First, know the basics. The oaths of office and swearing in of the 45th U.S. president and vice president will be held on the westward side of the Capitol building at noon on Friday, January 20, 2017. Those with general admission tickets will need to arrive to D.C. early enough to pick up the tickets (check with your local representative’s office for pick-up details). That might mean flying in a day or two early. Luckily, there are still great fares to be had at any of the area’s airports (DCA, IAD and BWI), so book your flight now before prices rise.
On the day of the inauguration, ticket holders and non-ticket holders alike should consider how transportation and weather might affect their experience. In order to get a great viewing spot, you’ll want to plan to get to the security checkpoints earlier than they open so you can be among the first in line. This event is an historic American tradition, so if there was ever a time to forgo sleep or brave the cold, this would be it. General-ticket holders will be allowed into a special area that is closer to the action, while those without tickets can find a cozy spot in front of one of the several Jumbotrons that will be set up on the National Mall.
Getting around town that day may be a little tricky. It’s good to plan out a couple transportation options for your trip downtown, particularly if adverse weather or other obstacles come into play. When considering your options, take into account street closures and congestion if you opt for a taxi, Uber or city bus. Choosing to travel underground may bypass traffic snafus, but keep in mind that the Metro may experience overcrowding and there will be station closures near the National Mall. Using a local bikeshare service is a green, alternative way to get around. Check their station map so you don’t encounter an empty bike rack when you’re heading out or a full rack when you’re ready to drop off the bike downtown. Your best bet is to walk whenever possible, especially once you’re a close distance to the Mall. Whatever you do, don’t rent a car and drive into the city. Crowds, street closures and limited parking make that option more frustrating than practical.
Don’t forget to bundle up. The end of January in D.C. is the middle of winter. While a sunny day is possible, don’t expect it to be warm. Unless you have a reserved seat in the grandstands, you’ll likely be outside for hours, so wear appropriate winter clothing and consider packing hand warmers and even a blanket so you can stay warm. But leave your large backpack at the hotel and review the list of prohibited items if you’ll be passing through a security checkpoint.
Other Inaugural Events
After the inauguration ends, the festivities continue with a parade on Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House. There are ticketed viewing spots on bleachers that line the street, but those without tickets can still watch for free from the sidewalk.
When the sun goes down, you can ditch your wool coat for a gown or tuxedo and enjoy the evening at an official or unofficial inaugural ball. The price tag may be high for these celebrations, but it’ll be a night to remember. The Presidential Inaugural Committee doles out tickets to the official balls, where you may have the opportunity to see the newly elected president and vice president. Tickets for the multitude of unofficial events can be purchased through the host’s website.
With so many people coming into the city, transportation delays and Uber surge pricing will not be unusual. It may be more affordable to flag a taxi or take public transportation. To breeze through the Metro or city bus like a local, buy a Smartrip card before your trip or as soon as you arrive in town. (Metro no longer accepts paper fare cards, and while buses accept cash, you will be charged a higher fare versus using a Smartrip card.). Download the DCRider app and bookmark the bus next arrivals site to help during your stay.
During the days surrounding the inauguration, restaurants in the downtown area will have long waits for walk-ups. Call at least a week ahead to make a reservation at restaurants you really want to eat at. Another option is to try a neighborhood restaurant in Takoma, Petworth or Cleveland Park, for example, or take a trip into Maryland or Virginia. You’ll get to ditch the crowd and dine where the locals go.
Lastly, if you’re interested in taking a guided tour or attending an event while you’re in town, be sure to reserve your spot in advance, if possible. This includes river cruise tours, Kennedy Center performances and even comedy shows. Any ticketed tours and events will book up quickly.