The Presidential Inauguration will bring masses of out-of-towners to Washington, D.C. If you’re going to be among them, here’s what you need to know to beat the crowds, stay safe and sane. Discovery Traveling Mom has travel tips for where to go and what not to bring with you. And don’t miss some historical spots where you may find a moment of peace and quiet.
Presidential Inauguration Travel Tips
It’s a Presidential Inauguration and excited crowds are coming to town. Whether to experience politics in action firsthand, take part in a rally or sightsee during an historic time period, expect more tourists and travelers in Washington, D.C. in the days surrounding the pomp and circumstance. If you’re heading there yourself, that means dealing with the masses and staying safe. A recent study conducted by travel insurance provider Allianz Global Assistance, estimates an “average of 222 percent” more people will visit daily before, during and after inaugural festivities.
Just Getting There
Just getting into Washington D.C. any other time of year can be a chore. But in the days around an inauguration it can be downright taxing. Think of rail travel as the first method of choice to get into the city if possible. Amtrak trains arrive into the beautiful and historical Union Station.
With multiple restaurants and shops inside the station there’s things to do even before you step outside. (If you’ll be traveling the day before or day of the Inauguration, be sure check the Union Station website for closure times in the Main Hall.)
Once outside you can set your sights on the U.S. Capitol as it’s just a short walk away! If you’re flying into the city, Washington’s Reagan National Airport is closest to the city center. Forget the cab ride—instead take the Metro into town and avoid congested roads.
Best Transportation Choices
Two words: go public. Public transport such as the D.C. Metrorail will likely be your most effective method to move from spot to spot if there’s decent distance involved. On any given day, the Metrorail representatives say it provides service for more than 700 thousand customers.
Around inauguration time, expect some added trains and extended hours to help get you where you’re going. But also check ahead for certain stations that may be closed on day-of as well as station delays due to construction at some stops.
Color-coded rail lines travel throughout the city and beyond. Tall columns marked with a large “M” identify station entrances. Colored stripes encircling the columns tell you which lines stop there.
On our last visit, my daughter remarked on how much nicer the D.C. Metro is than New York. Carpet on the floor and fabric covered seats throughout many trains were a change of pace. A limited edition of the SmarTrip card (your ticket to ride) is available commemorating the historical ceremony.
Besides the Train
The Metrobus may offer an alternative. With plenty of planned street closures, the buses should know detours to take. (Although that may take you a bit out of your way so check before getting on!)
Another option, weather permitting, is the Capital Bikeshare. Four hundred bike “stations” offer 3500 bicycles to rent and return at different spots. It’s yet another way to see city spots that you’d have trouble reaching by car. As a bonus, you get in some exercise as you travel.
Of course, hoofing it works well if you’re up for it!
As for a car, I wouldn’t recommend driving. But if you must drive into the city, you may be best off parking where you’re staying and taking public transport to any other destination.
Watch the Weather
If you haven’t experienced Washington in the wintertime, it can get very cold. January in particular, tends to be one of the coldest months. So, if you’re attending one of the outside events layer up in case temperatures drop. It’s also a smart move to carry a travel umbrella as the winter season brings plenty of rain.
There are plenty of security check-points throughout the city, but expect even more around inaugural events. Pack lightly if possible, taking only a handbag, crossbag or a small backpack. This will allow you to navigate through security stations more quickly.
If you have to take food or drink with you, place it in see-through bags. Avoid liquids other than water. Even then, at some spots you’ll be asked to throw it away before entering.
To avoid wasting money on bottled water, a re-fillable water bottle in clear plastic (that you don’t care about) is a good solution. If you’re going to be attending a specific event, check security requirements for that specific event before going. For instance, in some cases large backpacks are banned completely.
Moving on Up
If you’ve got your heart set on watching the parade but want to avoid crowds, head up. Does your hotel offer any birds-eye views of the route and the city? Plenty of hotels such as The W and the Marriott offer various views from the comfort of inside. The Newseum offers a special package that includes viewing from an upstairs terrace.
If you do end up going out to the parade route itself, make sure to avoid the White House area as it’s mostly restricted. If you find yourself in a crowd that overwhelms you, stick to the outside edges of the group and towards the back. These spots make for the easiest getaway should you feel the need to break away. If you’re traveling with a group, have a plan in advance of what you’d do in the event something goes awry.
Less Busy–But Still Cool—Spots
This may not be the time to visit ever popular spots like Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum or the American Museum of Natural History. It’s a sure deal they’ll be packed this time around.
Instead, you could avoid some of the bigger crowds and check out the following spots:
- The Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Kids love being able to watch as money is made! And you can see millions of dollars being printed while you learn all about the production process. A free gallery tour, film and exhibits will teach you about the cool techniques used in making paper currency.
- Jonesing for some art? The National Portrait Gallery features plenty of portraits of the founding fathers. But it also houses portraits of famous mothers, film stars, musicians, athletes, scientists and more, shot, painted and produced in modern fashion. The museum will close at 2:30pm on Inauguration Day.
- Another great gallery to check out is the Renwick Gallery. It’s located a stone’s throw from the White House, so double check hours depending on what day you’re going.
- Need some peace and quiet? What better place to visit than a library? The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world! In addition to exhibits documenting U.S. Presidential Inaugurations, artworks, treasures and occasional concerts, the building’s architecture and interior is striking to see. But remember, whisper!
- Park it. If you need to break free from the miles of museums, grab a bike and ride to Rock Creek Park. This National Park is an urban space spanning almost 1800-acres. According to officials, it’s larger than New York City’s Central Park. Once in the park you’ll quickly feel you’ve escaped the craziness of the crowds. Civil war forts, colonial houses and a planetarium are just a few of the things located there.
Take to the Stage for Free
While the Kennedy Center is known for some of the finest artistic stage offerings around, lesser known are the free, daily performances playing out on its Millennium Stage. Hour-long performances are held at 6pm each day.
The arts vary but range from theater to dance, to music, comedy and more. Around the inaugural time period, artists include a comedian, jazz trio, musicians from the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra and dance troupes. (Bonus time: Take the elevator up to the building’s roof and check out an amazing city view.)
I admire those who want to be in the thick of history as it unfolds. Heading to Washington, D.C. during the inaugural “season” will no doubt, be unforgettable. Make it so because it was an amazing experience with friends and family–not because you were drowned out by the crowds.