How to Use the Metro: A Visitor’s Guide


Updated August 8, 2014 to include the Silver Line.  

DC welcomes millions of visitors annually – many of whom take the metro to get around the city and take in the sights.

Below are our top 10 tips you should know before riding metro (besides, of course, a map of the system)!

Stand to the right, walk on the left.  When using metro’s escalators, you’ll want to stand to the right and walk on the left, especially if you are using metro during rush hour.  Though these rules are unwritten, they are strictly followed by commuters – and they will (and do) get impatient or rude if they are not followed.

Metro is not a 24-hour system.  Metro opens up at 5 a.m. Monday through Friday and at 7 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. (Sometimes metro opens earlier on the weekend if there is a marathon or other large special event happening.)  Metro closes at midnight Sunday through Friday and at 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.  On most major holidays, Metro follows a Sunday schedule (opening at 7 a.m. and closing at midnight).   Weekends and holidays are also subject to extensive track maintenance projects, which means trains run less frequently. For the latest alerts and advisories, please click here.

Note that the times of the first and last trains do vary according to station – so you’ll want to check signs posted at each metro station that indicate the approximately time of the first and last trains.

Use a SmarTrip card.  Using a paper card will add $1 to your fare each time you use it.  If you plan on using metro for more than one round-trip during your stay, the SmartTrip card will pay for itself.  SmartTrip cards can be purchased on machines at most Metro stations (and even by mail in advance), but we have found it easiest to buy them at CVS locations near metro stations.  Click here to find a location near you.

Use one SmarTrip or fare card for each passenger.  If you are traveling with your family or in a large group, you’ll want to make sure that each person has his or her own SmartTrip card.  You cannot use one farecard for multiple passengers as you might in other cities.  Each passenger will have to use his or her own SmartTrip card to both enter and exit the metro system.

Avoid peak times if possible.  Peak times mean more people and more costs. Metro defines peak time on weekdays as 5 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.  Peak fares are charged during this time, starting at approximately 50 cents more per trip.

If you do not mind the extra costs, you should note that rush hour (in terms of people using metro) generally runs from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Some lines will be busier than others depending on delays that may occur during the course of a day.

There are no flat fares in the metro system.  As we mentioned above, a surcharge is added to each ride taken during Metro’s defined peak hours.  The fare itself also varies according to the distance that you will be riding in the system.  During off-peak hours, fares currently start at $1.70 per ride (if using a SmartTrip card) and can cost a maximum of $3.50.  During peak hours, fares currently start at $2.10 per ride (if using a SmartTrip card) and can cost a maximum of $5.75.  This might make you…

Consider passes.  You can use your SmartTrip card to purchase 1-Day or 7-Day passes, depending on how long you will be visiting and where you’ll be going.  This option only came into effect over the past couple years, and it hasn’t been promoted much by WMATA.  One-day passes currently cost $14 per passenger.  If you’re staying in the suburbs and commuting into DC everyday, a 1 or 7-day pass might pay for itself overtime.  If you’re staying within DC, however, passes might end up being more expensive than paying for each metro ride you take.  For more information on passes, please click here.

Know your nearest metro stop and your lines.  Metro currently has six lines:  red, yellow, orange, blue, green, and silver. When booking your hotel, you’ll want to find out where the nearest metro stop is – it will also give you a good idea of where you’ll be located.   Generally speaking, the following metro stops will be of most use to you:

Metro goes to the train station and one (but not all) area airports.  The silver line will eventually reach Dulles International Airport, but until then, the only airport accessible directly through metro is Reagan National Airport on the blue and yellow lines.  Similarly, Baltimore Washington International Airport, or BWI, cannot be reached through metro alone.  A combination of bus and metro can currently be used to access Dulles or BWI, but if time is of the essence, you’ll probably want to consider a taxi.

Don’t drink or eat on metro.  Metro does not permit drinking or eating on the train.  You are generally allowed to bring food and/or beverage onto the train so long as it is not consumed during your ride.  This rule is largely followed, though there are always some exceptions.  Metro does allow riders to consume drinking water on the train when it gets hot and humid.


One comment

  1. Also, I’m shocked by how often I get asked which train goes downtown from New Carrollton (any train in service).

    Also, beware of rush plus. The number of times I’ve been on an orange train that ended up at Benning Road is annoyingly high to mention.

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