This post is an article on how to get White House tour tickets. There is no cost to tour the White House, but you will need to apply for free tickets. Both U.S. nationals and foreign visitors can tour the White House. Be sure to check out our virtual tour to preview what you might see on your tour.
The White House, or Executive Mansion, to use its official title, is one of the most visited sites in Washington, DC. We’ve got a little visitors guide to help with the nuts and bolts of visiting the White House, as well as a little bit of its history. To start is a short video showing President Obama and the First Lady greeting lucky visitors to the White House (don’t get your hopes up).
Below,we list what to expect regarding waiting times and the rules and regulations. If you aren’t lucky enough to secure your spots on a White House tour, then take up the next best thing, a spot on our National Mall Walking Tour, on which we cover the White House (from the outside). Take a read of our self-guided tour of the White House & Lafayette Square for more information on the surrounding area.
To visit the White House, its important to know that you must reserve your tickets in advance, MONTHS in advance. You can request a tour up to 6 months in advance and must do so no later than 3 weeks. Requests must go through one’s Member of Congress (you can find out who that is here: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ ). If you are from a foreign country you must go through your embassy in Washington.
Most will ask you for contact information at home and during your stay in DC, dates available for tours and total persons in party. You’ll also be required to provide information for security clearance, including:
Tours of the White House are available from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays (excluding federal holidays or unless otherwise noted).
Security is a concern everywhere in Washington, but nowhere more than the White House. You will need a valid government issued ID or passport to gain entry into the White House for every member of your group. You will have to stand in line for security, so make sure to arrive at least half an hour before your tour time. (longer in peak seasons, or with a group)
The list of what you can’t bring into the White House is extensive:
The list of things you can bring into the White House is not extensive:
Where can I leave the rest of my belongings while I tour the White house?
At your hotel. There are no lockers or storage options at the White House. No surrounding businesses offer lockers or cubbies, either. There are storage facilities at Union Station if you do not have accommodation available.
Pro Tip: If you are not staying downtown, ask you concierge or inn keeper if he or she knows a concierge working near the White House, where you could store your prohibited items while on tour.
May I take photographs?
Yes! As of this year, still photographs are allowed on the public tour – but only from compact cameras and smartphones. Video is not permitted. And leave those selfie sticks with your purse. Better yet, leave the selfie sticks at home – most museums don’t allow them either.
Once you are inside, the tour is self-guided and will take about a half an hour. You are shown through several rooms that they use for entertaining. You will NOT see the family living quarters, the Oval Office or the West Wing. Small tip: there are secret service agents in every room, you can interact with them and ask them questions, they are usually really nice and very informative.
There is no White House Metro Station. The closest metro stop to the tour entrance is Metro Center (red, orange, blue and silver lines) (take the 13th Street exit). When you come up the escalators, you will be facing 13th Street. Take 13th Street south (downhill) and make a right turn on E Street and proceed straight until you reach 15th Street. McPherson Square Metro station (orange, blue and silver lines) is also close to the White House. We strongly recommend using our Google Map for directions to the tour entry point. Parking is extremely limited, especially on weekdays, so mass transit is strongly recommended.
If you’ve been granted a tour, you need to arrive before your meeting time at the visitors’ entrance. Note: This is NOT at the Visitor Center.
The tour lines up along 15th Street NW on the west side of the street by the William Tecumseh Sherman Statue. It’s across the street from where Pennsylvania Ave NW dead-ends at 15th St NW. You’ll check in with the Park Ranger standing guard outside the temporary fence. There is no specific street address or sign – you just have to know you’re in the right place, but since there is often a line it should be easy to spot. You can click on the 360 degree view to familiarize yourself with the surrounding area.
Tour of the West Wing
Video Tour of the Situation Room
Learn About the West Wing Marines
Watch Marine One Land on South Lawn
You will see many helicopters during you visit to Washington, D.C. and they usually won’t be the President. Most of the helicopters fly along the National Mall – over the Tidal Basin and Potomac River.
When you see three helicopters fly across the National Mall, right past the Washington Monument (that is why there are the red flashing lights on the top), one of those is Marine One. So how do you watch Marine One take off/land?
For advance planning, you can keep an eye on the President’s Schedule. It will give an approximate time when the president departs the South Lawn. Keep in mind, it sometimes is early or late and they don’t give any warning! Marine One is often used to transport the President to Joint Base Andrews to board Air Force One.
If you’re already in the area, you might notice some of the ways they prepare for Marine One:
Where to stand to watching Marine One land?
The best place to watch Marine One land if you want to be as close as possible is on the South side of the White House, an area called The Ellipse. Normally, the circular sidewalk that forms the ellipse is open to the public but when the President is leaving – the side closest to the White House is closed.
You can however walk directly on the grass to the center of the Ellipse. If you line yourself up with the Washington Monument behind you and the White House South Lawn Fountain in front of you, the helicopter will fly right over your head!
If you want to watch Marine One with some DC landmarks in the frame, stand at the WWII Memorial, facing the Washington Monument. The three helicopters will fly in front of the Washington Monument lining up for a great photo op.
What kind of helicopter is Marine One?
Officially, any helicopter that the President is on is Marine One. That is the call sign for any USMC aircraft that has the President on board, just like Air Force one denotes whatever plane is carrying the President.
It is usually operated by Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1 “Nighthawks”), only four pilots have this honor every year.
The type of helicopter is often a VH-3D Sea King:
or the VH-60N “WhiteHawk”
Marine One helicopters have standard military anti-missile countermeasures, ballistic armor and can continue to fly even if it loses one of the three engines. It can fit 14 passengers but is quiet enough that the President can use a normal tone of voice on his secure line to the White House.
NOTE: A few times a year when the President is out of the country, you will see a helicopter take off and land on the South Lawn on repeat for about half an hour – this is training! The President isn’t actually on the helicopter – but your Instagram followers won’t know that!
After an extensive revamping, the White House Visitor Center is now open again to the public. The restoration work took over 2 years and cost $12.5 million, much of which came from private donations through the White House Historical Association. There are over 90 new artifacts on display, many of which have never before been on display. Some of our favorites are the desk that Franklin Delano Roosevelt sat at when he delivered his famous fireside chats and a scaled model of the White House.
Within the White House Visitor Center, you can watch a 14 minute film that takes you inside the White House and the lives of the First Families. Even though this theater is in the back of the visitor center, we recommend watching it first.
Allow any where from 30 minutes to 1 hour for your visit here.
VISITOR TIP: The White House Visitor Center has a great gift shop. There is also a gift shop at 701 15th St NW called White House Gifts. Here can take a photo of yourself sitting behind a replica of the Presidential desk in the Oval Office!
So many people want to see where the President and the First Family live, and why not? It’s a beautiful home, but it’s actually so much more than that. The White House is also an office building, a tourist attraction, an entertainment venue, and a fortress. Yes, fortress, more on that in a minute. The White House is a mansion, by any definition of the term. There are 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, 3 elevators, and 5 full time chefs among much else. There is a swimming pool (indoor), with a Jacuzzi, a bowling alley, movie theater, tennis court, and a putting green. Outdoors there is a basketball court and a large garden, plus a fountain and a lawn large enough for a marine helicopter to land on.
Plus, it’s a fortress. Did I mention that? The Secret Service provides round the clock, state of the art security for the President, his family and his staff. The most visible example of this security from the outside are the snipers on the roof of the White House, but as a visitor you will be subjected to additional security, even above and beyond the normal level for Washington.
Some White House trivia: The House itself is really neat, above and beyond the colorful men who have lived here and the politics that happen inside it. It was built by James Hoban and was actually designed to look like a Georgian-era Irish country home. Specifically, Hoban based it on Leinster House in Dublin which later became the seat of the Irish Parliament. George Washington actually picked Hoban to design the building after liking some of his other buildings, even though Washington did not live to see or occupy the White House. It is made out of sandstone, which is both porous and tan color, and was whitewashed to give the house a more dignified look – a common practice in those days. In its 200 years, the White House has survived fire, numerous restorations, at least 42 different families, and millions of visitors. One more trivial fact – it was among the very first wheelchair accessible buildings in Washington, DC. Ramps and other related modifications were made in the 1930s, to accommodate President Roosevelt.