Layover: Washington DC (Reagan)

[Today we're launching our Layover series, what will soon become a database of ideas and logistics for your next extended layover. We'll be covering most of the biggest airports in the country and even a few overseas, giving you a great reason to step out instead of staying in during your visit. Check back often over June and July for updates from your favorite layover city.]

One of the best things about Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is its proximity to the city of Washington DC. Land at Reagan at 6PM, and you can be at a bar in Dupont Circle by 6:45. At some airports, it takes that long to get out of the terminal.

Given this virtue and the excellent public transportation connecting to it, DCA is fairly easy to escape — even during a short layover. So if the restaurants and entertainment aren’t enough to tickle your fancy at the new Reagan terminals, step out for a bit and breathe the fresh air of Washington DC. Stick around and we’ll show you a few hot spots to hit while you’re waylaid.

Short Layovers (around 2 hours)

Washington DC’s historic metro is the key to any layover from DCA, the comprehensive network of trains serving (almost) all corners of the city. Fares depend on the distance traveled, but for any layover from DCA one can expect to pay less than $3 for a one way trip. Tickets can be purchased at the airport station, which is easily walkable from any part of Reagan.

DCA is located on the Blue and Yellow lines just south of the city, and you can easily connect to the rest of the city from L’enfant Plaza, Gallery Place or Chinatown. On a shorter layover, however, you don’t want to get too far away form the airport, so it’s best to stick with what’s close.

If you’re the shopping type of person, The Fashion Center at Pentagon City is only one stop away to the north. As one of the largest shopping centers in the city, The Fashion Center has your standard mall brands including Gap and The Body Shop. Sure, you won’t get much unique Washington DC culture, but it’s a great way to kill time and pick up some essentials. Depending on train schedules, it takes about 25 minutes to get from terminal to mall entrance.

For your dose of culture, go two stops further on the blue line to Arlington, where you can visit the graves of fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery and pay your respects. Entry is free.

Long Layovers (4 hours or more)

With the flexibility of four or more hours in your layover, you have enough time to do many of the things in the city that you could in a normal day. It’s best to cross reference a list of what you want to see against what is best accessible on the metro. Obviously, you wont be able to wait in line to visit the top of the Washington Monument or take a tour of the White House, but walking around the Lincoln Memorial, visiting the Smithsonian Museums or getting a drink in Dupont Circle can all be done in plenty of time.

Here’s a quick list of top destinations and their metro stops if you’re reading this from the airport:

  • White House: Farragut West, Blue & Orange
  • Smithsonian Museums: Smithsonian, Blue & Orange
  • Lincoln Memorial: Foggy Bottom, Blue & Orange
  • Holocaust Museum: Smithsonian, Blue & Orange
  • National Archives: Archives, Yellow & Green
  • Jefferson Memorial: Smithsonian, Blue & Orange
  • Vietnam Memorial: Foggy Bottom, Blue & Orange
  • Washington Monument: Smithsonian, Blue & Orange

You can find more hotspots and their respective subway stops over at this handy about.com webpage.

Other Tips

One word of caution about Reagan airport is that security screening can often back up. Make sure you look at the TSA situation on your way out — check to see if there is an elite or first class line, whether things seem to be moving smoothly and whether it’s going to take a while to get through. You don’t want to get to the airport on time but miss your flight while waiting for the x-ray.

Plan your next layover with Gadling’s Layover Guides.