Washington: Need to Know

City Basics

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Arriving. You don't need to rent a car, especially if you fly into Reagan National Airport. You can take the Metro (yellow or blue line) into the city or a 15-minute taxi ride for about $20. Dulles International Airport is about 25 miles away in the suburbs of Virginia. A cab costs about $50 or you can take the much cheaper Washington Flyer bus. You can also take a bus 25 minutes to the nearest Metro station, which is West Falls Church on the orange line (click here for directions); it will take you directly downtown to the Metro Center station, where you can switch to the red or blue line.

Getting Around. The best way to get around D.C. is by walking or taking the Metro. The Metro is safe, clean and relatively straightforward. Just make sure you hold onto your ticket; you'll need it to get out of the station at the other end of your journey. Also, don't eat in the subway system or you may get fined. (Like I said, not a fun city.) Avoid driving unless you really need to. The city's diagonal avenues and swirling traffic circles, not to mention some of the worst traffic in the nation, can be taxing.

Taxis. Taxis are relatively inexpensive (they cost a little more here than in New York City) and easy to hail in most places that tourists frequent. Since the city finally replaced its archaic zone-fare system with proper meters in 2008, they've also become much more user friendly.

Biking. D.C. and northern Virginia just across the river have extensive bike paths, and the small size of the city makes the bicycle a good option for getting around. Just make sure you lock your bike with a good lock — and avoid the traffic circles at all costs. For good info on where to rent bikes and where to ride, check out Bike Washington. Better Bikes Inc. (202-293-2080) delivers and picks up rental bicycles.

Navigation. D.C. is divided into four quadrants: Northwest, Northeast, Southwest and Southeast. Most tourist destinations are in Northwest, even though the majority of the population resides in the rest of the city. It's important to pay attention to the quadrant of places you'd like to go — look for the NW, NE, SW or SE at the end of each street address — or you could end up on the right road, but miles away from where you intended to be.

Tipping. As in most major U.S. cities, the standard tip in restaurants is 15% to 20%. In taxis, most people round up and add a dollar. Tip a dollar per drink at bars and a dollar per bag for bellboys and porters.

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