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Visiting the White House
Everything you need to know about visiting the most famous house in America
Sure, the White House is where the American President lives and works, but the national landmark actually belongs to the people of the United States. The house is on loan to the President and his or her family while serving in office. Visitors to Washington, DC (and locals, too) are encouraged to sign up to tour this fascinating place of history and American culture.
In 2015, First Lady Michelle Obama announced that the White House would, for the first time, authorize visitors to take photos on their White House Tour. For years, that privilege was off limits; only official White House photographers were authorized to capture images inside.
With the soaring popularity of smartphone cameras, a concerted effort to operate a transparent government and recognition of changing societal norms, the opportunity for everyone to share their experience was recognized and welcomed by the First Lady. As a result, you can now take selfies galore and keep your memories in your hand (and post it on social media using #WhiteHouseTour).
How to schedule your visit to the White House
The first step is to request a tour through your Member of Congress once you have set a date to visit Washington, DC ((find your member of Congress and contact information here). Requests may be submitted up to three months in advance, but no later than 21 days.
International visitors should submit a request through his/her respective embassy. When you are approved and time becomes available, your legislator’s coordinator of tours will contact you with an assigned date and time. It’s up to you to agree. If the time offered does not work, you may be put back in the lineup for a future date and time.
There are no tours on Sundays and Mondays, and tours are administered on a first-come, first-served basis.
Once you’re inside...
Before entering the White House, you will show your identification information and undergo a security check. Touring involves timed-entry, and visitors must wait outside before being ushered through the gates. Once inside, the entire tour lasts approximately one hour and includes stops at ten public rooms and corridors on the Ground and First Floors.
The guided tour incorporates the history of the house, furnishings, artwork and stories about the inhabitants of the house. At the beginning of the tour, you’ll have time to stop at the mini-gift shop. The guides allow about five minutes to stop for pictures at the conclusion of the tour.
This famous white structure on Pennsylvania Avenue symbolizes the relationship between our highest elected official and the citizens who elect him or her. The opportunity to tour the White House truly underscores this closeness.
White House history & trivia
Now that you know how to tour the White House, some fun background and history is a must!
- The site on Pennsylvania Avenue was selected by President George Washington and was approved in June 1791. The design for the Presidential Mansion (as it was originally called) was decided by a contest, and the winner was James Hoban, a native of Ireland. He had also designed the State Capitol Building in Columbia, South Carolina.
- Designed to be far larger and grander than it is, the building of the Presidential Mansion began in October 1792 and was finished in 1800. Construction was completed by laborers of Scottish and Irish descent as well as people who were enslaved. The key building material was sandstone from Virginia.
- The first president to live in the Presidential Mansion was John Adams. Surprisingly, the building was originally painted yellow. British soldiers captured and burned the Mansion during the War of 1812 when James Madison was in office. Reconstruction was completed in 1817, and President James Monroe and his family were able to move into the Mansion, which was now painted white, as it is today. In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt designated that the nickname for the mansion would now be its official name, The White House.
- Two artifacts from the Presidential Mansion are in the White House today: a painting and a medicine box. President James Madison’s wife Dolley Madison saved a painting of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart before the British stormed the premises. During the burning, a British soldier saved one small medicine box, which was returned in 1930.
Please note: At this time foreign embassies are not able to facilitate embassy-sponsored tours of the White House.
Now that you have read up on the White House, explore DC’s other awesome monuments and memorials.