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How to Navigate Washington DC Metro

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Navigating Washington DC is best done by public transportation. Some people are a little intimidated by the city subway system, but as long as you know a few simple things, you can navigate the Washington DC Metro system like an expert.

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How to Navigate Washington DC Metro

The Washington Metro is a grid of 5 color coded lines – Red, Green, Silver, Orange, & Yellow. The lines run two directions depending on whether you are heading into the city or out.

If you are heading into the city to do some sightseeing, check the website to see what Metro station they suggest you exit and enter for easiest access. For example, if you are heading to the Smithsonian National Zoo, then you will see this on their website:

While equidistant from both Metro stops, the walk is uphill from the Woodley Park stop and flat from the Cleveland Park stop.

When you look at the WMATA map, you will see that the Cleveland Park stop is located on the Red/Shady Grove line. Shady Grove is the last stop on the Red Line so that becomes the name of the Red Line.

Washington Metro Map

Celebrate your experience on the colorful Washington DC Metro lines with a t-shirt, socks or even a popsocket!

Some of the stations look like bus stops and sit out in the open.

King Street Station

Others are tucked down under the streets.

For the stations in the city, you will typically take an escalator down to the platform.

Escalator down to Metro Platform

Once you get to the platform, you will have signs that tell you how long till the next train arrives. In this picture, you will see that the Yellow (YL) line train heading toward Ft. Totten will arrive in 5 minutes.  The display keeps updating as the trains get closer.

When you need to transfer trains, you will look on the map for the stations with a circle. These stations allow you to switch lines and go from yellow to blue or blue to red. At these stations, you will take escalators up or down to cross over to the opposite side of the platform to switch lines.

Metro Cards

When you first get to the city, you will need to buy a SmartTrip card. The card costs $2.00 and then you add money to the card. Most fares cost about $3-4. So if you know you are going to be riding several times, you’re probably going to want to add $20.00. If you live more than 100 miles outside the city limits and you end up with money left over, you can request a refund after your trip. Just contact WMATA and get them to walk you through the process.

The Washington Metro operates just a bit different from some other city transit systems. You tap the card when you enter the station but it doesn’t charge your card then. When you exit the station, you tap your card again and that is when it will charge your account. If for some reason you don’t have enough money on your card, you can easily reload your card at the turnstile.

Do you use public transportation when you visit a new city? Got any fun stories or experiences to share? I’d love to hear!


Heading to Washington DC so you can enjoy the historical sites? Make sure you check out how much your trip is going to cost!

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3 Comments

  1. Escalators – stand on the right side, walk on the left. The locals who commute to work get mad when we tourists block their path.

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