How to get around Washington, DC, like a pro

Destinations

In a city where a wheel-and-spoke pattern overlays the street grid, it can be overwhelming to figure out how to get around Washington, DC. But the truth is that navigating the US capital isn’t that tricky with a bit of advanced planning.

Washington, DC, has some walkable neighborhoods, but using a mix of taxis, bicycles and public transportation is the perfect solution to traveling around. Here’s our guide to getting around the US capital.

Take the Metro to hop around DC

The Metro operates in DC and also extends into Virginia and Maryland. Riders are charged by distance, and the Metro uses a tap-on-tap-off system to calculate the cost. Maps at the entrance of each station tell passengers how much a one-way ride costs. 

To ride the Metro, you need a SmarTrip card, which you can buy at the station, download to your mobile Apple Pay or Google Pay wallet or order before you leave home. Traveling at peak times (5am to 9:30am and 3pm to 7pm) increases the price of a single ride, so plan accordingly for a cost-effective trip.

Metro services operate fairly frequently, and trains arrive about every 10 minutes. The Metro is not a 24-hour service, and stations close between midnight and 5am.

For just $1, the DC Circulator will take you all around Washington, DC © Barry Winiker / Getty Images

Take a cheap tour of the capital on the bus

The Metrobus is the area’s regional bus service. You can use a SmarTrip card to ride the Metrobus or pay with exact change. Fares are $1.35 or $1.25. To indicate you’d like to get off the bus, tap the yellow bar at the top to signal the driver to stop.

The DC Circulator is another bus option that’s great for tourists because it connects major cultural hubs with six routes across the capital. It costs just $1 for a one-way ticket, and the bus runs every 10 minutes. The Circulator has routes from Georgetown, Adams Morgan, U Street, the National Mall and L’Enfant Plaza. Use an app like Google Maps or Citymapper to check arrival times and bus stop locations. Bus stops have a big red DC Circulator logo on them.

A group of people on bikes take a break while biking around the National Mall in Washington, DC. In the background you can see the Washington monument
Renting bikes to tour DC is becoming more popular © DavidNNP / Shutterstock

Explore DC at your own pace on a bicycle

Bikes are a fantastic way to explore Washington, DC. Whether zipping past the Washington Monument or zooming along the Mount Vernon trail, getting out on two wheels is truly the best way to avoid traffic. DC has hundreds of bike paths that make it easy to see and do more around the capital, including the Washington and Old Dominion Trail, the Capital Crescent Trail, North Bethesda Trail, C&O Canal National Historic Park, and Berry Springs Park and Preserve. 

Capital Bikeshare offers an $8 day pass that includes unlimited 45-minute rides, or you can pay $1 to unlock a bike and then 5 cents per minute on a classic bicycle or 15 cents per minute for an ebike.

Rent a car if you’re planning day trips from DC

If you’re thinking about renting a car to check out Washington, DC, step away from the keys. Parking in DC is a nightmare, but if you’re headed out of town on a day trip, renting a car might be the best option. Major rental car companies have desks at the airports as well as around town.

Accessible transportation in Washington, DC

Washington, DC, prides itself on being one of the most accessible places in the country. The public transportation in DC offers gap reducers for easier boarding in a wheelchair, as well as low ramps and enlarged fare gates. All the Smithsonian museums have entrances for visitors with disabilities.

Check out the Office of Disability Rights to learn more or download Lonely Planet’s free Accessible Travel Online Resources.

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