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How to Plan the Perfect Inauguration Trip

A primer on attending history-making events across the nation's capital.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Plan the Perfect Inauguration Trip

American flags wave in a dynamic scene as crowds celebrate President Obama's inauguration on January 20th, 2009 at the National Mall in Washington, DC.

Check out iconic landmarks, attend exciting festivities and take advantage of special hotel promotions for Inauguration weekend.(Getty Images).

Inauguration weekend can't come soon enough for many Americans, and you can witness the history and excitement up close in our nation's capital. "It's never too soon to start planning. Book your hotel room as soon as possible and leave your car at home," advises Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, Washington's official tourism organization. "Joining the crowds on the National Mall for the swearing-in and later for the inaugural parade just takes patience, a warm coat and comfortable shoes," Ferguson adds, highlighting that Destination DC offers a helpful online guide to the 2017 presidential inauguration. While many key event details will be determined by the Presidential Inaugural Committee after the new commander-in-chief is elected on Nov. 8, here's a primer on top packages and tips for planning a successful inauguration trip.

Consider Getting Tickets for the Inauguration Swearing-in Ceremony and Parade

Many of the key inauguration events are free, including the swearing-in ceremony with inaugural address of our new president at the U.S. Capitol's West Lawn and the Inaugural Parade from the Capitol Building to the White House. But if you want seats for these free events, you will need tickets. The number of tickets is limited and demand is high, so reserve your spot far in advance. For seats at the swearing-in ceremony, contact either of your two U.S. senators or your U.S. representative. And for traditionally free bleacher seats along the parade route, apply to the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which will offer a website after Election Day.

If you want to stand on the National Mall and along the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route, you won't need a ticket. Fortunately, Jumbotrons will show the ceremony and parade, enabling you to see and hear the action. Still, if you plan to stand on the National Mall, plan to arrive early and come prepared. You'll need to clear one of the many security checkpoints along the Mall, so be sure to bring a valid photo ID for yourself and all family members and do not bring prohibited items such as backpacks or packages. Check the list of prohibited items in advance on the Presidential Inaugural Committee website to get prepared.

Attend an Inaugural Ball

Official inaugural balls are typically invitation-only events. President James Buchanan had only one inaugural ball in 1857, with a menu that included 400 gallons of oysters, 500 quarts of chicken salad, 1,200 quarts of ice cream, 60 saddles of mutton, eight rounds of beef, 75 hams and 125 tongues, according to the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. If you don't get invited to an official ball, try to get tickets to one of the many unofficial balls hosted by states, veterans' organizations and other groups. Contact the Texas State Society for its "Black Tie and Boots Inaugural Ball" or the American Legion for its "Veterans Inaugural Ball," a tribute to America's Medal of Honor recipients.

Special Inaugural Packages

The Newseum, located along the parade route on Pennsylvania Avenue, will offer an all-inclusive "2017 Presidential Inauguration Celebration Experience" on Jan. 20 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The special package includes a panoramic view of the parade, food by Wolfgang Puck Catering, discussions by journalists and newsmakers about the 2016 election and issues facing the next president, talks with Newseum curators, access to the museum and more. The full cost is $500, but discounts are available. Hotels across the area will also offer inauguration packages. The Willard InterContinental's "Stay Like a President" inauguration 2017 Package, for example, costs $450,000, and includes two round-trip tickets from anywhere in the continental U.S. to D.C. on a private jet and a four-night stay in a presidential suite overlooking the inaugural parade route. Meanwhile, the Mayflower Hotel will be donating the entire $45,000 amount of its four-night inaugural package in the Presidential Suite directly to the Children's National Health System in Washington. The hotel, which President Harry Truman dubbed "Washington's Second Best Address," includes two tickets to the Inauguration Day ceremony.

How to Get Around

Don't even think about driving during the weekend of gridlock and street closures. Walk, bike or take public transportation. Buying a reloadable SmarTrip metro card in advance online is a smart way to dodge long lines. Each traveler age 5 and up needs a card. Check for up-to-date information on the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority's website. And keep in mind that some stations closest to the National Mall, such as Smithsonian, Archives and Mt. Vernon Square, will be closed during Inauguration Day ceremonies. Another option is taking the DC Circulator, which offers inexpensive service across the city, with routes along the National Mall, Georgetown and other popular tourist areas. Bikes can also be rented at reasonable prices at dozens of city locations through Capital Bikeshare.

Where to Eat

The nation's capital is now a foodie capital, newly validated by the prestigious international Michelin Guide that published a Washington, D.C. guide this October. Washington is only the fourth U.S. city, after New York, Chicago and San Francisco, to be honored with a Michelin Guide. For a meal to remember, check out the lively restaurants scattered throughout vibrant neighborhoods such as Dupont Circle, Georgetown and the U Street Corridor.

Other Can't-Miss Cultural and Historical Attractions

Presidential election-related displays will be mounted by the Library of Congress, the National Archives and many museums across the city. To apply for a tour of the White House, contact one of your senators or representative up to 90 days in advance, and no less than 21 days in advance. You can also visit the only D.C.-based home of a former President, the President Woodrow Wilson House, a house-museum near Dupont Circle. George Washington's stately home Mount Vernon is also an easy trip, just 15 miles south of the city, along the Potomac River banks. Ford's Theatre, where President Lincoln was assassinated, is a museum honoring his legacy, as well as an active theater. All these attractions are in addition to classic landmarks, such as Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Washington Monument.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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