1Walk the Halls of the U.S. Capitol
One of first items usually on the newly sworn-in President’s agenda is a traditional luncheon at the U.S. Capitol. The lunch is hosted in the National Statuary Hall where guests eat surrounded by statues of prominent citizens from every state – perhaps a subtle reminder that the people will be watching the President for the next four years. Free tours of the U.S. Capitol, including the Statuary Hall, can be arranged through the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.
2Peep the Presidential Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery
Their faces adorn money, monuments, school walls and countless books though the only place to see a complete collection of official presidential portraits outside of the White House is the National Portrait Gallery. The tradition dates back to George Washington, whose official portrait was fortunately removed from the White House before it was torched during the War of 1812.
3Stand on the U.S. Capitol West Lawn
The Presidential Inauguration takes place on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, spilling over into the West Lawn, and while you won’t be able to get anywhere near it without an official ticket come Jan. 20, you can visit the grounds most other times. Take photos of the recently renovated U.S. Capitol Dome or sit in the shade of a Memorial Tree and ponder what must be going through an incoming President’s mind as they take the oath of office.
Visit the First Ladies Collection at National Museum of American History
The National Museum of American History recognizes the impact first ladies have had on the United States as well as their style with a display of inaugural gowns and evening dresses from the past 100 years. The museum also houses one of the most identifiable Presidential accessories – the top hat that Abraham Lincoln wore to Ford’s Theater the night he was assassinated.
5Lincoln’s Bible at the Library of Congress
While it’s not required by the Constitution, most presidents have sworn the oath of office with their hand on a Bible. Barack Obama used Abraham Lincoln’s bible in both his 2009 and 2013 swearing in ceremonies. That bible – along with handwritten drafts of inaugural addresses, letters and diaries, tickets, programs and photographs – is part of the Library of Congress’ collection of items relating to inaugurations. Visit or take a guided tour at the Library from Monday through Saturday.
6Sneak a peek of the Presidential Box at the Kennedy Center
One of the presidential perks includes having access to the music, ballet, theater and cultural events at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The Concert Hall, Opera House and Eisenhower Theater all have a presidential box for White House use. Visitors can peek inside the anteroom leading to the Presidential box during one of the free tours of the Kennedy Center that depart every 10 minutes.
7Tour the White House
Another inauguration tradition is the Presidential Procession from the U.S. Capitol to the president’s new home and office, the White House. If you haven’t been able to secure a tour, pose for obligatory photos on both the south and north side then head to the White House Visitor Center for more insights into the most famous address in the country including artifacts, an interactive display and short film. Find out more information about how to tour the White House (all tour requests must be submitted 21 days or more from visit).
8Pay Respects to Past Presidents at their Memorials
There’s perhaps no greater reminder of the history that has been made in Washington, DC than the presidential memorials and monuments. Gaze up at the statues and read inspiring quotes from Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt at their memorials located around the National Mall.
9Visit Kramerbooks Bookstore
If your curiosity has been piqued and you want to learn more about presidents and politics, browse the bookshelves or listen to a reading from one of the many free author events at Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe. President Obama and his daughters have even visited.
The District is full of budget-friendly activities for the whole family while you're visiting for the presidential inauguration. Check out the rest of the 100 Free & Almost Free Things to Do in Washington, DC.