Guide to Public Transportation in Washington, D.C.

All About the Metro System in the Capital Region

Rush hour on the Metro, Washington DC, USA
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It’s easy to travel around the Washington, D.C. area using public transportation—especially when compared to fighting the city's famous gridlock and expensive, hard-to-find parking. Since driving in Washington, D.C. can often be difficult, especially for out-of-towners, take the city's Metro rail can be a convenient way to get around the city.

Sports, entertainment, shopping, museums, and sightseeing attractions are all accessible by public transportation, so join D.C.'s commuters and hop on Washington, D.C.’s Metrorail or other public transportation systems.

How to Ride the D.C. Metro

The WMATA Metrorail is the city's regional subway system, providing transportation around the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area using six color-coded lines that intersect at various points, making it possible for passengers to change trains and travel anywhere on the system.​

  • Fare rates: What you'll pay for a Metro ride depends on where you're going and what time of day it is when you enter the system. Peak fares happen during rush hour, which is weekdays from opening until 9:30 a.m. and then between 3-7:00 p.m. To figure out your exact cost, look on WMATA's Trip Planner or the rates at the station. If you load money on your plastic SmarTrip cards, the fare will be automatically calculated and deducted.
  • How to pay and where to buy passes: You must have SmarTrip cards to pay fares on both Metrorail and Metrobus, and you can purchase one online or at a vending machine at a Metro station.
  • Hours of operation: Trains start running at 5 a.m. Monday through Friday, and at 7 a.m. on Saturday and 8 a.m. on Sunday. The closing hours vary depending on the day of the week too. Monday through Thursday, the system's hours end at 11:30 p.m., while everything stays open later for weekend revelers, ending operation at 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. The rail hours run until 11 p.m. on Sundays. Trains usually arrive every 5 to 15 minutes during rush hours (with waits around 10 or 15 minutes between trains during non-peak hours).
  • Transfer information/tips: The most popular points for tourists to transfer downtown would be the Metro Center stop where the Red, Orange, Blue, and Silver lines connect, as Metro riders navigate to popular spots like the National Mall and the National Zoo. Another station that is often used by hockey fans headed to Nationals games at Capital One Arena or diners in Penn Quarter is Gallery Place/Chinatown, which connects the Red, Green, and Yellow lines.
  • Accessibility concerns: Metro stations are known for their escalators (including some of longest continuous escalators in the world!) Stations also include elevators, but it's important for those who rely on them to check WMATA's Service Status page to make sure that the elevators at the station they are headed to are usable and not under repair. The Metro system also includes information in Braille and more accessibility features. Read here to learn more.
  • Important things to know: You can use the Trip Planner on the WMATA website to plan your route and find out real-time departure/arrival information. Also key: use it to find out about any potential delays or track work you may encounter, so you can be informed before you begin your journey.

Taking a Commuter Train

Besides the Metro system, commuters rely on two rail lines to get from Maryland and Virginia into Washington. Here are two commuter trains you can use to get from the city to further flung suburbs.

MARC Train Service: MARC is a commuter train providing public transportation along four routes to Union Station in Washington, D.C. The starting points include Baltimore, Frederick, and Perryville, MD and Martinsburg, WV. MARC service trains run during the week, with limited service on the weekend.

Virginia Railway Express (VRE): VRE is a commuter train providing public transportation from Fredericksburg and Broad Run Airport in Bristow, VA to Union Station in Washington, D.C. VRE service runs Monday through Friday only.

Streetcars

A unique way to get from Union Station to Washington's H Street corridor's restaurant and bars would be the DC Streetcar. The DC Streetcar began service along H Street/Benning Road in February 2016, and for now, it is free to ride. Pick the streetcar up from Union Station by exiting the parking structure or hop on at one of the stops along the H Street route.

Ride a Bike Using D.C.'s Bikeshare

If you want to explore D.C. on two wheels, there's the popular Capital Bikeshare—and with more than 500 stations across the region, there's always a bike nearby. A single trip costs $2, or travelers can try an $8 pass that lasts for 24 hours. That's not the only bike-share program in town: new dockless bicycle and scooter startups like Spin, Jump, and Lime have entered the city, with bikes hanging around on street corners (and electric Bird scooters too). Just follow the instructions using your phone to unlock one of these bikes or scooters.

Riding the Bus in Washington, D.C.

There are two main bus options to travel around the city:

  • DC Circulator: The DC Circulator provides free, frequent service around the National Mall, between Union Station and Georgetown, and between the Convention Center and the National Mall.
  • Metrobus: Metrobus is the Washington, D.C. area's regional bus service and connects to all Metrorail stations and feeds into other local bus systems around the region. Metrobus operates 24-hours-a-day, 7 days a week with 11,500 bus stops located in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.

Riding the Bus in Washington, D.C.'s Suburbs

If you venture out of the city limits, there are bus lines to know about besides Metrobus.

  • ART-Arlington Transit: ART is a bus system that operates within Arlington County, Virginia and provides access to the Crystal City Metro station and VRE. The Metroway bus line travels from the Braddock Road Metro station in Alexandria to Pentagon City, with stops in Potomac Yard and Crystal City.
  • City of Fairfax CUE: The CUE bus system provides public transportation within the City of Fairfax, to George Mason University, and to the Vienna/Fairfax-GMU Metrorail Station.
  • DASH (Alexandria): The DASH bus system provides service within the City of Alexandria, and connects with Metrobus, Metrorail, and VRE.​
  • Fairfax Connector: The Fairfax Connector is the local bus system for Fairfax County, Virginia connecting to Metrorail.​
  • Loudoun County Commuter Bus: The Loudoun County Connector is a commuter bus service providing transportation to park and ride lots in Northern Virginia during rush hour, Monday through Friday. Destinations include West Falls Church Metro, Rosslyn, the Pentagon, and Washington, D.C. Loudoun County Connector also provides transportation from West Falls Church Metro to Eastern Loudoun County.​
  • OmniRide (Northern Virginia): OmniRide is a commuter bus service providing transportation Monday through Friday from locations throughout Prince William County to Metro stations of Northern Virginia and to downtown Washington, D.C. OmniRide connects (from the Woodbridge area) to the Franconia-Springfield station and (from the Woodbridge and Manassas areas) to the Tysons Corner station.
  • Ride On (Montgomery County): Ride On buses serve Montgomery County, Maryland and connect to the Metro’s red line.​
  • The Bus (Prince George’s County): The Bus provides public transportation along 28 routes in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Taxis and Ride-Sharing Apps

There are plenty of taxi companies operating in the D.C. area and ride-sharing apps like Lyft and Uber are very popular. It's easy to hail a taxi or find a ride via these apps (that's a popular way to get to the airport too).

Renting a Car

If you need to rent a car, Union Station is a popular spot to go or nearby Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Take a Water Taxi to Get Around on the Potomac

If you want to skip the traffic while sightseeing, the Potomac Riverboat Company runs water taxis between tourist attractions like Old Town Alexandria, National Harbor, Georgetown, and Nationals Park.

Tips for Getting Around D.C.

  • Be aware that the Metro shuts down before midnight during Sunday through Thursday and at 1 a.m. on the weekends.
  • If possible, try to be off the road during rush hour (starting at 5 p.m. or even 4:30 p.m.) if avoiding traffic is important to you.
  • The metro cars can get very crowded on the Orange and Red lines during rush hour as well.
  • Presidential motorcades can snarl roadways downtown unexpectedly.
  • Washingtonians are notoriously bad drivers in the snow, so be careful driving in bad weather.
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