One of the most iconic buildings in the United States is the White House. So it’s no surprise that it’s one of the most sought-after tours in Washington. While chances are slim you’ll get to see the president, you may be surprised by what you might experience.
Once you obtain White House tour tickets, you’ll need to read the confirmation letter very carefully. There are certain items restricted at the White House such as cameras, purses, video recorders, and strollers. You’ll need to bring a photo ID like a driver’s license or passport. It will be checked several times before entering the White House.
And speaking of security, you’ll see some of the tightest measures around. You’ll get sniffed by a security dog through a screen, go through a metal detector, and have any small items like wallets put through an x-ray machine.
WHAT YOU SEE: Self-guided tours are not for everyone but the White House does a good job with informational plaques. A long corridor is the first place you’ll end up. Beautiful photos of various presidents and their families line the hallway. Some of the photos are of significant historical moments like the signing of the Civil Rights Act.
From there you’ll go into a large foyer. Various rooms are off of that foyer and are roped off but viewable. One is a library with 2,700 books and Federal period furniture. It’s where various meetings, teas, and press interviews take place. There’s also the Vermeil room, which was once a billiard room with European and American furniture and silver objects from 1700-1950s.
Then it’s off to the infamous East Room. This is a large room used for state dinners, receptions, concerts, weddings, and press conferences. Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy laid in state after their deaths in the East Room. There’s a famous portrait of George Washington that is the oldest object in the White House since 1800. As the White House was being burned by the British in the War of 1812, Dolley Madison, who was married to James Madison, took down the portrait of Washington and hid it under a haystack so it wouldn’t be burned. She felt it was important to have a picture of him in the White House because he never got to live here.
The Green Room is off of the East Room. It’s where Thomas Jefferson hosted dinners but it’s been a parlor since Madison’s presidency. A beautiful silver coffee urn belonging to John & Abigail Adams from the early 1800s is in the room as well.
As you’re passing through rooms, look out one of the windows toward the grassy area and you may just see the president’s black and white dog, Bo, running around.
OK, back to the tour. Next is the Blue Room where the White House Christmas tree is displayed. The chandelier is taken down to accommodate the 18-foot tree. Typically it serves as a reception room with French style furniture from James Monroe’s time in the White House in 1817.
Next is the Red Room, which has been a parlor since the early 19th century. It’s typically used by First Ladies to receive guests.
The Red Room leads into the State Dinner Room, which is where leaders from other countries and other VIPs are treated to elegant dinners. The room seats 140 people. But what’s most striking about the room is a portrait of President Lincoln that was painted in 1869. For those of you who like home decor, take a look at the room’s beautiful chandelier.
The State Dinning Room is the last spot on the self-guided tour. The whole experience takes about 45 minutes to one hour. Once you step outside, you’ll be able to take a few pictures with a camera phone. This is your only chance to show friends and family that you were at the White House, so snap away!
GOOD FOR KIDS: Yes, of course the White House is good for kids. You just need to make sure they can walk on their own or you have to be willing to carry them around. (Remember that strollers are not allowed in the White House. You won’t even be able to leave it at the gate.) And you’ll need to make sure that they won’t run away from you. There are several rooms that are roped off and areas that are blocked from the public eye.
Kids will get a Junior Ranger Activity Guide when they start the tour with fun facts about the White House.
GIFT SHOP: No, but the White House Visitor’s Center at 1450 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, has a great gift shop.
WHERE: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW. The entrance to the tour is at 15th and E St., NW. You’ll see a guard there checking IDs.
HOURS OF OPERATION: Tickets must be obtained through a member of Congress in advance. (See here for steps on getting tickets.) Self-guided tours take place Tuesday through Thursday 7:30 AM to 11 AM; Fridays 7:30 AM to 12 PM, and Saturdays 7:30 AM to 1 PM. Tours will not be open on federal holidays.
PARKING: There’s no parking at the White House but there’s on-street parking if you can find it. It’s particularly hard in this area since it’s in a busy area of Washington.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: The closest Metro stations are Federal Triangle, Metro Center, and McPherson Square.
WEBSITE/TELEPHONE NUMBER: http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/tours-and-events; 202-456-7041