How to Visit the White House: A Local’s Guide

So, you want to visit DC’s favorite postcard spot, aka The White House. Scoring a tour of the halls of executive power may not be quite as easy as visiting a Smithsonian Museum or even the U.S. Capitol, but it’s definitely possible with a little advance knowledge of how to get in and how to visit the White House.

If a DC trip is in your near future and your heart is set on visiting the President’s Palace, you may want to leave a little extra time to get the necessary credentials to get in. With that in mind, here are my best tips for winning a White House tour to remember.

Reminder: check openings, hours and dates before visiting any attractions in Washington, D.C.

White House in Washington DC USA

Table of Contents

How to Visit the White House

Requesting A Tour of the White House

Booking your White House tour is not quite as simple as grabbing a ticket online. If you’re wondering how to get a tour of the White House, keep in mind that you’ll need to send a request to your state’s Congressperson to be granted access. If you’re coming from outside the U.S., you should reach out to the embassy of your home country in Washington.

You can find your local Congressperson and their contact information based upon your home zip code at the “Find Your Representative” page of the official U.S. House of Representatives website. Many Congress members already have a page on their websites dedicated to requesting a White House visit because of the volume of requests they receive.

You’ll want to be specific in your email about the days you are available to take the White House tour, as you may not get your first choice.

As previously mentioned, leave a large window of time between initially requesting a tour and the date you plan to visit the White House. The White House’s official site says requests should be submitted no less than 21 days and no more than three months in advance of your White House visit, and I recommend leaning towards the latter part of that range.

The approval waiting period depends on a lot of factors, but responses are usually returned around two weeks before your tour day. If you are approved, an invitation will come back with a specific time and date of your visit.

Along with guidelines and rules for the visit, your acceptance email will also contain a link that will prompt you to enter in names and information for all guests that will come with you. Most importantly, double check that the information you submit matches exactly to the information on the government-issued I.D. that you plan to bring to your visit. If in doubt, call the White House’s 24-hour information line at (202) 456-7041.

Make sure you send back any information requested in your invitation email as soon as possible; tour spots are in high demand, and your spot could go to someone else if you wait too long to reply.

White House in Washington DC USA

What To Bring to the white house

The main rule for a visit to the White House: take as little as possible! Because of the strict rules, you’ll want to only take the bare necessities to ensure you’re not asked by security to throw anything out. When in doubt, leave it at the hotel!

Prohibited items include backpacks, bags, strollers, any food or drink, and any liquid or aerosol containers. You can bring in compact cameras with lenses less than 3 inches long, but no video cameras or anything with a flash.

If that’s not possible, you can check out some of the luggage storage services by reservation in the area. Vertoe charges $6.95 per item stored for a day and has a storage location of around half a mile from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, with the exact address available upon confirmation. StoreMe and Luggage Hero are two other sites that partner with nearby hotels to offer bag storage.

Make sure you take some time searching through the storage options available, as some prices can run extremely high, especially during tourist season.

You will be asked to present a non-expired, government-issued I.D. as you enter. That includes passports, drivers’ licenses, and military I.D.’s. 

I recommend coming in with just a phone and wallet if you can manage it!

White House in Washington DC USA

How to get to the White House

You’ll want to arrive at the White House around 15-30 minutes before your tour is set to start. That will most likely be between the self-guided tour hours of 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. from Tuesday to Thursday, and 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Friday or Saturday.

Luckily, the White House is near the centerpoint of DC public transportation, so getting there is a piece of cake. If you plan to travel by Metrorail, you can take the Red line to Farragut North and walk south across Farragut Square. Alternatively, take the Blue, Silver or Orange lines, get off at McPherson Square, and head Southwest.

Theoretically, it is possible to find street parking around downtown D.C., but it won’t be easy. There are a few private parking structures scattered around, like those of Colonial Parking, but costs run ridiculously high ($12 an hour!). I highly recommend relying on D.C.’s clean and efficient Metro system and leaving the car at home.

If you’re not pressed for time, the White House Visitor Center, located at 1450 Pennsylvania Ave. at the Southeastern corner of the White House lawn, is worth a stop.

The Center offers engaging exhibits featuring more than 100 historical artifacts, archival footage and photos, and all the materials you need to brush up on your White House trivia, not to mention all the DC souvenirs you could possibly want. Notably, the Center has a cap of 100 visitor capacity at a time, and requires visitors to pass through a security checkpoint.

Before making your way to the entrance, don’t forget to make a bathroom stop! The White House Visitor Center has a bathroom, as well as the Ellipse Visitor Pavilion, across 15th and down E Street.

Also keep in mind that texting and talking on the phone are not permitted on White House tours, so get your communications out of the way before entering.

White House in Washington DC USA

How to see the White House
White House Tour Route

Tours begin at the East wing. That means most visitors will enter the grounds at New York Avenue and 15th Street, right in front of the Treasury Department. Make sure you check the instructions of your invitation email carefully for your exact entrance instructions.

White House tours follow a set mapped route. You will start in the Visitors Foyer of the East Wing and then pass through the East Colonnade, with the opportunity to see the Family Movie Theater. From there, head through the East Garden Room into the Library, China, and Vermeil Rooms before climbing the stairs.

On the State Floor, you’ll tour the East, Green, Blue, and Red Rooms, then the State and Old Family Dining Rooms, before passing through the Cross Hall to exit. The route is fully equipped with ramps and elevators to accommodate visitors using wheelchairs.

Most importantly, before a visit, I highly recommend setting aside some time for casual research of the White House’s artwork, history, and what’s on display. There is a lot of material available, and knowing what you most want to see and what most interests you greatly enhances the tour!

I would consult the White House Info page for up-to-date information on tour routes and offerings. The official site of the White House Historical Association is another excellent resource for more in-depth information on White House history and decorations, from the story behind Lincoln’s portrait in the State Dining Room to President Truman’s extensive renovations.

You can also download the White House Experience app, which has up-to-date maps and information on the building, as well as 360-degree virtual tours of every room and gives you excellent tips on how to tour the White House.

Now you’re ready for an exciting tour of DC’s most famous spot. Enjoy your peek behind the presidential curtain!

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