Washington, D.C. Stories and Tips

Riding the Metro

Metro station Photo, Washington, D.C., United States

Welcome to Washington, D.C., home of "The Nation's Subway."

Washington's subway system, which we call The Metro, is much younger than most of the subways in the United States, or the world. It opened in 1976, America's bicentennial year. Today, the system consists of 103 miles of rails spanning three states (well, two actual states, Virginia and Maryland, and the District of Columbia), with 86 stations and five train lines. The Metro is one of the cleanest systems you’ll encounter, and it is very accessible for the disabled. Every station has elevators from the street level to the station and from the station concourses to the platforms. There also are escalators at every station that will help you out – when they’re working. You’ll also see some of the world’s longest escalators at Rosslyn, and at Wheaton, which has the longest escalator in the Western hemisphere (70m).

Riding is easy, since the system is not as big as New York’s or London’s, although, for the most part, it gets you where you want to go. (For example, the National Cathedral is not easily accessible from the rail, although you can get there from rail by a Metrobus.)


The Metro opens at 5am on the weekdays and 7am on the weekends. It closes at midnight during the week and 3am on Friday and Saturday nights. Note that not every station closes at the same time – be sure to check at that station to see when the last train leaves in each direction.


Fares are calculated based on distance traveled and time of day. The base fare is $1.35 per trip at all times, but some routes are more expensive during rush hours (weekdays from 5 to 9:30 am, 3 to 7 pm, and 2am to closing). Senior citizens get a 50% discount off the regular fare, and up to two children 4 years old and younger ride free with each full-fare adult.

For visitors, it’s best to purchase a day or week pass. Day passes are $6.50 and offer unlimited rides; 7-Day Short Trip Passes are $22 and good for a week for any fare under $2.20; and 7-Day Fast passes are $32.50 and good anywhere. Look for a chart near the fare machines to find out how much it is from that station to somewhere else.


Check the maps or ask a station manager or a local. They work like all other subway maps in the world – know where you want to go, look for the train’s direction (the name of the station at the end of the line), and you’re off. For easy navigation, use Metro’s trip planner on their homepage at www.wmata.com. Also, StationMasters has handy neighborhood maps, so you can see what streets are near a station (http://www.stationmasters.com/System_Map/system_map.html).


There are a few points of etiquette, especially for those of you who aren’t used to riding subways. Please remember that, although this is a tourist city, it’s also a working city. There are millions of people in the Washington area, and many of them work every day to keep the U.S. government going. A few things to remember will make everybody happier.

First, there is a quick note about escalators. Although there are no signs posted to this effect, like there are on the London Underground. It is customary to stand on the right-hand side of the escalator and let those who wish to walk do so on the left. If you are standing on the left side, you’ll get some nasty looks, words, or even some shoves.

Second, when you’re waiting for a train, be sure to let people off the train before you try to board. Make a gap at the doors so people can easily disembark. Trust me, the train operator will wait for you to get on before he or she leaves.

Third, do not try to hold the doors open. They’re not like elevator doors – they won’t open back up. You might even end up breaking one, which will take the entire train out of service and really make everyone mad. If you’re going to miss a train, it stinks, but there’ll be one right behind it.

Fourth, if you’re alone, sit by the window – leave the aisle seat empty so someone else can sit down. Don’t be a seat hog!

That’s about it. Have an excellent trip.

Web site: http://www.wmata.com/ - Includes a route finder. Another helpful site is StationMasters, which shows you neighborhood maps surrounding each station -- like where the exits are for each, what streets they're on, etc.

Been to this destination?

Share Your Story or Tip