Every year, people from all over the world flock to Washington DC just to get a peek at the 132-room United States White House, which has been the official residence of each US president since 1800.
The White House is most often admired from afar, as wandering tourists are unable to step inside and the grounds are only open for special events, such as the White House Easter Egg Roll. In lieu of touring the interior (which can be arranged by making a request through Congress), travelers can catch sight of the structure from behind the front gates or head to the National Park Service’s White House Visitors Center to browse exhibits, watch historic reenactments, or stop by the gift shop.
How to Prepare for the White House Tour
Requests for free, self-guided tours of the East Wing must be submitted through your member of Congress. Tour requests can be made up to three months in advance; this is advised given that they are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis and space is limited. The names, birthdates, and social security numbers of everyone in your party must be submitted. Once approved, you’ll be assigned a tour time (they are available Tuesday through Thursday from 8:30am to 11:30am and Friday and Saturday until 1:30pm). Call the White House Visitors Office information line at (202) 456-7041 for additional tour information.
If you do secure one of these public tours, highlights include the Red Room, used primarily for afternoon tea; the Green Room; and the Blue Room, the setting of the White House Christmas tree. West Wing tours (including the Oval Office) are by invitation only.
What to Know Before Visiting the White House
Here are a few tips to help you plan your visit.
- Be sure to have your government-issued photo ID with you at all times during your visit.
- There are no general public storage facilities on site; most visitors bring only their wallet, keys, and cell phone. Compact cameras are also allowed.
- Prohibited items include no-brainers such as electric stun guns and martial arts weapons/devices. You’ll also want to leave purses, backpacks, video cameras, and book bags at home. The U.S. Secret Service reserves the right to prohibit any other personal items.
- The nearest restrooms are in the Ellipse Visitor Pavilion.
- Note that visitor access records to the White House complex are made publicly available 90 to 120 days after each visit.
How to Get There
Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, the White House can be reached by taking the Washington Metro—disembark at Metro Center, McPherson Square, or Federal Triangle, the closest metrorail station to the visitors entrance. Street parking can be difficult to find.