This post is about visiting the White House from the outside and where to find the best views. If you want to tour inside the White House, you'll need a reservation from your congressperson which we talk about on our article, "How to Visit the White House on a Public Tour"
There is no official front or back to the White House (though the official entrance is the East Wing).
But when you're viewing the White House, you can view it from the North side (Pennsylvania Ave NW) or the South side (the National Mall). You can get closer to the North Lawn than you can the South Lawn and at the time of writing (Summer 2021) there are fewer fences on the North side as well.
However if you're short on time and already on the National Mall, you can see it from there as well!
BEST VIEW OF THE WHITE HOUSE #1: Lafayette Square (North Lawn)
Lafayette Square is the North side of the White House. You can access it by H St NW or 15th and 17th St NW where they intersection with Pennsylvania Ave NW. Because it is within the security perimeter, there may be times that Secret Services closes the park. This is usually for only 30 minutes or so while the President arrives or departs or they check a security threat. Even when the park is closed, you view it from 16th and H St NW on the north side of the Park.
On foot you can get all the way up to the fences on the North lawn, meaning you can take a photo between the fence bars that look as if you're on the grounds of the White House, no fence in sight.
You can drive by the north side of the White House by going westbound on H St NW. It is one way here and the White House will be to your right. The view is blocked by trees until you get to the intersection of 16th St. If you're in a car, the White House will be partially blocked by the Andrew Jackson statue in the center of the square. If you're on the top of a double decker bus, you'll be high enough to see over the statue.
BEST VIEW OF THE WHITE HOUSE #2: The Ellipse
The South Lawn of the White House is the Ellipse. You can access it on foot from Constitution Ave NW, 15th and 17th. Again, they may close the area at times but it is temporary.
At the time of writing (Summer 2021) this area was under construction so there are large white fences that block the view up close. If you stand in the center and back away from the white fence, you can see over it to the White House southside. Because this has more of the residential parts of the structure, you cannot get as close to this side as you can the north side.
You can drive by the south side of the White House on Constitution Ave NW. If you go eastbound, the White House will be on your right and you won't be blocked by oncoming traffic. If you're driving westbound, it is on your left but you might find your view blocked by buses!
BEST VIEW OF THE WHITE HOUSE #3: Washington Monument
If you stand at the north side of the Washington Monument you can see the south side of the White House from afar. We use this spot for our National Mall tours to talk about the White House.
It is a view from afar so it's not the best view if you want to get up close but if you're short on time and aren't able to get up close, you can still get good photos while you're visiting the memorials.
TOUR GUIDE TIP: This is a great place to be when Marine One takes off or lands because the helicopter flies right over you! You'll be able to watch it land or take off from the South Lawn of the White House!
BEST VIEW OF THE WHITE HOUSE #4: POV Rooftop Bar at Hotel Washington
If you want a birds eye view of the White House, check out some of the rooftop bars nearby!
Hotel Washington's POV Bar is an upscale bar and restaurant - so there is a dress code and no one under 21 allowed after 7pm.
It's just across the street from the Treasury Department, next door to the White House. You'll get a great panoramic view of Washington DC and the east side of the White House.
Where to Park to Visit the White House
The White House does not have visitor parking.
You'll need to find street parking in the nearby areas but like parking anywhere downtown, pay attention to the street signs. Some street don't allow parking during rush hour.
You can park on 15th, 17th and Constitution Ave lining the White House perimeter, but you cannot park too close as the areas nearest to the White House are restricted.
The easiest way to get around DC is using our public transportation, the Metro. The closest Metro Station to the White House is McPherson Square (White House exit)(Blue, Orange, Silver Lines) but it's also an easy walk from Farragut North (Red Line). There are also a few buses that stop at Lafayette Square.
White House Neighborhood
The White House is downtown DC - the officially address is 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW (be sure to put in Northwest!).
The White House perimeter is essentially the block between Constitution Ave NW, 15th St NW, 17th ST NW and H St NW. Pennsylvania Ave NW by the White House is pedestrian only and you cannot drive down it.
The area north of the White House is Lafayette Square and the area south is called the Ellipse (this is where the National Christmas tree is located)
There is a lot of history and stories about the White House Neighborhood - so much that we have a self guided tour!
SELF GUIDED TOUR OF WHITE HOUSE'S NEIGHBORHOOD
For a self-guided tour of the White House neighborhood, allow approximately 1.5 hours to have a brisk walk and explore some of the following:
This park in the center of the Washington, DC metropolis boasts of the best view of the White House. When you have had a chance to walk around this lush seven-acre park, and take those momentous pictures, have a little rest on one of the park benches or on the grass and reflect on all that this park has witnessed.
In the past, Lafayette Park has served as a racetrack, a graveyard, an encampment for soldiers and even a zoo. Needless to say, it has been the location of many political protests and historical celebrations. The most well-known protest is still in progress today. Protesting for nuclear disarmament, Concepcion Picciotto has been manning the Peace Vigil since 1981.
Originally, the square was called the “President’s Park.” In 1824, the park was renamed to honor Marquis de Lafayette and his contribution to the American Revolutionary War. The Southeast corner of the park features a statue of Lafayette. In fact, all four corner have statues of foreign generals who assisted the colonies in the Revolutionary War: Thaddeus Kosciuszko, Poland, in the northeast corner by the Dolley Madison House; Jean de Rochambeau in the southwest corner of France, and Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben , Prussia, on the northwest.
In 1853, an equestrian statue of President Andrew Jackson was installed in the center of the Park. This statue of Jackson on a rearing horse is the first equestrian statue in the United States.
Absorb DC life in this park as you notice the diversity of the tourists, and learn more about the demonstrators and their cause or simply hope that the Presidential motorcade will pass by.
Visitor's Tip: At any given moment Secret Service may close the park. This is done for many reasons and doesn't always indicate that the president will be leaving. It can last anywhere from 10 minutes to the entire day. Be prepared to follow Secret Service instructions.
U.S. Department of the Treasury:
The Main Treasury Building is located immediately to the left of the White House when you are looking from the Andrew Jackson statue in Lafayette Square. This is the third oldest building in Washington, one of immense architectural and historical significance. The building houses the Treasury Department which is responsible for economic affairs of the country, more specifically, the federal finances, matters of tax and currency and the national trade and finance policy.
This impressive architecture features 36 feet tall columns carved out of a single piece of granite and any first time visitor to DC can immediately sense the contemporary significance of this office through a first glance at the building’s exterior.
On the north side of the Treasury Building that you're facing, you'll see a statue of Albert Gallatin, who was the longest serving Secretary of the Treasure (1801-1814). Gallatin was born in Switzerland so was much critized during his tenure for his French accent.
Inside the building are the highlight galleries such as the Burglar-Proof Vault and the marble Cash Room, not to mention the offices used by past presidents. Guided public tours of the building are available at no cost; however, they require prior reservations. To learn how to book a tour, visit the Treasury Building Website.
If you are interested in seeing the production of United States currency, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing offers separate tours in its own office located just one block south of the Washington Monument.
It’s a not-to-miss stop on your White House Neighborhood tour.
St. John’s Episcopal Church:
Every sitting president has attended this “Church of the Presidents” since James Madison. The Church serves as the chapel to the White House and is happily situated across the Lafayette Square. It was completed in 1816 making it one of the oldest buildings in the neighborhood.
The bell in the tower is an original Revere bell, one of two in DC and the only one still in use. It was cast by Joseph Revere, son of Paul Revere.
The church is often open outside of services to the public. The President's Pew, today numbers as Pew 54, is reserved for any US President who wishes to visit.
The Decatur House is a historic Washington home and also the primary center of for the White House Historical Association, a fitting location as this is one of the oldest houses in the district. Built in 1818, it was a creation of noted architect Benjamin Latrobe, who helped design the Capitol dome.
The house is located at the northwest corner of Lafayette Square and H Street.
In addition to a lovely store, there is a museum, which features a range of temporary and permanent exhibits, while the gardens offer themselves to many shows and concerts dedicated to jazz and the arts, with an effort to explore African American history.
The historic home is open to the public for tours on most Mondays at 11am, 1230pm and 2pm. For more information, visit their website.
Eisenhower (Old) Executive Office Building:
The Eisenhower Executive Office Building has previously been called the Old Executive Office Building and the State, War, and Navy Building. It is located to the right of the White House and presently houses several offices of the White House staff and the Office of the Vice President of the United States.
This massive architecture has 566 rooms and about ten acres of floor space.
This style of architecture was not favored at the turn of the 20th century and the building was slated to be torn down. It was saved by the Great Depression when the city could not afford to tear down buildings unnecessarily.
The Blair-Lee House:
The Blair-Lee House is part of the President’s Guest House complex. This stunning house steps away from the White House is where foreign dignitaries and diplomats are put up during their official visits to Washington. If you find yourself facing the building blocked by temporary fences it is likely that a visiting head of state or official is staying there. You will see an American flag flying most of the time but that is replaced by the flag of the country of the official guest.
When looking at the complex it looks like three separate homes but the inside has been renovated to provide one large residence.
So large in fact that it has more square footage that the residential part of the White House!
The Blair House was home to President Truman when the interior of the White House was under renovation. While he was staying here, Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to assassinate him. You'll find a plaque outside to commemorate this event and the loss in the line of duty of White House police officer, Leslie Coffelt.
Located across from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the Renwick Gallery is a part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. A visit is free and requires no tickets, though expect a lengthy line!
This beautiful building was designed by James Renwick (famed for St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City) as the Corcoran Art Gallery making it one of the oldest buildings designed specifically as an art museum.
After many years of renovation, the Gallery is now open. It focuses on craft and decorative arts and is considered one of the most art-filled rooms in Washington.
As with most Smithsonian Museums, it is open 10am-530pm every day but Christmas Day. For more, visit their website.
Octagon House is named such due to its unique architectural style. One of the oldest buildings in Washington DC, it was built between 1798 and 1800 by William Thornton, the first architect of the Capitol. It was the home of the Tayloe's and for a short while, of President James Madison and his wife Dolley.
The museum is open for visitors and we highly recommend checking out the building. It is free to visit the Octagon House on a self guided tour Thursday-Saturday 1pm-4pm. Private guided tours are available by appointment for groups of 5 or more. Tours last approximately 45 minutes, and are $10/adults and $5/students. They require 24 hours notice to schedule a private tour. Schedule a guided tour at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-626-7439
First Division Memorial:
No federal funds were used to create this memorial to the men who served in the First Division. It was originally created to honor the service during WWI, with later additions for WWII, Vietnam and Desert Storm.
The memorial was designed by Cass Gilbert, who also designed the Supreme Court building, and Daniel Chester French, who sculpted Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial.
Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Headquarters & Constitution Hall:
Daughters of the American Revolution Headquarters has a museum, library and the renowned Constitution Hall. Every president since Calvin Coolidge has attended an event at the concert hall. Constitution Hall is the cities largest concert hall and was built in 1929.
In addition to attending an event at Constitution Hall, visitors can explore the DAR Museum, dedicated to preserving artifacts from pre-industrial America.
The DAR Museum is open Monday - Friday 8:30 am - 4:00 pm and Saturday, 9:00 am - 5:00 pm. It is closed Sundays and federal holidays. A visit has no admission charge, but larger groups can reserve a tour for $3 per person.
Organization of American States:
This beautiful building was built in 1910 and houses a diplomatic organization to serve American nations. The 35 member nations are from North and South America with the purpose to foster cooperation and solidarity and was founded in 1948. Out front you will see a statue of Queen Isabella of Spain.
This artwork was donated by Spain in 1966 to honor the Spanish royalty who sent Christopher Columbus to the west. On either side of the doors to the building, there is a bald eagle (associated with North American) and the condor (associated with South America) forming a bond between the two continents.
Visitors can tour the building and attending a briefing by Director of the Department of International Affairs and senior specialists from the various departments of the organization. Briefings and tours do have a cost of $100 for a group, with increasingly higher rates for larger groups. You can book a briefing here: https://www.oas.org/en/ser/dia/tours/booking.asp.
Nearby, however, you can find a free art museum dedicated to work from across the Americas. The Art Museum of the Americas is open 10am-5pm Tuesday thru Sunday. It is the the oldest museum of modern and contemporary Latin American and Caribbean art in the United States.
Second Division Memorial:
Similar to the First Division Monument above, this was originally dedicated in 1936 to honor the men who served in the 2nd Division of the US Army.
A later dedication in 1962 honors those for WWII and Korean Wars.
National Christmas Tree:
It’s the season to be jolly, so why not include some holiday sparkle during your time in Washington! Every year, the sitting president lights the tree in early December marking the beginning of the festive season. The energy efficient design of the lighting system ensures that only one-fifth of the energy is used to light the tree from dusk to 11PM as compared to a traditional lighting design.
The tree is located in the northeast quadrant of The Ellipse near the White House and becomes a holiday event throughout December.
If you are looking for a break from historical explorations and want to see and be seen in the Washington glamour circle, ascend to the rooftop lounge of the W Hotel, POV. It boasts of the best view of the capital, and the experience is worth the slightly pricey drinks.
Sip your cocktail as you take in the breathtaking views of the Washington Monument, the White House and the heart of downtown DC. It’s a perfect way to wind up your self-guided tour or to create an unforgettable DC visit memory.
You can find the hotel bar at: 515 15th St NW
Visitor's Tip: They have a dress code! Please no athletic wear, baseball caps, flip flops, tank tops, casual/athletic sneakers or tattered/worn clothing. Collared shirts preferred. No bags, other than handbags, admitted after 9 pm.
Canden is a historian and tour guide in Washington DC with 4 published books about the city. She has written for HuffPost Travel and has been featured in the Washington Post, WTOP, and numerous other DC papers. She's also been interviewed by the BBC, NPR, Travel Channel and Discovery Family Channel. Canden is the producer of our podcast, Tour Guide Tell AllWith a M.A. in History from University College London and a B.A. in History from Elon University, she is an authority on D.C. history, and has led tours in the city for over 10 years. She currently resides in DC, but has also lived in London and South Korea, and has travelled to 28 countries. Her two children (both under the age of 4) have their passports and own frequent flier accounts.