Visiting the White House (“The People’s House") is an often discussed topic on many webpages. We planned ahead, and it turned out to be a wonderful experience, so we’ve decided to pass along a few tips. I’ve attached a graphic diagram that goes along with this description – and it should show you what’s in store for you! But before we start, we have to lay the groundwork. First: arranging for the trip. Write your local Congressman/woman and request a booking for a range of dates (we gave them our first four days in DC and it was no problem). They will send you an official confirmation that you must print out and take with you. Pay special attention to the ‘do’s and don’ts’ and also the ‘take with you’s and leave at the hotels’. These are serious rules, and you may be denied your tour if you do not follow them – or worse, someone in your tour party may be forced to stay with prohibited items outside while the rest of you, feeling rather guilty, go ahead with the tour. By the way, there are no photos permitted at any point on the tour until you are actually finished and outside the main entrance on the North Portico. My wife was very concerned about these rules, and so we just carried the absolute minimum: my wife’s pocketbook thinned down for fitting inside a pocket (no purse), one cell phone turned off which we would use to take a photo or two when the tour was over (I and the daughters just left ours at the hotel locked up) our respective IDs and our paperwork for the tour. Left behind despite the weather were our umbrellas and jackets (we were lucky, it didn’t start to rain until late afternoon). With these items on hand, we set off. Second: getting there. Your best bet is to use the Metro. Tickets are available at stations for cash or on a credit card. You can take a taxi or hotel shuttle to your closest station. We were staying in McLean, Virginia and taxied to Dunn Loring for the trip into DC. When you see the traffic on Interstate-66 on the way in, you’ll be wearing a big smile because you made the right decision. We got off at McPherson and walked the two and a half blocks south to join the line. We got there about an hour before our scheduled tour time of 10:30 a.m. and found that the line was varying between 100-150 people. You line up along 15th Street Northwest (see diagram, point A), just south of the Treasury Department. If you’re wise you will take a cool drink with you because it can get very hot there in the mornings when that ‘southern sun’ beats down on the sidewalk and retaining wall between you and the statue of William Tecumsah Sherman! As you inch toward the ‘head’ of the line, have your paperwork handy. It will be checked when the line turns to enter the park where Sherman’s stutue is (diagram, point B). At this point, you will find two very important facts: 1) they are only checking that you have the official confirmation mailed to you by your Congressman, and 2) even unfortunates who arrive late for their tour times are let through (big sigh of relief from several around us). As you pass into the Park, there are a short, low wall and a bench or two that you can sit on (diagram, Point C). A guard was there who engaged us in conversation and was very sympathetic to us about the heat (I certainly felt sorry for him, in full uniform wearing a hat in that weather). We then moved on after a short wait to our first shade (still very warm, however). This was the line approaching the first awning/tent (diagram, Point D) where a much more detailed security check awaited us (diagram, Point D). At this point security officers asked for our paperwork and checked it against their own list of names and ID details including dates of birth. We ran into a problem, because our Congressman’s office had reversed the month and day of my oldest daughter’s birth (instead of 6-9 it was 9-6) and so we had to wait while they straightened that out. The wait was about 30 minutes (they had to phone the Congressman’s Office to verify the accurate date) and they were very professional and apologetic about the whole thing. They even offered to let the rest of the family proceed, but there was no way I was going without my oldest being with us! When it was finally cleared up, they told us to proceed to the next line (diagram, Point E) where another security check awaited us. They said we should say that we were a ‘re-check release’ to the officers there so they would not have to re-clear our daughter’s birthday all over again. We did so, and were passed through this second check almost immediately. We then passed through a wrought-iron gate and up a wheelchair ramp into yet another security area (diagram, Point F). It was here that we were told to stand with our legs apart and arms spread wide so that we could be patted down, and also to stand in front of an electronic scanner. This process only lasted a few seconds, and we were then told to exit out a doorway ahead of us and to the right, and we found ourselves outside again, at the eastern edge of the White House complex - the East Wing as it turned out (diagram, Point G). We entered the East Wing building, proceeded down a lovely wood-panelled corridor (the East Colonnade), jogged right, then left into the White House proper and began the tour. But to be honest, the best thing was being in air-conditioning again! Wonderful! On this lower level, we saw the Vermeil Room, the Library, the China Room and the Map Room. Going up some stairs, we found ourselves at the ground floor level. There we saw the East Room, Green Room, Blue Room, Red Room, State Dining Room on the upper floor and exited through the Cross Hall and out onto the North Portico. This is an unguided tour so you can take as much time as you want looking into each room. Most of the rooms are blocked for entry, and there are Secret Service men and women at each entry point. These folks don’t get paid enough! They know about the entire history of the White House and can give you ‘chapter and verse’ about every painting, chair, rug, ashtray and sculpture in their assigned room. They aren’t just statistical robots either. They have many a humorous and interesting story to relate, and are in fact very eager to talk with you – one said it made his day because if all he had to do was stand around, he would get powerfully bored! The tour ends out the ‘front door’ of the White House, on the North Portico. You can take as many pictures as you want here, no problem. A path then leads out to Pennsylvania Avenue. Total tour time? About two and a half hours from first joining the line. I’ve read many comments about White House tours from people both pleased and displeased. I understand and can sympathize with all of them. But this sort of thing is a ‘once in a lifetime’ event, and something you truly want to share with your children. That’s why, despite the heat, rules and limitations, it’s worth it!
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.