Washington, D.C. is, in general, a walkable city, with a significant caveat regarding weather. In July, it is likely to be very hot and humid (90+ degrees Fahrenheit and 90% humidity). Thunderstorms are frequent in summer and it is a good idea to carry an umbrella or rain poncho. In 2021, there will also be a chance of cicadas, though they are supposed to be gone by mid to late June. They are harmless, but some people find their singing, which can reach over 80 decibels, to be annoying.
The basic layout of the city is in four quadrants, separated by two imaginary lines, running east-west and north-south through the U.S. Capitol building. Most visitors will spend almost all of their time in northwest (NW), but there are some places of interest in each quadrant. At any rate, it is always important to know what quadrant something is in to avoid going far out of your way. Numbered streets run north-south with numbers starting from the Capitol, while letter streets run east-west. with A Street being closest to the Capitol. After running out of letters, the east-west streets use two syllable words (e.g. Euclid, Fairmont, etc.) and then three syllable names (Albemarle, Brandywine, ….) Streets named after each U.S. state overlay this grid and run diagonally. There are also circles, to complicate things. And there are numerous exceptions, but these basics should keep you from getting too lost.
Specifically for WashingCon, the con hotel is the Westin Washington DC City Center, which is at 1400 M Street NW. I will leave out the NW part in these directions. As the address implies, the hotel is on M Street between 14th St and 15th St. To complicate things, 14th St meets Vermont Ave at Thomas Circle, just east of the hotel and Massachusetts Ave crosses through Thomas Circle just north of M St. In practical terms, this means that you may have to walk around part of Thomas Circle to get to various destinations.
The Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) operates MetroRail and MetroBus. There are a number of other transit systems in the region, but the only one of those of much interest to most visitors is the DC Circulator, which operates several useful bus routes, including service to/from Union Station and a route that circles the National Mall and Tidal Basin.
You need a SmarTrip card to ride MetroRail. You can order a card from the WMATA website and get it in about 5 days, but it is probably just as easy to buy one when you arrive. They’re sold at the fare machines at every MetroRail station, which is convenient to do when you arrive. They are also sold at Giant Food stores and Walmart. SmarTrip cards cost $2 plus however much money you want to put onto them, There is also an option to download an app that lets you use Apple Wallet on an iPhone or Apple Watch.
You can pay bus fares (MetroBus, Circulator, and various other regional systems) in cash or using a SmarTrip card. Paying with the SmarTrip card gets you free transfers for 2 hours and provides discounts on transferring between bus and rail.
Bus fares are $1 on Circulator buses and $2 on regular Mettrobus routes. There are express routes that cost $4.25 and an airport express route (about which more below) that costs $7.50. MetroRail fares vary by distance and time of day. You can look up specific fares on the WMATA website. They are also posted at every station. Peak fares (5 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday) range from $2.25 to $6.00, while off-peak fares (all other hours) range from $2.00 to $3.85.
MetroRail currently opens at 5 a.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. on Saturday, and 8 a.m. on Sunday and closes at 11 p.m. every day. MetroBus hours vary by route. Most Circulator routes run from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends. There is also a National Mall route which runs from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays ad 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends.
You can buy 1-day, 3-day, or 7-day passes, that you can put on your SmarTrip card and may save you money if you plan on lots of travel. For example, a 3-day unlimited pass (which includes both peak and off-peak travel) costs $28.
Details for Getting to the Westin:
There are three airports that serve the Washington DC region. The closest to the city itself is Ronald Reagan National Airport (usually called just National by people who’ve lived here for a long time) or DCA. This is the best option for many people. There is a MetroRail station right at the airport. Just take the Blue Line train to McPherson Square. The fare is $2.40 off-peak and $2.75 peak.
Longer distance flights are more likely to arrive at Dulles International Airport or IAD. MetroRail might reach IAD by 2022, which is of no use right now. So you need to take a bus to get from the airport to a metro station. The easier option is to take the Silver Line Express ($5 one way, purchased at their booth at the airport) which will drop you at Wiehle - Reston East, from which you can take the Silver Line train to McPherson Square. Off-peak fare is $3.85 and peak fare is $6.00. You can save a little money by taking the Fairfax Connector route 981 or 983 between IAD and Wiehe-Reston East, which is only $2, but is much slower. There is also the option of taking MetroBus 5A to Rosslyn and taking MetroRail from there to McPherson Square, but the 5A costs $7.50 and you still have to pay a $2.25 peak or $2 off-peak rail fare, so it is unlikely to be worth it.
When you arrive at McPherson Square, exit the station via the Vermont Avenue / White House exit. At the top of the escalator make a U-turn and cross I Street. You should see McPherson Square in front of you. Walk along the west side of the square up 15th Street and continue three blocks to M Street. Then turn right and you will be at the hotel.
The third airport is Baltimore Washington International or BWI. You need to take a shuttle bus from the terminal to the BWI rail station and then a train to Union Station in Washington. Amtrak saver fares are $5 but could be sold out, requiring fares as high as $35, though $11 would be more likely. MARC commuter trains ($7) are an option on weekdays, but are slower as they will make several stops. It is also possible to get off the train at New Carrollton (Maryland) and get the MetroRail Orange Line there, but this will be both slower and more expensive overall.
People coming from Philadelphia or New York or even Boston may wish to arrive via Amtrak, which will get them to Union Station.
To get to the hotel from Union Station, take the Union Station to Georgetown Circulator bus. The bus stop is normally on the bus level of the parking garage (accessible from the mezzanine level of the station but, due to construction, has been temporarily relocated to picking up on H Street NE, outside the parking garage. Get off the bus at K St NW / 14th St. Walk back on K St NW to 14th St, then north on 14th St to M Street and turn left. (Just before that turn, you will find yourself on Vermont Ave. Don’t panic - that’s where you want to be.)
A taxi from Union Station to the Westin would cost roughly $15. Figure on $20 from DCA, at least $80 from IAD, and $125 from BWI. Uber and Lyft are also available.
Other Transit Options:
Washington DC has an extensive bikeshare system. Capital Bikeshare costs $2 (payable by credit card or their app) for a half hour rental. A 24 hour pass costs $8 and allows unlimited 30-minute rides. See their website for more details and suggested routes to ride.
There are a number of other companies (e.g. Uber, Lime, and Bird) offering app-based bikes and scooters. However, many of those are problematic because they allow riders to just leave the bike or scooter in th middle of a sidewalk when they’re done with it. Capital Bikeshare kiosks ae less hostile to pedestrians.
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