For information on how to get to Washington, D.C. and how to move around while in the U.S. capital, review the following details:
Three major airports serve Washington, D.C.:
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (703-417-8000; www.metwashairports.com), across the river in Arlington, VA, handles domestic service plus some flights to Canada. After a huge renovation a few years back, National was renamed and now contains two fancy terminals (B and C) of shops and restaurants in addition to the original Terminal A. It is easily accessible by Metro (Yellow or Blue Line).
Washington Dulles International Airport (703-572-2700; www.metwashairports.com), designed by Eero Saarinen, looms like a space-age castle in the Virginia suburbs 26 miles west of DC. Take I-66 west to the Dulles Toll Rd. Both domestic and international flights (to Asia, Europe, South America, the Middle East and Africa) depart from here. Dulles is not on a Metro line, although Washington Flyer (888-927-4359; www.washfly.com; round-trip/one way $16/9; 6am-11pm Mon-Fri, 8am-11pm Sat & Sun) operates a shuttle from West Falls Church Metro station. Average length of shuttle trip is 20 to 30 minutes.
Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI; 800-435-9294; www.bwiairport.com) is 30 miles, or about 45 minutes’ drive, northeast of DC in Maryland. Get onto the Baltimore– Washington Parkway via New York Ave NE, follow the parkway until you see the I-195/BWI exit. Often you will find that cheaper fares are available to/from BWI than to either National or Dulles; so despite its geographic inconvenience, this is a handy airport for those on a budget. Both Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC; weekends only) and Amtrak trains travel between DC’s Union Station and a terminal near BWI.
***For information on the updated requirements for the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, click here.***
Make sure you arrive at the airport three hours before your flight as sometimes security checkpoint lines are very long at Washington‘s airports.
Metro & Bus System –
For a complete guide to the local train and bus system in the greater DC area, visit the Washington DC Metro System website.
For inexpensive bus travel from major cities on the East Coast to Washington, D.C., visit: Bolt Bus.
In addition to the Metro, two commuter train systems serve downtown DC from the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Remember they’re commuter lines: most trains run weekdays only, with the most regular service during rush hour.
Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC; 800-325-7245; www.mtamaryland.com; 5am-midnight Mon-Fri) is a 40-station, 187-mile system connecting DC, the northern Maryland suburbs, Baltimore and eastern West Virginia. It has three lines, one of which stops at BWI airport. A fare from Baltimore to DC would cost about $7. The MARC train’s only DC stop is Union Station.
From downtown DC, Virginia Railway Express (VRE; 703-684-1001, 800-RIDE-VRE; www.vre.org) serves northern Virginia‘s suburbs with lines to Manassas (stops include Fairfax and Alexandria) and Fredericksburg (stops include Quantico, Franconia/Springfield and Crystal City). VRE has only two stops in DC itself: Union Station and L’Enfant Plaza.
The center of train travel to/from DC is the magnificent, beaux-arts Union Station (202-371-9441; www.unionstationdc.com; 50 Massachusetts Ave NE; Union Station). It is the flagship terminal of the national train company, Amtrak (800-872-7245; www.amtrak.com), which is located on the ground floor.
Most trains departing Union Station are bound for other East Coast destinations. The station is the southern terminus of the northeast rail corridor, which stops at Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, New Haven (Connecticut), Boston and intermediate points. There is usually at least one departure per hour throughout the day. Regular (unreserved) trains are cheapest, but pokey. Express Metroliners (reserved) toNew York are faster; fastest of all are the fewer-stop Acela trains that zing to New York and on to Boston at speeds in excess of 150mph.
Trains also depart for Virginia destinations (Richmond, Williamsburg, Virginia Beach), and southern destinations, including Florida, New Orleans, Montréal and Amtrak’s national hub, Chicago, where you can connect to Midwest- and West Coast-bound trains. MARC and VRE commuter trains connect Union Station to Virginia and Maryland.
Fares vary according to type of seating (coach seats or sleeping compartments) and season. Amtrak also offers a variety of all-inclusive holiday tour packages along with regional rail passes and frequent specials.