D.C.’s Metro System: A Guide

Updated July 9, 2020.

This Travel Tip Tuesday is dedicated to the movers and shakers who just moved and shook themselves to D.C.! Whether you’ve come for the inauguration, a job, or just to visit, here is your ultimate guide to navigating D.C.’s Metro System!

 It’s not the Subway, it’s “The Metro,” or simply “Metro.

Seriously, you’ll be getting some funny looks if you call it the Subway. That’s in New York City; you’re in D.C. now, and we have the Metro!

 You may not eat or drink on the Metro.

You may bring your morning coffee onboard as long as it’s in a cup with a lid. There is a $500 penalty–don’t risk it!

Escalators: Stand to the RIGHT, walk up the LEFT.

If you stand in the middle of the step on the escalator, or especially if you are standing still on the left side, you might get yelled at, you may get dirty looks, and you will annoy people. If you’re breaking this rule at rush hour, your chances of getting yelled at or cussed out just went up 75%.

Rush Hours–plural.

Rush hour starts when the Metro opens at 5:00am and lasts until 9:30am. Afternoon rush hour starts at 3:00pm and ends at 7:00pm. Fares are nearly double at these hours. If you swipe your metro card between 9:31am and 2:59pm, or at 7:01pm or later, you will save big bucks!

 This is a SmarTrip Card:

You will need one to ride the Metro!

You will need this to ride the Metro or any Metro Buses around the area. You can find them at many Metro Stations, Commuter Stores, CVS Pharmacies in the area, or online at wmata.com. You will need your SmarTrip card to both enter and exit the system. Don’t put it away once you’re inside, you’ll need it again!

 This is your entrance:

Tap the card on the card reader.

Green arrow to the right means you can use that gate; red means you’ll have to use another one.

This is Important Information:

Line/Number of Cars/Destination/Minutes till next train

These large marquis signs are up on the ceiling on each and every platform. Here’s a key:

  • “LN” stands for “Line,” which refers to the line color that stops on that platform (“OR” stand for “Orange,” “BL” stands for “Blue,” etc.
  • “CAR” refers to the number of cars coming on a train.
  • “DEST” refers to the “Destination” of the train that comes to that platform (see “Direction Matters below).
  • “MIN” refers to the number of minutes until the train comes.

 There are 6 Metro lines.

These metro lines are easy to understand because they are color coded! The colors are:

  • Blue: between Franconia-Springfield and Largo Town Center
  • Green: between Branch Avenue and Greenbelt
  • Yellow: between Huntington and Fort Totten
  • Orange: between Vienna and New Carrollton 
  • Red: between Shady Grove and Glenmont
  • Silver: between Wiehle-Reston East and Largo

 Direction matters.

This is the key, my friends! When you know what color line you’re riding, the only thing you need to know is what direction you need to go. Here is an example:

If you arrive at Reagan National Airport, you will have access to the Yellow and Blue lines. Are you staying near the Eisenhower Avenue Metro? You’ll take the Yellow line toward Huntington and get off at the Eisenhower Avenue Metro Station. Are you staying in downtown D.C.? Perhaps near the McPherson Square Metro? You’ll hop on the Blue line in the direction of Largo and get out at McPherson Square Metro Station.

Find yourself in downtown D.C.? Maybe at Dupont Circle? The Red line is the only line that stops in Dupont Circle. If you’re heading to Union Station from there, you’ll hop on the train headed in the direction of Glenmont. If you’re heading to the Zoo at Woodley Park, you’ll hop on in the direction of Shady Grove.

Here is the Metro Map:

Metro Map

This is posted in multiple locations at every metro station!

Plan your trip.

The Metro System’s website is wmata.com, which stands for Washington Metro Area Transit Authority. They have everything you need to know about Metro, including a Trip Planner. Type in your location, your destination, the time you plan to leave or arrive, and the date you plan to take the trip. The Trip Planner will give you options for the route you should take.


So there you have it! Now you can ride the rails with the best of ’em! Got more questions? Comment below and I’ll do my best to answer!

Want more about D.C.? Check out my Dedicated Washington, D.C., Page!

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Published by quickwhittravel

Welcome to the blog! We do things a little differently around here: no ads, no negativity, and no checked luggage, y'all. My name is Whitney, and Quick Whit Travel Blog is your one-stop shop for all the best travel tips, packing advice, and destination information. Click around or message me on social media @quickwhittravel for more!

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