Have you ever wanted to visit the White House? Doing so is not as difficult as you might think, but it does require some planning.
First, let’s get a few things out of the way.
Do you have a violent criminal history? Have you ever participated in a plot to overthrow the government? Are you part of a terrorist group or on the FBI’s watch list? If so, then stop reading. This post is not for you.
Tours of the White House are free (to law abiding citizens) and run Tuesday-Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and Friday-Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. These generally last about 45 minutes (although, tours are self-guided and nobody really times you).
Getting Started: How to Request a Visit
Requests to visit the White House must be made through your Congressional Representative. Mine had a simple online form that took less than 5 minutes to fill out. I provided contact information and a list of possible dates that I could visit. You must submit your request at least 3 weeks in advance, however, due to high demand, they suggest submitting your request at least 5-6 months in advance.
Within 24 hours of submitting the online form, I received an email from a tour coordinator requesting that I fill out a security form. And that’s when the waiting game began. I submitted my request 5 months prior to my 3 preferred tour dates and did not hear back until 2 weeks before my scheduled tour. Unfortunately, for those hoping to save on travel costs by booking flights and hotel in advance, a 2-weeks notice is really all you’re going to get.
Tour Overview: What You See and What You Get
Two weeks prior to your scheduled tour date, you’ll receive an email outlining important instructions, including a time and place for you to check in and details on what you’re allowed to bring inside. The rules are pretty strict: no backpacks, purses, cameras with detachable lenses, video cameras, makeup, food, and more.
Once inside (and once you walk through three different security check points), you’re given free rein to walk through the designated tour area, which includes the ground and state floors of the East Wing. Although tours are self-guided, there are secret service agents stationed in every room who are specifically tasked with answering questions.
During the tour you walk through several iconic rooms, including:
- The Library: Contains volumes of history, biography, and fiction books written by American authors
- China Room: Features pieces of china and glass used by past presidents
- East Room: The largest room in the White House, used for receptions, ceremonies, and press conferences (have you ever seen President Obama do a press conference in front of a mustard yellow curtain? That’s this room)
- Green Room: Once used by Thomas Jefferson as a dining room, today it’s furnished as a parlor and used for receptions
- Blue Room: Used by the president to receive guests, including foreign heads of state and members of congress
- Red Room: Used as a parlor, music room, and dining area
- State Dining Room: Used for large dinners and luncheons
- Old Family Dining Room: This space opened for public viewing for the first time in 2015. Before 1961, it was considered the breakfast room and used by first families for private dining. Today, it’s used for smaller dinners and working lunches
At the end of the tour, you’ll walk out of the North Entrance of the White House and you can spend some time snapping photos of those famous white columns.
Alas, if you’re interested in touring the West Wing, that is slightly more complicated. You’ll have to get a personal invite from the White House (good luck with that) or find a staffer willing to take you on an after-hours tour. For a virtual experience, check out the official West Wing tour guide.