Washington DC

Washington DC Transportation

Washington DC lies on the Boston, New York, Washington corridor along the Atlantic Coast, so access by car and train is very good. I-95, the major East Coast interstate highway that goes from New England to Florida passes near Washington DC. It is an easy 3-hour drive north to Philadelphia or 5 hours to New York City and less than one hour to Baltimore. Richmond Virginia is a two-hour drive to the south. Amtrak has good passenger train service along this corridor. The high-speed Metroliner can whisk you to New York City in about three hours.

The city has three major airports: Ronald Reagan Washington International Airport is located just across the Potomac River near Arlington, Virginia. It is readily accessible by taxi, bus and the Metro subway train in 30-minutes or less. Dulles International Airport is about 30 miles west of Washington DC in suburban Virginia. It is accessible via taxi, bus, or train and usually requires about an hour commute from downtown. Baltimore Washington International (BWI) is located near the suburbs of Baltimore about 35 miles north of the city. It is accessible via taxi, bus or rail from Union station and requires a one-hour commute from downtown.

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Getting Around the City

Washington, DC is divided into quadrants: Northwest (NW), Northeast (NE), Southwest (SW), and Southeast (SE), with the U.S. Capitol and the Mall at the center. The streets running east to west are lettered. (A, B, C etc. with no J street or X, Y or Z) After W, the east-west alphabetic series continues with two-syllable names (Adams, Belmont), then three-syllable names (Allison, Buchanan). The streets running north to south are numbered. Major Avenues named for U.S. states run diagonally across the grid. Be sure to note the correct quadrant or your destination as the same intersections may occur in more than one. Several large circles and squares produce confusing traffic situations due to the number of streets and avenues intersecting at various angles.

The Northwest quadrant includes most of the tourist attractions and some of Washington DC's most colorful neighborhoods. The Georgetown District, along Wisconsin Avenue is home to the famous Georgetown University and a popular upscale shopping and dining area. Many of the city's art galleries, plus fashionable restaurants and coffee shops are located around Dupont Circle on Connecticut Avenue. Just north of that, the Adams-Morgan District boasts an international array of restaurants, boutiques, specialty shops and late-night entertainment. The downtown area, bounded by Constitution Avenue and M Street between 4th and 21st Streets, contains most of the city's business district and several shopping malls.

The largest selection of shopping malls and specialty stores are located outside of the city in suburban Maryland and Virginia close to the major commuter residential areas.

Parking is always a problem in downtown DC during workdays. After hours and on weekends, you can find plenty of free parking around the Mall or in nearby side streets. Always read the parking signs! Some streets allow parking only during certain hours, and the rules are strictly enforced. You can often find free parking along the roadside in Potomac Park south of the Lincoln Memorial if you do not mind walking a bit.

The National Park Service provides a Tourmobile service with special sightseeing busses running in a continuous loop around the Mall area and across the river to Arlington cemetery. These special Tourmobiles stop near all of the major downtown tourist attractions. You can buy a ticket that allows you to get on and off the busses an unlimited number of times anywhere along the route for one or two days. This is an excellent way to see the Washington DC attractions without the parking problems while saving many miles of walking. www.tourmobile.com

Public Transportation

Washington DC has an excellent subway train system. It is clean, efficient and inexpensive. Six color-coded train lines intersect in downtown DC near the Mall. You can leave your car at many "park and ride" parking lots in suburban Virginia or Maryland and ride the Metro into the city. This is a very good way to avoid the parking problems in downtown DC.

The Washington Post web site has an excellent page on how to use the Metro: "How To" page
Here are the official pages of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority: www.wmata.com
The web site also includes a nice map of the Metro: Interactive Map

Taxis do not use meters in Washington DC but use a zone system to calculate fares. The maximum basic fare within the district is $10, but surcharges are added for extra passengers, late hours or special services. When you leave the district, metered mileage may be added. You should always ask the driver how much the fare would cost before departure.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Photo Description: Limousines