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Know Before You Go: Visiting Washington DC During Election Season

Read this before booking your election season–trip to the US capital.

Know Before You Go: Visiting Washington DC During Election Season
Hi, I'm Madigan!

Madigan Talmage-Bowers is a writer based in Denver, Colorado. She has also lived in Italy, San Francisco, and New York City, where she studied media theory at the New School. She loves introducing her kids to ancient history, local art, hiking trails, and new foods on adventures around the globe.

Washington DC hums with excitement during the presidential election season—reaching its peak every four years beginning around October and culminating with Inauguration Day on January 20. With patience and advance planning, here’s how to make the most of a visit to the US capital during this momentous time.

Delve into presidential history with themed tours

Celebrate the reason for the season.

Election season is a perfect opportunity to brush up on your knowledge of the US government. Explore the legacy behind monuments such as the US Capitol Building, White House, and Lincoln Memorial on a guided bus, trolley, or Segway tour that make it easy to cover all the big sights in one day. Also, look for special election- or inauguration-themed tours that showcase the parade route down Pennsylvania Avenue and offer insight into election events.

Enjoy the city without the crowds

Take advantage of the calm before the storm.

In the days leading up to Election Day in early November, candidates and their crews are generally out on the campaign trail or voting in their home districts, leaving the capital a fairly peaceful place to watch the results roll in. All the top DC attractions remain open throughout the month of November and much of December, so you can still pack in plenty of sightseeing amidst the anticipation.

Visitors tour the Jefferson Memorial in DC.
Top DC sights remain open in the run-up to election season.Foto: Lee Hoagland / Viator

Plan ahead for inauguration day

Don't let someone snag your spot.

If you want to witness the pomp and parades of Inauguration Day, book far in advance, as accommodations fill up quickly. While tickets to the swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the US Capitol building are free, they are difficult to secure and only available via local representatives and senators. If you can’t get your hands on tickets, the National Mall is a popular place to join in the action from afar. The ceremony itself is followed by a parade along Constitution Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, and 17th Street. Plan to arrive early; many viewers get there to stake out a spot as soon as public entrances open at 6.30am.

Keep an eye on closures

Not everything will be readily accessible.

Inauguration Day is a federal holiday for employees in the DC area, so expect many businesses to be closed. Because of parade street closures and congestion, many guided tours may not operate on this day. Also, keep in mind that security will be amped up in and around DC, and the Archives/Navy Memorial Metro station will be closed, so be sure to pack patience and leave yourself plenty of time to get around.

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