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Essential Tips for Visiting Washington, D.C. on Obama’s Inauguration Day


The theme for the 56th presidential inauguration will be “A New Birth of Freedom,” commemorating the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Quite a fitting message to welcome our new president, Barack Obama, to the White House. Over four million people are expected to attend this historic event. If you are one of them, or wish to be, read on…

Tickets to the Swearing-In

The 240,000 tickets to the swearing-in ceremony are free and distributed through members of Congress and will put you as close to the new president as the public is allowed. If you’d like a ticket, contact your Congressperson or Senator, though many have already run out of tickets due to the high demand or are instituting a lottery system to distribute them. Caution: If you see tickets for sale anywhere don’t buy them—it’s a scam. Only tickets from members of Congress will get you into this area. If you don’t have tickets, don’t fret—they’re not required to attend the Presidential Inauguration. The entire Mall will be open to the public and JumboTron screens will give everyone a good view of the live broadcast.

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Inaugural Parade

The Inaugural Parade will make its way from the steps of the Capitol to the White House along Pennsylvania Avenue in the afternoon after the swearing-in ceremony. It’s not possible to attend both, so you’ll have to choose to either grab a spot along the parade route or watch the swearing-in on the Mall. Tip: Tickets are not required and viewing stands and bleachers will extend from 3rd to 17th Sts. has a great map of the parade route.

Getting Here

Amtrak will get you into the city’s Union Station which connects to the D.C. Metro. If you’re in the northeast, BoltBus and MegaBus offer inexpensive bus tickets. Grassroots organizations such as Horace Mackey’s are providing affordable coach bus transportation to the Inauguration as well.

Getting Around

Don’t even think about bringing your car into D.C. for the inauguration. The D.C. Metro is your best bet as it will be operating on rush hour service, staying open until 2 AM, and offering free parking. Pack your patience as the trains and stations will be extremely crowded. Tip: Buy your tickets online ahead of time to avoid long lines at the ticket machines. If you don’t want to deal with the distance pricing, opt for Metrorail’s One-Day Pass ($7.80 per day). Remember that due to security measures, the Archives-Navy Memorial/Penn Quarter Metrorail will be closed all day on Inauguration Day. The Smithsonian station on the National Mall will also be closed. However, the Independence Ave SW entrance will stay open. You can PLAN YOUR TRIP on Metro’s Web page, which is offering special Inauguration-specific email alerts up until January 21st.

Where to Eat

Pack some snacks in a lunch bag that meets the size restriction (8″x6″x4″) on bags. Backpacks, coolers, thermoses, and glass containers are all prohibited and anyone attending the Inauguration is subject to search. The few nearby eateries will have marathon-level lines, so eat a hearty breakfast before heading out. If you want to dine out after the Inauguration, make your reservations now. See our D.C. dining guide for area restaurants.

Where to Stay

If you haven’t booked your hotel room for the Inauguration, you can still find apartments for rent, but be prepared to pay a pretty penny. Apartment rentals are available on Craigslist and Vacation Rentals by Owner. A few start ups are meeting the demand for Inauguration housing, including Inaugural Homes, Obama DC Bound, Inauguration Address, and a free Inauguration apartment posting site. Tip: When booking an apartment from any site, double-check the location of the rental, particularly driving distances and proximity to Metro stations.

–Salwa Jabado

Photo Credit: gavdana on flickr

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