TRAVEL – A guide to visit Washington, D.C. for the Inauguration and Christmas


December 1, 2012
Hanna Mangold
News Writer/News Assistant

Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The holiday season is a great time to visit our nation’s capital. Whether planning a tour of the White House or ice skating in the Sculpture Garden, there is a festive ring to the city sure to delight the entire family. This year, Inauguration Day will draw even more visitors to Washington, DC.  With hundreds of thousands flocking to the District for the momentous event, it is imperative to plan ahead to make the trip full of adventure, yet free of hassle.

The Inauguration
On Monday, January 21, 2013, President Obama will be sworn in for the second time at the 57th Presidential Inauguration Ceremony. (Exact times will be announced in the weeks leading up to the event.) Following the swearing-in will be the Inaugural Parade—open to the public—and the private President’s Luncheon in Statuary Hall, hosted by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

Each member of the 113th Congress is given a limited amount of tickets to distribute at his or her discretion to their constituents. There are no tickets available for purchase, so be cautious of online sellers offering deals. Tickets to the swearing-in ceremony are free and can be obtained by contacting a congressional representative. Tickets are not required to watch the swearing-in ceremony from the National Mall. Visitors will be able to view the ceremony on jumbotrons from the public areas beginning at Fourth Street, NW.

It is recommended to dress for cold weather and to plan for rain just in case. Umbrellas will not be permitted due to security concerns, and as January weather in this area varies, it is best to be prepared. For more information, visit Inauguration Day security here.

Official Inaugural Balls are attended by the President and First Lady and are usually invitation only events. Many unofficial balls also occur throughout the weekend, although tickets to many are already sold out. Visit the lists of Inaugural Ball locations, dates, and ticket information here.

With over 1.8 million attendees in 2009—the largest crowd for any DC event—inauguration weekend will see record numbers of visitors to the District. As this year’s ceremony also happens to fall on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, officials are preparing for a major influx of tourists. It is necessary to reserve hotels early and to prepare to travel by public transit. Visitors should allow extra time for congestion and security and save time by buying Metro tickets in advance. Information on purchasing Metro tickets and tips on reducing travel time can be found here.

Commemorative SmarTrip cards are available for $15 and come preloaded with a one-day pass. The Metro will run with peak fares from four o’clock on the morning of Inauguration Day to two o’clock that night.

  • To contact WMATA authorities, call 202-637-7000, or click here.
  • Get a list of affordable and convenient DC hotels here;  many are already full for that weekend. Also check Expedia, Kayak, and other travel sites that may offer deals on hotels when booked with airfare or car rentals.

White House Christmas Tree Lighting
Even without the inauguration, there are many other exciting reasons to visit Washington, D.C. this season. On December 6th, the ninetieth annual lighting of the White House Christmas tree will occur in front of a select audience. Although there are no remaining tickets available, the ceremony can be viewed live online.

Visit the White House for Christmas
Visitors are also welcome to tour the White House free of charge from 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on Fridays, and 7:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Saturdays. While the tours are free, tickets are required and can be obtained by contacting a member of Congress. For non-US citizens, tickets are available through respective embassies located in DC. Complete lists of ID requirements, security screenings, prohibited items, hours, and travel recommendations are available here. The White House is accessible by Metro, just a short walk from the Farragut North, Farragut West, McPherson Square, Metro Center, and Federal Triangle stations. Call the twenty-four-hour visitor office information line at 202-456-7041.

Visiting the US Capitol during the Holidays
Visiting the Capitol is another great way to enjoy the unique political tourism available in DC. Located at the east end of the National Mall and walking distance from the Union Station, Capitol South, and Federal Center Southwest Metro stations, the Capitol Building is open to visitors Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Visiting is free, but certain tours may require advance passes. Information on touring the galleries can be obtained by contacting members of Congress. All visitors must go through a security screening, and it is strongly recommended to review the list of prohibited items and capitol etiquette guidelines before arriving.

Tourist information can be found here, and information on booking a tour here.  Questions may be directed to 202-226-8000.

To ensure a safe and worry-free trip to Washington, D.C., this holiday season or inaugural weekend, plan ahead and allow extra time for travel. There is a wealth of other wonderful tourism options to consider, many completely free. The Smithsonian Institute offers the world’s largest collection of museums and research facilities, most of which are located downtown on the National Mall. The National Zoo is also Metro-accessible and free to the public. When traveling to Washington for the inauguration, it is a good idea to plan a couple days worth of activities to avoid traveling on the busiest days to and from the area.  Careful preparation for these events can result in unforgettable moments and memories in our nation’s capital.


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