Three airports serve the Washington, D.C. area. General information follows that should help you determine which airport is your best bet.
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) lies 4 miles south of D.C., across the Potomac River in Virginia, about a 10-minute trip by car in non-rush-hour traffic, and 15 to 20 minutes by Metro anytime. Its proximity to the District and its direct access to the Metro rail system are reasons why you might want to fly into National. Another reason: A climate-controlled pedestrian bridge connects the terminal directly to a Metro station; Blue and Yellow Lines stop here and will whisk you inexpensively into the heart of the city. For Metro information, go online at www.wmata.com or call tel. 202/637-7000. Note: In 2019, two construction projects underway may give you reasons to avoid National. (See below.) Visit the website www.flyreagan.com for airport information, or call tel. 703/417-8000.
Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) is 26 miles outside the capital, in Chantilly, Virginia, a 35- to 45-minute ride to downtown in non-rush-hour traffic. Of the three airports, Dulles handles more daily flights, with about 36 airlines flying nonstop to 135 destinations, including 48 foreign cities. The airport is not as convenient to the heart of Washington as National, but it’s more convenient than BWI, thanks to an uncongested airport access road that travels half the distance toward Washington. The airport’s website is www.flydulles.com and its information line is tel. 703/572-2700.
Last but not least is Baltimore–Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI), which is located about 45 minutes from downtown, a few miles outside of Baltimore. One factor especially has always recommended BWI to travelers: the major presence of Southwest Airlines. Its service comprises 70% of the airport’s business, and it often offers real bargains. (Southwest also serves Dulles and National airports, but in a much smaller capacity.) BWI offers the greatest number of daily nonstop flights, 567, its 16 airlines flying to 79 domestic destinations and 13 international destinations. (Southwest also serves Dulles and National airports, but in a much smaller capacity.) Call tel. 410/859-7111 for airport information, or point your browser to www.bwiairport.com.
Getting into Town from the Airport
Each of the three airports offers similar options for getting into the city. All three airports could really use better signage, especially because their ground transportation desks always seem to be quite a distance from the gate at which you arrive. Keep trudging, and follow baggage claim signs, because 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 $15 for the 10- to 20-minute ride from National Airport, $68 for the 30- to 45-minute ride from Dulles Airport, and about $90 for the 45-minute ride from BWI. Expect taxis to add a $3 airport pickup charge to your fee.
SuperShuttle -- SuperShuttle offers assorted car services, but its least expensive option is shared-ride travel in a van providing door-to-door service between the airport and your destination, whether in the District or in a suburban location. Make a reservation by phone or online (www.supershuttle.com; tel. 800/258-3826) 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 the above number. The 24-hour service bases its fares on zip code, so to reach downtown, expect to pay about $15, plus $10 for each additional person, from National; $30, plus $10 per additional person, from Dulles; and $39, plus $10 per additional person, from BWI. SuperShuttle also tacks on a $1 to $2 fuel charge in certain vicinities, Maryland being one.
Transportation Options by Airport
From Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport -- If you are not too encumbered with luggage, you should take Metrorail into the city. (As mentioned above, first read the warning about 2019 construction alerts at National.) 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 (Southwest, Air Canada, Frontier), you will have a longer walk to reach the Metro. 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; If you haven’t purchased a SmarTrip fare card online in advance, you can do so at the Metro station. The base fare is $2, 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 (www.alamo.com), Avis (www.avis.com), Budget (www.budget.com), Enterprise (www.enterprise.com), Hertz (www.hertz.com), or National (www.nationalcar.com)—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, which stops at doors 1 and 6 on the third floor, the ticketing level of the airport, to reach parking garage A. If you’ve rented from an off-premises agency (such as Advantage), you’ll want to take that same 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 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 Capitol and memorials 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 -- Metrorail trains do not connect directly with Dulles Airport yet (latest word is that this will happen in 2020), so you must first catch the Washington Flyer Silver Line Express Bus (www.flydulles.com/iad/silver-line-express-bus-metrorail-station; tel. 888/927-4359) to reach the closest Metro station, the Silver Line’s Wiehle Ave./Reston East depot. Find the counter at Arrivals Door no. 4 in the main terminal or, if you’re in the baggage claim area, go up the ramp at the sign for Door no. 4, to purchase the $5 ticket for the bus. Buses to the Wiehle Ave./Reston East Metro station run daily, every 15 to 20 minutes; the trip takes about 10 minutes. Once you arrive at the Metro station, you can purchase a Metro SmarTrip fare card to board a Silver Line train bound for Largo Town Center, which heads into D.C.
It may be more convenient to take 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 $7.50 (you must use a SmarTrip card or have exact change) and takes 45 minutes to an hour.
If you’re renting a car at Dulles, head down the ramp near the baggage-claim area and walk outside through doors 2, 4, or 6 to curb 2C or 2F to wait for your rental car’s shuttle bus. The buses come every 5 minutes or so en route to nearby rental lots. Almost all the major companies are represented.
To reach downtown Washington from Dulles by car, exit the airport and stay on the Dulles Access Road, keeping left as the road eventually leads right into I-66 E. Follow I-66 E., 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. The airport has a bus stop on its lower level, in Concourse A/B. Look for PUBLIC TRANSIT signs to find the bus, which operates Monday through Friday only, departs every 60 minutes, takes about 30 minutes to reach the station, and costs $7.50. 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 or get off at the Fort Totten station to transfer to a Red Line train, whose stops include Union Station and various downtown locations.
You also have the choice of taking either an Amtrak (www.amtrak.com; tel 800/872-7245) or the Penn line of the Maryland Rural Commuter train, or MARC (http://mta.maryland.gov/marc-train; tel 866/743-3682), into the city. Both trains travel between the BWI Railway Station and Washington’s Union Station, about a 30- to 45-minute ride. Both Amtrak (starting at $16 per person, one-way, depending on time and train type) and MARC ($7 per person, one-way) services run daily. A courtesy shuttle runs every 6 minutes or so (every 25 min. 1–5am) 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, board a shuttle bus to the lot.
Here’s how you reach Washington: Look for signs for I-195 and follow the highway west until you see signs for Washington and the Baltimore–Washington Parkway (I-295); head south on I-295. Get off when you see the signs for Rte. 50/New York Avenue, which leads into the District, via New York Avenue NE. Your hotel can provide specific directions from there.
BWI operates a large off-site car rental facility. From the ground transportation area, board a shuttle bus to the lot.
Here’s how you reach Washington: Look for signs for I-195 and follow the highway west until you see signs for Washington and the Baltimore–Washington Parkway (I-295); head south on I-295. Get off when you see the signs for Rte. 50/New York Avenue, which leads into the District, via New York Avenue NE. Ask your hotel for specific directions from New York Avenue NE.
More than one third of visitors to Washington arrive by plane, and if that’s you, don’t worry about renting a car. In fact, it’s better if you don’t, because the traffic in the city and throughout the region is absolutely abysmal, parking spaces are hard to find, garage and lot charges are exorbitant, and hotel overnight rates are even worse. Furthermore, Washington is amazingly easy to traverse on foot—so easy, in fact, that assorted sources, from Prevention magazine to the Brookings Institution, name D.C. among the most walkable cities in the country. Our public transportation and taxi systems are accessible and comprehensive, as well.
But if you are like most visitors, you’re planning on driving here. No matter which road you take, there’s a good chance you will have to navigate some portion of the Capital Beltway (I-495 and I-95) to gain entry to D.C. The Beltway girds the city, its approximately 64-mile route passing through Maryland and Virginia, with some 50 interchanges or exits leading off from it. The Beltway is nearly always congested, but especially during weekday morning and evening rush hours (roughly 5:30–9:30am and 3–7pm). Drivers can get a little crazy, weaving in and out of traffic.
The District is 240 miles from New York City, 40 miles from Baltimore, 700 miles from Chicago, 500 miles from Boston, and about 630 miles from Atlanta.
National Airport and Metro Construction Alerts!
Reagan National Airport is in the throes of a transformative improvement project, which does not affect flights into and out of the airport but may well affect your roadway and Metro travel between the airport and the city. In 2019, construction at the airport means you can expect heavy traffic and delays, so allow extra time to get to and from National. Normally, Metro transit would offer the obvious solution, but Metro is shutting down all rail service south of National Airport in summer 2019 to rebuild station platforms. If you are staying in or visiting Northern Virginia south of the airport, you will have to use transportation other than Metro. Rail service north of the airport, that is, into Washington, D.C., continues without interruption, even in the second half of 2019, when National Airport will stay open through the rebuilding of its own station. For the latest details, visit National Airport’s construction advisories webpage, www.flyreagan.com/dca/construction-advisories?, and Metro’s status and alerts webpage, www.wmata.com/service/status/index.cfm.
Amtrak (www.amtrak.com; tel. 800/USA-RAIL [872-7245]) offers daily service to Washington from New York, Boston, and Chicago. Amtrak also travels daily between Washington and points south, including Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, cities in Florida, and New Orleans. Amtrak’s Acela Express trains offer the quickest service along the “Northeast Corridor,” linking Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. The trains travel as fast as 150 mph, making the trip between New York and Washington in times that range from less than 3 hours to 3 hours and 45 minutes, depending on the number of stops in the schedule. Likewise, Acela Express’s Boston–Washington trip takes anywhere from 6 1/2 hours to more than 8 hours, depending on station stops.
Amtrak runs fewer Acela trains on weekends and honors passenger discounts, such as those for seniors and AAA members, only on weekend Acela travel.
Amtrak offers a smorgasbord of good-deal rail passes and discounted fares; although not all are based on advance purchase, you may have more discount options by reserving early. Tickets for up to two children ages 2 to 12 cost half the price of the lowest available adult fare when the children are accompanied by a fare-paying adult. For more information, go to www.amtrak.com. Note: Most Amtrak travel requires a reservation, which means that every traveler is guaranteed, but not assigned, a seat.
Amtrak trains arrive at historic Union Station, 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE (www.unionstationdc.com; tel 202/371-9441), a short walk from the Capitol, near several hotels, and a short cab or Metro ride from downtown. Union Station is D.C.’s transportation hub, with its own Metrorail station, Metrobus and DC Circulator bus stops, taxi stands, bikeshare and bike rental locations, rental car facilities, tour bus centers, intra-city bus travel operations, and connection to D.C. Streetcar service.
Bus travel is now in vogue, thanks to the rise of fabulously priced, comfortable, clean, and fast bus services. Quite a number of buses travel between Washington, D.C. and New York City, and a growing number travel between D.C. and cities scattered up and down the East Coast.
Check out one of these fleets: BoltBus (www.boltbus.com; tel 877/265-8287) travels multiple times a day between D.C.’s Union Station and NYC for $1 to $36 each way, and between D.C. and at least three other cities (Richmond, Philadelphia, and Newark) for similarly low fares. Ditto Megabus (www.megabus.com; tel 877/462-6342) which travels between Union Station and NYC several times a day for as little as $1 and as much as $46, one-way (most fares run in the $13–$25 range); and offers cheap travel between D.C. and 26 other locations, including Boston, Toronto, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Vamoose Bus (www.vamoosebus.com; tel 212/695-6766) travels between Rosslyn, Virginia’s stop near the Rosslyn Metro station and Bethesda, Maryland’s stop near the Bethesda Metro station, and locations near NYC’s Penn Station, for $20 to $60 each way, accruing one point for every dollar you’ve paid for your ticket. Collect 120 points and you ride one-way for free.
Greyhound (www.greyhound.com; tel 800/231-2222) is actually the company behind BoltBus, but oddly, it’s often more expensive and slower on its routes (many of which are doubled by BoltBus). The D.C. Greyhound bus depot is at Union Station.
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.