The Beginners Guide to Washington D.C.’s Subway

If you’re like me, you’ve never ridden a subway before. I was so excited to ride one for the first time and it didn’t disappoint! It’s really exciting (if you’re a tourist, if you use it for everyday transportation I guess it’s less so). Before I had ever ridden one before I was told it was really confusing and let me tell you–it is! Yet still it is so much better than riding a bus. It gets places faster. They have more room to store more people. When you have to transfer trains it’s right in the same area (no crossing the street 2 times waiting for traffic each time). They come so much more frequently. It’s great. I really can’t think of anything negative to say about riding underground. You can’t see anything out the windows? That’s about it. I’ll start from the beginning.

Finding an Entrance

In Washington D.C. there is a huge pillar that has an “M” on it and right near there will be escalators going down to where you need to go. Also, it might not matter to small town people or to someone who only rides an escalator like twice a year, but it’s stand on the right or walk on the left. People will tell you to move over if you’re standing on the left, I’ve seen it happen. Sometimes the entrance has a fancy covering like this one (it has a glass ceiling type thing) while other times it doesn’t. It’s best not to assume you’ll be able to identify it like this, just look for the “M” post. It will also say the stop name like it shows above. Usually around here you’ll see some sort of sign or map showing you where to go.

Your Ticket

Now comes the slightly more complicated part. In order to get on a subway you have to have a special card and yes, you have to buy it. Along the wall you’ll see these things. Follow the instructions and it does take card or cash (no change back). If someone tries to help you it’s probably a scam, either ignore them or tell them you know what you’re doing even if you don’t. I have seem someone get robbed like this so it’s best to avoid the person trying to “help” you.

The card you’ll get will look like this:

It costs $2 and each trip on the subway will cost money too. You don’t pay until you get off of the subway and that cost depends on which stop and the time of day. During “peak time” which us rush hour it’s more, not peak time is cheaper. Some stops are as cheap as $2 while others are more than $4.

I know on youtube videos, tv shows, and movies that show the New York City subway stations have the card sliding through something and there is a turn-style to go through. In Washington D.C. subways are different. In order to go there you just walk over to the rows (make sure you go through the ones with the arrow, not the DO NOT ENTER sign, they’re small). Place the card over the picture and the light will turn green and let you through. Then just put the card in your wallet or pocket, you don’t need it again until you need to surface.

Getting to the Right Train

This is what the platforms look like. On the sign it tells you how many minutes the next train is coming. During weekdays it’s within 15 minutes, on weekends it can be more than 20 minutes. Now, actually figuring out which stop you need and which direction to go in is another problem. Nothing is written anywhere in the subway telling you what is as each stop. Sometimes it’s obvious, like Chinatown stop is where Chinatown is or Smithsonian stop is where Smithsonian is. Other times, not so much, like Woodley Park is where the Zoo is (after a several block walk).

On a pillar it will show you this. This is where the train stops. The different colored circles means there is a transfer to a different colored line. The last place it stops at is the name. Most of the time for the Red Line it will be “Shady Grove” in this direction. Sometimes they stop sooner than that though, like in White Flint and if you want to get to Rockville you’re going to have a hard time on that train. There is an announcement on the train telling you which stop this is, also there are signs along the walls that look like this:

It’s actually more brightly lite than this, the camera just didn’t pick it up.

This can be hard to see though (especially if you don’t have a window seat) and since the subway is very loud (naturally) it can be hard to hear what anyone is saying. Sometimes they have a map showing you which stop is next but that isn’t always the case. What I do? Just count the stops. It’s so much easier.

While Waiting For the Subway

Stay behind the maroon bumps so you’re safe. When a subway comes it still travels very fast (surprisingly!). The lights flash when a train is within 15 seconds away. Wait along the side to let people out before crowding in. While the subway doesn’t stop for long, they don’t try to intentionally leave people behind, especially if you’re standing right next to the door.

This is true for buses I’ve been on too but I just want to say it. If there are seats available and you decide to stand, you’re more in the way standing then you would be sitting down. If a seat is there just sit down instead of standing in front of the door in the way!

The Washington D.C. subway system is awesome! Although this is the only subway I’ve ever been on I’ve got to say that every city needs one. They could make it less complicated, like saying what is at each stop for interests like buses do in Honolulu. That is the only improvement I would make. They’re very well lit and it’s super clean down there. I think I’m going to be ranting and raving about this my whole life. They’re so amazing.

What was your first time riding a subway like?

About Leanne

Leanne got the inspiration to travel the world at 12-years-old when her family moved from Washington State to Florida. Although she still had to attend 7th grade she used her time to gain inspiration from travel bloggers. Now, 7 years later, here she is! Today she's living in Honolulu, Hawaii and preparing herself both physically and mentally to travel the world. Come join her here on Countries To Go!

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