Frequently Asked Questions About Arlington National Cemetery


There is a range of different tours here at Gray Line DC that allow guests to visit Arlington National Cemetery. While technically in Virginia, Arlington is such a short drive from Washington DC, across the Potomac River, and it usually makes a lot of sense to see this military cemetery at the same time as many of DC’s incredible historic buildings and monuments. If you’re planning a trip to Washington or Virginia and you’d like to see the sights, you might have a few questions about Arlington National Cemetery. This short guide will hopefully answer some of the frequently asked questions, but you’ll have to discover the rest of Arlington National Cemetery’s stories on one of our tours… And remember: being there in person is an experience you can never read on a website or in a guidebook!

Why is Arlington National Cemetery Famous?

The quick answer to this question is that Arlington has been the burial grounds for many of the United States’ most decorated war heroes and many Americans like to visit it to pay their respects. But there is more history to the cemetery as it was, in fact, first established as a cemetery during the American Civil War, on the grounds of the estate owned by Robert E. Lee and Mary Anna Custis Lee (George Washington’s great-granddaughter). This estate is known as Arlington House and there is so much fascinating history surrounding it and its grounds – much of which you’ll discover on one of our tours. For instance, it may interest you to know that the US government actually acquired Arlington Cemetery in a roundabout way from Mary Lee when she had to pay a particularly large tax bill in 1864, but that the government had to give it back in 1883 after a court ruling? The US government then bought the cemetery back again for $150K.

Who is eligible to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery?

It might not surprise you to know that not just anyone can be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. In fact, it has the strictest access requirements of any cemetery in the entire United States. It is the ‘National’ cemetery, after all! Not only this, but the access requirements have become increasingly strict as time has gone on, as more and more military veterans ask to be buried there. At the time of writing this guide, the requirements for being buried at Arlington National Cemetery are as follows:

–       Former Presidents of the United States.

–       Elected US government officials who have also served in the military (provided they weren’t discharged from the military dishonourably). The same goes for Supreme Court Justices, Attorney Generals, CIA directors, and a range of other high-profile figures in federal employment.

–       US military personnel killed on active duty.

–       A range of other people related to an eligible veteran.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of eligibility criteria, but it will hopefully give you a good idea about how exclusive Arlington National Cemetery is!

How many people are buried at Arlington National Cemetery?

The current 2019 figures aren’t available, but there over approximately 400K+ people buried at Arlington National Cemetery, with between 27 and 30 funerals held there each week. This may seem like a lot, and this is because the list of people eligible to be buried there is not limited to location and applies to any US citizen who meets the criteria.

What is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery?

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is sometimes referred to as the Tomb of the Unknowns. It is an impressive marble monument to the men and women of the U.S. military who died on duty and whose remains were not recovered. The U.S. unknowns are also automatic recipients of the US Medal of Honor, which is presented by whichever President is in office at the time of their funeral.

Which Presidents are Buried in Arlington National Cemetery?

While all U.S. Presidents are entitled to be buried in Arlington, not all choose to be. There are only a small handful of U.S. Presidents buried there. When you visit on your Arlington tour, you may like to try to find the following gravestones:

–       President William Howard Taft

–       President John F. Kennedy

–       Robert F. Kennedy

–       Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.

–       Edward M. Kennedy

–       George Washington Parke Custis

–       Robert Todd Lincoln

We hope this blog has answered a few of your questions about Arlington National Cemetery. If you have any specific questions about any of our tours that visit the cemetery, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Plan your next big trip and explore the United States’ rich history with a little help from Gray Line DC!