America's most famous house is open for public tours. Families can take self-guided tours through the Residence portion of the President's home. Entering through the East Wing of the White House, tours take visitors through corridors including the White House Library, Diplomatic Reception Room, and Versailles Room on the ground floor. The tour then proceeds up to the State floor of the Residence, and these rooms, while roped off during public tour hours, are typically filled with guests and some of the highest government officials as well as other famous names during all sorts of festive parties and events. This is a unique opportunity for families to see for themselves the scenery of modern day history making and to walk the very same hallways as Presidents of the past two centuries. This is a must-see for all who have - or hope to have - an appreciation for the history of America's highest elected officials and where they lived.
Tours must be made for groups of 10 or more and made through Congressional offices. Families should contact their Congressman or Senator well in advance of a visit but no more than six months in advance. No bags or personal items - including cameras - are allowed to be brought inside on a tour, so families will also need to prepare accordingly.
The tour is self-guided, and takes about one hour door-to-door. (In DC, ‘door-to-door’ to us means security check through exit.) The tour takes guests through a visitor entrance on the side, through a ground floor corridor. Families see 8-10 rooms, some of which can be entered (others are roped off). Rooms include the East Room, which is used for press conferences, among other things; the Green Room, used for receptions; the Red Room, famous as the First Lady’s place of reception and meetings; and the State Dining Room. The oval-shaped Blue Room is the closest visitors come to that better-known circular-shaped room upstairs, but it’s still very cool to see these ground floor rooms that are very much still in use.
In each room, Secret Service agents are on-hand to answer any questions. Definitely take advantage of their knowledge; you can practically make this a guided tour if you ask lots of questions and listen to the answers to others’ questions. They may be reluctant to tell stories of events they’ve seen recently in each room, but will be able to say what type of events take place. At the end of the tour, you go out on the South Portico overlooking the lawn, which is fun, too.
Book by going to your congressman or woman's website and clicking on the 'request White House tour' link. Do this six months in advance and know the exact date you want! We suggest a morning tour, so you don't have to wait in the security line in the heat (it's outside). You'll need to submit Social Security numbers and have ID.
As of early spring, 2013, the White House is closed to the public. We were very disappointed to not be able to tour the White House... or at least.. be considered for touring. We were told (before the closure), that it was difficult to get a tour slot because it is so popular.
We had our "tour guide" (really, one driver of our van), drop us off one block north of Constitution Avenue on 17th St. and we walked the one block south of the White House. Lots of people were there near the gates, looking in and taking pictures. It's a far away glimpse still, but it was beautiful. We also passed by the Eisenhower Executive Office Building which looks like a huge French building, and then the National Treasury (very recognizable from the back of one of our bills of currency). Maybe someday we will get to go inside "the people's house" once more.
We toured the White House with our almost four year old daughter during the holidays. What an amazing experience! Seeing all of the beautiful decorations while learning so much about US history. It was fabulous! After the hour long tour we walked around outside, took many photos (photos are not allowed inside), and saw the national tree. This is definitely a must on a trip to DC!
Walking around the White House and seeing the yard, flowers, trees is a neat experience. It's a great place for pictures. Once inside the White House no pictures are allowed but there is so much to see. It's a really neat tour and teaches so much about our past and present Presidents.
When we planned our trip to Washington, DC, the first thing we did was call our Congressman's office. They have an aide (as most offices do) whose primary responsibility it is to respond to constituent needs. She immediately sent us brochures that were customized to our visit and needs. She also checked with the White House to see what tours were available for congressional guests. She replied to us with several options during our trip, most very early in the morning (ours was 8am).
These tours require that you submit your personal information to the White House so they can run a background check (including your SSN and DOB) because you are getting a more "behind the scenes" look at the WH). This personal information is catalogued, and then you and all your family are required to submit picture ID to verify you are the person entering the White House. The only exception to this is children under 16 who do not have a picture id. You still go through magnetometers.
Be sure to call WELL in advance to get this type of tour. They have limited availability and book quickly. They are free. When we arrived that morning (one hour early), we saw a ridiculously long line to the White House entrance. I asked a Park Ranger if this was the line for the Congressional tour. She said no, our entrance was literally AT the entrance. So we walked past this "public tour" line (which was about 2 hours long) and right into the WH. This tour is exclusive, so it is appropriate to dress up in your "Sunday best."
We were fortunate to go to the White House years ago before 9/11 on a VIP guided tour. Nowadays it is still possible to get in, but you must request tickets through your Representatives months in advance. The White House had to be opulent at it's time but for the size of today's people the public parts give a little bit of a sense of claustrophobia as the ceilings are low and the rooms are somewhat small. It's amazing to hear about the Blue Room, Green Room, and Red Room, as well as the East Room where they hold the State dinners and then actually see them. My kids' personal favorite was the hall with all of the presidential portraits and mine was the China room in the "basement" where you can see actual china used by George Washington.
The White House itself is in a not so great part of town and the thought of eyes/cameras on you while you are standing at the black gates is a little hard to shake, but sure enough, you can walk right up to the gates and take your family's picture.
My youngest child was an infant at the time we took our tour and we were comfortable in our touristy clothes but I'm sure the rules have changed a bit over the years. Like anything, do your homework and you'll be fine, it'll be worth the effort for this once in a lifetime experience.
We got to go on a white house tour several years ago when Bush was still in office. It was a very neat experience touring the different rooms. We even saw President Bush's two little dogs going out for their daily walk! I am pretty sure you can still get a general tour in the White House. Great for kids to learn about the history of presidents!
Tickets to the White House must be requested via your member of Congress months in advance of your trip - so plan ahead - way ahead. But this is the only way in (unless you are a VIP) and the visit is well worth the trip. One can also now request tours of the White House Edible Garden (the First Lady's new project all about instilling healthy eating habits in kids), so request these as well (as the word has not gotten out about these tours, you may be able to get in here sooner). The tour requires one to go through a security screening akin to boarding a plane, and all visitors must provide SSNs and have a valid ID. A photo taken just outside the White House entrance is always a plum vacation memory - pack your cameras!