Getting Around Washington, D.C.
The best way to get around Washington, D.C., is via the clean, safe and efficient Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) 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 by 2020, 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 Washington National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Virginia. 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.
In addition to Reagan Airport, Washington, D.C., is serviced by Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), located about 31 miles northwest of the city. Another airport, Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI), sits just south of Baltimore. The best way to get from Baltimore/Washington Airport into the city is to take a MARC Train from Union Station. For travel between Reagan Airport and D.C., plan on taking the Metro. And to get to the city from Dulles Airport, use the 5A bus or ride the Silver Line Express Bus to the Silver Line's Wiehle-Reston East station before transferring to a Metro train. Taxis and rental cars are available from all airports.
The six color-coded Metro train lines weave through Washington, D.C., and some locations in Maryland and Virginia. Running until midnight every day, 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 weekday rush hour and weekends, fares range from $2.15 to $5.90. At other times, fares will fall between $1.75 and $3.60. Keep in mind that you'll have to swipe your ticket twice: once at a turnstile before entering the Metro platform and a second time as you exit your destination's station.
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 visiting for more than a couple days. You can purchase one at any Metrorail station, online or in convenience stores across the city. SmarTrip cards are also accepted on Washington, D.C.'s Metrobuses and DC Circulator buses.
Another part of the WMATA public transportation system, the buses travel extensive routes throughout the District, Maryland and Virginia. Bus fare is $1.75 for SmarTrip card users and for those using cash. If you're paying with cash, make sure to have the exact fare, as drivers cannot make change.
The DC Circulator buses run every 10 minutes between 6 a.m. and midnight on most days (with reduced or extended hours offered on select days and routes). All DC Circulator buses accept cash and SmarTrip cards for its $1 one-way fare. Route options include one that cuts straight through the city from Union Station to Georgetown and another that travels around the perimeter of the National Mall.
If you're looking for a hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus, we've rounded up the best bus tours in Washington, D.C .
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 2 miles long – the DC Circulator buses or another mode of public transit can take you the rest of your journey. Another great transportation option for exploring the National Mall without battling heavy crowds on foot is taking a pedicab. Rates vary by season and operator.
In D.C., metered taxis are plentiful, and you can wave them down or find them lined up outside of major hotels and attractions . Meters start at $3.25 for the first 1/8 mile, and another 27 cents is added per additional 1/8 mile traveled. Extra charges apply for trips from area airports, multiple passengers and rides during declared snow emergencies. The Uber and Lyft ride-hailing services also operate in and around the District.
The majority of vacationers travel to Washington, D.C., by car, but that doesn't mean driving in the city is a good idea. D.C. 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, as well as various agency locales scattered through the city and in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Car rentals generally cost $30 to $50 per day.
Explore More of Washington, D.C.
If you make a purchase from our site, we may earn a commission. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.