Getting around Washington, D.C.: A guide to the Metro & more

Planning a trip to D.C.? Learn how to use the Metro and some other public transportation options in the nation’s capital.

There’s so much to see and do in Washington, D.C. And if you’re planning a trip to the nation’s capital, it might be a good idea to learn how to use the Metro so you can get around the city with ease.

Keep reading to learn how to use the Metro and a couple other public transportation options you might want to know about. You’ll find out where they can take you, how much they might cost and more. 

How to get around Washington, D.C. using the Metro

Finding your way around any new city can be confusing. Luckily, D.C. has a pretty simple layout.

The city is divided into four sections that are centered around the U.S. Capitol Building. Numbered streets run north to south. Lettered streets run east to west. Avenues cut diagonally across the city. 

And if you can learn how to use the Metro, you can get almost anywhere you want to go in D.C.

According to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), the Metro is the second-busiest system in the U.S. and “provides safe, clean, reliable transit service for more than 600,000 customers a day” in the D.C. area.

Here’s a guide to the Metro that will help you navigate the city like a local. 


The Metro has six color-coded lines:

  • Red
  • Orange
  • Silver
  • Blue 
  • Yellow
  • Green 

There are 91 Metro stations in total. And you can travel between any two stations with just one transfer. 

There’s also the Metro map and Trip Planner to help you figure out the lines and stations. 

How to pay

To ride the Metro, you’ll need to use SmarTrip®. You can get a physical SmarTrip card or download the SmarTrip app to your mobile device and pay for trips with your mobile wallet

There are few ways to buy a SmarTrip card, including online and in person. You can also use SmarTrip to pay for Metrobus, parking and more. 

If you know you’ll be riding the Metro a lot during your time in D.C., there are also one-, three- and seven-day unlimited passes to consider. If you’re in town for longer, you might look into a monthly unlimited pass. 

You can get the answers to some frequently asked questions about SmarTrip before you buy your pass. 


Now you know how to pay, but how much does the Metro actually cost to ride? “Fares for Metro vary based on the service, ride length, day, and time you ride,” according to WMATA.

You can use the Trip Planner to figure out how much your ride will cost. Keep in mind that there are also reduced fares available for some people. And two children under age five are allowed to ride for free as long as they’re with a paying passenger. 


The Metro runs seven days a week, but the hours of operation vary depending on the day: 

  • Monday-Thursday: 5 a.m. to midnight.
  • Friday: 5 a.m. to 1 a.m.
  • Saturday: 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.
  • Sunday: 7 a.m. to midnight.

The Metro runs at fixed intervals throughout the day. But the spacing of those intervals depends on the line, day and time. The Trip Planner can help you figure all this out. You can check the timetables for each line on the Metro’s website for more details too. 

Keep in mind that severe weather and holidays might affect the Metro’s operating hours. To make sure you’re up to date on any changes, you can sign up for MetroAlerts®


There are 44 Metro stations that offer hourly or daily parking. And 35 rail stations offer reserved parking for an additional fee. 

You can pay for parking using SmarTrip cards and credit cards. Some meters at short-term parking spaces only accept quarters and $1.00 coins. And a few parking lot meters also let you pay with ParkMobile®.

The parking lots’ weekday hours are Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. On Fridays, they’re open from 7:30 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. 

Parking is free on weekends and federal holidays unless there are special events taking place. And according to WMATA, it’s easy to find parking at the lots on most weekends. 

If you’re looking for a place to park overnight or for multiple days, there are four stations that allow multiday parking at no additional cost: 

  • Greenbelt
  • Huntington
  • Franconia-Springfield 
  • Wiehle-Reston East 

You can also check the current availability at each station’s parking lot on the Metro website. 

Rules & etiquette 

Before you plan your trip, make sure to check whether there are any current health and safety requirements for riding the Metro. 

You should also be aware of other Metro rules and etiquette. According to the Metro’s website, that includes things like letting passengers exit the Metro before you get on, using headphones when listening to music or watching videos, giving seating priority to senior citizens and people with disabilities, and more. 

Other D.C. public transportation options

The Metro is just one way to get around D.C. There are also some other public transportation options you might want to know about. 


The Metrobus can be another great way to get around D.C. You can pay for the bus with the same SmarTrip card or app you use to pay for the Metro. Some bus routes also accept bills and coins, but you need to have exact change. 

Like the Metro, bus fare varies by route. And the Trip Planner can help you figure out how to get where you’re going and how much it will cost. Keep in mind that sometimes the best route might include riding the Metro and catching a bus.  


The Circulator’s website says that the “Circulator’s mission is to deliver affordable, comfortable, and efficient bus service that connects people to business, culture, and entertainment throughout the District.”

If you’re going to D.C. to see the sights, the Circulator can be a great transportation option. It’s an affordable way to see some of the main attractions and museums in D.C. 

Each Circulator route has its own schedule. And it runs about every 10 minutes during each route’s hours of operation. 

The Trip Planner can help you plan your route, whether you’re going to the National Mall, to the Georgetown neighborhood or to one of the many other destinations on the Circulator’s routes.

The regular Circulator fare is $1.00. You can learn more about fares and transfers on the Circulator website.

And make sure you know about any health and safety requirements for riding the Circulator. 

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