How to Read and Understand the DC Metro Map

If you’re visiting Washington, DC and planning on using our Metro, the Metro map is going to be your best friend. We highly recommend going and downloading a jpeg of the map to your phone. That way you will have access to it even if you have a low signal or are offline.

How to Read the DC Metro Map

DC Metro line colors

The Washington, DC Metro consists of six color coded lines: red, green, yellow, blue, orange and silver.

Stations in the Metro system are served by either a single station or multiple stations. For example, most stations on the red line are served by only red line trains. So if I want to visit the zoo, you will have to use the red line to get there. Other stations are served by multiple lines. For example, if you want to visit the White House, the closest station is McPherson Square, which is served by three lines.

Using the DC Metro map to identify transfer stations

Depending on exactly where you’re trying to go, you might need to ride two lines and transfer between them. Transfer stations on the Metro map are marked by a bulls eye. There are officially 8 transfer stations. For example, if you wanted to get from Eastern Market to the Zoo, you would need to ride the orange, blue or silver line to Metro Center. Then, you would then transfer to the red line and continue to the zoo.

One thing that a lot of people, including locals, don’t know about the Metro map, is that the line that is physically on the top floor of the station, is on the top on the map. For instance, take a look at the L’Enfant Plaza station on the DC Metro map. The green and yellow lines are on top of the orange, blue and silver lines. That means if you want to transfer from green to blue, you get off the green line upstairs, and go down the escalator to get to the blue line. On the flip side, at the Gallery Place station, the green and yellow lines are downstairs and the red line is upstairs.

Other Washington DC points of reference

In addition to the six lines on the DC Metro map, there are also a lot of reference points. If you look closely you will see both the Potomac River and Anacostia River. You can see the reference point for the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Capitol building, among others.

The DC Metro map is not to scale!

The Metro Map is not drawn to scale. This makes it clean and easy to read. However, this also creates situations where destinations are closer together than you realize or farther apart than you realize.

Consider the end of the silver line. On the map, it looks like all of the stations from McLean to the very end are the exact same distance apart. However, if we go on the Metro website and look at the stops on an actual map, you’ll see that this isn’t the case at all. Four of those stations are close together. These are near the Tyson’s Corner development. However, the last stop on the line is six miles away.

On the other hand, the DC Metro map makes it look like the distance between Metro Center and Gallery Place is about twice as far as the distance between Dupont Circle and Woodley Park. But in reality, it’s the complete opposite.

Download and use CityMapper

With Citymapper, you plug in your origin and destination and the app will give you all of the options for your trip. If you wanted to go from Gallery Place to Metro Center, walking is usually the best option. And to get from Dupont Circle to Woodley Park, Metro is usually the best option. Using the app, you don’t have to feel like you need to figure any of this out on your own. Download it and give it a try!

Coming to Washington, DC and want to use Metro to get to one of our tours?

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.

About Trip Hacks DC

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation's Capital.

Everyone wants to get the most out of travel experience; we know that planning a trip can be fun but sometimes stressful. The tips and travel hacks offered here will help you make the most of your trip and avoid missing out on the best things the city has to offer. Our trip planning e-book is the perfect resource for every first-time Washington, DC visitor.

If you're looking for a guided experience once you arrive, Trip Hacks DC specializes in private tours; but has public tours options as well. Visit the Guided Tours section to learn about some of the suggested tours and the trip planning resources section for help preparing for your trip. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions!

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