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I plan to drive to Washington, DC, but my understanding is that the Metro is far better than driving for actually getting around downtown DC. First of all, is that assumption correct?

Assuming the Metro is indeed the way I should ultimately get to my downtown destination, how close should I drive before finding a Metro station? Should I stop at the first one on the outskirts in Maryland, or should I keep going into the city a bit? I'm primarily concerned with avoiding traffic if possible as well as generally shortening my travel time. The travel will be occurring during a weekend (4th of July weekend) in case that is relevant. My destination in DC is off the Navy Yard station of the Metro Green Line.

Follow-up: I might have found a last-minute hotel deal downtown. Can I park overnight at the Metro stations that are being suggested?

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    I'm pretty sure you cannot park overnight in a metro lot - but you can on the street. Especially since Sunday and Monday should be free parking (on the metered spots too). Just get in early to find one. – rs79 Jul 1 '11 at 15:11
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I lived in DC/Northern VA area for the past four years. I can tell you riding Metro in the city is the way to go. Traffic in DC is very bad and on top of that the roads can be very very confusing for visitors. The worst part is probably the parking. During prime tourist hours, it's almost impossible to find one.

I don't know which part of Maryland you'll be becoming from. If you're coming from the Red Line (Shade Grove) area, then I recommend driving to the Bethesda station and park there. If you're coming from Red Line (Glenmont) area, I recommend parking at the Silver Spring station.

The stations in the suburbs have parking lots(they charge by the hours, or a maximum of $5ish per day), where as most of the ones inside of DC don't.

If you plan to do some sightseeing in the city, check out the official DC Metro map

Most of the tourist spots are Metro accesible. You can also check out all the metro stations wrt to the tourust spots on Google Map

There are different types of Metro cards you can get.

SmarTrip card: works like a plastic credit card. you can buy these at MD/VA grocery stores. You start with a $20 value, and can add more $ to it later.

I think the best deal for visitors is the One Day Pass. For $9, It is valid for one day of unlimited Metro travel on weekdays after 9:30 a.m. or all day on Saturdays, Sundays.

  • 1
    +1 for this answer. Both suggested stations are near the Beltway, and before the DC area traffic explodes into chaos. – Fomite Jan 5 '12 at 7:40
  • You can also buy SmarTrip cards at stations, too. "You can also purchase a SmarTrip® card at any Metrorail station" (wmata.com/fares/smartrip) – johnVonTrapp Apr 11 at 16:50
  • I know this post is quite old now, but a One Day Pass is now $14.75, which is not much of a bargain for most visitors. Also, inbound traffic on I-270 is heavy as far out as Germantown in the mornings, with stop-and-go conditions that far out even after 9am. Board at Shady Grove; fighting all the way in Bethesda would be a waste. Coming down 95 or 295 to Silver Spring similarly puts you into the most chronically congested part of the Outer Beltway. Far better to park at Greenbelt or New Carrollton. – choster Apr 11 at 20:16
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The commuter lots fill up very early in the morning on work days, and the fill up earlier and earlier as you look at metro stops closer to the city. The closest metro stops don't even have nearby parking. I'd pick one of the end-of-the-line metro stops and arrive early, maybe 8 in the morning.

I remember my first visit to DC where I tried to show up at a leisurely 9 or 10 and there were no spaces at Falls Church. Now a resident of the area, if I was going to do that again I would have tried parking at the Vienna-Fairfax stop.

Traffic on 4th of July is particularly bad even though it is on a weekend. When there is a rally or big even going on, sometimes not only is a tricky to get a parking place in the closer stations, you might have to take the train out to get a spot on a less crowded train going in. This was the case when John Stewart was in town.

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I stay in the district, and if you were to ask any local their opinion about the metro, you'd probably have to cover your children's ears :). With that said, I would recommend riding the metro on special occasions, such as the July 4th fireworks display. For parking, come down (South) Wisconsin Avenue (exit 34 off I-495). Once on Wisconsin Avenue, you will drive across multiple metro stops - starting with the Medical Center, Bethesda, Friendship Heights and AU/Tenleytown. All of these are predominantly residential, with lots of street parking around. And considering these are uptown, away from the craziness, you won't be as overwhelmed with tourists rushing the trains, PLUS the ride will be shorter than the far flung stations. A word about street parking though - the district enforces the meters on Saturdays. Good luck, and enjoy your stay!

EDIT: Just noticed your final destination being on the Green Line - for that I would recommend parking in the Greenbelt lot - I believe that's commuter-only exit 25(?) off the I-95/495.

  • The Greenbelt Metro exit is Exit 24. Exit 25 is US 1 (College Park / Beltsville). – Mike Harris Nov 9 '17 at 14:51
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I lived out by Dulles Airport for about 4 years. If you know when to go, and some alternative routes, you can make it into the city and find parking with relative ease. That being said, 4th of July weekend is unique, and everything goes off the rails. For starters, most of the mall and surrounding streets are closed for the fireworks and events, and the metro will be extremely crowded, especially after the fireworks (see https://www.nps.gov/subjects/nationalmall4th/closures.htm).

Also, because it's a holiday, station parking is a bit different. I can't speak much about the red and green line (most of my knowledge is NoVA Orange and now Silver), but others are correct in that you should not count on overnight parking at the station lots. However, there is usually some parking around the station via street parking or 3rd party parking garage.

Most importantly, if there is no traffic, the metro is slower or similar to driving. Don't just stop at the head of the line to potentially avoid traffic. For example, Wiehle-Reston East to Metro Center via Metro is 45 - 65 minutes. Driving is 30 - 240 minutes. So the metro is a sure thing, but driving can be faster, or it can be way worse. Before the silver line came around, we would drive as far as East Falls Church and take the Orange line the rest of the way in.

Special 4th of July caveat As I said, it's a zoo on the 4th. It's going terrible from every angle. Arm yourself with knowledge of the possible routes, be aware of the parking along it and near your destination, and most importantly of all; in DC, sometimes it's faster to take an extremely convoluted route than straight in.

My advise, go as far in as you can until you hit traffic, and if the beltway has no traffic, get as far south as you can, because that's where you're headed anyway!

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