How To Get a Free Tour Inside the White House

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Washington DC is full of iconic monuments, memorials, museums, and buildings.  I strongly encourage every American family to try and visit, at least once.  Of course the White House is one of the most iconic buildings in the nation, but most just view it from the street behind the gates on Pennsylvania Avenue.  That’s a decent view, but did you know you can go inside the White House?

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You can get a better view than this!

Public self-guided tours of the White House are available, but you have to plan ahead in take advantage.  My family just took advantage of this opportunity, and I’m happy to share a few details about the tour and how you can get free tickets yourself.

How to Request Tickets to Tour the White House:

Requests for the tour must be submitted through your Member of Congress or embassy (for foreign visitors) three weeks to six months in advance of the desired tour date. My understanding is that it is a first come, first served situation, so I would submit the request six months in advance with the date range that would work for your family.  We contacted our representative in January for our July trip, but did not know the exact time of our White House tour until about a week before our trip.  Of course there is no guarantee you will get tickets, but the earlier the better.

Each Member of Congress has established his or her own procedures by which to accept tour reservation requests, so you need to contact their offices directly to learn what their process is.  You will have to submit identifying info so they can run background checks – you are going inside the White House after all.  If you aren’t sure about how to contact the reps or senators for your area then visit house.gov or senate.gov to find your members’ websites.

Tour Operation Dates:

The self-guided tours are generally available from 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Fridays, and 7:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Saturdays (excluding federal holidays). Hours and availability are always subject to change – you can call a 24-hour line at 202-456-7041 for the most current tour information.

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Tour entrance – right across the street from the Category 5 W Washington DC!

Rooms in the White House You See:

Okay, now that you know how to get tickets to the White House, here is how it goes once you get inside.  After lining up 15 minutes before our scheduled tour, showing our IDs (drivers license or passport for US citizens 18+), and going through several ID checks, both a metal detector and a dog sniff station, we were in.  The first hallway we walked down was honestly a little disappointing as there are rooms such as the China Room and Library, but you can’t go in as they are roped off with a velvet rope and you can just stare in from the hallway.

There was a popular display in the first hallway about Presidential pets that my kid loved…naturally followed by a gift stand where Grandma bought her a stuffed “Millie” (Bush’s dog).  Yup, there is a toy gift stand inside the White House.  While it was cool to be in the White House, the first few rooms were not overly impressive because it still didn’t feel like you were in the real White House.  However, once you go up the stairs it gets better.  You get to walk through the East Room, the State Dining Room, the Blue Room, the Red Room and the Green Room.  There are ropes that keep you from being able to sit on the furniture or touch the decor, but you are in the rooms, and that is pretty cool.

White House MapI think my favorite part of the tour was actually looking out of the windows of the White House and onto the lawn, as that is what made me realize we were actually in the White House.  Seeing the hallway with the partially rolled out red carpet that serves as the backdrop for lots of conferences on TV was also pretty cool.  Viewing the oil paintings of various Presidents and First Ladies in person was also enjoyable – especially seeing things like the stark contrast of the bright and sunny painting of Ronald Reagan hanging across the hall from the dark and subdued painting of John F. Kennedy.  You aren’t seeing these paintings in a book – you are seeing them with your own eyes!

Ronald Reagan Painting

JFK painting

There are Secret Service agents in every room, but they aren’t just there for security, they are also able to share some information and history about the rooms they are in if you ask.  Some are better at this than others, but most seemed to be more than willing to offer some commentary that brought the rooms to life.   However, if you don’t ask, they generally don’t say anything.

Young kids like my four year old are not the target demographic for this tour, though hopefully she will be able to look back and appreciate the opportunity one day.  I would think that kids who have studied the White House and government some in elementary or middle school would be the perfect age for a visit.  In fact, get me to tell you the story some time about how my kid ended up in time-out in the corner of the East Room and Secret Service checked on her she was so fussy (ie tired).  Oh boy.

You can’t bring cameras or anything else into the White House, so no photos, but you can have a camera phone and use it right after you exit the front steps of the White House for some patriotic selfies and other fun shots.

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My dad, tired kid, mom, and sister

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Be sure to try and get tickets to the White House tour if you have a trip to DC in your future as it really was a special experience, even with my tired kid who can now add “was in time out in the White House” to her travel resume.

Stay tuned for more fun tips for families visiting DC, and happy July 4th.  We are thrilled to have the ability to use miles, points, and travel deals to celebrate the nation’s birthday in its capital.

 

Comments

  1. We did the tour the day before you. I submitted my request last October so I was glad to get this tour (and the capital hill tour). I agreed with you it was when I looked through the downstairs window into the lawn/garden that I realized I was walking through the part of White House I saw On TV many times. it was disappointing that the dish room was blocked off, but then upstairs the dinning room for state dinner, the blue room and red room were all very impressive. The 1938 grand piano on the way out was absolutely beautiful. My 3 girls all enjoyed the tour and I was relieved that my 8 year old didn’t say any wrong words!!!

  2. Regarding photography inside – during Christmas is actually the only time you CAN take photographs inside the White House on this tour. I have some beautiful prints in my house from this trip a few years ago. It’s also a magical time to see the house decorated.

  3. Very nice! It has been some years (and a few requests) since I was last in the White House. When we did visit, it was after we were unable to get tickets for the public tour so we reached out to a family friend (high-level person in the Secret Service) and he gave us a personal tour. It was really awesome. We even got to see some things that were not on the public tour and heard some fascinating stories from a guy who was on the protection detail for George H.W. Bush.
    It is definitely something everyone should try to see once – I know it was a memorable time for me and glad it was for you as well! Thanks for the detailed report!

  4. Ah, you youngsters….the present tour requirements are a direct result of September 11. Prior to that, you could just line up whenever you were in Washington to take the tour (which I did, in the 1990’s). As they say….”life changed forever that day”.

  5. You mentioned that you aren’t allowed to take cameras. I’m curious if purses or any types of bags allowed. We’re thinking about a trip to DC with the kids sometime next year and my daughter has severe food allergies. I need to carry her epipens and Benadryl at all times and am curious how that would be handled.

  6. Okay, following along on your trip (on Twitter and your blog) has inspired me to get OUT of foggy old San Francisco next year and go somewhere where we can actually see fireworks.

    Also, I would love to hear the time-out story. 😉

    Great post. You’re keepin’ it real, MP.

    • Kendra, do it! Will have to expand in time out. It’s just too bad I don’t have a photo. It may be fancy, it may be nasty, it may be sad, it may be funny, it may be tantrum ridden, but it is always real. Can’t wait to hear about your next adventure!

  7. Just an FYI for any foreign visitors. Many embassies will not help you get tickets. As a DC local I participate on the DC TripAdvisor board. One foreign visitor was able to get tickets through the DC representative but usually if your embassy will not help you need a US citizen or permanent resident to get the tickets for you. I have been told it has to do with the checks they have to do on visitors and the embassies don’t want to waste their time helping.

    I was blessed to have a friend who had a friend who was working in the situation room at the WH. We were able to get a tour in the evening of the West Wing. I got to sit in the President’s chair in one of the conference rooms and look into the Oval Office. I also saw the room where the pictures were taken the night of the Bin Laden raid. It is really small. I now need to try to get tickets for the historical part of the tour.

  8. My brother, sister and I went to Washington last July and it was one of my favorite trips ever. We did not get to tour the White house but we did get a private tour of Congress. There were alot of group tours going on that day but we had a private tour which was really neat. My brother is in Washington so often, almost weekly, that he was really a better tour guide than the young lady that gave us the tour. It was very crowded in the buildings and I was afraid to get my phone out to take pictures because I would have certainly gotten lost. The Smithsonian American History Museum was one of my favorite places to visit. There was so much to see and it was just so cool. Ofcourse, we saw the Air and space museum, the Lincoln Memorial, the vietnam veterans memorial and the WW II Memorial. I can’t wait to go back and take my husband this time. We stayed in Old Town Alexandria, VA in a Embassy Suites. There was a Metro Stop right across the street which was super convenient. We had plenty of restaurants around the hotel.

  9. The White House at Christmas is a wonderful tour. I also enjoyed the garden tour. Cameras are allowed and you get tickets that weekend so no need to worry about contacting anyone in advance. Last year they were still giving them out to people walking by in the afternoon. Unfortunately I don’t think the dates are announced very far in advance so it would be best for a last minute trip.

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/04/18/2014-white-house-spring-garden-tours

  10. I found out recently from a friend who used to live in DC that you can bowl in the White House bowling alley if you know someone who works in the government. They get to invite guests once a quarter or something. So if you ever befriend a DC government employee, be sure to ask them to hook you up!

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