White House Tour Overview
There are few buildings as famous and recognizable as the White House in Washington DC. Of course this leaves many local and international travelers asking themselves – how can I get a White House tour?
There are two main White House tours – tours of the East Wing, or the West Wing. The East Wing is by far the most common White House tour to undertake, and allows you access to where the President lives. By contrast, the West Wing tour is where the business happens, and includes the famous Oval Office.
Because of the nature of the West Wing, tours are typically reserved for “VIPs” and guests who are personally invited. Your best bet to get a West Wing tour is to befriend a White House staffer and beg them for an invitation. Nonetheless, the East Wing tour offers an amazing insight into one of the most important and iconic buildings in the United States.
Image source: The official White House Tour website
Get a White House Tour
For US citizens, White House tour requests should be directed to your Member of Congress. You must submit your request between 6 months and 21 days in advance from when you would like to visit. It is advisable to submit your request as early as possible, as times are allocated on a first come, first served basis and therefore dates fill up quickly.
For non-US citizens, the White House website advises you to contact your embassy in Washington DC for assistance submitting a tour request. Sadly, this can be very hit or miss – the Australian embassy, for example, states they cannot assist in arranging White House tours. Therefore, you may want to also try contacting a Congressperson directly for arranging a White House tour.
After you submit your request, you should expect to receive some kind of confirmation of the submission within a week or so. However, you may not hear about whether your request has been accepted until a couple of weeks before your expected date. Unfortunately, White House tours are also subject to last minute cancellations.
White House Tour Hours
White House tours are conducted from 7:30am – 11:30am on Tuesday to Thursday, as well as 7:30am to 1:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays. They are not available on federal holidays.
White House Tour Parking & Transportation
The easiest way to get to the White House is by public transport as there is no on street parking near the White House. The closest Metrorail Stations are the Federal Triangle (take the blue or orange line), Metro Centre (blue, orange or red line) and McPherson Square (blue and orange line).
If you are lucky enough to visit the White House, it is crucial you follow any instructions given to you. You should also call the 24 hour Visitors Office information line on 202-456-7041 to ensure the tour is still operating.
To enter, you must have either a valid government-issued US identification card (such as a driver’s license), or a passport to enter. No other ID is accepted. Make sure the details on your ID matches your submitted details exactly.
Likewise, you must be careful about what items you bring, as security is obviously high! For example, video recorders, handbags and other bags (including purses), strollers and food and beverages are strictly prohibited. You can see the full list at the White House website.
NOTE: non-flash photography with a compact camera (or smartphone) is now permitted in the White House East Wing.
White House Tour Rules & Prohibited Items
According to the White House, prohibited items include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Handbags, book bags, backpacks, purses,
- Food and beverages of any kind, tobacco products, personal grooming items (make-up, hair brush or comb, lip or hand lotions, etc.), any pointed objects (pens, knitting needles, etc.), aerosol containers,
- Strollers, video cameras, selfie sticks,
- Guns, ammunition, fireworks, electric stun guns, mace, martial arts weapons/devices, or knives of any size,
- The U.S. Secret Service reserves the right to prohibit any other personal items.
Umbrellas, wallets, compact cameras with a lens no longer than 3 inches, cell phones and car keys are permitted. Come prepared as there are no storage facilities on-site.
Virtual Tour of the White House
White House Tour Map of the East Wing
Here is the official White House tour map of the East Wing from the White House website:
White House Tour Map of the West Wing
Here is the official White House tour map of the West Wing from the White House website:
White House History & Facts
The White House is the official home and office of the President of the United States. Every president in U.S. history has lived here except for George Washington, since it wasn’t built until after his presidency. However, Washington and the architect of the city, Pierre L’Enfant, selected the location and set forth the plans for its construction. While it’s in a great location now, it was far from the best real estate in the city at the time. They wanted to reserve the best real estate, to the Capitol building, which they viewed as the house of the American people.
In 1800, the second president, John Adams, became the first president to move in. The day after moving in, he wrote a letter to his wife, containing a prayer for the house. He wrote: “I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this House, and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.” President Theodore Roosevelt later had this blessing carved into the mantel in the State Dining Room. Thomas Jefferson, who detested the royalty and grandeur that the country revolted against, moved in after Adams and although it is smaller than many other Presidential homes, he complained that the house was too big, stating that it was “big enough for two emperors, one pope, and the grand lama in the bargain.”
During the War of 1812, British troops raided the White House and burned it down. There was a party planned that evening and the White House tables were already set for a feast, so the troops made sure to eat and drink before setting the building a blaze. One of the most famous and prized American paintings, the portrait of George Washington, was saved from the fire though, as first lady Dolly Madison abandoned her and her husband’s personal possessions in order to take the portrait with her before evacuating. It’s because of Dolly that this artifact of American History still exists and can be found in the National Portrait Gallery today.
The White House was soon rebuilt and up until the early 20th century, it was actually open to the public and open houses were held regularly. These open houses and parties often got rowdy. President Andrew Jackson actually had to leave the White House in order to stay at a nearby hotel after a party of an estimated 20,000 people refused to let the party end. They finally left as Jackson’s aides lured them outside with washtubs full of orange juice and whiskey. President Lincoln often complained that he couldn’t get work done in the White House because he was constantly being interrupted with people seeking jobs and favors, or people coming to give him or ask for advice.
While the average person can no longer just walk in, it has become the place to stay for important foreign dignitary while visiting Washington. Prime Minister of England, Winston Churchill, once stayed for 24 days and the staff had to make many adjustments to his odd behaviors. The Chief Usher at the time stated, “We got used to his ‘jumpsuit,’ the extraordinary one-piece uniform he wore every day, but the servants never quite got over seeing him naked in his room when they’d go up to serve brandy. It was the jumpsuit or nothing. In his room, Mr. Churchill wore no clothes at all most of the time during the day.”
The White House eventually became overcrowded, so President Theodore Roosevelt had all the work offices relocated to the newly constructed West Wing in 1901. He also officially changed the name to the White House. While the White House was its nickname, it was more commonly referred to as the “President’s Palace,” the “President’s House,” or the “Executive Mansion”
A few years later, President William Howard Taft expanded the West Wing further and created the famous Oval Office.
Additions continue to be made for most new presidents, which generally include sports and recreational changes, some of these include:
- Tennis courts built by President Theodore Roosevelt
- A heated indoor swimming pool built by President Franklin Roosevelt, which he used as therapy after he became disabled. However, President Nixon converted the indoor pool to the White House pressroom. President Ford installed an outdoor pool, but a pool still remains under the floor of the pressroom. First lady, Hillary Clinton, wanted to return the pool to use and find another space for the press briefing room, but the idea was never put into action.
- Bowling lanes built by President Truman
- A movie theatre and putting green built by President Eisenhower
- A jogging track built around the driveway by President Clinton
- And basketball courts built by President Obama
While there are a lot of perks paid for by the American tax payer, it may provide some comfort to know that the president, his wife and family are charged for every meal and other incidentals, such as toiletries and dry cleaning.
It now has 132-rooms spread out over 55,000 square feet, with 16 bedrooms and 35 bathrooms. And while it would never be up for sale, real estate website, Zillow.com, estimated that the White House was worth $287 million based on its location, size, and amenities.
Public tours were suspended after the September 11 terrorist attacks, but have resumed on a limited basis if pre-arranged through your Congressional representative, ambassador, or if you know someone who works in the White House. Also, if you invite the president to your wedding by sending an invitation to the White House, you will receive a congratulations card from the president and first lady (or at least from one of the White House interns sending it on their behalf).
Next door, the Willard Hotel has long been a historical landmark due to its proximity to the White House and its housing of many important visitors of the White House. When Ulysses S. Grant was elected, his wife forbid him from smoking cigars in the White House, of which he smoked approximately 20 per day. He used to go the Willard Hotel to work and smoke all day, and they kept a cigar box for him in the lobby. It didn’t take long before people realized that the President of the United States was hanging out in the lobby of the Willard Hotel, so people began stopping by in order to request political favors and gain influence. President Grant hated these people and began referring to them as the “lobbyists” – which is the popular term still used today to refer to people hired to persuade legislators to vote in the favor of their business or cause.
After your White House tour or visit from outside the fence, you’re in a great location to visit the National Mall, Washington DC monuments, Washington DC museums, and continue your Washington DC tour!
Enjoy your White House tour!
White House Tour Guide
- Curated Sites
- Audio Tours
- Offline Map