This post is an article on how to get White House tour tickets, plus tips for planning your visit, such as tips for dealing with security.
How to apply for tickets is a common question from visitors on our walking tours.
However, if you are asking one of our tour guides after arriving in Washington, DC, you are definitely too late.
So, we've created this post to help you secure tickets plus plan your visit, both before and after your tour.
The White House is open to public tours usually from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm Tuesday-Saturday, except for Federal Holidays.
Reservations must be arranged in advance.
It is hard to get a White House tour but the further in advance you request and the more flexibility you offer in dates, the better your chances.
These are to tour the main building, West Wing tours are a different experience and even harder to get tickets. I was lucky enough to get a West Wing tour if you want to see photos!
There is no cost to tour the White House, but you will need to apply for free tickets. Both U.S. nationals and foreign visitors can tour the White House.
To visit the White House, it's important to know that you must reserve your tickets in advance, MONTHS in advance.
You can submit a request for White House tours up to 3 months in advance and must do so no later than 3 weeks.
Don’t apply early or late or you risk having your request automatically denied.
You can increase your odds of getting a White House tour by requesting a reservation as soon as you possibly can.
For U.S. citizens and residents, requests must go through the office of the Member of Congress for your district (find your Member here).
If you are coming during the peak tourism seasons of March-April or June-August, we recommend closer to the 3-month mark.
The White House only accepts requests between 21-90 days before your requested dates.
If you are from a foreign country, you are advised to go through your embassy in Washington D.C. Not all embassies will be interested or helpful in the request.
However, nothing stops you from requesting a tour through any Member of Congress.
There is no real requirement that you be a resident of their district or state to do so. Therefore, it's worth a try.
Most will ask you for contact information at home and during your stay in DC, dates available for tours, and the total number of persons in your group.
You'll also be required to provide information for security clearance, including:
- Full Name
- Date of Birth
- Social Security Number (only U.S. residents 18 and older)
- City, State of Residence
How long before I hear back about my White House request?
Typically, once you have submitted your visitor info, you will receive an email two weeks before your requested dates informing you if you were selected for a tour.
If you do NOT get approved, the communication varies and depends. Some people have gotten rejection letters and some have just never heard back.
Assume if you haven't heard back a few days prior to your trip that you were not approved.
You can also visit the White House Visitor Center. It's actually a few blocks from the White House, but it's a great alternative to interior tours.
You can always see the White House from the street, as well.
There are a number of great views of the White House that we talk about - but the closest is from Pennsylvania Avenue NW by Lafayette Square.
But, if you are accepted, then read on for tips on planning your trip.
In this section, we go over where to enter the White House grounds, how to get there, as well as security and prohibited items.
WHITE HOUSE TOUR ENTRANCE
We strongly recommend using our Google Maps for directions to the tour entry point.
There is no White House Metro Station.
The closest metro stop to the tour entrance is Metro Center (red, orange, blue, and silver lines) (take the 13th Street exit), which is just a 7-minute walk.
When you come up the escalators, you will be facing 13th Street.
Take 13th Street southbound (downhill) and make a right turn on E Street and proceed straight until you reach 15th Street.
McPherson Square Metro station (orange, blue, and silver lines) is also close to the White House.
Public transportation is recommended for reaching the White House.
If you must drive, you can find a parking spot at a nearby garage through a service called SpotHero.
This website allows you to reserve guaranteed parking spots ahead of time, often for a cheaper price than the garage itself would charge.
If you've been granted a tour, you need to arrive before your meeting time at the visitors' entrance.
Note: This is NOT at the Visitor Center.
The tour lines up along 15th Street NW on the west side of the street by the William Tecumseh Sherman Statue.
It's across the street from where Pennsylvania Avenue NW dead-ends at 15th St NW.
You'll check in with the National Park Service Park Ranger standing guard outside the temporary fence.
There is no specific street address or sign - you just have to know you're in the right place, but since there is often a line it should be easy to spot.
You can click on the 360-degree view to familiarize yourself with the surrounding area.
SECURITY AND PROHIBITED ITEMS
Security is a concern everywhere in Washington, but nowhere more than in the White House.
You will need a valid government-issued photo ID or passport to gain entry into the White House for every member of your group. Foreign nationals must use their passport.
You will have to stand in line for security, so make sure to arrive at least half an hour before your tour time. (longer in peak seasons, or with a group).
WHITE HOUSE DRESS CODE
There is no dress code to tour the White House, but due to the importance of the building, you should want to dress neatly.
The list of what you can’t bring into the White House is extensive:
- no video devices; video cameras including any action camcorders, cameras with detachable lenses, tablets, tripods, monopods, and camera sticks are not permitted. Video recording is not permitted.
- no strollers.
- no food, beverages, tobacco products, liquids, gels, or lotions.
- no guns, firearms, knives, other sharp objects, martial arts equipment, etc.
- no purses, backpacks, handbags, etc. *If you need a place to store these kinds of items, some nearby hotel concierges may be willing to store the bags for a small fee.
The list of things you can bring to the White House is not extensive:
- cell phone
Cameras are now permitted on tour!
Smartphones and compact cameras with a lens no longer than 3 inches (stills only) are permitted on the public tour route as long as their use does not interfere with other guests’ enjoyment of the tour.
Flash photography or live streaming as well as talking or texting on cellular phones is not permitted while on the tour.
Where can I leave the rest of my belongings while I tour the White House?
If you can't leave your belongings at your hotel, then consider storage facilities.
For $6/bag for up to 24 hours, you can store your bags in nearby stores, souvenir shops, and even other hotels.
Once you are inside, the tour is self-guided and will take about half an hour.
NOTE: There are no restrooms on the White House tour.
Though the White House has 132 rooms in total, you are only shown through several rooms that they use for entertaining.
You will NOT see the family living quarters, the Oval Office, or the West Wing (read about my experience of the West Wing tour!) So, don't expect to meet President Joe Biden on your White House Tour.
Small tip: there are secret service agents in every room, you can interact with them and ask them questions, they are usually really nice and very informative.
After you line up along 15th Street, you'll have your reservation checked and then line up again for an ID check.
You'll cross a street and then have your ID checked again.
All of these checks are outdoors so keep that in mind when preparing for your visit - you're outside for around 30 minutes before your tour.
You then go through security to enter the East Wing of the White House.
What Will I See on a Public Tour of the White House?
The tour is self-guided though there are occasionally guards who can answer some questions.
Each room has a placard or two explaining what you're seeing with some information.
The tour is self-paced and you can go back if needed to previous rooms, but you will not be able to exit the building and reenter.
You will see the East Garden from the hallway, the movie theatre, the China Room, the Vermeil Room, the East Room, the Green Room, the Blue Room, the Red Room, and the State Dining Room.
Throughout you'll also see a number of presidential portraits.
There is a gift shop inside the White House that sells the famous White House Christmas ornament and many other items from the White House Historical Association.
You'll exit the White House from what used to be the primary entrance facing the North Lawn and exit out the gates by the Lafayette Statue.
Will I See the President on a White House Tour?
You are unlikely to meet the President or First Lady on the White House tour, but you never know who you might see at the White House complex, including cabinet members or prominent visitors.
These videos offer virtual tours inside various parts of the White House that you do not get to see on White House public tours.
Inside the Residence
Tour of the West Wing
Video Tour of the Situation Room
Learn About the West Wing Marines
Watch Marine One Land on South Lawn
You will see many helicopters during your visit to Washington, D.C. and they usually won't be transporting the President.
Most of the helicopters fly along the National Mall - over the Tidal Basin and Potomac River.
When you see three helicopters fly across the National Mall, right past the Washington Monument (that is why there are the red flashing lights on the top), one of those is Marine One.
So how do you watch Marine One take off/land?
For advance planning, you can keep an eye on the President's Schedule. It will give an approximate time when the president departs the South Lawn.
Keep in mind, it sometimes is early or late and they don't give any warning!
Marine One is often used to transport the President to Joint Base Andrews to board Air Force One.
If you're already in the area, you might notice some of the ways they prepare for Marine One:
- Snipers are always on the roof of the White House, but when the President is leaving the White House, you'll also see them on the corners of area buildings.
- Two decoy/escort helicopters will accompany Marine One but not land. You will always see a group of three helicopters.
- The walkway to the South Lawn fence is closed. While you're normally can walk right up to the South Lawn fence, they won't let you get that close when Marine One is landing.
Where to stand to watch Marine One land?
The best place to watch Marine One land if you want to be as close as possible is on the south side of the White House, an area called The Ellipse.
Normally, the circular sidewalk that forms the ellipse is open to the public but when the President is leaving - the side closest to the White House is closed.
You can, however, walk directly on the grass to the center of the Ellipse.
If you line yourself up with the Washington Monument behind you and the White House South Lawn Fountain in front of you, the helicopter will fly right over your head!
If you want to watch Marine One with some DC landmarks in the frame, stand at the WWII Memorial, facing the Washington Monument.
The three helicopters will fly in front of the Washington Monument lining up for a great photo op.
What kind of helicopter is Marine One?
Officially, any helicopter that the President is on is Marine One.
That is the call sign for any USMC aircraft that has the President on board, just like Air Force one denotes whatever plane is carrying the President.
It is usually operated by Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1 "Nighthawks"), only four pilots have this honor every year.
The type of helicopter is often a VH-3D Sea King:
or the VH-60N "WhiteHawk"
Marine One helicopters have standard military anti-missile countermeasures, and ballistic armor and can continue to fly even if it loses one of the three engines.
It can fit 14 passengers but is quiet enough that the President can use a normal tone of voice on his secure line to the White House.
NOTE: A few times a year when the President is out of the country, you will see a helicopter take off and land on the South Lawn on repeat for about half an hour - this is training!
The President isn't actually on the helicopter - but your Instagram followers won't know that!
After an extensive revamping, the White House Visitor Center is now open again to the public.
The restoration work took over 2 years and cost $12.5 million, much of which came from private donations through the White House Historical Association.
There are over 90 new artifacts on display, many of which have never before been on display.
Some of our favorites are the desk that Franklin Delano Roosevelt sat at when he delivered his famous fireside chats and a scaled model of the White House.
Within the White House Visitor Center, you can watch a 14-minute film that takes you inside the White House and the lives of the First Families.
Allow anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour for your visit here.
VISITOR TIP: The White House Visitor Center has a great gift shop. There is also a gift shop at 701 15th St NW called White House Gifts. Here can take a photo of yourself sitting behind a replica of the Presidential desk in the Oval Office!