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

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

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

Washington D.C., often known as District of Columbia, Washington, or just DC, is the United States’ capital city. 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 it’s possible to explore the city by other means of transportation. 

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.? 

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 if you want 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 has you covered. 

Besides local public transportation, there is a bunch of 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?

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

Washington D.C. 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 do have varying rates based on your desired destinations), respectively. 

While I started this section with the intention of just talking 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. 


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

Metro Bus Washington

Metropolitan bus lines consist of 176 bus routes, 3133 bus shelters and serve 12,301 stops. So, in addition to serving Washington D.C., it extends to the inner ring of suburban counties. 

Do note that 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. 


Not sure how to get to your desired location? Just stand near the edge of the road, and hold up your hand in the air 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 are traveling 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.

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 your independence, or just want to avoid the city’s hustle and bustle, you can always rent a car

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

Renting a car with 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? 

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

Washington Without a car

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. 


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 on your own, take a 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 are not allowed to leave the company area, from where you rented the scooter. Second, you must wear a helmet in accordance with city ordinances. 

You can always buy your own electric scooter and roam the streets without having to worry about straying from the service area! 

By Foot

Man, with all these options I’ve presented so far, I’m really 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 just get exhausted, or lost if you’re outside the thoughtfully laid-out grid of downtown.

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

See Related: Best 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 take a look at the top places to visit in DC without a car! 

The White House

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 need to book the tour about a month in advance through your Member of Congress.

International visitors will have to go through their home countries’ embassies. Also, keep in mind that the White House tours can get canceled at the last minute, for literally 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

If you want to feel a sense of serenity and tranquility, take a slow walk around the Tidal basin. 

Cherry Blossom

The beautiful cherry blossoms in spring call out to nature lovers and outdoorsmen alike. The Basin itself is about 10ft deep and covers 107 acres, the most enchanting feature being the aforementioned cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin, which perfectly complement the outstanding beauty of the area. 

Bring a picnic, bring a book, bring your camera, take a deep breath, and enjoy a few moments of relaxation at the Tidal Basin.

The 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. 

Smithsonian Castle

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 the course of 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

If you enjoy hiking and the lush green trees appeal to you, Hall of Moses is the way to go! It’s free, accessible, and can be visited without a vehicle.

In fact, it’s actually one of those places where you just cannot go by car aside from having little room for them, cars would kill the essence of the site. 

You just 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!

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