How to Ride DC Metro: 10 Dos and Don’ts May 21, 2017

Every visitor to Washington, DC should brush up on how to ride DC Metro. There are a lot of written and unwritten rules, but don’t worry, follow these dos and don’ts and you will become a Metro pro in no time.

1. Do get a SmarTrip card

This used to be a suggestion but now it is a requirement. If you visited DC prior to 2016 you probably paid for the Metro using a paper fare card. It was a piece of cardboard, had a couple cute pandas on it, and would print your balance on the card every time that you used it. Go ahead and put it in a scrapbook because you’re not going to need it anymore. The good news is that SmarTrip cards are just as easy to get at the old paper fare card.  

When you arrive at your first Metro station look for one of the orange and blue colored fare machines. You’ll need to decide if you want a single fare card or multiple. If you’re traveling with a family, you will need multiple cards. Unlike in other cities, every person in the group needs their own SmarTrip card. Then you’ll need to decide if you want to add money or buy a pass.  

For a typical tourist we recommend starting off by adding the $8 default value and topping up your card as you go. Unless you’re going to ride the Metro all the time a pass probably isn’t worth the money. You can pay using either cash Or credit or debit card. Try to use exact change if you have it.

Once you’ve got your card, walk up to the fare gate, tap it against the target and go through once it opens. When you get to your destination you’ll do the exact same thing to exit.

2. Don’t stand on the left

This is probably the single most important piece of advice you’re going to get when it comes to how to ride DC Metro. When you’re riding a Metro escalator, never, ever stand on the left side. If you’re walking you walk up on the left side and if you’re standing you stand on the right side. Simple enough!  

One of the reasons why tourists get such a bad reputation among locals here is because they don’t follow this simple rule. On a similar note, if you’re coming from the airport or Union Station when you’re riding the escalator, put your suitcase in front or behind you. That way if someone’s trying to walk up they’re not going to get blocked by your luggage. Or find an elevator and use it.

3. Do download a Metro app

There are a lot of Metro apps out there and people have varying opinions on which one is the best. Some apps have more bells and whistles than others, but at the end of the day they all basically do the same thing: tell you how long you have to wait for your train.

Yes, there are electronic boards in every station that technically give you this information; but they have a really annoying habit of scrolling through a bunch of announcements when all you’re really looking for is the amount of time until the next train.

Our favorite Metro app is called MetroHero. Regardless of which app you choose, just make sure you also download a jpeg of the Metro map to your phone. That way if you’re in a tunnel, or you have spotty service you will always be able to access the map even when you’re online.

4. Don’t ride during rush hour

There are two reasons to avoid riding the DC Metro during rush hour.

First, it actually costs more money to ride Metro during rush hour than it does at any other time. That’s because metro fares are based on the distance that you travel and whether it’s rush hour or not. More importantly, DC is a working city and people commute so it gets slammed and can feel pretty miserable to ride during rush hour.

5. Do plan for delays

A lot of people come to DC absolutely love our Metro system. Typicall that’s because it is so much better than what they have back home. That hardly means that it’s perfect though and the truth is that Metro is in pretty bad shape. Unfortunately, some locals now consider Metro unreliable.

So if you have tickets to an event, dinner reservation, or a scheduled tour, just plan to arrive a few minutes before it’s supposed to start. It’s much better to arrive early than it is to be disappointed because Metro let you down.

6. Don’t block or hold the doors

Other than standing on the left this is one of the biggest offenses that someone can make on the Metro. The important thing to know is that Metro train doors are not like elevator doors. You can’t hold them open by putting your hand in. And if you do try to hold it open the door is going to close right on your arm. Metro operators usually try to get the doors closed a few times before they eventually give up and kick everybody off the train. Trust us, you don’t want to be the one who inconvenienced hundreds or even possibly thousands of travelers because you messed with the doors.

7. Do wait for people to get off the train before you try to board

When a train pulls into the station and you see some empty seats it is tempting to rush in as fast as you can and grab them before anybody else can. However you really need to wait until everybody is off the train first before you can try to get on. Metro doors are not very wide and it becomes a huge mess when people aren’t even off the train yet and other people are already rushing into the car. So just have a little patience you’ll get on the train. Don’t worry.

8. Don’t wait for the fare gates to close in front of you before you go through

This trip hack is particularly useful during rush hour or after a game or any other busy period when there are a lot of people trying to move through the Metro at the same time. All you have to do is stand behind the person in front of you who’s going through the fare gate. Once they’ve tapped their SmarTrip card, tap yours and go on through. You don’t actually have to wait for the gate to close before you can tap. Doing it this way will save a lot of time. Locals will also really appreciate that you’ve been clued in to this little hack.

9. Do avoid transfers and bad routes

Sometimes transfers are unavoidable and that’s OK. But a lot of times people actually make unnecessary transfers. A lot of the problem stems from the fact that the Metro map is not to scale. It doesn’t help that some stations have names that are confusing and make you think you need to use one station when you should really use another.

Say you want to ride the Metro from U Street to the Air and Space Museum. A lot of folks would look at the Metro map, ride the green line to L’Enfant Plaza, transfer to the Orange, Blue, or Silver lines, then get off at the Smithsonian station. This is a total rookie mistake! The walk from the Smithsonian station to the Air and space Museum is actually twice as far as the walk from the L’Enfant Plaza station, not to mention the time that you wasted making a transfer to a line and riding a train that you didn’t have to.

This is the reason why apps like Citymapper are so helpful. They do all the work for you. So, you don’t need to know all this information to figure out which station is actually closest to the destination where you’re trying to go.

10. Don’t stop at the top of a Metro escalator

It can be disorienting when you are at a new Metro station in a new neighborhood. The first thing you want to do when you get off the escalator is pull out your phone and use Google Maps to figure out where you are. But people are still coming up the escalator behind you and if you don’t move you’ll cause a pileup!

It’s totally fine if you need to check your surroundings once you get off the Metro. However, make sure to walk a few yards away from the station and away from the escalators before you take out your phone or take out your map to figure out where you are.

Coming to Washington DC and want us to show you around?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

Monuments in DC: 7 Tips for Your Visit May 14, 2017

Seeing the memorials and monuments in DC on the National Mall is one of the most popular things to do in Washington. Here are seven tips to consider when you visit.

1. See the monuments in DC in the morning or the evening

Locals will tell you that it’s better to see the memorials and monuments in DC after sunset. However, morning is a fantastic time to see them as well. Most museums open at 10:00 a.m. and the National Mall is very peaceful and relaxing in the hours beforehand. The National Mall is generally the busiest between about noon and 3:00 in the afternoon. Come in the morning to beat the crowds or in the evening to beat the heat.

2. Eat before you go and don’t forget water

The National Mall is not exactly known for good dining options. It is probably best to just eat before you come down to the National Mall. If you are visiting in the morning, wake up and have a nice breakfast. If you’re coming in the evening, find some dinner first or a snack to tide you over. Remember to bring water with you on a hot summer day. You are absolutely going to want to bring that stay hydrated.

Water fountains on the National Mall are infamous for not working. This gets frustrating when the water is warm. There are a few concession stands and food trucks around the national mall where you can buy a bottle of water. But it is easiest and best if you come prepared.

3. Sign up for a guided tour

This is the best way to see the memorials and monuments in DC. There are no shortage of tour options. Guided tours include walking tours, bike tours, Segway tours, bus tours, boat tours and so many more! There are private tours like the ones we offer, which are limited to a single group. And on the other end of the spectrum there are “pay what you want” tours that are open to everybody. These often do not even require a reservation and you can pay what you want at the end of the tour.

4. Download the National Mall app

If you decide not to go the guided tour route, then having the National Mall app on your phone will be a big help when seeing monuments in DC. The most useful thing about the National Mall app is that it shows you the location of all the sites. It also shows you some of the smaller monuments that you might not even know you want to see. You can use the app and tap on any of the sites so that when you go to the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial, you can learn a little bit about it.

5. Figure out the most efficient route

On a map, the monuments memorials can look pretty close to each other. It’s an illusion. If you do want to see them all you’re going to do a lot of walking. On our monuments tour it is about three miles from start to finish using the most efficient possible route. If you don’t plan ahead, you can wind up walking for even more miles! If you don’t plan to do a guided tour, grab a map in advance and plan out your route for the day.

6. Take advantage of public transportation

In this case this is not about Metro. In 2015, DC launched a Circulator bus route on the National Mall. It is a big red bus and easy to spot. The route has stops at Union Station, the museums, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, the MLK Memorial, and Lincoln Memorial. The best thing about Circulator is that it’s cheap and the SmarTrip card that you bought to ride Metro works on Circulator too.

7. See the less popular sites

Don’t skip less popular sites like the Albert Einstein Memorial or the DC War Memorial. A few of our personal favorites include the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial and the George Mason Memorial. It is not even like these are off the beaten path. They are right there on the National Mall!

Coming to Washington DC and want us to show you around?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

Washington DC apps: must-have apps for visitors April 30, 2017

Smartphones are a crucial part of travel these days. Where you use an iPhone or rock an Android, these are eight of our favorite Washington, DC apps to make sure you download before your trip.

1. MetroHero: a must-have for riding DC Metro

At some point during your Washington, DC trip you will probably ride the Metro. There are many free Washington DC apps for the Metro. However, MetroHero is the best Metro app in our opinion. It shows the location of every single train in the Metro system. With MetroHero, you can also find your station and get live updates for the next trains. You will also be able to see any alerts and elevator or escalator outages.

Download MetroHero: Apple | Google Play

2. Ride hailing apps: Uber and Lyft

Ride hailing apps have become popular in recent years. Washington DC cabs have not always had the best reputation. So, Uber and Lyft have taken over. These apps are (often) a cheaper alternative to cabs and out of town visitors may feel comfortable using these apps from back home. Both apps offer options to carpool with other people. This helps reduce costs, but don’t carpool if you are in a hurry because it is slower.

Download Uber: Apple | Google Play
Download Lyft: Apple | Google Play

3. Smithsonian Mobile: museum information at your fingertips

Before Leaving for your trip to Washington DC, be sure to download Smithsonian Mobile. This is a crucial DC app if you plan on checking our our museums. Smithsonian Mobile includes information about every exhibit in every Smithsonian museum. This can help you plan in advance which exhibits to see without feeling overwhelmed once you get here. In the app, you can favorite different exhibits and figure out which exhibits sound most interesting. You can also see new and upcoming exhibits so, you know what is coming up during the dates of your trip.

Download Smithsonian Mobile: Apple | Google Play

4. Yelp: find the five star restaurants

For many travelers, “eating their way through the city” is an important part of the experience. Restaurant recommendations are hard. Everyone has a different price range and different tastes. The Michelin Guide lists about a dozen DC restaurants and is a great place to start. However, these restaurants are hard to get into without a reservation and they are expensive.

For lower-key restaurants, Yelp is your friend. The Yelp app uses your location to find restaurants around you. You can filter restaurants by type and price. Also, there is a map you can use to see the places closest to you. With the map, you can also get walking directions right to the restaurant.

Download Yelp: Apple | Google Play

5. Citymapper: navigate Washington, DC like a pro

Citymapper is huge in Europe, especially London and other big cities. It is available in U.S. cities but has not caught on quite as much. It works by using your phone’s GPS to figure out where you are. Then, you tell it where you want to go, and it will calculate a list of transportation options. Citymapper will give you the best suggestions based on price and time. There is also a Metro option which will tell you how to walk to your closest Metro station and how to walk to your final destination. In addition, Citymapper will tell you whether to sit in the front, middle, or back of the train for the fastest transfer, if necessary.

Download Citymapper: Apple | Google Play

6. NPS National Mall: explore America’s front lawn

Many national parks come with their own apps, including the National Mall in Washington DC. With this app, you can see a map of all the sites on the National Mall, including the big ones you know you want to see and some smaller sites you might not even know about! If you prefer a list instead of a map, you can browse the sites that way too.

Download NPS National Mall: Apple | Google Play

7. SpotCycle: a helpful sidekick to Capital Bikeshare

In Washington DC, riding a bike is a great way to get around! Capital Bikeshare is a cheap and easy way to access bikes in DC. However, the most stressful thing about using Capital Bikeshare is riding your bike to your destination and then realizing that you cannot end your trip because the dock is completely full of bikes! SpotCycle can help you avoid this because you can find out in advance if there are docks available at your destination.

Edit: After the video and post were created Capital Bikeshare launched their own official app. We now recommend this instead. SpotCycle still works fine, but the official Capital Bikeshare app has the same features plus it allows you to actually check out bikes. Pretty cool!

Download Spotcycle: Apple | Google Play
Download Capital Bikeshare: Apple | Google Play

8. TapIt: stay hydrated!

On a hot humid day in Washington DC, hydration is key. You can save money and get plenty of water with the app TapIt. TapIt is a project among our local water utility and local businesses. The goal is to promote tap water as an alternative to bottled water. If you are wondering if DC tap water is safe, yes. It has vastly improved in the last decade.  

Download TapIt: Apple | Google Play

Coming to Washington, DC and want us to show you around?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

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