How to Navigate the DC Metro Like A Pro.

Happy Tuesday loves! I’m sorry this is going up so dang late. But hey… at least it’s up 🙂 Today, I’m bringing you what is bound to be the most helpful posts EVER if you’re traveling to DC anytime soon. Seriously… I’m about to save you hours of research and watching YouTube videos. You’re welcome in advance 😉

One of the greatest things about DC is that it is such an easy city to maneuver. The street plan, originally designed by Pierre Charles L’Enfant is a quadrant system, with the Capitol Building being the center of it all. This layout makes it pretty easy to figure out where you’re at, while wandering the city on foot. Letter streets run east to west (with no J street!), number streets run north to south and state streets run diagonally. 

But sometimes, walking isn’t an option. Enter DC’s Metro. By the time you leave the city, you will be a PRO at using the Metro, and you’ll think back to the time you read this post and laugh at yourself for being so unsure.

Now, I’ve ridden my fair share of Metro/Subway systems in my lifetime (the hardest being the one in Paris cuz y’all… my conversational French was not nearly good enough to help me understand it), and the general concept of each is the same. Show your ticket, hop on at one station, hop off at the next. Easy right? It is as long as you know what you’re doing. 

So here I am, to give you a guide to DC’s Metro to save you and your family from riding around in circles, and looking like this on your first Metro ride…

Actual photo of Trevor’s first metro ride. HAHAHAHA

The Basics

How it Works. Riding on DC’s metro means you are riding one of the busiest metro systems in the country. The underground tunnels and above ground tracks link all four quadrants of the city to suburban Maryland and Virginia. To help make your trip a little easier, the DC Metro has six lines that are color coded… Red, Orange, Blue, Yellow, Green and Silver. If you happen to be on the red line but need to get to orange, don’t worry. You can easily hop to another color at one of many “transfer stations” throughout the metro system.

How Much Does it Cost? Riding the Metro will cost you far less than a taxi, or trying to drive and park somewhere in the city. (It will also save you so much hassle!) Before you go, buy yourself a SmarTrip card (the only way to pay for your ride). You can order them online, and fill them with as much money as you think you’ll need. If you run out of money on your card, they are easily refillable. The cost of your Metro ride will vary every time you use it. The cost depends on how far you travel and during what hours you travel. Now, if you’re like me, you’ll just throw some cash on the cards and call it good. But if you want to know exactly how much you’re going to need, you can use this Trip Planner. It’s a great resource and super easy to use. PS… if you’re looking to save some cash, try to avoid the “peak times”. The trains are super crowded with the locals going to work anyways between 7-9 am.

Getting on the Right Train. Once you’re in your Metro Station, it’s easy to make sure you’re getting on the correct train. Each train has a sign on it that will tell you what color line it is, and where it’s finally destination is. (This helps you tell the direction.) Trains show up about every 5 minutes during peak hours, so don’t worry if you just miss one… another is just around the corner! (Off peak hours, the trains will come about every 12-15 minutes.)

Metro Etiquette. This just might be the most important part of this entire post people! There is an etiquette to riding the metro, and you need to follow it. Imagine trying to get to work and getting stuck behind a hundred people barely moving EVERY SINGLE DAY. You’d be cranky too. The best tips I can give you to make your metro ride as smooth as possible not only for you, but for others too are…

  • Have your SmarTrip card ready to go before entering and exiting the metro station. You don’t want to hold up the line because you’re digging through your wallet.
  • Always stay to the right on the escalators. The DC locals don’t just “stand” as the steps go up or down. They walk them. General rule of thumb… stand to the right, walk to the left.
  • And while you’re at it… don’t stand two by two on and escalator step. It blocks that left hand side and people will vocally be upset with you.
  • Before entering the train, wait for everyone exiting to get off. Don’t try to push your way through them… it will cause a traffic jam and then you’ll miss your train. Just be patient.
  • Always move to the middle of the train car even when crowded. People need to get on and off, and if you’re standing in front of the door, you’re just going to get in the way.
  • Speaking of crowded trains… if a train is jam packed, wait until the next one if you can. It’ll only be an extra 5 minutes, and chances are, the next one will be less busy.
  • Don’t sit in the handicapped seats. ‘Nuff said.
  • Give up your seat. Don’t be the a**hole who sits comfortably while a pregnant lady is struggling to stand.

And now for the reason you’re really here….

How to Use the Metro (A Step by Step Guide)


  • Purchase a SmarTrip card and print off a Metro Map. These two things ahead of time will make your life so much easier!  
  • Plan your trip and find your starting Metro Station. Planning your Metro trip has a couple of steps. When I thought about how to explain this, I realized an example might be the best way. SO, next to the step, you’ll find an example in italics. (Cuz you know, I’m weird and would want an example if I were reading this. HAHA) This is a thousand times easier if you have a map in front of you! And even easier if you just use the DC Metro Trip Planner 🙂
    1. Find your starting Metro station.  I’m starting my trip at the Branch Avenue station. 
    2. Find the closest Metro station to your final destination. I want to go to the National Mall. The closest metro stop is The Smithsonian.
    3. Figure out what color your lines are. Branch Avenue station is on the green line, and the Smithsonian is on the orange line. 
    4. Check to see if you need to switch lines. Because my final destination is on a different color than I’m starting on, I need to change lines. 
    5. Find your transfer station. To switch from the green line to the orange line, I need to switch at a transfer station. The closest transfer station to me is L’Enfant Plaza. 
    6. Figure out which direction you need to goThe green line begins at Branch Avenue, so I know that I need to go towards Greenbelt / College Park. The orange line (going towards the Smithsonian from the direction I’m heading) ends at Vienna / Fairfax.
    7. Count your stops. Since it’s hard to hear over the metro speakers, I will count my stops. From Branch Avenue to L’Enfant, the train will stop 7 times. After I switch at L’Enfant the next stop will be the Smithsonian. 
  • Pass through the turnstile. This part is easy! Find a turnstile, and tap your card… it will let you walk through. Store it away for the end of your trip. (PS… don’t store it by your cell phone. You don’t want it to demagnetize.)
  • Find the escalator that coordinates with the line and direction that will take you to your destination. Don’t just go to the first escalator you see… make sure you’re getting on the one that will take you to the correct platform.
  • Choose your Platform. There are two different kinds of platforms in the DC Metro System. The first is the Center Platform. When you arrive on the platform, you will see large electronic signs that will point you in the right direction. Each has the Line (what color line it is), Car (how many cars are on that train), Destination (the last stop the train has) and Minutes to arrival. When you find your destination, make your way to that side of the platform to wait for your train. Most of the crowds stand towards the middle, so spread out a bit for easy access to your train. The second is Center Tracks… which is a little bit trickier. When going to a station with center tracks, you’ll need to make sure you ride the correct escalator down, with your end destination in mind so you are on the correct side of the tracks. Don’t worry… there are PLENTY of signs everywhere to make sure you’re in the right spot.
  • Board your Train. We talked about this one earlier… wait for the people exiting to get off before you push your way on! While you ride, be sure to pay attention to what stop you are at so you don’t miss your final stop.
  • Exit your Train. Duh. You don’t want to ride it all night 🙂
  • Add Money to your SmarTrip card. If you’re running low on money on your card, add it quickly before trying to go through the turnstiles. You’ll see tons of exit fare machines where you can easily add money to your card. If you don’t have sufficient funds on it, the turnstiles will not let you pass through.
  • Pass through the turnstile… again. Same as before… but this time, it will take the money off your card.
  • Exit the Metro Station. And just like that, you’ve survived your first trip on the DC Metro!


Not so bad… right?

There are a few things you should have engrained in your brain before stepping onto the DC Metro. Why? Well, because the second you step down into the station, you’re pretty much going to have zero cell service and be back to living in a pre-Google world.

The Must Knows Before You Go

  • Know the final stops! Not just where you want to get off… but the final stop of the train. This way, you will always go in the right direction! So write them down, screenshot, or memorize if you’re not taking a Metro map with you.
    • Red stops at Shady Grove and Glenmont
    • Orange stops at New Carrollton and Vienna/Fairfax
    • Blue stops at Franconia-Springfield and Largo Town Center
    • Green stops at Branch Ave and Greenbelt
    • Silver stops at Wiehle-Reston East and Largo Town Center  
    • Yellow stops at Fort Totten and Huntington  



  • Stand right, Walk Left. Again. I can’t stress this one enough!
  • Don’t rush for a train. If you’re reading this, you’re a tourist and there is no need to sprint for a train. Seriously. The last thing you want is for your bag to get stuck in the door and you have to let it ride away with all your belongings because it made it in and you didn’t.
  • Train delays happen. Seriously… it breaks down, there are delays and accidents every dang day. So try not to be too frustrated if you end up sitting a little longer on the train then planned.

Alright friends… feeling ready to take on the DC Metro? I pinky promise, it’s not as daunting as it seems. And once you do it a couple of times, you’ll be a pro!

For more on DC’s Metro system, and to purchase a SmarTrip card, click here

Okay okay. My husband pointed out that I wrote the examples like I was talking to my students. I’m sorry guys! You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but not the teacher out of the girl. My goal was to give you the most information I possibly could incase any of you were having Metro riding anxiety like I was planning our trip to DC! So if you felt like you were back in first grade… I’m so sorry!

Alright. I’m off to shower and crawl into bed. I’ve been going NON STOP since 5 am and your girl is ready for a long long nap.


4 thoughts on “How to Navigate the DC Metro Like A Pro.

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