read all of the things to do in Arlington, VA
Best Restaurants in Arlington, VA
Consistently ranked as one of the favorites when Arlingtonians are surveyed, this Balkan food destination allows for risk-free culinary exploration with small plates that are consistently delicious, a vast wine selection and many vegetarian options. Also check out the cocktail menu, as there are some wonderful Balkan liquors being used.
In a town awash with great Thai food, this spot still stands out for its gorgeous décor, consistently great flavors, and surprisingly affordable menu.
Bob & Edith’s Diner
This Arlington institution has been serving up classic 24-7 diner food for over fifty years, and has now expanded to three locations in the area. All feature laid-back, versatile surroundings with the classic brushed-metal diner look, suitable for anything from post-church brunch to a post-night-on-the-town coffee.
If you’re craving some greasy, delicious, filling comfort food with no frills, make sure to visit south Arlington’s beloved hole-in-the-wall, The Broiler. Just as the tiny restaurant’s sign says, they serve “Steaks, Subs, Pizza”—and that’s about it!
Locals rave about their cheesesteaks, and their square pizzas are a regular dinner for many area families. Just don’t walk by hungry if you don’t plan to go in, because the smell might lure you off the street.
Busboys and Poets
A great place to stop for coffee and snacks or a full meal, this local chain appeals to the literature, film, and music-loving crowd with live events, a book shop and tons of community involvement.
Most of its seven locations are in Washington, D.C., but the Shirlington location is a welcome respite for the weary shopper.
A classic American bistro that feels a little elevated for special occasions, without being stuffy or outrageously expensive. A popular brunch hang-out known for great service and a nice atmosphere, both inside and outside.
The Celtic House
An authentic and well-loved Irish pub with very friendly staff, this is a cozy spot for a filling meal, some live music and a fun evening with friends.
Food trucks and stands are a major part of food culture for people who live and work in Arlington. If you’re looking for one of these mobile restaurants, a good bet is to hang out by the business centers of Ballston and Rosslyn around lunch time.
There are an especially big variety of dessert and pastry trucks in the area, accompanied by East and Southeast Asian cuisine, Mediterranean, and halal.
Trucks provide an unexpected and filling treat to visitors on the move, at very affordable prices.
This local favorite with two locations has a grocery section for high-quality wine, cheese and other Italian treats, but also serves a deli-based menu and excellent coffee.
This café and wine bar with light pastries and bistro fare offers a chic location for get-togethers that won’t break the bank. The original location features dog-friendly outdoor seating, a busy main floor, and a quieter upstairs that draws book clubs, tele-workers and wine enthusiasts.
The easy café set-up has been popular with on-the-go locals, and Northside was recently able to expand to a second location in Falls Church, VA.
Northern Virginia is a great spot for lovers of Vietnamese food in general, and among connoisseurs, the delicious and satisfying dishes at this unassuming little pho shop are considered irresistible. Remember to bring cash!
This newcomer to the region recently set up shop at Ballston Quarter, and has quickly built a name for itself as an entertaining weekend spot.
In addition to offering craft beverages of every kind and a wide menu of from-scratch dishes, the three-story restaurant features games including bowling, ping-pong, arcade machines and karaoke.
With idiosyncratic modern design features like a “lodge” complete with bookshelves and a deer head, and the eponymous fishbowl-sized glasses, it is an irresistible draw for the younger crowd.
Westover Market & Beer Garden
Another shop pulling double-duty, this grocery store and butcher shop has an attached restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating: a great atmosphere for family and friend gatherings, with an ever-changing selection of craft beers and a unique burger-and-sides menu featuring some unusual treats.
Our Favorite Arlington Hotels
There are actually two top-rated Westin Hotels in Arlington—one in Ballston and one in Crystal City. Both are well-known for outstanding service, proximity to dining, shopping and transportation options, and fully-fledged, noteworthy restaurants on the first level.
The biggest draw of these accommodations is the beautiful view of the Potomac and Georgetown, but if you come for the location, you’ll stay for extremely friendly customer service and an unexpectedly excellent French/Italian restaurant and lounge.
Check rates and availability on Le Meridien now!
Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel
Though not the cheapest option out there, this is a popular Crystal City location with traveling business people for its well-stocked amenities, exceptional business center and prompt service.
Get the best rate on the Renaissance Arlington now!
The Ritz-Carlton, Pentagon City
Sleep in luxury at the Ritz-Carlton. Connected to high-end shopping at The Fashion Center at Pentagon City, you will be surrounded by the artwork of Virginia artists and regionally sourced ingredients on the hotel restaurant.
Check rates and availability on the Ritz-Carlton now!
Homewood Suites by Hilton Arlington
Located less than 2 miles from downtown Washington, DC, this hotel is perfect for families looking for a little extra space. Grab the complimentary shuttle to the Rosslyn Metrorail station for quick access to the city sites, offices and more.
Get the best rate on Homewood Suites by Hilton Arlington now!
Rentals and Airbnbs in Arlington, VA
Gorgeous 2 bedroom in Arlington: Easy and beautiful stay at this managed service apartment with gym access, laundry and fully outfitted kitchen.
Arlington Farm House: 100 year old renovated farm house with 3 bedrooms and 2 bath in the hot Penrose community of Arlington. Just 11 minutes to downtown.
1 BR in Pentagon City: Beautiful, well-appointed apartment for a couple or some friends to share, and the Pentagon City location can’t be beat. Metro will get you to DC, historic Alexandria or Arlington shopping in minutes.
Private studio guesthouse w/ patio: Cozy private guesthouse with its own patio on a wooded lot, thoroughly and artistically decorated, in a friendly and comfortable residential Arlington neighborhood. Great for feeling like you’re getting away from it all while still being only a few minutes from the city.
Renovated 1-bedroom Condo: Free parking plus one stoplight from Washington DC, the Pentagon, Clarendon, Crystal City and National Airport. There are larger apartments also available from this Superhost.
This post was published by Keryn Means, a Washington DC travel expert, and the editor and publisher of DC Travel Magazine. Our articles may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking one of those links we will receive a small commission.