Self Guided Tour of White House & Lafayette Park

Washington DC White HouseWhile the White House remains the epicenter of political life in Washington, DC, the neighborhood that it is embedded in compliments its centuries old history and its present-day relevance. So when you do plan your visit to the White House, make sure you spare some time to explore the sites immediately surrounding the White House on our Self Guided Tour of White House & Lafayette Park.

Especially when you are unable to get yourself a ticket to the White House Tour, these sites are the next best thing to help you complete your Washington experience. While a public tour inside the White House is possible through advance reservations, it can require a lot of advance planning. If you would like to throw your hat in the ring, find out how to get tickets for a White House Tour here.

The White House is a must-see in DC and is a featured stop on many of our tours: National Mall (from afar), Lincoln Assassination, Secrets & Scandals and White House Ghost Tours.

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:

White House Metro ExitHow To Get To The White House: It is an easy walk from a number of Metro Stations: McPherson Square (Blue/Orange/Silver) is the closest, with an exit that directs you to the White House. Farragut North (Red Line) is only a few blocks and it would be faster to walk than change lines. You’ll exit out at 17th and K St NW and just cut diagonally across the park to reach Connecticut Ave NW, which dead ends at the White House in one block.

Parking at commercial garages near the White House can be reserved in advance through a company called SpotHero.

Self Guided Tour of White House & Lafayette Park

Lafayette Square & The Andrew Jackson Statue:

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.

Andrew Jackson

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.

Decatur House:

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:

Eisenhower

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.

Blair Lee

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.

Renwick Gallery:

Renwick

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.

World Bank Headquarters:

The Headquarters for the World Bank, at 1800-1850 H Street NW, is a 13 story office building that takes up an entire city block. The World Bank, as part of the United Nations, provides loans to and invests in developing countries. The international financial institution was established in 1944 with the goal of combating poverty worldwide. There are no tours of the World Bank Headquarters nor information for visitors and from the ground level, you cannot take in the expanse of the building.

You can visit the World Bank InfoShop, which provides resources open to the public as well as a book store and gift shop.

Visitors Tip: For the World Bank and IMF Headquarters, you may often find road and sidewalk closures during secure events. When certain persons or organizations are in attendance, you’ll often run into protests outside as well.

IMF Headquarters:

The International Monetary Fund actually has two headquarters in Washington DC, HQ1 and HQ2.

HQ1: IMF Visitor’s Center
720 19th Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20431

HQ2:Visitor Center
1900 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20431

To enter either building, you will be required to provide valid, government issues photo identification and go through security. At all times you will be escorted by an IMF staff member and must wear a Guest Pass. Inside the building you can view the “Money Wall” – showcasing currency from each of the member countries. Visitors may also attend a briefing and/or Q&A to learn about the IMF and its role in today’s economy. The briefing is geared towards groups visiting Washington DC. You can use an Online Form to request a briefing for your group.

The IMF is made up of 189 member countries that work together to promote trade, keep exchange rates stable and provide financial cooperation between member countries. It was established at the same conference in 1944 as the World Bank.

Octagon Museum:

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 octagonmuseum@aia.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 organzation 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:

Similiar to the First Divison 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. Read more about the National Christmas Tree on our post!

The View from the W Hotel:

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.

White House Visitor Center:

Learn more about visiting the White House Visitor Center on our post.