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How to Get Around : DC Metro System Explained

Washington DC’s public transportation service, the DC Metro System, is one of the country’s busiest.

Because DC is a perennial tourist mecca, the DC Metro ends up being an interesting mix of people who know everything about it and use it for their daily commute, and people who know absolutely nothing about it and need to get up to speed quickly.

Whether you love or loathe riding Metro, or if you know nothing about it at all, we are here to ensure that your next Metro trip goes smoothly by sharing with you the best tips and tricks for navigating the system to your favorite neighborhoods. 

Hours On the DC Metro System

Metro stations open each weekday morning at 5 and weekend mornings at 7.  They close nightly at midnight to ensure sufficient time for track maintenance.

Also, Metro is part of a program called SafeTrack, the goal of which is to ensure that major projects in essential elements of the system can be completed promptly while ongoing maintenance is also addressed. This can impact your commute if a significant project is occurring on a line segment that is part of your ride.

Check out the SafeTrack page for maintenance-related outages you might encounter.


You may want to go online to calculate your fare, or you can use the charts posted in the Metro station on the fare card machines. Either way, to determine the fare you’ll pay, look at the station where you start your trip, then look at your destination to discover the fare, then double it for a round trip.

You’ll need to scan your SmarTrip card on entering and leaving the train area each time, so be sure you have it available as you exit.

The SmarTrip card is a permanent, rechargeable card that Metro uses instead of disposable cards or tokens. You will also need it to exit the parking deck, if you have driven to the station, so make sure you have parking money on it as well. If you are at least five days out from your Metro ride, you can order your SmarTrip card online.

And if you plan to visit Baltimore, you can use it there as well in place of their system’s MTA CharmCard.


Even if you rarely ride Metro, most of us love it for going to and from the airport.

Reagan Airport is connected through the Yellow and Blue Lines. Dulles requires you to switch to a Metrobus or take the Washington Flyer. BWI offers options including Metrobus to Metrorail or MARC light rail to Union Station, where you can catch the Metro’s Red Line.

For all of the detailed information on your Airport options, check out Metro’s Airports guide.


If you want to avoid looking like a Metro newbie or getting a loud correction from your fellow commuters, here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Let passengers exit the train before you try to enter. I can’t stress this enough. This is probably the number one pet peeve of every regular Metro rider I know. I know you are nervous that you won’t get on. You will. Step aside and let exiting passengers off. Seriously.
  • If the train is crowded, head on up the aisle and make room near the doors for entering passengers. When you get to your stop, if your path to the door is blocked, let people know that’s your stop, and they will create a way to let you off.
  • If you do get on and see some seats, ensure they are not handicapped seats. And if you have a seat and someone who needs to sit gets on the train, it’s considered excellent form to stand so they can have your seat. This might include pregnant women (if you’re not sure, don’t ask!), older riders, or people with a visible aid to mobility, like a cane or a suspension boot.
  • Have your SmarTrip card out and ready as you head for the exit, or step to the side to allow others to pass while you get the card out. If you are with a group, or if you are accompanying children, it is always a good idea to step out of the flow of exiting riders to ensure everyone is ready, rather than to get halfway through and realize someone can’t find their card.
  • On the escalators, stay to the right and ride single file. Often those in a hurry to exit will walk up the left side, and it is considered impolite to block the entire step. When exiting the escalators, continue walking until you are out of the flow of traffic before checking your map or consulting with others in your group. Don’t stop at the very top and block the flow of others who need to exit.

The DC Metro can be a convenient way to get around town. Planning ahead, paying attention, and showing consideration for those around you go a long way toward making your ride—whether a daily commute or an occasional excursion—hassle-free.


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