Get An Inside Look Of The President's Headquarters With This Must-Do Tour In Washington DC

As the official residence and workplace of the U.S. president, The White House is undoubtedly one of the most famous buildings in the world. With its distinctive columned porticos, elegant facade, and leafy surrounds, which are regularly beamed across the globe on television, it's also one of the most recognizable. But did you know that it's possible to take a tour inside this venerable location?

While it does require some advance planning, which we'll get to in a moment, it's worth it for the chance to get a sneak peek of this iconic landmark in Washington, D.C. Originally designed by Irish-born architect James Hoban in the late 1700s, this neoclassical mansion today comprises three distinct sections: the Executive Residence at the center and, added later, the East and West Wings. Lasting 45 minutes, the self-guided tours take in the prestigious public rooms of the East Wing, including the Blue, Red, and Green Rooms, the State Dining Room, and the China Room, as well as a view of the famed Rose Garden.

What is more, and here's the particularly exciting bit, members of the Secret Service are on hand to answer any questions about each room. It's even okay to take a quick phone snap or two, according to Destination DC, the official marketing organization for Washington, D.C., though flash photography and video are not permitted. On top of all that, the tours are free of charge, therefore, ideal if you're traveling on a budget.

How to book a spot on a tour of The White House

As we mentioned earlier, the only snag is that securing a place does take a little bit of organization. In short, a formal request must be made through your Member of Congress at least 21 days — but not more than three months — in advance of the requested tour date. This can be done either in the old-school way, by calling the U.S. House of Representatives Switchboard at 202-225-3121 or the U.S. Senate Switchboard at 202-224-3121, or otherwise online at

Alternatively, if you are a citizen of a foreign country, you will need to contact your embassy in Washington, D.C., for help submitting a tour request. While there is no official guidance on timings for international visitors, it's probably safe to assume that the earlier you can put in your request, the better.

In any event, the tours are available from Tuesday to Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (excluding holidays, extreme weather, or other extenuating circumstances), with guests assigned a specific time once the visit is confirmed. It's also worth noting that several guidelines must be followed on that day. For example, all visitors are required to present a formal ID upon check-in. In addition, there is a whole ream of items not allowed, from food and liquid to bags of any kind. So, it's best to read up beforehand and plan accordingly.

What happens if you don't get a place on a tour?

Finally, if your application for a tour place isn't successful, as they do get very booked up, don't be too disheartened. On the plus side, you can always catch a glimpse of The White House from the outside. For the best views of the exterior, head to Lafayette Square on Pennsylvania Avenue NW or The Ellipse in President's Park. Also, the gardens themselves are open twice a year, in the spring and fall, for free public tours. And, if all else fails, there is an immersive virtual tour created by The White House Historical Association, available online.

Alternatively, a visit to The White House Visitor Center, located next door, comes highly recommended. There, you can learn the full story of this renowned property, which has been the official residence of every U.S. president since 1800. As well as a museum gallery, interactive exhibits, and a large-scale model of The White House, the visitor center features nearly 100 artifacts — including the very desk used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Admission to the visitor center is also free.

However, if you are lucky enough to secure a spot on one of the special tours of the house, there really is no better way to get an inside look at the president's headquarters. Who knows, perhaps you'll even catch a glimpse of President Biden himself. Plus, what could be cooler than scoring a selfie at The White House?