Let me guess that when you’re planning a trip to Washington DC, the first thing you want to book is a tour of the White House! It’s arguably the most famous building in the world, having had 45 presidents sitting in office since the White House was established in 1789. It’s the home of the President of the United States and the First Family but… can tourists tour the White House or do you need to be a U.S Citizen?
How to tour the White House as a tourist
The answer to whether you can tour the White House as a tourist depends on your home country as you have to get in touch directly with your embassy or consulate in Washington DC.
If you are a UK citizen, unfortunately at this point in time, you will not be able to arrange a tour of the White House. The reason being that the US Department of State requires foreigners visiting the White House to be accompanied by a senior diplomat. The British Embassy, understandably, doesn’t have the time or resource to provide a senior diplomat to accompany British tourists to the White House.
How to book a tour as a U.S Citizen
If you are a U.S Citizen you can tour the White House, however you need to plan it well in advance. Requests need to be made through your member of Congress at least three months in advance and no less than three weeks before your visit.
Tours are free and on a first-come, first-served basis and as they are so popular you are advised to submit your request at least two to three months prior to your visit to ensure availability. For more details on the times of the tours and what to expect on your visit, visit the National Park Service website.
Touring the White House Garden
If you happen to be visiting Washington DC during spring (early April) or autumn (early October), you may be able to get tickets to their garden tour. Keep an eye on the White House website for the announcement of the garden tours, which take place over two consecutive days.
The dates and details are usually announced within a week or two of when they take place. You can get tickets by the National Park Service at the Ellipse Visitor Pavilion on 15th and E streets NW on each tour day beginning at 9 a.m.
How to get to the White House
Washington DC is a very walkable city. We walked to the White House from our hotel in Georgetown in about 45 minutes. If you’re coming by Metro then the closest stations to the White House are:
- Federal Triangle (Blue and Orange lines)
- Metro Center (Blue, Orange and Red lines)
- McPherson Square (Blue and Orange lines)
Best views of the White House
There are two different ways to view the White House. The worst view (in my opinion) is from The Ellipse. From this view the White House and the South Lawn is quite far back and there are barricades making it impossible to get to the fence for a better photo. This photo is zoomed in and it’s pretty awful!
The best view is just around the corner. Pennsylvania Avenue NW and Lafayette Square is where you can see the White House in all its glory! You can also see the nearby Washington Monument.
The grounds will of course look different depending on what time of the year you visit. We visited over New Year so the trees were all bare and there were no flowers. The grass looked beautiful though!
Visiting the White House at Christmas
If you’re visiting Washing DC in December, you can see the decorated National Christmas tree, which sits in the Ellipse. Since 1923 the tree has been decorated for Christmas and traditionally in late November or early December it is lit by the President and the First Lady.
It’s really beautiful and well worth a visit but note that the decorations come down on January 1st. Surrounding the National Christmas Tree is the Pathway of Peace which you can walk around to see the 58 smaller, decorated Christmas trees that represent each of the states and territories.
Alternative option to touring the White House
Whilst, as a tourist, you may not be able to tour inside the White House there is one building you can visit that is definitely worth seeing – The US Capitol.
Tourists simply need to book tickets online (which are free) and bring ID when collecting your tickets at the Capitol Visitor Center. They also have a limited number of ‘walk ins’ available too if you don’t book online. The guided tours last around an hour and are a really great way to learn about the history of US politics.
There are also beautiful works of art in the Capitol Building and the dome is absolutely stunning. Definitely not to be missed!