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White House tours are back: Here's what you need to know

March 16, 2022
9 min read
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I remember visiting the White House for the first time during former President George H.W. Bush's time in office.

A friend with a friend who worked in the Washington, D.C., landmark at the time — if that isn't a quintessential D.C. thing to say, I don't know what is — was couch surfing at my place and wanted to "pay" me with a tour of the presidential mansion.

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I happily accepted the offer and, not long after, found myself exploring the iconic building. In addition to checking out the usual rooms included in the tour, my friend scored us a peek inside the Oval Office, an experience I'll never forget.

Like many sites in D.C., the White House paused tours of its interior due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But after 14 months, the Biden Administration announced that tours will resume on Friday and Saturday mornings starting April 15.

As was the case before the pandemic, you can't just show up and ask for tickets. Instead, you'll need to plan your visit weeks in advance.

Before you finalize your itinerary, here's everything you need to know about White House tours, plus suggestions for where to stay nearby.

Tickets

The entrance hall to the White House. (Photo courtesy of the White House)

Although the White House is managed by the National Park Service, you can't reach out to the agency to get tickets. Instead, you'll need to request them from your member of Congress (or your embassy, if you're not a U.S. resident). You can do this between three months and 21 days in advance.

Tours are limited to Friday and Saturday mornings (excluding federal holidays or unless otherwise noted) from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis, so you'll want to request your tickets as early as possible.

When you submit your request, be sure to include three potential dates for your tour, as well as the number of individuals in your party. Try to avoid the Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President's Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Veterans Day and Christmas holidays, as tickets are a lot harder to come by during these busy times.

While you'll have a set tour time when you receive your tickets, know that unexpected events may occasionally cause your tour to be canceled at the last minute. If this happens, you'll need to submit a new request for a tour.

(Map courtesy of the National Park Service)

On the day of your tour, all members of your group who are 18 and older will need to present a valid government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license or military ID (or a passport, if they're from another country). Each person's name, date of birth, city and state given for the reserved tickets must exactly match the government-issued photo ID presented.

While face masks are not required during the tour, they will be available on site should you want to wear one. Items you're welcome to bring on the tour include:

  • Compact cameras with lenses shorter than 3 inches long.
  • Umbrellas without metal tips.
  • Small personal items like wallets and cellphones.
  • Items needed for medical purposes, such as wheelchairs (which you also can request at the Visitors Entrance), medications and mobility aids.

Keep in mind, though, that the White House's strict security protocols mean certain items are not permitted inside. These include:

  • Video cameras, cameras with detachable lenses, tablets, iPads, tripods, monopods and cameras sticks.
  • Bags of any kind (handbags, purses, book bags, backpacks, diaper bags and camera bags).
  • Any pointed object, including pocket knives.
  • Strollers.
  • Food, liquids, aerosols, tobacco products and personal grooming items (makeup, lotion, etc.).
  • Guns, ammunition, fireworks, electric stun guns, mace, martial arts weapons and devices, toy weapons and knives of any kind.

There is no storage available at the White House or the White House Visitor Center, so plan on keeping any prohibited items in your hotel safe or leaving them with a companion who isn't taking the tour.

What you'll see

The center hall leads to the West Wing and the Oval Office. (Photo courtesy of the White House)

After you've made your way through security, you'll embark on an hourlong tour that includes stops at several well-known spots in the building, including the family theater, the East Room (which you may recognize from press conferences and special events), the State Dining Room (a banquet hall and ceremonial chamber for official events) and the Blue Room (a reception room famous for its decorations during the holiday season).

Depending on what's going on during your visit (or who you know), you may also have the chance to see other spaces like the Oval Office and the South Lawn, where Marine One (the presidential helicopter) lands and departs.

To supplement your White House tour, check out the adjacent White House Visitor Center. Open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the center is home to roughly 100 historical artifacts and offers an interactive touchscreen tour of the White House.

There's also the nearby White House Historical Association retail store, which sells a great selection of souvenirs, including history books, jewelry, cherry blossom items and the official White House Christmas ornament.

Where to stay

Washington, D.C. is home to many chain, independent and boutique hotels, and luckily, some of the best ones happen to be within walking distance of the White House. Here are some of my personal favorites — and their current room rates for October 2022.

Related: Best hotel credit cards

The Hay-Adams

A room at The Hay-Adams with a view of the Washington Monument. (Photo courtesy of The Hay-Adams)

This historic hotel located between the White House and Lafayette Park regularly shows up on lists of the best hotels in D.C., and for good reason. If you play your cards right, you can snag a room with White House and Washington Monument views.

Speaking of views, the property's top-floor Top of the Hay has French doors that open onto a wraparound balcony with panoramic White House and city skyline vistas. It has a full-service rooftop kitchen, making it a terrific space for meetings and special occasions.

Since The Hay-Adams is a boutique hotel, it does not participate in any major brand's loyalty program. As a result, you'll need to pay cash for your stay. Standard superior rooms start at $439 a night.

Hotel Washington

The Due rooftop lounge is a great place to see D.C. (Photo courtesy of the Hotel Washington)

For a while, this 105-year-old hotel was known as the W Washington DC, but it reverted back to its original name in August 2021.

The chic property is known for the Vue, an open-air space regularly touted as one of the city's best rooftop bars. You'll also find a mix of rooms and suites, including some with jaw-dropping city views.

Cash rates for a standard queen room at this independently operated hotel start at $337 per night, but if you're looking for a show-stopping view, consider upgrading to one of the Monument suites. You'll enjoy sweet views of the Washington Monument for a minimum of $580 a night.

JW Marriott Washington, DC

(Photo courtesy of the JW Marriot Washington, DC)

One of Marriott's flagship hotels just happens to sit right on Pennsylvania Avenue, less than two blocks away from the White House and next door to the National Theatre.

Like other hotels on this list, the JW Marriott Washington, DC boasts rooms with incredible views of downtown and the city's popular monuments. You'll also find a moody bar and an American-inspired restaurant on site, should you crave a cocktail or bite to eat after sightseeing.

While standard rooms do not come with a Washington Monument view, for a slight price increase, you can reserve a king bedroom that overlooks the monument starting at $359 a night. If you have a stash of Marriott Bonvoy points, you can apply 50,000 to 60,000 points per night to cover a stay here.

Willard InterContinental Washington DC

(Photo courtesy of the Willard InterContinental)

The history of this hotel, which opened in 1818, almost goes back to the start of the republic. As such, it was the place to see and be seen for centuries.

When I moved to D.C. in 1978, the iconic Willard had been closed for 10 years and was just a decaying building on Pennsylvania Avenue. That same year, a team was chosen to redevelop the hotel into the stunning property it is today.

Ever since reopening in 1986, the IHG-affiliated hotel has drawn visitors with its ornate lobby and classically-styled rooms.

To book a king room with a premium view, expect to spend at least $517 per night or apply a minimum of 53,000 to 94,000 IHG Rewards points per night.

Kimpton Banneker Hotel

The Lady Bird rooftop bar. (Photo courtesy of the Kimpton Banneker Hotel)

Located on a tree-lined avenue with a view down 16th Street Northwest to the White House, this Kimpton outpost is slightly off the beaten path ... in a good way.

The property's Lady Bird rooftop bar features a bird’s-eye view of D.C., including an unobstructed look at the White House, and a centerpiece U-shaped bar. Rooms and suites feature modern, eye-catching designs with colorful local art and bold accent walls.

Because this property participates in the IHG Rewards program, you can use either cash or points to pay for a room here. A standard room with two queen beds starts at $315 or 53,000 points per night.

Featured image by Bloomberg via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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