A Visitor’s Guide to The White House

The White House is one of Washington, D.C.’s most prominent attractions and is beloved by people from all around the world for its signature façade and historic interior.

An iconic attraction in and of itself, it’s also been the home to every American President since John Adams. Make the most of your D.C. vacation with a little trip to the country’s most famous white building!

If you’re planning on incorporating a visit to the White house into a larger touring itinerary, be sure to pick up a Washington DC Explorer Pass® to save on admission to top tours, cruises, museums, and more!

You can save up to 40% on combined admission, so there’s more left over for D.C.’s award-winning restaurant scene.

White House History

First constructed in the late eighteenth century on a site selected by none other than George Washington himself, the White House has been the symbolic cornerstone of executive leadership in America since the very beginning.

Although the building was destroyed by a fire during the War of 1812, the original architect, James Hoban, was able to reconstruct the building.

New additions were added by many subsequent presidents, the most significant of which were Teddy Roosevelt’s expansions in the early twentieth century, William Howard Taft’s construction of the Oval Office, and Harry S. Truman’s conservation and reconstruction efforts.

Today, the White House is probably the most impressive residence outside of Hollywood (and maybe even then!), featuring 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms (!), 28 fireplaces, and 8 staircases in the Residence. Although you’ll only see a few on your tour, they’re definitely worth the effort.

Getting There

Image credit: whitehouse.gov

Image credit: whitehouse.gov

Getting to the White House couldn’t be easier. It’s within a short distance of three different Metro stops (Federal Triangle, Metro Center, and McPherson Square) and is easily walkable from the Foggy Bottom neighborhood. Since parking is practically nonexistent in that area, we definitely recommend hopping on the train.

The Exterior

"1122-WAS-The White House" by Ingfbruno - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

1122-WAS-The White House” by IngfbrunoOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The easiest part of the building to see is the exterior. You can get great views of the façade on the north side from a relatively minimal distance – there is a fence in the way, but it’s not terribly intrusive in photos and is easy to see through. The other side of the building also features the Ellipse, the Truman Balcony, and more.

You can walk around the building pretty easily, but expect crowds of locals enjoying the weather, protestors (with varying degrees of activity), and other tourists. It’s also possible that areas of the sidewalk in front of the White House may be closed for security purposes (or, more likely, construction).

Touring the Interior

Image credit: whitehouse.gov

The Library. Image credit: whitehouse.gov

This is where it gets a little tricky. You actually have to submit a request through your Congressperson to take a public tour of the White House (or through your embassy if you’re not an American citizen). Tours are free, however, so don’t worry about incurring any costs.

You can request the tour as far as 6 months in advance and there’s a minimum time period of 21 days in advance. We recommend that you submit your request as soon as you finalize your plans, especially since it can take time for Congressional staff to get back to you.

It’s also very important that the biographical information you submit in your request matches your identification or you could be denied access on the tour (so, for example, if your driver’s license has an outdated address, be sure to use the old address on the form or update your ID).

On the White House Tour


The Vermeil Room. Image credit: whitehouse.gov

Once you manage to secure a spot for yourself on a White House tour, you’ll be amazed by the beautiful historic architecture, rich artistic collections, and sophisticated décor that characterize the interior.

While you can’t actually tour much of the residential part, you can see a good portion of the West Wing and the Oval Office itself, plus other famous rooms like the East Garden room, the Blue Room, the Vermeil Room, the China Room, and the Library.

Now, you can even take photos on your tour! (This actually is big news, because it’s something that was never allowed before the current administration). While you can’t bring a tripod or any fancy cameras, your cell phone is just perfect. Remember, no flash! The tour lasts approximately 45 minutes.

Other Options for Visiting

The China Room. Image credit: whitehouse.gov

The China Room. Image credit: whitehouse.gov

If you can’t manage to find a spot on the tour due to scheduling conflicts or other reasons, you should check out the recently unveiled Virtual Tour of the White House, which is offered in partnership with Google Art Project. You’ll see all the same sights you’d see in person, without the slight spookiness of Secret Service agents peering over your shoulder.

You can also enjoy a sight of the White House from aboard a Big Bus Washington DC Sightseeing tour, which removes the effort of navigating yourself to the White House and provides the added bonus of the informative narration from your tour guide.

You could even opt to ride a bike down there, although be warned that you won’t be able to secure your bike at any of the fences in the area for security purposes.

Save on Admission to Other Attractions

Of course, touring the White House is unlikely to be the only thing you’ll do on your trip. To save money on the attractions that do cost money, pick up a Washington DC Explorer Pass® for affordable and convenient touring options. Happy exploring!
Washington DC Explorer Pass

The information contained in this post, to the best of the author's knowledge, was accurate at time of publishing. We do our best to ensure and maintain the accuracy of this information.

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