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Getting Around Washington D.C.

The best way to get around Washington, D.C., is via the clean, safe and efficient Washington Metrpolitan Area Transit Authority public transportation system. Most travelers (and residents) use a combination of the metro trains, the buses and their own two feet to get around, but keep in mind that as the metro continues to develop the new Silver Line, which is scheduled to be completed in 2018, you should prepare for delays and closings. You can even take a metro train or bus into the city from the closest of the area's three airports: Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Va. Renting a car isn't advised; D.C. is regularly ranked as one of America's worst cities for driving. If you must have your own wheels, you should primarily keep them parked at your hotel. You can also traverse the capital city by taxi, but it'll cost you.

Washington, D.C., is also serviced by the Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), located about 30 miles west of the city. Another airport, Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI), sits just south of Baltimore. The best way to get from BWI Airport into the city is to take a Marc Train to Union Station. To get from DCA into the city, you can take the metro; to get from IAD into the city, you can take a shuttle. Taxis and rental cars are available from all airports.

Metro

The five color-coded metro train lines weave through Washington, D.C. and some locations in Maryland and Virginia. Running until midnight from Sunday to Thursday and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Staurdays, the metro stops at most of the major tourist attractions. The fare cost will depend on the time of day and the distance traveled. During the weekday rush hour and the weekends, fares range from $2.10 to $5.75, plus a surcharge of $1 if you use a paper fare card. At other times, the fares range from $1.70 to $3.50, plus a surcharge if you use a paper fare card, rather than a rechargeable SmarTrip fare card. Keep in mind that you'll have to swipe your ticket at a turnstile before you enter onto the metro platform and after you leave it, so hold on to it.

Buying a $10 SmarTrip card — a plastic, reloadable public transportation ticket — is an easy way to save money and get around the city, especially if you're planning to vacation for more than a couple of days. You can purchase one at the Metro Center station or in convenience stores across the city. SmarTrip cards are also accepted on Washington, D.C.'s Metrobus and Circulator bus.

Bus

Another part of the WMATA public transportation system, the buses travel extensive routes throughout the District, Maryland and Virginia. Fare starts at $1.60 with a SmarTrip card and $1.80 with cash. If you're paying with cash make sure to have the exact fare, as drivers cannot make change.

The D.C. Circulator buses run every 10 minutes and accept cash and SmarTrip cards for its $1 one-way fare. A handful of routes, including one that cuts straight through the city from Union Station to Georgetown and another that only goes around perimeter of the National Mall (this route is only available on weekends), travel much of D.C.

On Foot

The best way to explore the different neighborhoods is by foot. Several areas like the National Mall and Georgetown really don't make sense any other way. When you get tired — and you will, the National Mall is nearly two miles long — the Circulator bus or another mode of public transit can take you the rest of your journey.

Taxi

In D.C., metered taxis are plentiful, and you can wave them down or find them lined up outside of major hotels and attractions. The fare starts at $3.25 for the first 1/8 mile, plus an extra $0.27 for each additional 1/8 mile and each minute of wait time. Additional passengers also cost $1 extra. Also remember, during declared snow emergencies, taxis charge more. 

Car The great majority of vacationers travel to Washington, D.C., by car. That doesn't mean driving in D.C. is a good idea. Washington is known for horrible congestion, impatient drivers, scarce yet expensive parking and a confusing grid of streets. If you simply must, you can find rental agencies at all three of the area's airports — BWI, IAD and DCA — as well as scattered through the city, and in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

Next Steps: Washington D.C.

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