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TPG's guide to Washington, D.C.'s Union Station

Sept. 08, 2020
5 min read
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Washington D.C.'s Union Station — with its stately Beaux-Arts architecture and inspiring scale — fits seamlessly into landscape of the nation's capital. Built in 1907 as part of the McMillan plan (the document responsible for the development of many monuments in the city, including the Lincoln Memorial) Union Station has become known as one of the nation's most popular attractions for tourists and in the public imagination. (It even has starring roles in the film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and television classic "The West Wing.")

Of course, Union Station hasn't stopped being a functioning transportation hub. It's the country's second-busiest Amtrak station, with more than 37 million visitors passing through every year. It also serves the MARC Train Service and VRE (Virginia Railway Express) commuter rails and is the city's busiest Metro stop.

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Here's how to find your way around.

(Photo by aisaacson/Twenty20)

Getting There

One of the best perks about traveling from Union Station? Its convenience. Located at 50 Massachusetts Avenue, NE, Union Station is within walking distance of many of the city’s top sites and hotels. It also has direct access to the Metro’s Red Line, with entrances inside the station’s ground and lower levels.

For those with a car, parking is available 24/7 at Union Station Parking Garage next door. (USPG doubles as a hub for bus lines, including BoltBus, Greyhound, Megabus, and Peter Pan.) Taxis and ride-hailing apps are also a cinch—just ask them to drop you off at the front of Union Station’s main hall.

Getting Around

Split into three levels, Union Station is easy for even first-time visitors to navigate. The main level on the ground floor has Amtrak and MARC tracks, as well as entrances for VRE tracks (which are down one floor of stairs) and the Metro. Here, you’ll also find an assortment of retail and dining options that continue on the lower and mezzanine levels.

If you’re looking to grab a bite before your trip, there’s no shortage of options, including Cava, Ladurée, &pizza, and Juice Press. Note that due to the coronavirus pandemic, dining establishments may be temporarily closed or operating with modified hours.

Related: How different credit cards classify dining purchases

(Photo by spencerpa440/Twenty20)

Amtrak

Because of its central location on the East Coast, Union Station is a popular destination all around. Northbound routes include New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, while those traveling south can stop in Richmond, Charlotte, or Raleigh. For a longer trip, consider heading to Cincinnati or Chicago.

Inside Union Station, everything Amtrak related is just past the Main Hall, including ticketing, customer service, baggage check, and a waiting room with spotty Wi-Fi. (Travelers beware that except for ClubAcela — available only to Acela business-class passengers for a fee and United Club Infinite Card holders — the lounges at Union Station are pretty sparse.)

That’s set to change, however. Amtrak aims to modernize its concourse, building a new 10,000-square-foot lounge that will improve passenger flow and boarding. Amtrak also plans to add more bathrooms, create an additional entrance, and increase the structure’s natural light. Work is projected to be complete sometime in 2022.

Union Station in Washington D.C. Conceptual Design. (Photo courtesy of KGP Design Studio/ Grimshaw)

MARC Train Service

The first of the area’s commuter rails, MARC runs between Washington, D.C. and stations in Maryland. Two of its three lines (Camden and Brunswick) operate Monday – Friday only, while the Penn line, which goes to Baltimore, also operates on the weekends. The easiest way to buy tickets is with the CharmPass app or on-site vending machines. You can find the MARC waiting area near Gate A.

VRE (Virginia Railway Express)

VRE is another Monday – Friday commuter rail service that provides transportation from the Northern Virginia suburbs to downtown Washington, D.C. along two lines, Manassas and Fredericksburg. Tickets can be purchased online or at self-service kiosks. If you purchase a Step-Up ticket, it’s also possible to use the Amtrak trains that are listed on VRE’s schedule. You can find the VRE waiting area near Gate G.

Bottom Line

As train travel declined during the middle of the 20th century, Union Station fell into disrepair. Congress passed the Union Station Redevelopment Act in 1981, which helped fund a $160 million restoration. Since then, Union Station has met its fair share of challenges — including an earthquake — but now is improving once again and is poised to meet the demands of 21st-century train travelers through a series of ongoing modernizations.

Featured image by Getty Images

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

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  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases