The White House, the symbol of American leadership, is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. It has served as the official residence for every President of the United States since 1800. When we were made aware the White House would be allowing photos on tours, we decided to put this experience at the top of our list. We decided to request Veterans Day weekend because it is one of our favorite times to visit the city. We thoroughly enjoyed our experience, but being aware of a few things prior would have helped us to have an even better experience. We hope this post encourages those interested to apply and go see this great American symbol for yourself.
How/When to Apply for White House Tour:
There are several ways to apply and for obvious reasons, it is easiest if you have a connection in the White House. If you are one of those connected individuals though, you probably are not seeking advice from a blog. On the other hand, if you are like us in that you are just a regular folk with no inside connections , you must apply through your state Congressman’s/Senator’s office. Non-US citizens should apply through their embassy or can contact a Congressional representative and inform them of their citizenship.
When filling out the request form, you are given a chance to select tours for the following places of interest: White House, Capitol, Supreme Court, Library of Congress, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. We selected White House and received an inquiry from our Congressman’s office to see if we would be interested in a Capitol Tour as well.
Once your Congressman’s office processes the request, you will most likely receive a follow-on e-mail asking you to provide clearance information and to confirm your travel dates. Once you have submitted the required paperwork, your representative’s office will notify you if your requested dates were approved/ disapproved.
When to Apply:
The suggested time frame to apply is 3-6 months in advance. We applied 15 weeks in advance of our planned trip date and it worked out. We received confirmation our tour was approved 12 weeks after submission and 3 weeks before our trip date, but the average notification time is 2 weeks in advance of the trip date. When we talked to a member of our Congressman’s office we were told the most difficult time to get approved for a tour is during the late November through the end of the year for Christmas season. If you must visit during the holiday, apply as far as possible in advance.
Notification of Approval:
With your notice of approval from your Congressman’s office, you will receive a White House pass that lists tour date and time, required documentation, list of permitted items and list of prohibited items.
Before You Go:
Ensure you stick to your original travel dates. Rescheduling tours are a hassle and can not always be accommodated.
Ensure you bring your White House Pass with you or have access to a printer at your travel location.
Comply with the list of approved/prohibited items:
- You can bring a coat/jacket even though they not listed on the pass.
- Secret Service has the right to confiscate any item that is not specifically listed. We saw school groups have earphones/earbuds taken away from kids; small razor blades, lighters and vapor cigarettes all confiscated from adults.
Security levels can be different depending on the current threat level. At the very least, there will be be 5 security checks. You are requested to meet at the check in point 15 minutes in advance. If you arrive early, stop in at the White House Visitor’s Center because that is where the guards will direct you. We arrived a few minutes late, but it was not an issue because there is a 2 1/2 hour grace period.
The 5 levels of security are: Gate Guard at meeting point checking tickets and times, 2 ID check points by secret service agents, dog sniffer and metal detectors. Security is surprisingly quick, but can be daunting for kids and for people not aware of the procedures.
East Wing Tour:
The East Wing is the wing that is open for public tours. Once you enter the first building, you’ll be greeted by the Obama’s on TV reminding you the tour is a self guided and to utilize secret service agents stationed in the rooms to answer any questions. You will also see a notice saying that you can take pictures and to use the hashtag #AtTheWH to share your experience.
The gift shop is like a kiosk stand. It offers some unique items for purchase. If interested, you must buy then because you will not be allowed to return later. There are plenty of gift shops in the surrounding area if you prefer to shop after the tour.
Cameras are restricted to a three inch lens, so cell phone cameras were by far the most popular camera on the tour. Spend time taking in where you are and not obsessing about getting the “right” picture because it’s not always possible. Patience is a virtue if you are wanting to take a picture without strangers in the photo. Tours are one right after the next, so it is rare to have a moment to yourself or with just your group.
The East Wing consists of 9 rooms, some you are able to walk through and some you can only peek into. There is no specific order you have to follow and you can re-enter rooms you have already seen. The secret service agents posted in rooms were friendly, but do not know every detail about the room they are posted in because they rotate frequently. These are some of our favorite rooms we viewed.
This room is located on the ground floor of the White House. We were not allowed to go into this room, only look in through the open door. When the house was first built, this room was used as a storage and staff work room. In 1902, during Roosevelt’s Presidency, it was renovated and turned into a public use room. The room is sometimes referred to as the “Gold Room” and serves as a display room and a sitting room for formal occasions. The walls are yellow paneled to compliment the gold-plated silver given to the White House by Mrs. Margaret Thompson Biddle in 1956. The carpet is a Turkish Hereke circa 1860. The circular mahogany table, in the middle of the room, is Empire revival style, has a tilt top with gold stars in each of the 12 sections. The chandelier, hanging above, has ten arms and was made in England around 1785.
The library is located on the ground floor of the White House. This space has served a wide variety of purposes over the years, most recently turned into a library in 1935. The library only has room for two thousand and seven hundred volumes, so the selections are very limited. The collection was last updated in 2005; Most selections have been there since the early 1960’s when First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy asked a committee to chose books for the library. The selections chosen represent the culture and history of the United States. The room is less formal than the state rooms and is often used for media taping.
November is Native American Heritage Month, so there were a few exhibits celebrating Native American heritage in the East Room when we visited. It is the largest room in White House, often used for large gatherings such as bill signings, dinners and concerts. It is the place where presidents are often inaugurated in private before the public ceremony at the Capitol and where former heads of state and other dignitaries are lain in honor before their funerals.
The blue room is located in the center of the State floor of White House. It is one of three state rooms on the state floor of the residence and is known for it’s oval shape. The room where the President receives many of his guests and receptions and small dinners take place. The room has been renovated and redecorated several times, but has always kept its blue color scheme. During the holidays, it is the room where the official White House Christmas Tree is located.
The red room is another of the state parlors of the White House and received its name from the red decor of the room. The style of the room today is influenced by the American Empire style originally chosen in 1962 during Kennedy’s Administration. The furniture in the room is from the years 1810-1830. The walls are adorned with fabric woven in the United States from French Empire designs. The furniture, such as the American Empire sofa, is upholstered in a silk of the same shade of red. The room has been used for a wide variety of activities, in recent administrations for small gatherings and dinner parties. In 1876, This room also served as a secret swearing-in of President Rutherford B. Hayes after his contested defeat of Samuel J. Tilden in the election.
Old Family Dining Room
This room is located on the State Floor and is the smaller of two dining rooms on the floor. It has been renovated several times and was just renovated again recently. First Lady Obama unveiled the newly refurbished State Dining Room on 10 February 2015. It is used for private events, presidential working lunches and a over flow room for State dinners. The latest refurbished room has a modern touch, but retained many of the Kennedy era antiques and a chandelier from 1780.
Closing Comments: Spend time studying the rooms you will see on the tour before you go. The official suggestion is to visit the Visitors Center, but you can also look online. Wear comfortable shoes that are good for walking and standing. Expect to spend 45 about minutes viewing and taking photos of the rooms and 15 minutes walking to the exit gate. It was an honor to have this opportunity and we encourage all to apply.
Have you been to the White House, or experienced a White House Tour? If so, we would enjoy hearing about your experience.