Detours with locals.
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Visiting Washington, D.C.? Here are 5 tips for riding the Metro like a local.

Public transportation can be an efficient and inexpensive way to navigate an unfamiliar place. Washington, D.C. is easy to explore by its system, whose trains are called the Metro (formally: Metrorail, part of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority).

Many tourists will be coming by train through the Union Station stop or flying into Reagan National Airport, which is directly on a Metro line and only a few miles from downtown. The author of By The Way’s Washington City Guide, Austin Graff, showed us how to get from the airport stop to Union Station.

The Metro connects all four quadrants of the District of Columbia and travels to the Virginia and Maryland suburbs. The adventure doesn’t stop at the Mall or the historical monuments — many of the residential neighborhoods in the Washington area are full of surprises. Using the train system confidently is a great way to start exploring. Here are tips to keep in mind.



This isn’t New York, and you aren’t riding the “subway” or, to some people, even the “train.” If you want to blend in with D.C. residents, the best way to refer to Washington’s transit system is to call it by name: "the Metro.”



For those who can reach, check on top of the SmartTrip farecard-dispenser stations before purchasing a card, because sometimes riders leave extras there. This can save you at least $2 — the price of the card — and you may even get lucky with a remaining balance. Tap the card at the machine to add more value.



Every station has a map of the rail lines, which Metro codes by color, and stops. Even locals read this map, so don’t be embarrassed if you need to stop and study it.



Improper escalator etiquette is a source of stress to commuting Washingtonians. We live by the unofficial “esca-lefting” guidelines to escalators — stand on the right, and walk on the left — to keep the flow of traffic moving. If someone is huffing and puffing behind you, this may be why.



For even more efficiency, keep your SmarTrip card in your right hand; you’ll be even readier to swipe at the exit gates when leaving each station — perhaps on your way to exploring.

Read more:

A local’s guide to Washington, D.C.

How airplane food goes from the kitchen to your flight

How to stay healthy while traveling during the holidays