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Each of the three airports offers similar options for getting into the city. Follow the signs to "ground transportation" and look for the banners or a staff representative of the service you desire. All three airports could really use better signage, especially because their ground transportation desks always seem to be located quite a distance from the gate at which you arrive. Keep trudging, and follow baggage claim signs, too, since ground transportation operations are always situated near baggage carousels.

Taxi Service -- For a trip to downtown D.C., you can expect a taxi to cost close to $20 for the 10- to 20-minute ride from National Airport; $57 to $61 for the 30- to 45-minute ride from Dulles Airport; and about $90 for the 45-minute ride from BWI.

SuperShuttle -- These vans offer shared-ride, door-to-door service between the airport and your destination, whether in the District or in a suburban location. You make a reservation by phone or online (tel. 800/258-3826; www.supershuttle.com) and then proceed to the SuperShuttle desk in your airport to check in. The only drawback to this service is the roundabout way the driver must follow, as he or she drops off or picks up other passengers en route. If you arrive after the SuperShuttle desk has closed, you can summon a van by calling customer service at tel. 800/258-3826. The 24-hour service bases its fares on zip code, so to reach downtown, expect to pay about $14, plus $10 for each additional person from National; $29, plus $10 per additional person from Dulles; and $37, plus $12 per additional person from BWI. If you're calling the SuperShuttle for a ride from a D.C.-area location to one of the airports, you must reserve a spot at least 24 hours in advance.

Limousines -- Limousine service is the most costly of all options, with prices starting at about $50 at National, $90 at Dulles, and $130 at BWI for private car transportation to downtown D.C. For pickup from BWI, reserve passage by calling tel. 800/878-7743 or 301/912-0000; or go online at www.rmalimo.com. For pickup from National or Dulles, try Red Top Executive Sedan (tel. 800/296-3300 or 703/522-3333; www.redtopcab.com). Or choose a limousine service from the list posted on Destination D.C.'s website, www.destinationdc.org, in its downloadable Visitors Guide. (Click on "Browse DC," then "Interactive Visitors Guide," then look within the list of downloadable sections to find the category "Transportation, Tours, and Neighborhoods." Click on that category to read about additional transportation services.)

Free hotel/motel shuttles operate from all three airports to certain nearby properties. Inquire about such transportation when you book a room at your hotel.

Individual Transportation Options from Each Airport

From Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport -- If you are not too encumbered with luggage, you should take Metrorail into the city. Metro's Yellow and Blue Lines stop at the airport and connect via an enclosed walkway to level two, the concourse level, of the main terminal, adjacent to terminals B and C. If yours is one of the airlines that still uses the "old" terminal A (Spirit, AirTran, JetBlue, Air Canada, Frontier), you will have a longer walk to reach the Metro station. Signs pointing the way can be confusing, so ask an airport employee if you're headed in the right direction; or, better yet, head out to the curb and hop a shuttle bus to the station, but be sure to ask the driver to let you know when you've reached the enclosed bridge that leads to the Metro (it may not be obvious, and drivers don't always announce the stops). Metrobuses also serve the area, should you be going somewhere off the Metro route. But Metrorail is fastest, a 15- to 20-minute non-rush-hour ride to downtown. It is safe, convenient, and cheap; the base fare is $1.60 and goes up from there depending on when (fares increase during rush hours) and where you're going.

If you're renting a car from an on-site car-rental agency, Alamo (tel. 888/215-0010), Avis (tel. 703/419-5815), Budget (tel. 703/419-1021), Dollar (tel. 800/800-4000), Hertz (tel. 703/419-6300), National (tel. 703/419-1032), or Thrifty (tel. 877/283-0898), go to level two, the concourse level, follow the pedestrian walkway to the parking garage, find garage A, and descend one flight. You can also take the complimentary Airport Shuttle (look for the sign posted at the curb outside the terminal) to parking garage A. If you've rented from off-premises agency Enterprise (tel. 703/553-7744), head outside the baggage claim area of your terminal, and catch the Enterprise shuttle bus.

To get downtown by car, follow the signs out of the airport for the George Washington Parkway, headed north toward Washington. Stay on the GW Parkway until you see signs for I-395 north to Washington. Take the I-395 north exit, which takes you across the 14th Street Bridge. Stay in the left lane crossing the bridge and follow the signs for Route 1, which will put you on 14th Street NW. (You'll see the Washington Monument off to your left.) Ask your hotel for directions from 14th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. Or take the more scenic route, always staying to the left on the GW Parkway as you follow the signs for Memorial Bridge. You'll be driving alongside the Potomac River, with the monuments in view across the river; then, as you cross over Memorial Bridge, you're greeted by the Lincoln Memorial. Stay left coming over the bridge, swoop around to the left of the Memorial, take a left on 23rd Street NW, a right on Constitution Avenue, and then, if you want to be in the heart of downtown, left again on 15th Street NW (the Washington Monument will be to your right).

From Washington Dulles International Airport -- The Washington Flyer Express Bus (tel. 888/927-4359; www.washfly.com) runs between Dulles and Metro's Orange Line station at West Falls Church, where you can purchase a Metro farecard to board an Orange Line train bound for "New Carrollton," which heads into D.C. In the airport, look for signs for the DULLES AIRPORT SHUTTLE, which leaves from Door 4 on the arrivals level (follow the ramp up to the ticket counter). Buses to the West Falls Church Metro station run daily, every 30 minutes, and cost $10 one-way. (By the way, "Washington Flyer" is also the name under which the taxi service operates at Dulles.)

More convenient is the Metrobus service (no. 5A) that runs between Dulles (buses depart from curb 2E, outside the Ground Transportation area) and the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station, located across from the National Mall and the Smithsonian museums and downhill from nearby Capitol Hill. The bus departs every 30 to 40 minutes weekdays, hourly on weekends. It costs $6 and takes 45 minutes to an hour.

If you are renting a car at Dulles, head down the ramp near your baggage claim area, and walk outside to the curb to look for your rental car's shuttle-bus stop. The buses come by every 5 minutes or so en route to nearby rental lots. These include Alamo (tel. 703/661-3200), Avis (tel. 703/661-3505), Budget (tel. 703/437-9373), Dollar (tel. 866/434-2226), Enterprise (tel. 703/661-8800), Hertz (tel. 703/471-6020), National (tel. 703/661-3200), and Thrifty (tel. 877/283-0898).

To reach downtown Washington from Dulles by car, exit the airport and stay on the Dulles Access Road, which leads right into I-66 east. Follow I-66 east, which takes you across the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge; be sure to stay in the center lane as you cross the bridge, and this will put you on Constitution Avenue (Rte. 29). Ask your hotel for directions from this point.

From Baltimore-Washington International Airport -- Washington's Metro service runs an Express Metro Bus ("B30") between its Metrorail Green Line Greenbelt station and BWI Airport. In the airport, head to the lower level and look for PUBLIC TRANSIT signs to find the bus, which operates daily, departs every 40 minutes, takes about 30 minutes to reach the station, and costs $6. At the Greenbelt Metro station, you purchase a Metro farecard and board a Metro train bound for Branch Avenue, which will take you into the city. Depending on where you want to go, you can either stay on the Green Line train to your designated stop or get off at the Fort Totten station to transfer to a Red Line train, whose stops include Union Station (near Capitol Hill) and various downtown locations. Transfers can be tricky, so you may want to ask a fellow passenger or a Metro attendant to make sure you're headed in the right direction.

You also have the choice of taking either an Amtrak (tel. 800/872-7245; www.amtrak.com) or the Camden line of the Maryland Rural Commuter train, or MARC (tel. 800/325-7245; http://mta.maryland.gov/services/marc/schedulesSystemMaps/Camden.cfm) train into the city. Both trains travel between the BWI Railway Station (tel. 410/672-6169) and Washington's Union Station (tel. 202/906-3104), about a 30-minute ride. Amtrak's service is daily (ticket prices range from $14 to $35 per person, one-way, depending on time and train type), while MARC's is weekdays only ($4 per person, one-way). A courtesy shuttle runs every 10 minutes or so between the airport and the train station; stop at the desk near the baggage-claim area to check for the next departure time of both the shuttle bus and the train. Trains depart about once per hour.

BWI operates a large off-site car-rental facility. From the ground transportation area, you board a shuttle bus that transports you to the lot. Rental agencies include Alamo (tel. 410/859-8092), Avis (tel. 410/859-1680), Budget (tel. 410/691-2913), Dollar (tel. 800/800-4000), Enterprise (tel. 800/325-8007), Hertz (tel. 410/850-7400), National (tel. 410/859-8860), and Thrifty (tel. 410/850-7139).

Here's how you reach Washington: Look for signs for I-195 and follow I-195 west until you see signs for Washington and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (I-295); head south on I-295. Get off I-295 when you see the signs for Route 50/New York Avenue, which leads into the District, via New York Avenue. Ask your hotel for specific directions from New York Avenue NE.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.