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Do You Need a Car in Washington D.C.? 5 Things to Know

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Are you traveling to Washington, D.C., for the weekend or a business trip? In both cases, you might wonder: Do you need a car in Washington D.C., or can you use the city’s public transportation to commute?

Known for its immaculate parks, waterfront views, and historical buildings, Washington D.C. is not only abundant in historical significance but also a beguiling city to live in and visit!

Washington, D.C., often known as the District of Columbia, Washington, or just DC, is the capital of the United States. Located in the central-eastern part of the United States, the city was named after George Washington, the first president of the US. 

Washington Monument

Due to its cosmopolitan culture and lively atmosphere, both the locals and tourists adore it alike. Many people wonder about visiting or living in Washington, D.C., without a car and whether exploring the city by other means of transportation is possible. 

So, do you need a car in Washington D.C.? What about Washington’s public transportation? Our guide will address all the questions that have kept you on edge about the Capital of America. 

Do You Need a Car in Washington D.C.? 

Abraham Lincoln statue at Lincoln Memorial in DC
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Exploring Washington D.C. with a car is pretty convenient, as there are tons of places to visit and sites to see. 

You’d need a car to comfortably get around the city with your family, especially if you have young children. Also, if you plan a trip with a group of friends, a car would be a great help. 

Furthermore, driving is an excellent option if you want to visit places outside of the city limits. Nevertheless, if you wish to ditch your car and save fuel, Washington D.C.’s public transport covers you. 

Besides local public transportation, there are many ways to get around the White City.

Is Washington D.C. Public Transportation Good?

From opulent restaurants to alluring malls and some of the nation’s most hallowed structures and monuments, Washington D.C. is still a frequently overlooked metropolitan wonderland. But what about its public transportation?

How can a city with such great amenities and the seat of federal government not have reliable public transportation? Let’s uncover your options if you visit the city without your car.

Washington D.C. MetroRail

WMATA_Metrorail

Washington Light Rail provides reliable, safe, and clean transport service to more than 500,000 people throughout Washington, DC. 

Serving in 91 stations, including the stations outside of the District of Columbia (in both Maryland and Virginia, for example), MetroRail is the second busiest transport system in the entire United States. 

Further, it has six coded rail lines: Green, Red, Blue, Orange, Silver, and Yellow. It is possible to travel between any two stations with only one transfer, thanks to the system’s ingenious layout.

To travel via light rail, you need to purchase a fare. You can easily get one from rail stations, select retailers, or online from the comfort of your home.  Prices vary based on the type of service, the ride’s length, and the time of day. Still, a single fare won’t cost you more than $3. $3!!!

You can also purchase 3-day, 7-day, or monthly passes for $28, $58, and $72-$216 (monthly passes have varying rates based on your desired destinations), respectively. 

While I started this section to talk about MetroRail in DC proper, what about Washington D.C. public transportation from the airport? 

Fortunately, you can catch MetroRail to and from Dulles International Airport, as well as Baltimore/Washington International Marshall Airport and Reagan National Airport.  Aside from MetroRail, other railroad options include Amtrak, DC Streetcar, and Commuter rail. 

Bus

Metro Bus Washington

No car? No problem! Taking the Metrobus around Washington D.C. is a smooth, safe, cheap, and clean way to get around. 

Metropolitan bus lines consist of 176 bus routes and 3133 bus shelters and serve 12,301 stops. So, besides serving Washington D.C., it extends to the inner ring of suburban counties. The Metrobus service has recently adjusted to specified routes throughout Maryland, Virginia, and DC.

While Metrobus is the most well-known bus service in the city, other options include Ourbus, Intercity buses, and the Washington D.C. Deluxe. 

Cabs

Taxi Driving on Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC
spiritofamerica / Adobe Stock

Not sure how to get to your desired location? Just stand near the edge of the road and hold up your hand when you see a taxi.

If you see a taxi heading in the opposite direction, you can still try your luck to see if it stops. Most cabs in Washington, D.C. display a light on the roof to tell whether or not they are available. Lights on means it’s available.

If you’re facing a problem hailing a taxi, think like a hunter and consider going to a crowded place where cabbies will be looking for fares. For instance, try the busier areas outside the Union Mall, around the National Mall, or the front of hotels are popular attractions, and you’ll perhaps get a cab there.

The metered prices include $2.16 for every mile traveled and a $3.25 flag drop rate. Let’s take a quick look at the surcharges:

  • $2 for phone dispatch
  • $1 for up to four additional passengers after the first
  • $1.50 for dismissing the cab after its arrival

And there’s great news if you travel with young kids: children under six ride for free!

Carriage Rides

Getting on a carriage ride is an excellent option if you wish to see the city at a slow pace. Also, who doesn’t enjoy the leisurely clip-clopping of a carriage ride?

While people mostly book them for special events (weddings, birthdays, proms), you can reserve one if you want to take a short tour around Washington D.C. 

Carriage rides are the way to go for equestrians and horse fans. Nevertheless, this transport system has a few downsides. For instance, certain weather conditions, such as heavy rain or windstorms, can substantially hinder your travel plans. The fee, compared to other options, is also pretty steep.

See Related: Best Museums in Washington, D.C. for Kids

Do You Need to Rent a Car in Washington D.C.? 

While local public transport in DC is pretty reliable, if you feel anxious in crowds, are concerned with social distancing, hate walking, have young kids, prefer independence, or want to avoid the city’s hustle and bustle, you can always rent a car

Especially if you’re traveling with children, renting a car is more convenient. If you go online, you’ll find various rental car options in DC; some can be costly. Therefore, be wise in your decision-making and choose the right rental car deal.

Renting a car with Rentalcars.com is particularly easy because you get to set the date, time, and desired location, and the driver can drop it off at your lodgings within a few minutes. 

See Related: Things to Do in Baltimore

Do You Have Other Options to Get Around Washington D.C., Without a Car? 

Washington Without a car

Visiting DC with your family sounds like the potential for fun, but do you need a car in Washington, D.C.? It depends on how you wish to explore Washington, D.C., and if you want to go further afield. 

Some tourists prefer quick, independent transportation to their destination, while others like to take slow, steady strolls and become immersed in the city’s vibe. If you belong to the latter group, we have a handful of options for you. 

Bike

Capital Bikeshare Bikes in Washington, DC
MelissaMN / Adobe Stock

Do you know Washington D.C. was named the Nation’s number one “Bicycle Friendly State” by the League of American Bicyclists? A great reason to get peddling!

You’ll find plenty of bicycle routes throughout the city, and the generally peaceful streets will add to your pleasure of exploring DC. 

If you’re a social butterfly and want to jive with local cyclists, you can take the Centennial, Interurban, or Olympic Discovery trails, which are very popular with local cyclists. Further, you can join any bicycling club to participate in exciting biking events. 

However, if you are an introvert and prefer to be alone, ride at East Potomac Park, Mount Vernon Trail, or Holmes Run Trail and enjoy the tranquility. 

Electric Scooters

Head out to DC in style with absolutely chic electric scooters. If you’re on vacation, scooters can be a fun way to roam around the city and relieve your misspent youth! Also, it’s the best way to get around the city when the weather is fine. 

Nevertheless, there are a few downsides to these scooters. First, you cannot leave the company area from where you rented the scooter. Second, you must wear a helmet per city ordinances. 

You can always buy your electric scooter and roam the streets without worrying about straying from the service area! 

By Foot

Man, with all these options I’ve presented so far, I’m undermining the pleasant experience of walking through DC on foot! From Great Falls Park to the Washington Monument to the View of DC in the CEB Building, Washington D.C. has so much to offer to the people who prefer to take a stroll.

However, a stroll is only worthwhile if you know where to go; otherwise, you might get exhausted or lost outside the thoughtfully laid-out downtown grid.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to ensure you have good roaming data and an internet connection to check out Google Maps quickly on your mobile phone.  

See Related: Day Trips from Washington D.C. by Train

Exploring Washington D.C. Without a Car: Is It Possible?

White House Washington D.C.

Yes, exploring Washington D.C., without a car is possible. If you have an eye for art, a love of history, a penchant for politics, or a passion for sightseeing, we have a few fantastic options for you that are easy to reach. So, without further ado, let’s look at the top places to visit in DC without a car! 

The White House

Tourists at the White House under a cloudy sky with view of the Washington Monument
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Let’s start with the most obvious one. The sitting President and the First family of the US live and work in the White House. Nevertheless, it’s a people’s place, and every citizen feels a sense of belonging. 

If public tours pique your interest, you can book a tour to the White House. However, note that you must book the tour a month in advance through your Member of Congress.

International visitors will have to go through their home countries’ embassies. Also, remember that the White House tours can get canceled at the last minute for any (or no) reason, so make sure you have other places to visit in your mind. 

Taking a tour of the White House is free, meaning you’ve got extra spending money to splurge around DC!

The Tidal Basin

Cherry Blossom

If you want to feel a sense of serenity and tranquility, take a slow walk around the Tidal basin—the beautiful cherry blossoms in spring call out to nature lovers and outdoorsmen alike. The Basin itself is about 10ft deep.

It covers 107 acres, the most enchanting feature being the cherry above trees surrounding the Tidal Basin, which perfectly complements the area’s outstanding beauty.  Bring a picnic, book, camera, take a deep breath, and enjoy a few moments of relaxation at the Tidal Basin.

The Smithsonian Castle 

Smithsonian Castle

Located near the National Mall in Washington D.C., the castle is known for its towers and ornate architecture. Also, it offers an eclectic experience to its visitors. 

The castle is not limited to history or architecture buffs; people who enjoy dining in, special events, and rotating exhibitions will also be pleased with what the castle has to offer over a year. 

Furthermore, it has an extensive library for lit lovers. If you plan to visit this place, make sure you check the official site to check events and exhibits being held, as well as hours of operation.

Hall of Moses

Hall of Moses is the way to go if you enjoy hiking, and the lush green trees appeal to you! It’s free, accessible, and can be visited without a vehicle. It’s one of those places where you cannot go by car. Aside from having little room for them, cars would kill the site’s essence. 

You need to get to Hoh Valley Road and proceed to the trailhead. Make sure you visit this place with a couple of friends, as it’ll make the experience more thrilling and exciting. It’s also a great place for cheap but soulful and romantic dates!

FAQs

Is it easy to get around DC without a car?

Yes, it is easy to get around DC without a car. The city has an extensive public transportation system consisting of buses, trains, and metro lines that cover most of the city. Additionally, the city is bike-friendly, with bike lanes and bike-sharing programs available for those who prefer to travel on two wheels.

Is it expensive to have a car in DC?

Yes, it is generally expensive to have a car in DC. This is due to the city’s high cost of parking, gas, and insurance. Additionally, DC has a robust public transportation system, so owning a car may not be necessary for many residents.

Is it better to drive or take public transportation in DC?

Driving or taking public transportation in DC depends on various factors such as time, cost, and convenience. Generally, public transportation is more efficient and cost-effective, especially during peak hours when traffic congestion is high. Driving may be more convenient if you need to travel to remote areas or carry heavy luggage.

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