How to navigate around DC on the Metro

Have you ever ridden public transportation?  Prior to our DC trip we had limited experience, so let me share a little bit about riding on the DC Metro

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This was a new experience for us, so we left the hotel at 7:30a.m. to take the hotel shuttle to the Rosslyn Metro station.  On the shuttle we met a couple from Beaumont, TX.  It’s funny how when you are on vacation, or are away from home for some reason, and you meet someone from your home state that you kind of feel a kinship with them! 

Since this was our first time riding the Metro, we needed some guidance on how it all worked.  We asked the first employee we came to and he was so helpful!  He suggested for us to read the signs.  Okay – maybe not the helpfulness we were looking for.  We were undeterred and looked for someone else who might have a little more patience to explain this to us.  

We met another worker, Ms. Davis, who helped us by trying to explain the difference between the cards and how it all worked.  Depending on how long you are staying and how many times you’ll get on the Metro, we recommend buying the SmarTrip® card because you get the lowest fair that way.  On Metrorail, each trip taken with a SmarTrip® card cost $1 less than those taken with a paper farecard. That’s a minimum savings of $2 per roundtrip!!  More if you are taking multiple trips like we were.  We initially purchased the paper card not realizing we were spending an extra $1 every time we rode the rail.  Good news is, you can transfer the balance to a SmarTrip® card at no cost.  To buy the card initially it is a $10 fee but $5 of that is a credit on the card that you can use for trips.

Basically, to navigate the Metro as a newbie you have to utilize the map otherwise it doesn’t really make sense.  Here’s a copy of the map we used that is available at the Metro and around town.  Also keep in mind the time of day you are traveling on the Metro as they do have a rush hour which sometimes delays the schedules. 

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You will notice our map is a little worn looking.  That’s because we referred to it. 

A lot. 

There are also maps, similar to the directory maps at a mall, placed throughout the various stations.

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Basically, you figure out where you want to go and locate it on the map.  If you open up the map it has a lot of landmarks on there with colored dots (which represent the rail line to use) and the corresponding station that you would need to get off at. 

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So let’s say you are like us, and your first excursion of the day was to go to the Washington National Cathedral.  Your first step would be to look for it in the alphabetical list on the map. 

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As you can see above, the Washington National Cathedral has a red dot (which represents the rail line it is on) and the station that you will get off at is the Tenleytown-AU station. 

Next find the station you will be departing from, and for us, it was the Rosslyn station.  You will then need to find your destination on the map, which for us, was the Tenleytown-AU station.  As you can see, the Rosslyn station is a stop on both the Orange and Blue lines and our destination is on the Red line.  This means you will have to transfer rails at some point on your trip. 

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To figure out what rail to initially get on, you will need to look at the direction you need to go and find the very last stop on the current color line you are using. 

In our example, we were getting on at the Rosslyn station and we are going to use the Blue line for reference even though we could have also used the Orange line. 

::This will make more sense in a minute:: 

So starting at the Rosslyn station trace the Blue line to the right and you will “end” at the Largo Town Center station. 

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The Largo Town Center Blue line will be the one that we need to get on but wait….our destination is actually on the Red line so what do we do??   Following the map you will see that we will need to get off at the Metro Center station and transfer to the Red line in order to get to the Tenleytown-AU station.  The rails run every few minutes so no worries on getting to the rail because if you miss one, another will be along shortly.  

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There are several platforms to catch the rails on so how will you know which one is the one you need?  You will see signs like these in the stations.

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See that big blue dot?  That tells you the way to the Blue line for Largo Town Center.  Listed under the arrow are the station stops along the way.   

They also have these signs on the platforms that tell you when the next rails are coming and unfortunately, I forgot to get a close-up of one.  Here’s an example and again, this will make more sense when you are there.

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Remember, to know which red line to get on at the transfer station, you need to know the last stop on that line in the direction you are wanting to go.  In our case, it was Shady Grove station. 

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All we had to do now was get on the Red Line to Shady Grove and get off at the Tenleytown-AU station and we’d be in business. 

Are y’all ready to try out your new skills?

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The view from my seat.

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To recap, we got on at the Rosslyn station using the Blue line for Largo Town Center station.  The rail stopped at Foggy Bottoms – GWU, Farragut West, McPherson Sq, and when it reached Metro Center station we got off.  We then found and got on the Red line for Shady Grove station.  The rail stopped at Farragut North, Dupont Circle, Woodley Park, Cleveland Park, Van Ness – UDC and finally at Tenleytown – AU where we got off.  The driver/conductor (I am not sure what they are called) also announces the station at the stop. 

WE MADE IT!! 

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Now I thought it was pretty awesome and even more so once we got the hang of it all. 

  • Have you ever ridden the DC Metro?
  • What was your experience?
  • What suggestion do you have to help folks navigate the DC Metro?
  • And is it just me, or was anyone else wondering if you could truly survive if you fell on the tracks and squeezed in between them like you see on the movies?  Yeah…probably just me.

Here’s a little bonus video of a rail pulling into a station.

live~laugh~love~lisa

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2 comments

  1. Once we got the hang of it, we liked it too! We took a night tour of the monuments one night we were there and they were rushing to get us back to the station because they were closing soon. Not sure what we would have done if they had closed but thankfully we didn’t have to find out.

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