Best things to do on a connection in DCA? Lucky for you, you’re in the nation’s capital!
As an airline pilot, DCA is by far my favorite airport in the Washington DC region, and a huge part of that is because it’s the most accessible. So if you’re lucky enough to have a layover in DCA – whether it’s because of a delayed connecting flight or booking two separate airlines – you won’t run out of things to do.
Prefer exploring the secret museum at the airport or would you rather enjoy a cupcake in Georgetown? Are you a cycling enthusiast or would you rather go for a stand up paddle board at the Wharf? You can’t get bored here!
Check out these other Ultimate Airport Layover Guides: ATL | JFK | SEA | SFO | LAS | ATH | CDG | AMS | and more!
What is there to do inside Washington Reagan National Airport (DCA)?
Though Reagan National isn’t the newest or biggest airport, it does have enough to keep you occupied on a longer layover. If anything, the fabulous main terminal is a treat to walk and there are tons of spots with great views on the runways.
Related: Ask a Pilot: Which DC Airport is Better? DCA, IAD, or BWI?
What are the restaurants in DCA?
There aren’t many restaurants in DCA, but the ones that are there are pretty good. My favorite place in Terminal C is &Pizza, where you can build your own pizza. Delicious. Some of my other favorites include:
|American Tap Room (Terminal C)||Ben’s Chili Bowl (Outside security)|
|Dunkin’ (All terminals and outside security)||Chik-Fil-A (Outside security)|
|Cava Mezze (Terminal B)||Legal Sea Foods (Outside security)|
|Mezeh (Outside security)||Five Guys (Outside security)|
|Tagliare (Outside security)||Wow Bao (Terminal C)|
What lounges are there at DCA?
Unfortunately, DCA doesn’t have many lounges. There are only 4, and they’re all associated with airlines;
- American Admirals Club (2 locations): inside security at gate 23 and gate 35
- Delta Sky Club: inside security at gates 10-22
- United Club: inside security at gates 10 (across from gate 11)
By far, the Delta Sky Club is the best lounge in DCA. You will have to be flying same-day with Delta (including having flown into DCA as an option), and be a SkyClub member (which can be met using some AMEX and Delta credit cards).
Other lounges have similar membership requirements, except for the AA Admirals club. You can buy a one-day pass at $59 without being a member – if you’re flying AA.
Priority Pass members get discounts at some DCA restaurants, such as the American Tap Room.
Right now, PriorityPass if offering up to 25% off yearly memberships. In just two lounge visits, you are already ahead vs. paying for one-time access. Just one if you bring a guest!
DCA Airport Exhibition Hall
My go-to on bad weather days with long sits in DCA is always the Exhibition Hall.
DCA has a surprisingly rich history dating back to President Roosevelt in the late 1930’s. The Exhibit Hall is located in the corridor connecting Terminal B to Terminal A and, according to the Airport Authority “offers several unique museum-like exhibits including video presentations, a model of the original terminal, memorabilia from the airport’s original dining room and artifacts found during the preservation of the Abingdon Plantation.”
It’s a good place to spend about an hour.
There’s plenty of walking to do at the airport, but you’ll have to exit security. There are also a lot of walking paths outside of the airport for those wishing to get some fresh air.
Looking to go from Terminal C to B? AA provides a shuttle from next to gate 36 (C) and 25 (B).
Related: For those traveling to Atlanta (ATL), here's The Ultimate 4-6 Hour ATL Layover Guide (by a Pilot)
What can I do outside on a layover at Washington Reagan National Airport (DCA)?
This is where DCA thrives and absolutely demolishes the competition. There is SO much to do around and super close to the airport.
Walk to Gravelly Point for a sensational view on airplanes
About a 15-20 minute walk (on sidewalks/walking paths) is Gravelly Point Park, naturally one of my favorite places in all of DC as a pilot.
This is what I call the “American Maho Beach“, a waterfront park with airplanes passing mere feet overhead on their final turn to land on runway 19 in DCA. Feeling the vibrations of thunderous jets passing overhead is just sensational, truly. It’s the best way to appreciate the wonderful technology that is airliners.
Rent a bike and explore DC or Alexandria
There’s literally a BikeShare rack right on property of DCA airport. This is amazing!
It’s accessible through the Terminal B/C Garage, Level CG (Ground Level).
You can bike on paved paths via the Mount Vernon Trail starting from the airport and going up to Georgetown, downtown DC, or southbound to Alexandria – and you can’t go wrong with any of them.
Explore the National Mall
Though you can bike or uber to the National Mall, there is convenient Metro access right at the airport! Just follow signs for the Metro on your way out of the terminal.
Just take the Yellow Line to L’Enfant Plaza, or the Blue Line straight to Smithsonian.
Walk or rest on grassy fields next to iconic monuments like the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. At the eastern end, you can visit the domed U.S. Capitol (even inside with a reservation!). Or, you can join some protest at the White House, just to the north.
The Mall is also flanked by Smithsonian museums, and its lawns and pathways are often filled with school excursions, joggers, and frisbee and soccer games. Nearby, the Tidal Basin reservoir is a great place to see blossoming cherry trees or rent a pedal boat.
Go to a (free) world-famous museum
As mentioned earlier, the Mall is absolutely flanked by free, incredible Smithsonian museums. You’ll likely only have time to visit one – so choose wisely.
My favorite? The Air & Space Museum. Was that even a question?
Other great museums include The Museum of Natural History, National Gallery of Art, and African American History. For those who want to keep warm on a cold day, the Botanical Garden has a wonderful warm and humid tropical section.
Savor a world-famous Georgetown Cupcake
Featured on national TV many, many time, any Georgetown Cupcake is bound to delight your taste buds with incomprehensible joy and flavor.
Georgetown also features a fabulous shopping district and TONS of amazing restaurants. My personal favorite for its price:quality is Clyde’s. You may want to reserve a table.
Use google maps to find a way into Georgetown, as you will have to transfer somewhere on the Metro from the airport.
Try out Stand Up Paddleboards (SUPs) at The Wharf
Although the Anacostia River is no St. Maarten, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by its tree-line shorelines and very hip array of restaurants and bars.
The Wharf is a fun place to spend a couple hours, and whether you rent a SUP, kayak, or just walk around, you’ll have a good time here.
Whether you eat at Mi Vida or Del Mar, you’ll find wonderful Latin flavors and delicious views on the river.
Delight your taste buds with a fine-dining experience – or enjoy the best food truck food of your life
I worked one summer as an intern in DC, and much to my delight, the food trucks there are the best you can find. Any food you want – Pakistani, Argentinian, Sudanese – you can find somewhere in DC.
Most of the food trucks I went to were located at L’Enfant Plaza during lunchtime on weekends, but you can find more online.
Alternately, DC is known for its top-notch dining options. Where are politicians supposed to eat otherwise?! Just make sure to reserve ahead!
How quick is security in DCA?
Security lines aren’t the worst, but they could be better. And getting between the terminals either means going through security again or taking a slow, inconvenient bus.
Luckily, the entire airport is being redesigned in order to enable seamless access between terminals and a more efficient experience.
DCA does offer the new CLEAR system to get you through security, and I’ve never seen a line there – at any airport. CLEAR has a 6 month free trial and is totally included with some credit cards; check with your bank.
What can I do during a layover at DCA?
- Visit the DCA Exhibition Lounge
- Walk to Gravelly Point for airplane viewing
- Rent a bike and explore DC or Alexandria
- Visit the National Mall and DC Landmarks
- Go to a world-class Smithsonian museum
- Savor a Georgetown Cupcake
- Stand-Up Paddleboards (SUPs) at The Wharf
- Eat from the best food trucks in the world