Peering across the Potomac river from the Hilltop, high-rise buildings touting corporate names like Deloitte and Nestle dominate the horizon. The northern Virginia skyline might catch student’s eye, but to understand the heart of Rosslyn, a heavily urbanized neighborhood just across the Key Bridge, one must venture across the bridge.

Arlington County, roughly encompassing the area of Northern Virginia from Ronald Reagan National Airport and Crystal City in the southeast to Williamsburg in the northwest, has an estimated population of 235,000. The county includes the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery and the dense high-rises of Rosslyn.

Rosslyn began as a small community around a ferry landing along the Potomac River during the colonial period. In the 1860s and 1870s, the area became known for its brothels, pawnshops and saloons, gaining a reputation for danger and lawlessness. However, as community efforts to clean up the neighborhood were established and more government jobs appeared in Washington, D.C., the area gradually developed. High-rise apartments and office spaces sprang up in earnest in the 1960s as businesses and government agencies tried to distance themselves from the 1968 riots in the District. Today the area has a more urban appearance than many areas of D.C. itself.

Arlington is known for its landmarks and national parks, particularly those honoring military servicemen and women. For example, the Netherlands Carillon, adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery, dates back to 1954 when the Netherlands gifted it to the United States for its aid during World War II. Symbolizing friendship between the two countries, the Carillon hosts live concerts throughout the summer. At Arlington National Cemetery, tour buses make rounds to notable historical landmarks such as the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, President John F. Kennedy’s gravesite, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Arlington House, which memorializes Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Although much of Arlington has been urbanized and developed following a commercial and industrial boom beginning in the 1960s, the city remains a popular destination for hiking and pedestrian trails. For example, parks along the Potomac River such as Windy Run Park and Fort Bennett Park have nature paths and streams, providing a small reprieve from bustling city life. For those who prefer more of a challenge, the longer eighteen-mile Mount Vernon bike trail is a popular route. The Mount Vernon trail stretches from Theodore Roosevelt Island to George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. Offering views of the Potomac and Washington, D.C.’s monuments, the trail is a hot spot for avid cyclists that is also accessible for leisurely strolls.

The Arlington area is also a hub for seasonal activities around the District. The MedStar Capitals Iceplex is a two-rink ice-sports center and the highest ice rink above street-level in the United States. Located on the eighth floor of the Ballston Quarter mall, it is also the practice arena for the Washington Capitals. Visitors can take lessons in figure skating or ice hockey, or purchase a pass and rent skates for public skating sessions. Admission and rental rates are $14 total, but thrifty skaters should be on the lookout for hot deals sponsored by Arlington County, usually on the first Friday of every month and Tuesday afternoons.

Another close option for ice skating in Arlington is Pentagon Row, known as the largest outdoor rink in Northern Virginia and the second-largest in the state. In 2013, the plaza at Pentagon Row underwent major renovations to expand the rink and install a dual-sided stone fireplace for lounging during breaks. The Pentagon Row Ice Rink opens for the season from late October to mid-March every day. The area also hosts a variety of fall-themed seasonal activities and summer-specific outdoor performances and festivals like its annual summer Outdoor Film Festival. 

One of Arlington’s defining characteristics is its panoramic views of the District. Those who want to see the nation’s capital in all of its splendor from the viewpoint of its humble neighbor should check out the observation deck at the CEB Tower, which offers a panoramic view of the entire city from above.

Whether visiting military landmarks, immersing oneself in nature or skating to Christmas music, the activities of Arlington, particularly in the Rosslyn neighborhood, distinguish the area in D.C.’s diverse cultural scene.

Rosslyn is a 30-minute walk from campus across the Key Bridge, and the free GUTS bus service takes students there every 20 minutes. The neighborhood is also accessible from the Rosslyn Metro Station.

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