With everything so close in DC and parking costs the highest in the nation is no wonder, everyone tells you to not rent a car when you visit. But your first time walking between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, you’ll soon find that things are not as close as they seem.
Just because you don’t have a car, doesn’t mean you are stuck walking the whole time. The best way to get around Washington DC on a budget using a variety of different methods of public transportation.
Best way to get around Washington DC on a Budget
The Capital BikeShare
The Capital Bikeshare program is a great way to get around Washington DC the city on shorter trips. Utilizing a docking system that is completely self-service, users can pick up a bike whenever they want at a bunch of different locations throughout the city.
It costs $1 + $.05 a minute or $8 for unlimited rides in 24hrs. To put it in perspectie, a 20 minute bike ride would cost out $2.
It is all done through an app on your phone, or credit card at a kiosk. You can also pay an annual rate that averages out to $7.92 a month.
To get the bike, you’ll use your credit card at the pay station. Once you’ve gone through all the terms and conditions and liability disclaimers, you’ll receive a passcode to unlock any of the bikes.
When you get to your destination, find another docking station and park your bike. Bike rentals are everywhere, so you are bound to find one within a few blocks of your destination.
What if I want to bike for longer?
Here is where things get interesting. If you are using the my minute rental, don’t worry.
If you have the daily rate, you are limited to 45 minute rides. From personal experience, this should be plenty of time. But lets just say that you need more time. Find the nearest dock, return it and enter your code again.
Looking to bike a little longer? Grab a bike from Bike and Roll DC. They start at $16 for a 2-hour ride.
Do I need a Helmet?
If you are under 16, the law requires you wear a helmet in Washington DC. If you are 16 and over, it’s optional. Wearing a helmet is a personal choice.
When you are in a town that you are unfamiliar with and on the streets, I recommend wearing one. Unfortunately, you’ll have to bring your own from home.
If you rent a bike through a traditional rental company, like Bike and Roll DC, they include a helmet.
The other option is to buy one when you get there, but that cuts into valuable sightseeing time. When you get to your destination, throw it in a backpack and move along.
Where can you not take a helmet in DC?
There are two places where you cannot bring a backpack into. The White House and the Senate Gallery. The Senate has a place to store your backpack. The White House doesn’t.
It’s best to either skip the helmet or walk to it if you are visiting these locations. Otherwise, bring a small bag with you to store your helmet.
Doing a White House Tour? Check out these tips for snagging tickets and all the info on what you can and cannot bring in. The White House Tour Experience: All the Details You Need Before Visiting
Where to bike in DC – Where you can and cannot go?
Washington DC is very bike-friendly. They are one of the first cities to start offering a bike-share program. There are bike lanes on many of the major roads.
Normally I like to use sidewalks whenever I bike, but in DC’s case, there is a section of the city that doesn’t allow bikes on the sidewalks. I found this rule was more for locals.
We did ask one of the police officers about it and he said: “As long as you don’t hit anyone, feel free to use the sidewalks”.
If there is a bike lane, or if the sidewalks are congested, use the road. I ran into this a few times. Otherwise, feel free to use sidewalks!
When in doubt go on the preferred bike-friendly route, grab your phone and get on Google Maps. Select the bike icon and they will give you the best possible route.
Can you bike at night?
Yes, the capital bikes are available at night and equipped with lights on the front of the bikes. I recommend staying in the cities.
We ended up using them on our nighttime ride of DC’s Nighttime Monuments tour. It was phenomenal.
How easy is it to use?
The bike system is slick. But we did run into a few issues along the way. First, download the Capital Bikeshare App!
It lets you know where every dock is and will help you plan out your route, just like google maps. It also tells you if bikes are available and if there is a free spot to dock your bike when you get there.
The fill levels were spotty because of the demand. At 9 pm at night, anywhere near the Washington Monument, there were no bikes.
Even if there were when we checked the app, by the time we got there, people were already grabbing them.
The second problem we faced was that not all the bikes would release. If it had a red light on the bike’s keypad, it was out of service. But others without the light would not release either. During the day, it was a lot easier to get bikes.
You can rent up to 2 bikes with the same credit card. When you get your bike, you’ll be given a code to unlock it. If you are getting two bikes, they will both use the same code.
You cannot unlock the two bikes using the same code at the same time. Have one person unlock the bike, wait one minute and have the other bike release. Otherwise, it will lock upon you and you’ll have to wait another minute.
DC Scooter Rentals
There were multiple companies renting electric scooters. These things go fast and are a great way to zip around the city. Scooters are a good alternative to those that may not be comfortable biking or would like to not use as much energy getting from point A to B.
Renting a Scooter
Before you can rent a scooter, you must get the app for the appropriate scooter. Scan the scooter’s barcode or enter the code located on the scooter and then start riding!
There are multiple companies renting and each uses its own app. You’ll see them everywhere and I mean everywhere.
One over there, one in the middle of the sidewalk… and then a group of 10 over by a monument.
Most of the apps will show exactly where they all are. When you are done with the scooter, just drop it and go. There is no need to doc it.
This makes it easier to get around. But at the same time makes them harder to find one, or two if you are traveling together.
Here are the companies I saw renting. You may want to download their apps before going.
Each scooter company is a little different but the average cost to ride is $1.00 per ride + $0.15 a minute. The cost can add up. A single 30-minute ride on a Capitol Share Bike is $2. A scooter would cost you $5.50.
I was walking by someone who was complaining that it took her 15 minutes just to get the thing to work. So if you are unfamiliar with riding one, it may cost you a little more initially.
They can be dangerous. Trust ME! I saw multiple people running off them trying to stop. One businessman dropped his briefcase, scooter and he fell flat on his face. The police, pedestrians, and others hate them!
The Metro Train
The metro is a cost-effective way to get into the Mall. Once you are in the Mall area, it is not as helpful. The best way to utilize the bus is to get to some of the sights on the outskirts, like Arlington National Cemetary or the Zoo.
Arlington National Cemetary has a station within walking distance from the entrance. The zoo’s closest station is about .7 miles away. But in DC miles, that’s nothing.
Before deciding to use the Metro over walking from point A to point B, do a quick google maps calculation. Sometimes it will take as much distance to detour to the train as it would be to walk to the destination.
The Circulator Bus
When all else fails, use the bus. The great thing about the Circulator is that it’s currently $1 for a ride, kids 5 and under are free.
Exact change is required, and they take cash or coin. You can also get a CommuterDirect.com card to pay online.
The bus has multiple loops, including around the Mall! Every 10 minutes it stops at all the popular spots in DC, including all the Smithsonian’s.
Consider a hop on hop off bus tour. This lets you explore the city at your own pace without worrying about schedules, apps, or peddle power. The Big Bus Washington DC hop-on hop-off bus tour has 9 city-wide stops along four different routes.
Uber and Lyft
Using rideshare programs like Uber and Lyft is amazing. A lot of people use it as their primary method of transportation. I preferred to use this as a last resort at the end of the day.
When it’s HOT and you can’t bike for another minute, get an Uber. In all honesty, I logged anywhere from 10-12 miles of walking each day, so when you get the opportunity to get in an air-conditioned car at the end of the day, you go for it.
We were staying at the JW Marriot in DC, a few blocks from the White House. The largest fair was paid $15.
The Best Way To Get Around Washington DC
There is not a single best way to get around Washington DC. Depending on your situation, a mix of everything is so much fun.
The best part about DC was that you never have to go far to find a great neighborhood or something fun to do and it’s easy to get around Washington DC on a budget. Just keep your eyes open!