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The most coveted tour in Washington DC is always the White House. It has been the home to 46 different presidents and their families. The White House has been at the center of American History since the beginning.
It’s been burned down, rebuild and remodel. But one thing is for sure, it will always be a symbol for our nation.
After my third visit to DC, looking upon the White House from outside its gates, I finally got to walk inside and visit the White House and do the full tour experience. I’m sharing with you all the secrets and everything you need to know before visiting.
And a little bit about what they don’t tell you in my White House Tour review.
The White House Tour 2023
Tours are available during the morning (8:00 AM to 12:30 PM) Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, excluding federal holidays.
Interestingly enough, this used to be Monday – Friday during the previous administration.
Tours are free of charge.
Part One: Odds of getting a White House Public Tour
How to Get White House Tour Tickets
The White House public tour is one of the most in-demand tours to get in our Nation’s Capital. Public Tour request must go through your Member of Congress.
A tour request must be submitted up to three months in advance. They must be a minimum of 21 days in advance and no more than 90 days. Officially it’s on a first come first serve basis.
Here is the kicker, even though you submit a request for a tour of the White House, you may not get in. Even if you do everything right.
And they only confirm your tour tickets a couple of weeks before you arrive. So you’ll have to be flexible in planning your trip.
How to increase your chances of getting a White House Tour?
To increase your chances, request tickets as early as possible. Yes, three months in advance. Most state representatives have a formal process on their website to get your tickets. An intern will be the one taking care of everything for you.
Once the White House gets your request, they will contact you to complete an extra screening process. You’ll provide basic background check information for you and everyone in your party. Guest 13 years and older do not need to provide an SSN.
If you are not a US citizen, you can still visit. You need to give your passport details as your ID.
I recommend submitting this as soon as possible. My notice told me I needed to finalize registration by 6 weeks before the tour.
After submitting your request, sit tight. Start planning like you will get in. You will hear back approximately 2-3 weeks prior to the requested tour dates.
One mistake I made, was being too flexible in the request. I requested a tour of both the White House and the US Capitol, giving a window of two days. When I got approval for the White House Tour, it was at the same time as my US Capitol Tour.
I was able to reach out to the intern and get my tours rearranged. I can’t say requesting the tours on two separate days would have improved or hurt my chances, but remember this could be a possibility.
Part Two: You’re In, You’ve got your Tour Date, Now What?
What to Bring With You To Tour The White House?
The White House has some serious rules and regulations around what is allowed inside the White House.
To sum it up, plan on leaving everything at the hotel. Bags, purses, fanny packs, and just about everything you normally carry with you.
On their website, they have an official list. If you have medical-related things, it’s fine… but otherwise, don’t bring them. Wallets and phones are still fine, just not the purse.
You can bring in a compact camera, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the other people on the tour. There is no storage available at the White House to store stuff. That’s why they suggest leaving your belongings in your room.
No small action cameras like a GoPro. No DSLR Cameras with removable lenses.
You can bring in a traditional style pocket camera, like a Canon Power Shot. The lenses cannot extend past 3 inches. Security has a good idea of what’s allowed and what isn’t just by looking at it. They didn’t even question mine.
If you are concerned about what you have, swing by the White House a day or two early and ask some of the secret services offers hanging out around people. You can use your cellphone too.
Actually, they encourage it. I’ll get to that part later. But the camera can only be used for photos, not videos.
The secret service has the right to confiscate anything you may bring. So if you get caught misusing it… beware.
I was super paranoid about picture quality. My Canon Power Shot took great pictures and is pocket friendly.
Where to go for Public Tours of the White House?
Your confirmation email provides you with an official map on where to get in line. The tour line starts in the back of the Treasury Department. A group of National Park Service personal will greet you.
It’s recommended to line up about 15 minutes before your starting time. Talking with people in line, they did not hold you to that time. It took me about 30 minutes to get through security, so officially I was 15 minutes late for my timed entry.
They ask that everyone taking the tour to have their own copy of their White House tour tickets. This includes children.
Everyone 18 and older will need to present a valid government-issued photo id upon entering the White House complex. Kids will not need a government-issued photo ID, like adults need. They just need to know their Date of Birth.
Make sure to have your ID out until you cross through the gates and are in the White House complex. They ask for you to present a valid id multiple times.
PRO TIP: Keep your ID in hand. They ask for it several times.
You will spend a good part of your time in line outside, without shelter. There are some sections that have a tent cover, to give you a break.
They recommend that you’re hydrated before getting there because you cannot bring water in with you. While I agree, don’t overdo it because there are no restrooms available.
Wear sunscreen and take any other precautions you would. And dress for the weather. DC heat is relentless.
Part Three: The Public White House Self-Guided Tour
Where is my tour guide?
The White House tour is all self-guided. This one took me by surprise too.
Before going, download the official app- The White House Historical Association. It walks you step by step through each room on the tour route. It also has information about some of the artifacts and key pieces in their collection.
There are also secret service agents positioned around the rooms to help answer any additional questions you have.
This took a little bit of time to get used to. In my mind, these people are on duty to protect and serve. Outside the White House during the security process, it was very intense.
If you were not where you should be, they are quick to let you know and to keep the line moving. Don’t leave gaps while you take pictures. You didn’t mess around.
But inside, the Secret Service is very friendly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure we were being watched at all times. But they welcomed questions and were even quizzing each other on the history of the rooms. It was very light-hearted.
Pro Tip: Review the White House App before going. Soak in as much information as possible so you can use can be in the moment while you are there.
What will you see on a White House Tour?
East Wing Lobby
They call it a lobby, but it was a hallway into the White House.
The Family Theater was created by Franklin D. Roosevelt for viewing wartime newsreels. Since then First Families have used it as a theatre room.
East Garden Room
The Garden Room looks out onto the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden. The room also houses a Bust of Abraham Lincoln and has the White House Historical Association Gift Shop, where you can pick up official presidential ties and other apparel.
My tour was while President Trump was in office. I’m not sure if this is there with all administrations.
Ground Floor Corridor
More of just a hallway, the ground floor corridor is where you can peek your head into other rooms. But more notably it holds the Baltimore Sheraton Breakfront Bookcase housing some China and other pieces from past presidents.
You’ll also find Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton’s Portraits there. Half of the hallways are blocked off as it is access to the West Wing of the White House.
The Library was built in 1935 and houses more than 2,800 different books representing the best of American history and literature.
The Vermeil Room was originally a ladies sitting room. But after the White House acquired a collection of gold-plated silver or vermeil, it now is the home of those pieces.
The China Room hosts different China from each president and their wives. Like with all of the rooms on this floor, you cannot enter it.
The only way to see some of the pieces is to visit the Smithsonian American History Museum.
By far the most intimidating of all the rooms for a few reasons. First, it’s the largest and used for ceremonial events, portrait unavailing, and metal of honor awards. It’s used for presidential funerals and bill signings.
It also includes the portrait of George Washington the Frist Lady Dolley Madison had servants save as they fled the White House when the British invaded in 1814.
While in this room, turn around and take a look at the long hallway. A lot of press conferences are held here. Include the one where President Obama announced the death of Osama Bin Ladin.
Used as a sitting room for teas, interviews, and small parties.
The Red Room is where smaller gatherings and dinner parties are held. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt held women-only press conferences in this room as well.
State Dining Room
The State Dining Room was Thomas Jeffersons’ office. During Theodore Roosevelt’s time, in 1902 the room was enlarged.
It is the primary place for formal dinners to honor heads of state and other dignitaries. Kings and Queens have dinner here.
The hallways connect the State Dining Room and the East Room. In the hallways, you’ll notice a lot of portraits including John F. Kennedy and Ronald Regan.
There is also the presidential seal located above the entrance of the Blue Room. It’s a great place to snap a pic…
The Entrance Hall is a place where the President and First Lady have always used to greet guests. A couple of fun things to watch out for are the Steinway Piano and the pictures of George W. Bush.
There is also a plaque embedded on the floor that most people miss, marking the dates of the construction, and major renovation years the White House underwent. The stars represent the number of states present when the stone was first installed.
The North Portico, or the main entrance to the Whitehouse is the most ionic. This is probably the only place you’ll be able to get a shot of the White House without the fence.
Why does the White House feel like a museum?
A good chunk of the rooms are blocked off, with the exception of a few that you can walk through a designated path. They don’t want you getting close enough to touch anything for obvious reasons. Think of it as a walk through a museum.
Just because it’s a museum during the tours, doesn’t mean that it’s always that way. Around 1pm, the tours stop and the executive family takes full control of the White House again.
If the family wants to use the room during tour hours, the staff has the ability to close particular rooms or even shut down the tours altogether.
One of the rooms on the app was not open when I was on the tour. I suspect it was closed because it was in use. This is part of the reason why they don’t let you know if you’ve been approved until a couple of weeks before your visit.
Additional Tips Before your White House Tour
- If you are unsure at any time in DC or have questions about things, smile at a secret service member, police or anyone nearby. If they smile back, you are good to ask a question. Even silly questions like “What Happened to the Top of the Tree?”
- If you have time, go through the White House Tour app before going on your tour. This way you will have an idea of what to expect and some of the fun facts about the White House before your visit. As someone who spends most of their time using their phone for pictures, I did not want my nose in the phone reading as I entered each room. I also feel that knowing your history before visiting always makes the visit more memorable. Like knowing where the State Dinners are held, and in that room, they hosted Queen Elizabeth and other Dignitaries. It elevates a room from just an old room to a History.
- Do not feel rushed. Yes, you have to be moving in with the flow of traffic. But if you want to get a picture of something, linger a little longer. This is probably going to be the only time you set foot in here again, so make it memorable.
- As always be respectful. It doesn’t matter who holds the office and where you land politically, this is the White House. It’s a symbol of our history. And one thing I appreciated on my tour was that everyone left politics aside. There were no MAGA hats. There was no one talking in favor or against the current president’s politics. They were just excited about getting to walk through the gates.
- When you walk outside the front doors of the White House, don’t be afraid to look back. It’s going to be one of the best views you’ll get from the White House.
Part Four: What if I don’t get in?
If you get the rejection letter, don’t worry. Chances are they had too many requests. Try again on your next visit.
The White House Visitor Center
Stop by the White House Visitor Center and see a lot of the historical pieces and learn more about the White House.
Do a Virtual Tour
Download the WHExperance virtual tour and walk through each of the rooms on your smart phone.
Take a walk around the White House. It’s an experience all on its’ own. Around 7 am during the week, you will have an unobstructed view of the White House.
You will have to stay a block away from the White House on each side and in the back. You can walk on Pennsylvania Ave in front.
As it gets later in the day, you’ll be dealing with tour groups, protesters, and preachers broadcasting in front. It can get intense.
Consider taking a walking tour of the great architecture around Washington DC. There is a great Federal Triangle Architecture Tour, led by a local guide. You’ll start in front of the White House neighborhood and then move down Pennsylvania Avenue, learning about the history of the town.
Check out some other free things to do in DC
Before you go, I recommend brushing up on your White House Facts. There is no shortage of great books on the topic from all different points of view. Politics aside, here are my favorite recommendations.
- Inside the White House: Stories From the World’s Most Famous Residence. This book has interesting stories for the First Families through the ages. Including great images from their time. It’s a great way to give you a sense of what to expect and the events that happened here.
- The Hidden White House: Harry Truman and the Reconstruction of America’s Most Famous Residence. Dealing with one of the biggest crises to happen to the White House in recent day, find out what went into the biggest renovation in the Houses history.
- The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House. Told from the perspective of a White House usher, this book brings new insight into what it’s like to live inside these walls. It’s my favorite book in the collection because it tells one person’s story.
- Politics aside, Becoming by Michelle Obama. The book gives a lot of insight into what it’s like navigating raising children inside the Whitehouse.
other Questions about the White House Tour
How far in advance should I book a tour of the White House?
White House Tours should be reserved three months in advance and as late as three weeks before hand. The earlier you book, the better chance you’ll get in.
How hard is it to get White House tour tickets?
White House Tour Tickets are easy to get, as long as you do some advanced planning. You can request tickets from a member of congress, at least three weeks in advance. Both U.S. Nationals and Foreign visitors can you’re the White House.
What kind of tours can you do when visiting the White House?
The White House has one type of tour available to the public. It’s a self-guided tour of the first and second floors of the building. It includes all the formal reception rooms. Private facilities and the executive wings are not included.
Is White House tour worth it?
The White House tour is worth it, if you enjoy American history. You’ll enter rooms and stand where kings and queens have stood. You’ll be walking through history. From the architecture and artwork, you’ll be amazed. The White House is a historic and iconic symbol of the United States and is a must see tour.
Would I do a tour of the White House Again?
Entering the White House was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had. White House tours are free. The public with house tour has a limited number of spaces are available. Tours fill up quickly so you’ll need to request your tickets as soon as possible.