Destination D.C.: Finding Your Way and Enjoying All the City Has to Offer

March 07, 2019

By Laurel Brooks and Michelle Morris

Metrorail station in D.C.Every year Washington, D.C. welcomes 22 million visitors who join with the city’s 600,000 residents to indulge in all the charms this city holds. With so many people and so much to see, it’s no surprise that there are numerous ways you can get in, out, and around the D.C. metropolitan area. We aren’t the number one best city for public transportation in America for nothing.

Getting to Washington, D.C.

By Air

There are three major airports that serve the Washington metropolitan area - Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI), Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA), and Dulles International Airport (IAD).

Officially known as Ronald Reagan National Airport, locally known as simply “National” for those who remember its previous name, this airport is located in Arlington, Virginia, just outside of D.C. This airport connects to Metrorail’s blue and yellow lines and is right next to Crystal City, the future site of Amazon’s HQ 2. There are many hotels conveniently located near the airport, and this area is not bad if you want or need to shop, namely Crystal City Shops and The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, just to name a few.

At nine miles south of downtown Baltimore and 32 miles north of D.C., BWI is the busiest airport in the region! No need to fret, as the airport still keeps things running, with many transit options readily available. They offer a shuttle to and from the MARC/Amtrak train station and also have a large rental car facility featuring all the top providers. The MARC train in particular will take you right into Union Station in the heart of D.C. If you have time before or after NAFSA 2019, definitely take some time to visit Baltimore, which hosts a national aquarium, zoo, and many museums.

Dulles Airport (IAD) offers more inbound overseas flights than any other airport in the region. It may be the furthest airport from D.C. but is still accessible. You can take the non-stop Silver Line Express bus to and from the Wiehle Avenue Metro station (on Metrorail’s silver line), which is only a 15-minute trip! Adjacent to the airport is also the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the other branch to the National Air and Space Museum. It’s a must-see for those who love space and aviation, and houses the Space Shuttle Discovery, among other attractions.

By Land

Amtrak serves the D.C. metropolitan area, coming into Union Station. This historic station first opened in 1907 and is honestly a beautiful first-entrance into Washington. Shops, a food court, and money exchange is available for you when you arrive and when you exit the station there is a taxi stand. Feel free to return during your stay in the city, as many tours leave from the station, offering sightseeing and entertainment.

Getting Around D.C.

Traveling within D.C. is a breeze. The Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority - colloquially known as WMATA (wah-mah-tah) - administers the Metrorail and Metrobus lines that extend into southern Maryland and northern Virginia. In 2015, WMATA eliminated paper farecards and introduced the SmarTrip card - a permanent, rechargeable card you can use for both services. You can order your SmarTrip card online or purchase one at any Metrorail station.

The weather in May is a dream! You are sure to want to go for a spin using one of D.C.’s bikeshares. The city has been recognized as one of the best bike cities in America. Not only has the city invested heavily in improving infrastructure for cyclists, they have adopted schemes aimed toward ensuring every child in the district learns how to ride by second grade. Check out our docked (Capital Bikeshare) and dockless (Jump DC, Limebike, or Spin) options.

In D.C., sharing is caring...and lucrative! Rideshare options like Uber, Lyft, and Via can take you all over the city and beyond. Ridesharing is a great way to save on parking, which can get pretty expensive. If you do plan on bringing your own vehicle, however, you might want to download the Parkmobile app, which allows users to pay for parking meters and reserve spaces in advance from their phone.

Things to Do in D.C.

If tourists could sum up their experience in D.C in three words it would be: monuments, memorials, and museums. As residents, we know that this city has so much more to offer and...we’ll be getting into that in our next post! For now, those of you who might not be familiar with D.C. will be interested in hitting all of these eight historical hotspots:

Washington Monument
Constructed in two separate phases, the monument as you know it was completed in 1884 and named after America’s first president George Washington. The tower stands as a testament to his legacy, located in the middle of the National Mall.

Lincoln Memorial
Fondly remembered as “Honest Abe,” America’s 16th president left behind an enormous legacy that cannot be contained in the 99-foot memorial made in his honor. The Lincoln Memorial is a beautiful structure that stands across from the Reflecting Pool on the west end of the National Mall.

Jefferson Memorial
This memorial sits on the Tidal Basin near the world-famous cherry blossoms and features a 19-foot-tall statue of the third U.S. president and writer of the Declaration of Independence. The walls of the monument contain words of his various texts and the gaze of his statue faces the White House. It’s open 24 hours a day, so also take a chance to see it at night!

White House
The seat of the executive branch of American government occupied by every president since John Adams, the White House is a visit every newcomer to D.C. should make at least once. To tour the White House, you will need to set up a reservation well in advance. U.S. citizens may submit public tour requests through their member of Congress, while foreign citizens may contact their embassy in D.C. for assistance in submitting their request.

National Mall
The most visited national park in America is a 1.9-mile strip of land in the heart of D.C. The best the city has to offer for visitors can be found here, as many museums border the lawn, such as the National Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum. Many memorials are adjacent to the Mall as well, such as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, and World War II Memorial, just to name a few.

Smithsonian Museums
The Smithsonian Institute comprises all 11 museums and galleries located on the National Mall, as well as six others, including the National Zoo. Admission is free for all locations.

National Zoo
Founded in 1889, the Smithsonian's National Zoo is home to 2,700 animals representing more than 390 species. The zoo has a ton of unique special events, is open all year round, and offers free admission!

Library of Congress
The world’s largest library offers free hour-long guided tours of the Jefferson Building on a first-come, first-served basis without prior reservations. Additionally, the library has a selection of exhibitions, concerts, lectures, and reading rooms to check out.


Laurel BrooksLaurel Brooks is the program coordinator for the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Program at Howard University and Local Arrangements Team (LAT) communications co-chair for the NAFSA 2019 Annual Conference & Expo.

Michelle MorrisMichelle Morris is the program coordinator for the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center at Howard University (@HUBuncheCenter) and Local Arrangements Team (LAT) communications co-chair for the NAFSA 2019 Annual Conference & Expo.


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