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This post covers how to use the Metro subway in Washington, D.C., including tips on SmartTrip Cards, tourist passes, and how to navigate the public transport system.

While the DC Metro is great for getting you around the city, it can't get you around the National Mall. Let DC by Foot get you around on one of our pay-what-you-like tours.


First, you will need a SmarTrip card to enter and exit the system. 

A SmarTrip card is required for each rider aged 5 and older (up to two children under age five may travel free with each fare-paying adult).

SmartTrip cards can be ordered online or you may buy a card at the station. They cost $15/each, $2 for the card itself and they come preloaded with $13 of credit.

You can also add a virtual card to your phone/mobile device using Apple Wallet or Google Pay. 

SmartTrip cards can only be purchased from SmartTrip card vending machines like the one below, found at every Metro station.

SmarTrip cards with fare loaded on them can be used on many regional buses as well, including DC Circulator, ART (Arlington), CUE (Fairfax), DASH (Alexandria), Fairfax Connector, and RideOn (Montgomery County.)

There are also apps you can download onto your phone to purchase cards, check for trains, see the map, etc.

Some apps we recommend are DCMetro Transit and MetroHero

They all offer variations of the same stuff, so we recommend choosing your favorite, no need to download all of them!

Pay-As-You-Go Fares

One way to travel is by paying as you go.  There is no set fare for all trips. Fares between stations depend on distance as well as the time of day.  

DC Metro does not have peak and off peak travel times as of June 2023.

Fares are based on distance from opening until 9:30 pm on weekdays. After 9:30pm and on weekends, it is a flat rate of $2.

Each vending machine will show you what it costs to go to any station in the system.  

Note: You can only use the same debit/card three times in one day before the machines will stop taking it!

1 Day and 3 Day Passes for Tourists

If you don't want to worry about loading your card throughout the day, you can purchase a 1-day pass for $13/person or a 3-day pass for $28/person.

There are no travel restrictions, which means that you could use this pass anytime and without any additional charges.

While this may seem like a great deal, you'll want to do the math on how much you'll be traveling. The farther out your hotel or accommodations are, the better off this deal will be.

Passes will only work on Metrorail and Metrobus travel - passes are not accepted on regional buses, including the popular DC Circulator.

For most people, a 1 or 3-day pass really only makes sense if you plan on making more than 2 longer distance round trips per day.

Keep in mind that all Metrorail trips are a flat $2 fare on Saturdays and Sundays, so if you are mostly using Metro on a weekend, a pass is usually not the best deal - you are better off paying as you go.

If you're moving to DC or going to be spending a while in DC, there are 7-day pass and monthly commuter pass options.

These packages are specifically tailored to you and will give you unlimited rides for a set price. To learn more, click here

Washington DC Travel Tips and Hacks


Metro stations are throughout the city, some stations with multiple entrances/exits.

You can locate them easily by looking for the tall brown post with the large letter M at the top.

The name of the station will be written on the side and the color lines that service that station will be encircled at the top of the post. For example, Dupont Circle is only on the Red Line.

The Metro Lines

  • Red: serves the northern part of the city. The main stations are Union Station, Metro Center, Chinatown, and Dupont Circle.
  • Blue: runs west-east through the city and then south. The main stations are Capitol South, Smithsonian, McPherson Square (White House), Arlington National Cemetery, and National Airport.
  • Silver: runs west-east through the city. You can take this line all the way to Dulles Airport.
  • Orange: runs east-west through the city. The orange/silver/blue lines follow the same tracks inside downtown. You will only need to pay attention to which train you're on if you're leaving the central area of the city.
  • Green: runs north-south. Take the Green line to get to Navy-Yard/Nats Park Baseball Stadium.

Washington DC Metro Map 



The D.C. Metro system is a reliable and safe way to get around the nation's capital city.

In the table below, you'll find Metro's normal operating hours. Please note that the schedules can be different on holidays. You can find a full Metro schedule here

DC Metro Hours of Operation

Monday-Thursday5 am - 12 am
Friday5 am - 1 am
Saturday7 am - 1 am
Sunday7 am - 12 am

Riding the DC Metro is different than riding the subway in some other cities.

To enter the metro, you must tap your SmarTrip card and then tap in again on the way out. If you're traveling on weekdays, the card gets charged based on how long the ride was so don't forget to tap out or it will charge you extra!

The fare gates have a circular target on top to touch your card. Make sure you enter the ones with green lights or it will not let you through.

When the system reads your card, the gate opens. When exiting, keep an eye on the small digital display, as it will update the cash remaining on your card.

Depending on the station, you'll likely have to go to the lower level to get to the train platform.

If the platform is in the center, just head down and figure out which side you need to be on when you get downstairs:

Center Platform

If the train tracks are in the center, you'll want to take the correct escalator to get to your platform:

vs Center Tracks

To decide which platform to stand on, you need to look for the end-of-line destination.

There are signs throughout the station with the stops, and you need to find the stop where you're heading and look for the last stop going in that direction.

Find the platform with the corresponding final stop, and that will be the platform you need to stand on.

For platforms with center tracks, these are usually listed at the top of the escalators so you know which side to be on.

For the platforms with center platforms, you'll find it at the bottom. Both sides have signage on the tracks as well.

For example, on the Red Line, the end-of-line destinations are Glenmont and Shady Grove.

So, if you're traveling from Metro Center to Dupont Circle you would need to board a Red Line train heading to Shady Grove.

Trust us, it'll make sense once you're in the system!

Note: Sometimes trains don't go all the way to the end of the line but instead will say the last stop that it will serve.

As long as you're going in the right direction and your stop is before the last stop, you'll be fine!

When on the platform, signs will list the next three-four trains. It will tell you:

LN (Line) - which color line that train serves. This matters if you're leaving downtown as the lines split.

For example, Arlington National Cemetery is only on the Blue line!

CAR - this tells you how many cars are on that train. If you're at the end of the platform, a shorter 6-car train might pass you and you'll have to run back to the center to board.

If you keep an eye on the platform floor, there are decals to show you where shorter 6-car trains end so you won't miss the doors.

Keep in mind, not every station offers this feature. To be safe, it's best to not wait until the end of a platform. 

DEST (Destination) - the last stop this train will stop at.

Check this to make sure you're going in the right direction and make sure you get on the right train if you're headed to the end of the line.

Remember, sometimes trains don't go all the way to the end, some stop short!

MIN (Minute) - how long you have to wait for the train arrives. During peak hours trains will come more frequently and in the evening they will come less often.

Keep this in mind if you're staying out late, as you might have to wait up to 20 minutes for the next train.

When a train is approaching, the circular lights at the edge of the platform will flash letting you know the train will be arriving soon.

Once you are on the train, be alert. Some trains don't display the next stop.

Train operators will announce stops but may be difficult to hear. Count the stops and keep an eye out for the station you need.

You can see which station you're at as the train pulls in. Some newer trains will display this information inside the car.

There are maps in the middle of every car so you can follow the routes.

There are also maps in every station and graphics listing the stops in the direction you're traveling so you know how many stops to count.


Q. What are Peak and Off-Peak hours?

A.  As of June 2023, DC Metro no longer has peak and off peak hours. Rates are always $2 per person at full fare if you're travelling after 9:30pm or on weekends.

On Week Days, rates depend on distance but will never be more than $6.

Q. Can you use your SmarTrip for Metrobuses?

A. Yes! Metrobus fare is $2 a trip. Using a Smartrip instead of cash will save you 20 cents per ride. 

There is a two hour fare window on a bus if you use a Smartrip card - once you tap onto any Metrobus, you can make as many transfers as you want within two hours without being charged again!

Using a SmarTrip card when going from rail to bus (or bus to rail) will also save you money - Metro will credit the fare you paid entering the system when you transfer.

Unlike Metro, all non-express bus fares are the same no matter how far you are traveling.

Q. Do I have to purchase a Smartrip for every member of my party?

A.  Any paying customer may travel with up to 2 children under 5 years old for free. 

Otherwise, everyone in your party must have their own farecard. More than one person cannot use the same Smartrip card at the same time.

Q. I am staying outside the city and have parked at a Metro parking lot before taking the Metro into the city; can I use Smartrip to pay for parking?

A.  If you are staying at a Metro parking lot, you may use your Smartrip to pay for your parking, exactly as you would if you were riding the Metro.

Q. How do I calculate how much my trip will cost?

A.  If you know where you are going, go to Metro’s Trip Planner and input the details.

Q. Can I get to the airport by Metro?

A. Yes! DCA and IAD airports are accessible by Metro (though you may need to walk a bit to reach your terminal).
Use our blog posts below to learn more.

Q. Is the DC Metro a train or subway?

A. Technically, it's both. Much of the metro system is above ground, but there is about 50 miles of track underground as well.

Q. Is DC Metrobus Free?

A. While there was a proposal to make this happen in Summer 2023, it was not approved and has not gone into effect.

Q. Does DC Metro run 24 hours?

A. No. Although they do sometimes run for up to 19 hours a day, the DC Metro is not currently a 24-hour transit system.

Q. What time does Washington DC Metro close?

A. The DC Metro closes at 12 am from Sunday - Thursday and at 1 am on Friday - Saturday.

Q. Does a Washington DC Metro pass work on the New York City subway?

A. No. New York City uses a different public transportation system.

Q. Can I use my phone as a DC Metro pass?

A. Technically, yes! DC Metro has a Smartrip app you can download on Android or iPhone which will allow you to pay for your fare and use your phone as a DC Metro pass.

Use the DC Metro as a Local

How to ride the DC Metro as a local:

  • Don't stand on the left side of the escalator! The motto is: stand on the right, walk on the left. It's the biggest pet peeve of locals.
  • If you have wheels, use the elevator. All stations have elevators, but leave them for those who need them. If you have a stroller or a bike you should be using the elevators. You may not want to wait for the elevator, but trust us, the last thing this world needs is a news story about a runaway baby stroller on the Metro.
  • Give up the seat! If you see a pregnant lady standing...give her your seat. If you see a dude leaning on crutches...give him your seat. If you see an octogenarian struggling against the forces of inertia and gravity...give up the seat!
  • On the weekends, transferring isn't always the best option. Weekends are for track work, and that means delays. Instead of transferring, see if there's a stop on the line you're already traveling within striking distance of your destination. For example, if you're heading to the National Mall on the Red Line, skip the transfer over to the Blue/Orange/Silver lines by getting off at Metro Center. Sure, the Smithsonian Metro stop is smack in the middle of the Mall, but by the time you make the transfer, wait for a train, and then get back up to the surface, you could have already walked down from Metro Center. You're already heading on a walking tour, so what are a few more steps?
  • Check for the last train! If you're out late, be sure you remember to check when the trains stop running so you're not waiting on the platforms for a train that won't come. It's a bummer for nightlife, but you still have a bunch of options for getting home, like taking an Uber. 
  • Load before you go. If you're in town for a busy event, like the Fourth of July, a sporting event, or an inauguration, go ahead and load up the SmarTrip card with value for the return trip as well. It'll save you from waiting in a massive line after the event.


If you're running later or worried about being stranded thanks to a Metro breakdown, don't fret. Trains are only one piece of the complex transit system of Washington, DC.

Buses serve even more territory than trains and they are cheap, clean (mainly), and frequent. Most are operated by Metro, but the Circulator routes are operated by the DC Department of Transportation.

With that said, your SmarTrip card works on all Metrobuses. Of course, you can always opt for ride-hailing services like Uber or Lyft or their low-tech cousin: cabs.

Hop On Hop Off Buses

The Metro is a great way to get around the city, but as visitors it may not get you everywhere you need to go.

For example, in the entire 5 square miles of the National Mall, there is only one Metro Station and there is no station on the Tidal Basin.

Hop-On-Hop-Off buses can come in handy in this case.

DC Trails Bus Tour

There are many bus companies and ticketing options, read our post on choosing the best one for you.

They all have stops at main sites around the city such as Lincoln Memorial, WWII Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and the US Capitol Building - four sites that are at least a 15-minute if not more walk from a Metro station.

Most are also included for free with the purchase of most tourist discount passes.

And don't forget our walking tours!

All tours start and end within walking distance of a station and our guides can make sure you know the best way to get to and from any place you want to see in the most direct route.

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About The Author

Canden Arciniega

Canden is a historian and tour guide in Washington DC with 4 published books about the city. She has written for HuffPost Travel and has been featured in the Washington Post, WTOP, and numerous other DC papers. She's also been interviewed by the BBC, NPR, Travel Channel and Discovery Family Channel. Canden is the producer of the podcast, Tour Guide Tell All With a M.A. in History from University College London and a B.A. in History from Elon University, she is an authority on D.C. history, and has led tours in the city for over 10 years. She currently resides in DC, but has also lived in London and South Korea, and has travelled to over 28 countries and every US State but Hawaii. She homeschools her 2 children by exploring the plethora of museums in DC.
Updated: August 7th, 2023
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