Traveling to DC
Reagan National, (also known to some locals as simply “National”, or by its airport code, DCA), is the airport closest to the city proper, located right across the river in Arlington.
- 10 minute drive to DC
- Accessible by Metro (the subway). You can get to DC for just the cost of the metro fare (more on the Metro below)
- Challenge Finding Flights. Smallest of the three airports, so while it might be the most convenient location wise, it may end up being difficult to find good flights (it’s limited in the amount of flights and distance it can serve)
- Lacks a customs facility (International attendees beware). If you’re coming from abroad (except for a few pre-cleared Canadian routes), you’ll have to either layover elsewhere in the US first or fly to another airport.
- Portals A’Plenty! If you fly in or out of Reagan National, try to make enough time to tackle the string of portals inside of it
- A lot of the Arrivals/Departures screens are portals themselves, as well as most of the artwork in the main concourse and the metro station itself
- Also check for missions while at the airport
Also known as Thurgood Marshall, or Baltimore Washington Airport, but mostly by the BWI airport code initials. As the name might imply, BWI is located in Maryland, and as the crow flies, closer to Baltimore than to DC.
- 45 minute drive to DC
- Accessible by commuter rail and Amtrak. While it’s pretty far out, there is a Northeast Corridor train station station right in BWI (you have to take a free shuttle bus from baggage claim to the Amtrak/MARC station) that takes you to Union Station in DC. This makes it the second airport that’s most easily accessed by mass transit in DC. There’s two options there:
- MARC (Maryland Area Regional Commuter) is a state-run commuter train line that runs between Baltimore and DC, and it stops at BWI on the route. Tickets between BWI and Union Station in DC are $7, and can be bought at kiosks in the train station. They do not run all day long, and have a limited schedule on weekends. For more info, check: https://mta.maryland.gov/marc-train.
- Amtrak, is the national passenger railroad system, and one of its stops in the Northeast route between Boston and DC is BWI. The cost for this, depending on time of day and type of train (if the regular Northeast Regional or the poshier and faster Acela), can vary anywhere from less than $20 to nearly $50. Keep in mind that the last Amtrak train that leaves from BWI to Union Station is at 12:53 AM, and the first one is at 6:25 AM (as of June 2017). For more info, www.amtrak.com.
- Cheaper flights (sort of)
- BWI is an international airport and offers flights from Southwest, Spirit, Frontier, etc., and doesn’t have the same flight and size limitations that National has.
- Keep in mind, when buying a plane ticket to BWI, you should factor in the cost of the train into/out of DC, or if you prefer to go that route, of the Uber/Lyft (which is around $50 give or take). A “cheaper” ticket to BWI may end up being more expensive than the DCA one once you factor in the costs of getting into the city.
Dulles, or IAD, is the third great DC area airport and it’s located in Fairfax County in Northern Virginia.
- 45 minute drive to DC
- Not so accessible for mass transit. There aren’t actually easy ways to access Dulles that aren’t by car. The way you get to Dulles by mass transit, is that you take the Metro’s Silver Line all the way to its far terminus, the Wiehle-Reston East station. There, you board the Silver Line Express bus ($5.00 cash or credit card) which will take you to the airport, or vice versa, from the airport to the metro station. That bus takes 15 minutes. For more info, http://www.flydulles.com/iad/silver-line-express-bus-metrorail-station. Alternatively, Uber and Lyft both service the airport, but the fare may be pretty expensive (upwards of $50-70).
- Lots of flights! Dulles is an international airport, so if you’re trying to find a direct flight, Dulles, like BWI, is an option.
- It’s BIG. Dulles is pretty massive in size and the distance you have to walk from the curbside to your gate, so when you’re flying out of there, plan accordingly and give yourself plenty of time – more so if you have any mobility-related disabilities.
Washington DC is directly on Route 95, which services the entire Eastern Seaboard. This places it within driving distance of the entire East Coast, although you may want to allow for two days if you’re coming from Maine or Florida. 95 does have bridge tolls and other fares along the way, so make sure you research your route specifically to find the best options. Often, cutting through parts of other states or around big cities can not only save you on sitting in traffic, but also with tolls, and provide good scenery as well!
Amtrak / Rail
Union Station is a major transportation hub for the entire DC area. Whether you’re coming by MARC or AMTRAK, you’re almost certainly going to pass through this hub. From Union Station, you can hit all points in the entire DC region, with regional rail, metro, bus, and more are all here.
Check out Amtrak.com for deals and details for coming to DC by train. You’ll arrive at Union Station, in the heart of the city, and be able to reach just about any hotel from there easily. Amtrak routes do increase in price the closer we get to the anomaly, so book early! Although the tickets aren’t cheap, the parking and toll fees alone may end up making up for it in the long run!
If you’re coming from points in Maryland, MARC is defiantly an option worth looking into. Although it’s primarily a commuter service, it can be used inexpensively to get into DC from almost all points in Central MD. Their service extends from Perryville, in Hartford County, all the way west to Martinsburg, WV, and all points in the Montgomery County, Baltimore, and Frederick areas. Check out their website for details.
If you’re wondering how to avoid driving, and do DC on the cheap, an inexpensive bus option may be just what you’re looking for! Check out Greyhound, BoltBus, and MegaBus. Compare these fares with Amtrak, if you’re considering this.
Transit around DC