Getting Around Washington, D.C.

Written by – Updated November 23, 2023

Washington. D.C. is home to some of the most stubborn traffic in the United States. For tourist visiting Washington, D.C for the first time the traffic can be overwhelming, stressful, and dangerous. Utilizing public transit is essential to making the most out of a trip to Washington, DC. A lot of tourist chose to utilize the Metro system and stay outside DC and commute to the Smithsonian Metro station on the National Mall. Additionally, there are a number of ways to get around the National Mall and downtown that make it easy to get around Washington, D.C.

branch ave

How does D.C. Bike Shares Work?

dc captiol bike share getting around washington dc

DC is very bikeable and is home to many bike trails that extend out from Downtown DC to many suburbs of Virginia and Washington. For getting around the National Mall and short commutes from one neighborhood to another novice bike riders will be able to manage street traffic and utilize the bikes. Riding a bike from Arlington to Georgetown or the National Mall is quick and easy over the Key Bridge or Arlington Memorial Bridge. Bikeshares are cheap and renting a bicycle for 24 hours only costs $8. Several major trail networks extend far out into the Washington, DC suburbs. Arlington, Alexandria and Bethesda are connected to the National Mall via paved bike trails. Even riding at a modest pace can have you from Bethesda to the National Mall in under and hour. Since it is possible to take your bike on the Metro some people opt to ride to the National Mall then let the Metro to the work on the return ride.

Can I get around in DC from a hotel shuttle?

Many hotels near airports and in the suburbs offer shuttle services that will usually take you within 1 to 5 miles of the hotel, to the nearest metro station or to the closest airport. These shuttles are typically free and do pick ups and drop offs either by request or on a timely schedule. Travelers flying in to or out of Dulles or Reagan National Airport should utilize free shuttle services to save time and money.

How Expensive are DC Cabs and Ubers vs. the Metro?

getting around washington dc by taxi

Answer: For long distances the Metro is a cheaper alternative that a cab or Uber in DC. Going from the suburbs of Maryland or Virginia to Downtown DC can be very expensive with a Taxi, usually over $50 and is some cases the taxis will not drive you across state lines because of regulations. Always keep in mind if you plan on staying out lat that a good rule of thumb is to be at your Metro station by midnight. Traveling late at night long distances is probably best left up to Uber or for the daring cyclist a night ride!

Washington DC Charter Bus Rental

Tourists visiting in a large group should consider the option of a Washington, D.C. based charter bus rental in order to get around without relying on public transit schedules. Some Washington D.C. Charter bus companies will pick up your group from any location and drive them to Washington, D.C. This is a popular option for sports games, work events and educational groups.

These buses are especially useful for groups who are looking for a cheap hotel in Washington, D.C outside the city where the bus can park. Private charter buses are also a popular option because they make it easier to visit destinations outside of the National Mall, like Mt. Vernon, or the Udvar Space Museum.

Tour Bus from Washington DC to New York

Its common for those that are visiting the east coast to want to see both Washington, D.C. and New York City. There are national charter bus options that can accommodate those options.

What is the best way to get around the National Mall?

using the dc DC Circulator bus

Answer: The DC Circulator Bus is the best way to get around the National Mall, downtown DC and Smithsonian Museums. While most out of towners can have a hard time navigating a bus system the DC Circulator bus simplifies routes to make it easy for tourists without a car. The Circulator only costs a dollar and optimizes routes just for tourist. It makes it handy to get around the National Mall especially. The Circulator also enable connections into U Street as well as Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan toward the National Zoo. For most tourist all you need to know is National Mall route. Most often the Metro will take care of the rest.

Does Washington, D.C. have a trolley for tourists?

getting around washington dc without a car trolley

Hop on Hop off Tour trolleys are another great option for getting around DC. These tour trolleys are relatively affordable and loops around major DC sites like the National Mall, parts of Downtown DC and the Arlington Cemetery area. There are also multiple trolleys that come to each stop roughly every 30 minutes. The first pick up starts at 9am and the last pick up is at 5pm so it’s a good option for people who want to tour around the museums and monuments without having to worry about walking or taking the metro.

Which Airport is Accessible to the Metro?

getting around washington dc by bus

Reagan National Airport and Dulles have a metro stop at the airport itself. BWI is the farthest from the DC metro system, but there are buses and trains that can take you into DC and Union Station. To get to Washington, DC from BWI utilize the MARC train which connects with 3 Metro stations including Union station downtown. Another option to get from BWI to Washington, DC is to utilize the Metrobus that connects with the Greenbelt Metro station

What’s the Best Way to Get Around Washington, D.C.?

1. The Metro
2. The DC Circulator Bus
3. The Hop On Trolley
4. The Express Bus Routes to Dulles and BWI
5. D.C. Bike Share

Can I Get Around Washington, DC Without a Car?

Its easy to get around Washington, D.C. without a car. The Metro is most common way to get around the city, but tourist should also be aware of the D.C. Circulator Bus, Hop On Trolley and Express Bus Routes to Dulles and BWI. D.C.

Is there free transportation in Washington, D.C.?

Yes, the best nearly free transportation for tourists getting around the National Mall is either the DC Circulator Bus, or it is the Hop on and Hop Off Trolleys.

Is it better to drive into DC or take the Metro?

Its best to avoid driving in Washington, D.C. especially during rush hour. DC traffic can be infuriating and dangerous, use the Metro for long distances like commuting from your hotel to the National Mall.

Common Commutes in Washington, D.C.

Alexandria, VA to Washington, DC

Getting from Alexandria to DC is very quick and easy. Utilize the metro for the most convenient travel because it only takes roughly 15-20 minutes. Cyclist will be happy to know they can get to DC by bike by taking the Mt Vernon Trail. Alexandria is home to Reagan National Airport (DCA), and the metro actually has a station at the airport itself. Many hotels also offer shuttles in Alexandria to the airport and the surrounding area. Getting around in Alexandria itself, utilize the free trolley car that will take you to major points of interest and metro stations from Old Town Alexandria. To get to Georgetown from Alexandria consider taking the water taxi, it’s a fun experience and very convenient.

Alexandria, VA to Washington, DC

Fairfax county has the Vienna/Fairfax-GMU metro station that runs the Blue, Yellow, Orange and Silver lines. Getting to DC from your stay in Fairfax County is best through the metro. The trip by metro can take just under an hour, but is still the more convenient and faster option compared to driving. It’s good to note that there are airport shuttles to all the airports near DC from Fairfax, so travelers flying in will want to consider that as well. Driving is also an option, as I-66 runs through this region, and many hotels in the area offer free parking, but again, the metro is typically faster – especially with much of the traffic on I-66 near the malls.

Falls Church, VA to Washington, DC

Falls Church is about 30-40 minutes away from DC, and has the East Falls Church metro station and West Falls Church metro station. The East Falls Church station runs both the orange and silver lines, whereas the West Falls Church station only runs the orange line. Dulles Airport, although somewhat far, is accessible to the Falls Church region using the bus system from the airport to the Reston metro station, and taking the silver line in. Reagan National Airport is accessible via metro as well, albeit much faster. Although a bike trail to DC is available, it can take an hour. Many people staying in Falls Church find that having a car is preferable, due to the lack of walkability of the area.

McLean, VA to Washington, DC

Traveling from McClean to DC is primarily reliant on the metro system. The McLean metro station runs the silver line, and takes about 35 minutes to DC. If you’re staying far from the metro station, you can utilize the metrobus, which explores outside of the metro station area. Tysons Corner metro station is also nearby. Biking the Capital Crescent Trail to DC takes about an hour.

Vienna, VA to Washington, DC

Traveling from McClean to DC is primarily reliant on the metro system. The McLean metro station runs the silver line, and takes about 35 minutes to DC. If you’re staying far from the metro station, you can utilize the metrobus, which explores outside of the metro station area. Tysons Corner metro station is also nearby. Biking the Capital Crescent Trail to DC takes about an hour.

Reston, VA to Washington, DC

The Vienna area of Virginia is accessible via metro and is situated at the end of the orange line. The commute to DC takes about 45 minutes. Being so far out in the suburbs, other transportation options in Vienna are limited, and the hotels don’t offer shuttles. Avoid taking a cab or rideshare out here, or you’ll be looking at a hefty price. It should be noted that having a car is ideal for this area of Virginia.

BWI to Washington, DC

Reston is located at the end of the silver metro line, and is accessible to Dulles Airport. The commute to DC by metro takes a little under an hour. Travelers should know that Reston hotels typically offer airport shuttles to Dulles, making Reston the most accessible area for people flying in to that airport.

BWI to Washington, DC

BWI, or Baltimore Washington International Airport, is surprisingly accessible to DC even though this airport is the farthest airport from DC compared to Reagan National Airport or Dulles. A popular way to get to DC from BWI is through the MARC train, which only takes about 35 minutes to get to Union Station. This commuter train is also very affordable, so it should be the first option for people flying into BWI.

Another train option is the Amtrak, which takes you straight to Union Station as well. This train is actually faster, but more expensive than its MARC counterpart. From BWI to Union Station, the Amtrak takes between 20-30 minutes.

Another option is the metrobus, which actually does pick ups at the airport and takes you to the Greenbelt metro station. From the Greenbelt metro station, it’s another 30 to 40 minute commute until you reach Downtown DC.

The last option to get from BWI to Washington, DC is the super shuttle. The super shuttle is the best option for groups or families of 5. Van super shuttles for groups has a flat rate, and is actually cheaper than any other option. However, single riders or groups with less will want to avoid this option, as it’s much more expensive for them.

Gaithersburg, MD to Washington, DC

Travelling from Gaithersburg to Washington, DC is primarily done through the metro’s red line. The Shady Grove metro station is the end of the red line, and sits between Gaithersburg and Rockville. The commute from the Shady Grove metro station to DC takes about 45 minutes, and the station offers free parking for those who will have a car. The metrobus is also available for travelers who are too far to walk to the metro station, or a cab/rideshare could be used to get to the metro station. Aside from that, the only other option to get to DC is by driving.

Rockville, MD to Washington, DC

Rockville has two viable options to get to DC. First, the metro from Rockville to Washington, DC is convenient and takes about 40 minutes. This option is the cheapest option, and very convenient. The second option is taking the Amtrak to Union Station, which takes about 45 minutes to commute, but is less likely to experience delays.

Bethesda, MD to Washington, DC

Bethesda is a convenient location to get to DC. Of course, the best way to get to DC is by taking the red line from the Bethesda metro station. The commute into DC is short, at about 20-25 minutes depending how close to the National Mall you are going. The metrobus also runs frequently through the area, but in terms of saving time, I suggest just taking the metro. For those who love biking, the bike trail from Bethesda to DC takes less than an hour.