Ready for his big moment, Mr Trump traded in his beloved private plane for a military jet on his journey to Washington.
As he left New York behind, the capital braced for an onslaught of inaugural crowds and demonstrators numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
Mr Trump was already taking on more of the trappings of the presidency, giving a salute to the Air Force officer who welcomed him as he stepped off the military plane with wife Melania at Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington.
Meanwhile, the White House was quickly emptying out.
President Barack Obama’s schedule was empty beyond his daily briefing and his final weekly lunch with vice president Joe Biden,
Vice president-elect Mike Pence, in a tweet, called Inauguration Eve “a momentous day before a historic day”, as security barricades and blockades went up around Washington in preparation for Friday’s swearing-in ceremony.
“We are all ready to go to work,” Mr Pence said at a morning news conference. “In fact, we can’t wait to get to work for the American people to make it great again.”
Mr Trump’s first scheduled stop in Washington is a leadership luncheon bringing together inaugural officials, top Republican leaders in Congress, his cabinet picks and top members of his new White House team.
Outgoing homeland security secretary Jeh Johnson said he would be putting on his “favourite DHS jacket” and taking to the streets to inspect security preparations for the inaugural festivities.
He said that areas where inaugural crowds will congregate will be “extra fortified this year with dump trucks, heavily armoured vehicles to prevent anybody who is not authorised from being in the area from driving something in there”.
He said there was “no specific credible threat” related to the inauguration.
Mr Trump’s public schedule for the inaugural celebration starts with an afternoon wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery. Next, a welcome concert on the steps of Lincoln Memorial ending with fireworks.
The two-hour concert, open to the public, was to feature country star Toby Keith, soul’s Sam Moore, actor Jon Voight and The Piano Guys. Also performing are Lee Greenwood, DJ RaviDrums, 3 Doors Down, and The Frontmen of Country.