|Frederick County |
The farthest flung and most rural of the three counties (but still home to a large commuter population), where the main attraction is the main city, Frederick
|Montgomery County |
One of the wealthiest counties in the U.S., much of the county is very urban, and home to an enormous commuter population of professionals working in the city
|Prince George's County |
The country's wealthiest majority black county, and is home to the University of Maryland, as well as much of what you would expect to be in D.C.—huge outposts of government agencies like NASA and the Department of Agriculture, as well as the Washington Redskins.
- 1 Bethesda — the liveliest and most upscale urban center in the Maryland suburbs, right on the D.C. border, and with a density of restaurants, hotels, and bars rivaling the district's downtown neighborhoods
- 2 College Park — the name says it all—this is home to the University of Maryland's main campus
- 3 Frederick — much less a suburb and much more a separate city, Frederick is worth visiting for its charming city center and colonial and Civil War-era history
- 4 Gaithersburg — a big suburban city, with a charming historic Old Town around the old train station, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology headquarters
- 5 Germantown — another large suburban city in the state's biotech corridor
- 6 Greenbelt — a quiet suburb with the NASA Goddard Visitor Center—a great attraction, especially for kids
- 7 Kensington — a small, quirky residential neighborhood home to the famous National Mormon Temple and the popular Antique Row shopping strip
- 8 Rockville — a large suburban city on the I-270 technology corridor, with a lot of businesses, and a seemingly infinite retail sector both in the urban section of the town and the endless strip malls radiating outwards in all directions
- 9 Silver Spring — vying with Bethesda for the title of principal suburban nightlife and accommodations king, Silver Spring may still lag behind, but is considerably more diverse than its wealthier neighbor
- 1 Six Flags America — perhaps the greatest location of the national amusement park chain
- Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park — the beautiful and historic canal and surrounding parklands running alongside the Potomac River from D.C. all the way to Cumberland in Western Maryland
The Capital Region is the most densely populated region of the state, home to the most populated Washington, D.C. suburbs, and satellite cities worth visiting, such as Bethesda, Gaithersburg, College Park, Silver Spring, Kensington, and Rockville. Rock Creek National Park is another reason why you would find yourself here—the long bike/running trail is great. Much of it, though, is suburban sprawl that has covered all the once beautiful Piedmont Plateau, and does not constitute any kind of tourist attraction, although plenty visit on business.
Unless you use a private plane, you won't be flying directly into the Capital Region. Commercially, the region is best served by Baltimore-Washington International BWI IATA, but also by Washington Dulles IAD IATA and Washington National DCA IATA.
The main interstates leading into the Capital Region are I-270, which cuts northwest through Montgomery County and continues north to Frederick, I-95, which goes north through Prince George's County to Baltimore, and, of course, the Beltway (I-495), which runs east-west across Montgomery and Prince George's Counties as it circles around Washington, D.C..
From D.C., the main roads leading north into the Maryland Capital Region are (in addition to those listed above) Wisconsin Ave, Connecticut Ave, Georgia Ave—all of which lead into the wealthy and densely populated suburbs of Montgomery County.
By public transit
A couple of buses from New York also stop in Bethesda.
The Beltway (I-495) and its main arteries (I-270 and I-95) are the best way to travel between the three counties of the Capital Region. I-270 is a very convenient highway for traveling between Montgomery and Frederick Counties, and there's really no better way to go between the two. Unfortunately, there is an odd lack of east-west routes other than the Beltway, which lends to the extreme congestion between Prince George's and Montgomery Counties (and the extreme ire that engenders in the hapless, motionless drivers). The Intercounty Connector (often called the ICC, but signed as Route 200), is a convenient highway that connects Gaithersburg, Aspen Hill, Cloverly, and Beltsville. It is a tolled road, and tolls are collected electronically. Traffic is almost non-existent.
Many drivers unaccustomed to the Beltway find its banked curves with traffic going 65-75 miles per hour, with little to no space between cars, alarming and unpleasant. There are some surface roads that travel east-west, such as Montrose Road/Randolph Road/Cherry Hill Road, East-West Highway (which is actually a street, not a highway), and Route 28 (Darnestown Road/West Montgomery Avenue/First Street/Norbeck Road).
Metro's Red Line serves Montgomery County. The Green Line, Blue Line, and Green Line serve Prince George's County. Frederick County has no Metro lines. Keep in mind that the Metro system was designed to take people in and out of Washington, D.C., and the lines were built in that direction. Not all areas are close to a Metro station.
The cost to ride the train depends on how far you are traveling and also the time and day of the week. There is a chart at every station to help figure out the cost to ride. Riders pay with a refillable plastic card called a SmarTrip card. Buy a SmarTrip card at any Metro station, at Metro's website, or at some grocery stores.
Riders must tap the SmarTrip card to enter the system, and tap the SmarTrip again to leave the system, and the correct amount is deducted from the amount of money on the SmarTrip card. If a rider needs to leave the system and the rider does not have enough money on the SmarTrip card, there are machines inside the system to add money to the SmarTrip card. It may seem complicated, but other riders are usually happy to help a confused rider. Employees will help but they are not always happy. Eating or drinking is forbidden in the system, but you can carry food or drinks onto the system. There are restrooms at every station, but they are locked. Ask an employee to unlock a restroom if you need to use it. The restrooms are very basic and minimally clean. Some restrooms are broken.
There is also a commuter rail, called the MARC train, that travels into and out of Washington, D.C. It only operates Monday through Friday. It only travels into Washington, D.C. in the morning, and it only travels out of Washington, D.C. in the late afternoon and evening.
Purple Line (under construction)
Maryland is building a Purple Line that will connect Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Silver Spring, Takoma Park, College Park, and New Carrollton. It is under construction. It is supposed to open in 2023.
Buses are a convenient way to travel around the Capital Region of Maryland. Buses run most often Monday through Friday. Most operate on Saturday and Sunday too, but usually less often. Check schedules online or with the Metro cell phone app. Riders can pay using a SmarTrip card or pay with coins.
Uber and Lyft operate in the area. They are a popular and convenient option, especially for traveling to or from areas without access to public transportation. Private taxi companies exist too, such as Barwood Taxi. Tips are optional on Uber and Lyft. Tips are expected on private taxis, usually about ten or fifteen percent of the fare, or a little more if the driver was especially kind or helpful.
In general, the Maryland Capital Region is not the type of place you visit for sightseeing—you visit it to see family, or on business, since it is a huge commercial and residential center. But there are a few odd sights to find off the beaten path. The largest is the Emerald Palace-like National LDS Temple in Kensington, which boasts a spectacular display of Christmas lights and nativity scenes during Advent every year. NASA's visitor center in Greenbelt is another great reason to venture forth from Washington, D.C. for a Maryland attraction. Perhaps the most important sight, though, is Great Falls in Potomac by the C&O Canal on the Potomac River. You'll be surprised by how big and impressive the falls are, and the Maryland side is great for viewing them—you get to walk out along a long bridge to an island in the middle of the river.
The Capital Region sees three main activities outside the capital itself: hiking and biking along the C&O Canal, doing the same in Rock Creek Park, and rooting on the Terrapins at the big University of Maryland sporting events.
Also consider hiking up Sugarloaf Mountain, located in Dickerson. It's a popular local destination for hiking and picnicking. Although the land is privately owned, it is open to the public and no entrance fee is charged.
Bethesda has many top-notch restaurants, serving all the suburbanites who converge upon the small city nightly. For a cheaper and less crowded experience, look for some of the great ethnic restaurants in southern Silver Spring and in College Park. The Route 193 "International Corridor" near Takoma Park has a variety of immigrant-fueled cuisine -- everything from Indian to Peruvian. Alas, much of the rest of the region has fallen victim to endless strip malls full of middle-of-the-road chain restaurants.
Serious nightlife aficionados are probably going to want take the Metro into D.C. on the weekends, but someone looking to knock back a drink after work can find reasonable selections in most neighborhoods, especially Bethesda and Silver Spring. College Park is acceptable for these purposes -- but only if you're under 25. Farther out, Frederick has some bars that may be worth your while.
The two neighborhoods with the greatest concentration and range of accommodations options are Bethesda and Silver Spring, as they cater to visitors of D.C., particularly who want to avoid the district's astronomical hotel tax. Many of the residential suburbs of D.C. don't have much by way of hotel options, but there are hotels throughout the sprawl wherever there are clusters of businesses—Rockville, Gaithersburg, Germantown, Laurel, Largo, etc. And of course, farther flung cities and towns like Frederick, Bowie, Greenbelt, etc. all have hotels catering to their own visitors. Camping is available in Greenbelt Park and there is a path to walk from the campground to the College Park Metro stop.
- Washington, D.C. — The glaringly obvious next destination from the Capital Region is the Capital itself.
- Baltimore's Inner Harbor — North on I-95, with tons of great museums and the National Aquarium.
- Chesapeake Bay — East on US-50 heads straight to the beautiful bay's sailing and crab-eating culture.
- Ocean City — An oceanside resort town further along on US-50.
- Harpers Ferry — West of Frederick on US-340, famous for Civil War history and natural beauty.
- Northwest on I-70 — charming Hagerstown, the mountains of Western Maryland, and the Civil War Battlefield of Antietam.