Have you ever wanted to go on a tour of the White House? You really can. We did. Actually, everyone in my family went on the tour except for me. More on this later. To request a free tour of the White House, you need to make the request through your senator or representative in Congress. According to the White House website, you need to submit your request at least 21 days in advance. Based on my experience, you should apply at least three months in advance. It took about three months before I received the White House tour confirmation.
We received our confirmation letter two to three weeks before our scheduled date. Our letter stated we were scheduled for a tour at 9:30 am. According to their instructions, we should arrive 15 minutes before our scheduled tour time. While it’s a good idea to arrive early, you don’t actually have to be there 15 minutes before your tour. I noticed people were still allowed to go on the tour even when they arrived late. Keep in mind the tour is self-guided.
As you can expect, security is tight for the tour. You will need a copy of your tour pass and a valid ID for everyone 18 or older. In addition, you are prohibited from bringing certain items. Prohibited items include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Video recorders
- Handbags, book bags, backpacks or purses
- Food or beverages, tobacco, personal grooming items (makeup, lotion, etc.)
- Any pointed objects
- Aerosol containers
- Guns, ammunition, fireworks, electric stun guns, mace, martial arts weapons/devices, or knives of any size (duh)
This is part where we ran into trouble. My wife brought her purse even though she knew she wasn’t suppose to. So I ended up babysitting her purse while the rest of my family went on the tour. The idea was that I would go on the tour after they were done. But by the time they came out, the line was way too long so I skipped the tour.
The White House security team will not hold onto your items for you. They also do not provide lockers for your belongings. If you need to store your prohibited items, you can rent a locker at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. It’s cheap and they don’t charge you by the hour. Other Smithsonian museums might also have lockers for rent, but we only visited the Natural History Museum when we were in DC. Note: this option didn’t work for us because the museum didn’t open until after the start of our tour.
You can’t bring video cameras, but smartphones and compact cameras with a lens no longer than 3 inches (stills only) are permitted. BTW, flash photography or live stream as well as talking or texting on cellular phones is not permitted while on the tour.
You obviously won’t meet the President on the tour. In addition, the tour is limited to the first two floors of the White House. According to my oldest daughter, you didn’t really get to walk around the first floor. All you really could do is peek into the roped-off rooms (library, China Room and Vermeil Room) before you head up to the second floor. On the second floor, you have the opportunity to walk around the East Room, Green Room, Blue Room, Red Room and State Dining Room. BTW, the street view of the White House above shows you the rooms you can see in your White House tour.