What is the best airport to fly into to visit Washington, D.C.?
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) is the best airport to fly into to visit Washington, D.C.
Even though it’s technically located in Arlington, Virginia, Reagan National is only 3 miles from D.C., which makes it by far the closest airport.
It is also very convenient to reach D.C. from Reagan (or National, as it’s often called). There is a metro stop right at the airport, which means you can easily go from the airport to Washington in as little as about 11 minutes.
As an alternate airport, you can also fly into Dulles International Airport (IAD). The airport is located in Northern Virginia, 26 miles from D.C.
There is also a metro stop at IAD on the Silver Line, however, it is much further out in the suburbs of Northern Virginia. It will take about 30 minutes to an hour to get to D.C. from Dulles.
Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) is a third airport option to fly into to visit D.C. It is also the major airport for Baltimore, and it is technically closer to Baltimore than Washington.
BWI is 32 miles from Washington and can take about one hour to one hour and 30 minutes to get to the city.
I’ve lived in Northern Virginia my whole life, and I’ve flown into all three airports (especially DCA and IAD) more times than I can count! I’m here to give you all the info you need before you book your next flight to D.C.!
Map of Washington, D.C. Airports
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)
Distance to Washington, D.C.
- Close to D.C.
- Easy and convenient access to the metro
- Tends to have smaller crowds and lines compared to IAD
- Fewer airlines and flight options compared to IAD
- Smaller airport compared to IAD (which could be a pro or con?)
- Fewer shops and restaurant options
- Mostly domestic flights
- Limited international destinations (just a few in Canada and the Caribbean)
How to Get from Reagan National Airport to D.C.
You can take the metro to go from DCA to D.C. Just follow signs at the airport for the metro station (you can walk there). The Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport stop is on the Blue and Yellow Lines.
To get to D.C., you’ll want to go to the platform that is heading for Largo or Mount Vernon Square. The other platform is headed to Franconia-Springfield and Huntington, which will take you into the Virginia suburbs and away from D.C.
Mount Vernon Square is at the end of the Yellow Line in D.C., and taking this will be the quickest and most direct route to the main tourist attractions in D.C., including the National Mall and Smithsonian Museums.
The Blue Line heading toward Largo is great if you are heading to Arlington or Foggy Bottom in D.C.
You can find a metro map online to help you plan your trip.
You can also take a taxi or rideshare (Uber and Lyft.) Just follow signs for those services.
And of course, there are also rental car services at Reagan.
How to Get From D.C. to Reagan National Airport
To go from D.C. to Reagan National Airport, you can take metro. You’ll want to find a beginning stop in D.C. that is on the Blue or Yellow Lines. The Yellow Line will generally be the most direct and fastest route from D.C. to the airport.
If you’re near the National Mall, you can go to the L’Enfant Plaza or Archives stations. Then, follow signs heading toward the direction of Huntington and get off at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport station.
You can also get to the airport by car: either take a taxi or rideshare, or you can drive to the airport. Without traffic, it will only take about 6 minutes to drive from the National Mall to Reagan National Airport.
Restaurants and Shops at Reagan National Airport
Eating options at Reagan tend to be more focused on fast food compared to full restaurants. Some places to eat for a quick and easy meal include &Pizza, Ben’s Chili Bowl, Chick-fil-A, Cava Mezze Grill, Dunkin Donuts, Five Guys, and Starbucks.
Full restaurant and bar options include American Tap Room, District Bar, and Legal Seafood. Vino Volo is a personal favorite of mine for wine flights and light fare like flatbreads and salads.
You’ll find the typical airport shops at Reagan, including Hudson News, Brooks Brothers, and Inmotion, You’ll also find unique D.C. specialty stores like the Smithsonian Museum Store.
Major Airline Carriers at Reagan National Airpot
Dulles International Airport (IAD)
Distance to Washington, D.C.
- Metro accessible
- The most flight options and airlines in the region
- International flights all over the world
- More shops and restaurant options
- Further away from D.C. in the Virginia suburbs
- Crowds and lines can be bigger than DCA
How to Get From Dulles to D.C.
The quickest (but most expensive) way to get to D.C. will probably be by car UNLESS you’re traveling during morning rush hour (generally 7:30 am to 9:30 am Monday to Friday.) It will take about 30 minutes to reach D.C. by car, but it will take longer during rush hour.
To reach D.C. by car, you can take taxi, rideshare, or a rental car, all of which are available from the airport. Just follow signs for the option you’re looking for. Note that driving will be the most expensive option.
For the cheapest option, you can take the metro into D.C. The Silver Line offers service between Dulles, Arlington, and D.C. Just follow signs at the airport for the metro station and go to the platform for Largo (which is the end of the Blue and Silver Lines, and will lead you to Arlington and D.C.). The metro ride will take a little over an hour to get from Dulles to D.C.
How to Get From D.C. to Dulles
You can reach Dulles by car (either taxi, rideshare, or driving.) This will generally be the quickest (and again most expensive) way to get there. It may take longer to get to Dulles if you’re traveling during the afternoon rush hour (around 3 pm to 7 pm Monday to Friday.)
The cheapest way to get to Dulles is by metro. You can take the Silver Line from D.C. to the Washington Dulles International Airport stop.
You’ll want to find a beginning stop in D.C. that is on the Silver Line. If you’re near the National Mall, you can go to the Smithsonian station. Follow signs heading toward the direction of Ashburn, and get off at the Washington Dulles International Airport stop. It will take about an hour to go from downtown D.C. to Dulles.
Restaurants and Shops at Dulles
Dulles is a much bigger airport than Reagan, and as a result, it has a lot more restaurants and shops.
You can find quick takeout options like &pizza, Au Bon Pain, Cava, Chick-fil-A, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, and Wendy’s.
Larger sit-down restaurants include Carrabba’s Italian Grill, District Chophouse, Bistro Atelier, and my usual choice: Vino Volo.
If you have time to spend shopping, you’ll find the usual airport spots like Hudson News and Duty-Free, plus more high-end options, such as Brookstone, Chanel, Christian Dior, Coach, and Ralph Lauren Polo.
Major Airline Carriers at Dulles
- British Airways
- Aer Lingus
- South African Airways
- Air France
Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)
Distance From BWI to Washington, D.C.
- Major hub for Southwest Airlines
- Close to Baltimore
- More international flights than DCA, but fewer than IAD
- Tends to have cheaper flights compared to DCA and IAD
- Furthest from D.C.
- Not metro accessible
- Fewer shops and restaurants compared to IAD
How to Go From BWI to D.C.
You can take the train from BWI to D.C. From the airport, follow signs to the free shuttle that will take you to the train station. Then, you’ll either want to take the MARC train (the local Maryland commuter train) or Amtrak.
MARC trains run about every 20 minutes to 40 minutes, depending on the time of day. You can find a schedule online.
Amtrak trains run about every 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the time of day. You can find a schedule online.
You can also get from BWI to D.C. by car (either taxi, rideshare, or rental car). This will be the most expensive but also the most direct option. Traveling by car will take about one hour. It could take longer during morning rush hour (around 7:30 am to 9:30 am.)
How to Get From D.C. to BWI
You can take the MARC train or Amtrak train from Union Station in D.C. to BWI. There is a free shuttle at the BWI train station that will take you to the airport.
You can also get to BWI from D.C. by car (either taxi, rideshare, or rental car). It will take about one hour to get to BWI by car, though it could take longer during evening rush hour (from around 3:30 pm to 7:00 pm.)
Restaurants and Shops at BWI
BWI may be generally less convenient than DCA and IAD, but it has some nice bonuses when it comes to restaurant options. Their food prices are advertised as “street prices”, and don’t include the extra markup that you find at most airports.
They also have a few 24/7 food options (McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts), which is a great bonus for late-night flights.
Other food options include plenty of fast food chains and restaurants, like Arby’s, Chick-fil-A, Brix & Vine Wine Bar, Gachi House of Sushi, La Cocina Mexicana, The Green Turtle, and of course, Starbucks.
You’ll also find a pretty good selection of over 50 stores at BWI, including the jewelry store Pandora, The Body Shop, Sunglass Hut, and the women’s clothing store White House Black Market.
Major Airline Carriers at BWI
- British Airways
- Air Canada
Where to Stay in Washington, D.C.
Now that you know how to get to D.C., here are some of my top picks for where to stay in town! The following hotels are close to many major attractions like the National Mall and Smithsonian museums.
The Holiday Inn Washington Capitol is just blocks from the National Mall. It also has an outdoor pool and it is pet-friendly!
The Hilton Washington DC is another great choice. It is located near both the National Mall and The Wharf, which features excellent shopping and restaurants along the Potomac River. The four-star hotel also has an outdoor pool, bar, and restaurant.
Washington, D.C. Airport Summary
As you can see, all three major airports have their pros and cons for traveling to the nation’s capital.
If you want the quickest and most convenient option, Reagan (DCA) is your best choice. If you want the best amenities and shops and the most flight routes, Dulles (IAD) is a great option, and if you want the most budget-friendly pick, BWI is your best bet.
Learn about even more great things to do in and around Washington, D.C.!