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Washington Dulles International Airport is the biggest and busiest in the area, located about 30 minutes west of DC in Virginia. For information on Dulles Airport Parking, visit DCParking.org.
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), located in Arlington, Virginia, is the closest to the city center, making it a convenient choice if you’re staying in the downtown area. But you’ll find fewer flight options here because a short runway limits the size of aircraft that can fly in and out of the airport and Federal regulations limit the number of long distance flights allowed.
Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI) may be farther away – about 30 minutes east of DC by highway – but don’t let the distance fool you, and there are public transportation options available. This is can be a convenient and occasionally less expensive option to DCA, but consider the time and expense required to travel between BWI and DC. A taxi will run upwards of $100, and bus ($6 from Greenbelt metro station) or train ($6 weekdays from Union Station) options require some scheduling.
Amtrak trains arrive and depart in the lower floor of the popular Union Station. Union Station is one of the busiest and best-known places in the city. If you have time to spare before your train, admire its stunning architecture or visit some of its shops.
Additional area Amtrak stations are located in Virginia (in Alexandria, Franconia-Springfield and Woodbridge) and in Maryland (in Baltimore, BWI Airport, New Carrollton and Rockville).
Union Station also provides regional commuter rail transportation on weekdays. MARC services Maryland, and VRE services Virginia, which may be of help if traveling from or within one of thse states..
The Greyhound bus station is inside Union Station via the attached parking structure, which you can enter via the mezzanine level (upstairs) of Union Station proper. A number of other independent bus companies, many of which are based in Chinatown, offer service from New York. Often called “Chinatown buses,” they travel to several major cities along the east coast. In Washington DC, the most common stop is at 10th & H streets.
Greyhound, Peter Pan and Coach USA serve the widest selection of destinations; tickets are cheaper than Amtrak but travel times are longer. Other popular lines include Megabus (New York and Philadelphia), Boltbus (New York), DC2NY (New York), Vamoose (New York, Bethesda and Arlington), NYDCExpress (New York, Philadelphia) and Apex Bus (new York, Philadelphia, Union City).
Several East Coast cities are within reasonable distance by car. Visitors coming from New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Richmond, Pittsburgh or Cincinnati can arrive in a day’s drive. Drivers should be aware that interstate traffic on I-495 and I-95 becomes very congested between 3:30 and 7:30 pm and can easily add an hour to your driving time.
Visitors can navigate from the airport to the city via Metrorail, Metrobus, cabs, shuttle buses and car rentals.
Taking public transit is easiest if you’re flying into Reagan Airport, which offers access to the Metro blue and yellow lines at the concourse (level 2) between terminals B and C. Free shuttles run between terminal A and the Metro station every six to seven minutes.
From Baltimore/Washington Airport, free shuttle buses run every few minutes between the terminals and the train station. Once there, hop on the MARC ($6 one way) or Amtrak train ($13 one way) to Union Station in the city. MARC trains get crowded during morning rush hour, so take the Metrobus B30 to Greenbelt Metro station instead if you’re traveling during this time. These buses have room for luggage and they’re just as convenient, but remember to bring exact change for the $6 fare because drivers don’t carry cash or give change. You can pick up the B30 at two locations on the lower arrivals level.
From Dulles Airport, Metrobus 5A runs approximately hourly to the Rosslyn and L'Enfant Plaza Metro stations, stopping at commuter parking lots in Virginia along the way. The full trip takes about 50 minutes. The Washington Flyer express bus travels from Dulles to the West Falls Church Metro station, departing every 30 minutes from Door 4 on the arrivals level of the main terminal. The trip is about 25 minutes and it costs $10 one way or $18 round trip.
Metro's Trip Planner will give you detailed instructions about which Metrobus or Metro train to take to your hotel once you arrive at Metro stations in the city.
*More public transit details listed below.
Cabs are readily available at each airport. To downtown DC, taxis are about $11 from Reagan, $60 from Dulles and $90 from Baltimore/Washington.
Shuttle Services are an economical way to get to and from DC airports and train stations. One of the most popular and reliable services is Supershuttle, popularly known as the “Blue Van.” It offers service from Reagan (about $12), Dulles (about $27) and Baltimore/Washington (about $35).
All airports have many rental car options. Although it’s easy to navigate DC via public transportation or cab, rental cars can be helpful if you’re planning to visit Baltimore or historic parts of Virginia, since these areas aren’t widely serviced by Metro. If you need a car for a longer time, consider Zipcar, which lets you rent a car or truck by the hour. Locations are scattered throughout the city, but the initial registration process and expense only makes this optional practical for extended stays.
DC is split into four quadrants that spread out from Capitol Hill – northwest, northeast, southwest and southeast. The city is best known for its National Mall and downtown area, home to the White House, central business district, Kennedy Center and many museums. Farther north you’ll find diverse and trendy neighborhoods like Dupont Circle, Shaw, and Adams Morgan-Columbia Heights, a good area for shopping or listening to live music. Western DC is known for its wealth, with the Georgetown neighborhood, the National Zoo, Embassy Row and lots of high-end shopping. The eastern part of town starts at the Capitol building and extends out to less visited neighborhoods such as Anacostia.
DC is a good walking city, and architect Pierre L’Enfant chose a street layout that’s easy to navigate. Numbered streets run south to north and lettered streets run east to west. Even better, there’s logic behind the street addresses. Say you want to go to the International Spy Museum (and yes, you do) at 800 F Street NW. The address tells you that it’s in the NW quadrant of the city, where F Street meets 8th. Zaytinya Restaurant (another good choice) at 701 9th Street is just around the corner at 9th and G (G is the 7th letter of the alphabet). There are a few exceptions: avenues with state names run diagonally through the city. If you hit one of those, don’t worry; in the next block you’ll cross a numbered or lettered street and know right where you are.
When searching for an address, note the quadrant, and remember that street numbers and letters will increase with distance from the Capitol. Also note that there is no “J” street.
The best way to get around is the DC Metro (subway or underground). Maps of all the different lines are available at each station and online at http://www.wmata.com/rail/maps/map.cfm. The Metro can take you to popular attractions like the National Zoo, the Smithsonian Museums and National Mall, Arlington Cemetery, and two blocks from the White House. Unfortunately, Georgetown is not accessible; visitors to the university will need to get off at the Foggy Bottom/GWU and take a cab, or get off at Rosslyn and walk across the Key Bridge.
Fares are based on distance and time of travel. Single fares start at $1.60 during non rush hours and $1.95 during busier hours, with a 20-cent additional fee on weekdays from 7:30-9 a.m. and from 4:30-6 p.m. Fares max out at $2.75 during non rush hours and $5 during rush hours. Day passes may be more economical for $9, and you can get a seven-day Fast Pass for $45. If you’re older than 65 and will be in the area for several days, consider purchasing a SmarTrip card to cut your fare in half.
Buy a farecard before you go down to the platform, and hold onto it when you get on the train – you’ll need it once you get off to exit the station. There is no food permitted on the trains and the service stations do not have restrooms or garbage cans. During the day, you shouldn’t have to wait more than 10 minutes for a train, although the waits may be 20 minutes at night. And note that train shut down around midnight on weekdays and 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
The DC Circulator provides five bus routes that take care of some of the empty spots in the subway system. Buses are a convoy of brand new, sparkling clean, and easy-to-access buses, painted bright red with a red/silver circulator sign. The most popular bus route is the Smithsonian - National Gallery of Art Loop , which goes around the National Mall, the Georgetown - Union Station route. Fare is $1 a trip – cheaper than MetroRail but also slower, since the bus moves on city streets and goes slow during morning rush hour. You can get off and re-board free for a two-hour period if you remember to ask for a transfer when you board.
MetroBuses have hours and fares are similar to the MetroRail. They’re a bit harder to use than the rail system, but they provide access to places around the city that don’t have a rail station in close proximity. Bus stops are marked by red, white and blue signs, and they typically have route and schedule information posted. Use a farecard or exact change.
If you prefer something quicker and more direct, call a cab. You’ll have the best luck if you stand in front of a nice hotel; otherwise, you can find them anywhere downtown. In the evenings, you might have to head to one of the busier streets to find one, as they tend not to scour the neighborhoods for fares.
DC's cabs charge by time and distance. Note that there will be surcharges for extra suitcases, additional passengers, during snow emergencies, rush hour trips and fuel during times of high gas prices.
If you want a taxi from the airport with fixed price and avoid queing for a taxi, you can pre-order a private transfer online. They have vehicles for any size of group and even wheelchair adapted minivans.
Having a rental car in DC is more trouble than it’s worth. Traffic in and around the city is heavy and frustrating, especially during rush hour. Most attractions around the Mall do not have convenient parking, and metered parking is limited.
Pay attention to parking meters and signs; rules are diligently enforced and can be somewhat confusing. For example, "2 hr parking from 7:30 - 3:30 and from 6:30 to 9:30" means you can only park there for two hours; don’t come back and try to pay the meter for two more. It also means that your vehicle will get towed if you leave it there from 3:30-6:30, since this is a rush hour corridor and your parking space becomes a lane of traffic.
If you decide to rent a car, visit DCParking.org for information about DC parking and for the best information on finding a cheap spot.
Capital Bikeshare is the DC area's newest form of public transportation. With more than 110 stations and 1,100 bikes, this on-demand mode of transportation is a great, inexpensive way to travel around the city.
It works much like the bus or the train in that you use the system to get from point A to point B. Pick up a bike at any station and drop it off at another station close to your destination. There are two great options for visitors: a 24-hour membership for $5 and a five-day membership for $15. Once you have paid for your membership, all trips under 30 minutes are free within the membership period (one or five days).
It's important to keep in mind that Capital Bikeshare is not a bike rental program and trips beyond 30 minutes will incur usage fees. If you plan to take a bike and keep it all day, it is suggested that you contact a bike rental company. Maps are located at all stations; use them to find your drop-off point.