What to Expect on a White House Tour and a Capitol Tour


The crown jewels of a visit to Washington, DC are tours of the White House and the Capitol building. Walking in the steps of the great men and women who have led this country (along with plenty of not-so-great leaders) is truly a humbling experience. 

Touring the halls of the bottom level of the White House and marveling at the presidential portraits, the exquisite furniture and the various formal rooms for conducting the country’s business is simply fascinating. 

The front of the White House while on a White House tour... an white building with a portico off the front of it with Greek-style columns.
The front is the last thing you get to see on a White House tour.

Likewise, when you walk into the Capitol Rotunda and admire the frescos and engravings or the National Statuary Hall is similarly breathtaking. Traipsing through the halls where the great issues of the day are debated and formed into law (or should be) truly helps connect the visitor to the process. 

So, let’s talk about what to expect when you take a tour of the White House or the Capitol building. 

(Disclaimer: When we link to places where you can buy our stuff or places we stayed, we are using special codes that earn us commissions on the sales at no additional cost to you. Please see our Review Policy  for more information.)

Planning a White House Tour

First, let’s take a look at the process for getting a tour of the White House.

Getting a Ticket For a White House Tour

If you are a US citizen, your first step in getting a White House tour ticket is to contact your US Representative or Senator. Most of them have a form you can use to request a tour of the White House or the Capitol building. The form will ask when you are in DC and the full names of everyone in the party. 

Pro tip: Tickets to tour the White House become available 90 days in advance and close 21 days in advance. Request your tickets as soon as the window becomes available for your trip and for every day you have available. (The more flexible you are, the more chances you have to get a tour.)

An exterior shot of the White House looking down the outside of the East Colonnade. There is a low wooden fence gating off a brick-paved walkway leading to the main building of the White House.
The White House

Tickets to visit the White House are presently only available from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The tour availability is subject to change on short notice (i.e. the President needs to use one of the rooms) and can be canceled due to inclement weather (more on that below). 

We requested our tickets through our representative, Barry Loudermilk, right as the window opened. Once the request was received and availability for our dates was confirmed, we got an email from the Office of the White House asking us to submit specific information so we could be cleared in advance by the Secret Service. 

A manicured garden with several scuplted trees and bushes, along with a plethora of flowers.
Looking out the White House windows at the gardens.

We did not receive final confirmation of our White House tour until about a week before our trip! I will be honest: that made planning the rest of our visit to Washington, DC a bit difficult because we simply did not know what day we were touring the White House. But, we knew it would be worth it, even if it meant rearranging a few things at the last minute.

Read more about visiting all of the National Parks in Washington, DC, including the White House, here.

What to Know Before Your White House Tour

First, you MUST print out your White House tour ticket. You cannot have it saved on your phone. 

Second, you are very limited in what you can bring on the White House tour and there is no nearby bag storage. The White House website has a comprehensive list of the things you can and cannot bring with you. We took only our cell phones, wallets and keys.

I made a tactical error in buying a Christmas ornament from the White House Visitor Center gift shop and thought I might have to give it up. Fortunately, it was allowed but I would not want to test that again. 

A long line of people in rain gear or holding umbrellas going up the street.
Getting in line for the tour of the White House.

Third, be prepared to stand in line for quite a while. As you would expect, the Secret Service is quite thorough in its security screenings and it takes time to be that thorough. Our tour was scheduled for 11:30 a.m. We got in line right on time. It took us more than an hour to get through the line. We started the line at the corner of E Street and 15th Street. It made its way to Alexander Hamilton Place, where the official start of the line is. Then it wound around the William Tecumseh Sherman Monument and then towards the White House. 

When we toured, it poured rain most of the day. We were prepared for rain with rain gear but, eventually, we got to the point where our legs and feet were soaked. If there had been lightning, the Secret Service would have canceled the tours. 

Grant and Bonnie taking a selfie in the rain. Bonnie is wearing a raincoat with a good. Grant is wearing a raincoat with a wide-brimmed camoflauge hat.
Not enjoying the heavy rain while waiting in line to tour the White House.

Fourth, be prepared to show your ID multiple times. You will need a valid US Driver’s License, Passport or Military ID.

If you are not a US citizen, you will need to contact your country’s Washington, DC embassy for assistance in procuring a ticket. In terms of ID, you will need one of the following: a valid Passport, Alien Registration Card, Permanent Resident Card or U.S. State Department-issued Diplomatic ID Card.

What to Expect on Your White House Tour

The White House tour is self-guided. While I typically like a self-guided tour through museums and the like, I actually would have loved a guided tour here. Yes, there are informative signs, but it is simply not the same as having a knowledgeable guide to give backstory on the various sites we were seeing. That said the Secret Service had guards posted in many of the rooms who were happy to answer questions.   

A Secret Service guard walks in a large, open room with a crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling. There is a portrait of George Washington beside a fireplace and a portrait of Theodore Roosevelt in the corner.
The East Room is used for large gatherings and contains the famous portrait of George Washington.

We got to see some of the Ground Level of the White House, including the East Colonnade, Family Movie Theater, the China and Vermeil rooms and the Library. Then you will head up a set of stairs to the State Level. 

Once on the State Level, you will see the East Room (where weddings and balls are held), the Green Room (a parlor for cocktail receptions), the Blue Room (where the president and first lady receive formal guests), the Red Room (a parlor favored by many first ladies), and then the State Dining Room. The Cross Hall and Entrance Room conclude the tour and you exit through the north side “front door.” 

It was really neat being in the rooms that you see in photos and on the news. The architecture and furnishings are “stately” and certainly exude a sense of grandeur.

All told, we spent about half an hour on the White House tour, once we made it through security.

What to Visit Before or After Your White House Tour

If you are a National Parks nut, like us, there are three sites to visit right next to the White House that are worth your time. 

White House Visitor Center

First, the White House and grounds are technically a National Park, so be sure to go to the White House Visitor Center, which is located on Pennsylvania Avenue, near where you started waiting in line for your tour.

Here you will find plenty of exhibits on the ins and outs of the White House, including examples of china, exhibits on some of the presidents’ favorite meals, as well as a gift shop and an excellent film narrated by many of the former residents of the White House on why the place is so special. 

It is definitely worth your stop. It is also a great alternative if you can’t get a White House tour.

World War I Memorial

Just across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House Visitor Center is the World War I Memorial, which honors those who fell in the during the First Great War, and their commander, General John Pershing. 

Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site

Technically, Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol Building is a national historic site and it preserves the route taken for presidential inaugurations. 

Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site

A large brick building with people milling in front of it.
Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site

Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site is located about half a mile east of the White House. This is the (still active) theatre where President Lincoln was assassinated. You can go in the lobby without a ticket but there is not much to see. That said, the tour of the theatre and the museum are well worth your time and money! We did the tour in 2011 and loved it.

Planning a Capitol Tour

Getting a tour of the Capitol is a little bit easier, but does take some planning.

Getting a Ticket For a Capitol Tour

There are two different methods for acquiring a ticket to tour the Capitol Building. You can book a tour through the US Capitol Visitor Center OR by requesting a tour through your Representative or Senator. Tours are offered every day except Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

We requested our tour of the Capitol Building through our Representative, Barry Loudermilk, when we booked our tour of the White House. Congressman Loudermilk’s office was able to confirm the Capitol tour fairly quickly via email and we had our tour set. 

A large, open space with a skylight above. Through the skylight, the Capitol dome is visible.
Inside the Capitol Visitor Center

There is one major difference between the tour offered by the US Capitol Visitor Center and the ones offered by Members of Congress: the ability to visit either House or Senate Galleries. Only the tours offered by Members of Congress will get you into one of these galleries where you can potentially watch the House or the Senate in action. 

The other difference between the two tours is the one given by the US Capitol Visitor Center uses headsets whereas the ones offered by the Members of Congress do not. That’s because the tours by Members of Congress are typically much smaller. Indeed, our guide said that our group of 10 was considered a big group.

Finally, if your tour is through your House Representative, anyone else on the tour will be from the same area as you. Indeed, one family attended the rival high school just up the street from where we teach. The other family was related to one of Grant’s current students. It was neat to know that we were all from the same place, even if we didn’t actually know each other.

Grant and Bonnie standing between  US and Georgia flags with the seal of the House of Represenatives behind us.
In the office of our representative, Congressman Barry Loudermilk, whose office led our tour.

Pro Tip: Pay close attention to where your tour begins. Most tours with Members of Congress DO NOT start at the visitor center but rather at the office of the Congressman/Senator.

Also, while the security requirements for the Capitol Building are not nearly as stringent as the White House, you still have restrictions on what you can take.

We were able to drop off our gear at our congressman’s office, which was nice before going on the tour. Be sure to ask your Congressman’s office if they can handle that if you are touring through them.

What to Expect on the US Capital Tour

Our tour took us from one of the House office buildings across the street from the Capitol through the tunnel system below the Capitol Building to enter the Capitol that way. Along the way, we were able to view the National Exhibition, which includes pieces of art from high schoolers in every Congressional district. That was very cool.

A group of people walking through a well-lit tunnel with a group of paintings on the wall.
The National Exhibition includes art from every Congressional district and is located in one of the tunnels under the Capitol.

The tour started in the Crypt, which is where it was intended for George Washington to be interred (he’s at Mount Vernon) and the center of Washington, DC, as designed by Pierre “Peter” Charles L’Enfant. 

Each state is allotted two statues to be placed in the Capitol. Since Georgia was one of the original 13 states, one of the two statues is located in the Crypt… it is of Crawford Long, who discovered the use of sulfur ether as an anesthetic. 

We also toured the Old Supreme Court Chambers before visiting the Capitol Rotunda. The Capitol Rotunda is truly imposing but it can be a bit crowded with other tour groups. Still, the artistry of the Capitol Rotunda is simply spectacular and something to behold.

We also toured the National Statuary Hall, which holds Georgia’s other statue, Alexander Hamilton Stephens. Stephens was governor of the state and vice president of the Confederacy. At this point, it feels misplaced to have statues of both the president (Jefferson Davis, presented by Mississippi) and vice president of the Confederacy honored in the Capitol Building but it is up to each state’s legislature to make those changes.

We also got to tour the old House chamber, which was very cool to see. Then we got to go up to the House Gallery. The security of the House Gallery is quite tight, so had to leave our phones and Apple Watches behind. That was just so cool to see though! Congress was not in session during our visit but if they are in session you can watch all the shenanigans.

All told, our tour was nearly 90 minutes long! I must say our tour guide, Dylan, who was an intern for Congressman Loudermilk, did a great job on our tour and we enjoyed it.

What to Visit Before or After Your Capitol Tour

There aren’t as many National Park sites near the Capitol as there are the White House but there are still a few.

Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument

A female Park Ranger giving a speech in a foyer with several paintings of women and a mirror.
On our tour of the Belmont-Paul House

Belmont-Paul Women’t Equality National Monument is about a quarter of a mile from the Capitol Building. This site preserves the headquarters of the National Women’s Party, which was instrumental in obtaining women’s suffrage and passing the 19th Amendment.

The site is only open from Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and offers tours at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. We took the tour on our visit and learned a ton about the fight for women’s equality.

Stanton Park (part of Capitol Hill Parks)

A greened with age bronze statue of a man on a horse pointing forward. There is a large grassy area surrounding the pedestal for the statue.
A statue of Nathaniel Greene, a Revolutionary War hero, in Stanton Park, part of the Capitol Hill Parks.

For those trying to hit every park site, you should continue another quarter of a mile to Stanton Park, which is part of the Capitol Hill Parks.

There’s not much to it other than a playground and a statue of General Nathaniel Greene, a Revolutionary War hero. If you are not checking off all of the National Parks, there is no need to go unless you want to relax in a nice park.

The Supreme Court

A large white federal building with colums out front and a large set of stairs leading up to it.
The Supreme Court building

While you got to see the old Supreme Court chambers in the Crypt of the Capitol, the “new” building is just east of the Capitol and is open for tours Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m… Supposedly. The building was closed early on the day we visited. 

Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial

A panorama of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial
The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial is located about half a mile west of the Capitol Building. The plaza memorializes the man’s service as both the commanding general of the European Theatre during World War II and as the 34th President of the United States.

There is a small bookstore there as well for folks looking for a park stamp or a souvenir. 

Where to Eat for a White House Tour or Capitol Tour

Getting food at both of these spots can be a bit tough. While there are restaurants around, they can be crowded and pricey. On one day, we were able to find a good food truck, which worked out well. But when we visited the White House, it was pouring rain, so we had to opt for a restaurant. When we visited the Capitol, we were going to other sites around the building and there were no food trucks around. So, here’s what we found and enjoyed.

After the White House Tour – Elephant & Castle

Elephant & Castle styles itself as an English Pub and, yes, it does offer pub fare, if a bit elevated. Since we were cold and wet, we both opted for a bowl of ale and onion soup in addition to the bangers and mash and shepherd’s pie we got. 

The food was tasty, pretty authentic to what we got in London last April and, most importantly, warm and filling! 

After the Capitol Tour – Good Stuff Eatery

Bonnie sitting at a table with two sets of burgers and fries.
Enjoying a couple of burgers at the Good Stuff Eatery not far from the Capitol.

Following our Capitol tour, we needed a relatively quick bite so we could make our next tour at the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument. We found quite a few restaurants southeast of the Capitol but the crowds were stiff.

We decided upon Good Stuff Eatery for a couple of burgers and enjoyed what we got. The service was pretty quick and we were able to snag a seat at a large group table.

Final Thoughts on White House and Capitol Tours

While we enjoyed both tours, we both enjoyed our Capitol tour more than our White House tour. Part of the reason we enjoyed the Capitol tour more is because it was guided and a lot more in-depth. We had a great experience with our guide from Congressman Loudermilk’s office. 

I am sure the fact that we were soaked after waiting outside in the rain colored our experience with the White House tour. Still, the fact the White House tour was self-guided and comparatively brief after a lengthy wait felt like we were a bit short-changed by comparison. That said, the White House Visitor Center did a very good job of filling in the gaps. 

Grant and Bonnie in rain gear taking a selfie in front of the White House.
Selfie outside the front of the White House

If you were only looking to do one of the two, we would recommend doing the Capitol tour and just visiting the White House Visitor Center. While the White House tour is cool and we enjoyed it, it is a lot more difficult logistically for not nearly the same level of experience. 

Travel Resources
What do you use to find a flight?

We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
Click here to search for a flight.

What do you use to find a hotel?

We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. You can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
Click here to book a Hilton property.

If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way.
Click here to search for a hotel.

We recently partnered with Stay22 to add interactive maps to each of our destination posts. This will allow you to see a plethora of hotels and vacation rentals all in one responsive map of the area.

What if I need more space than I can get at a hotel?

We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
Click here to search for a vacation rental.

Who do you use for rental cars?

As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia.
Click here to book a rental car.

How about booking a cruise?

We have found some amazing prices for booking a cruise through Cruise Direct. We have saved a lot of money on our cruises compared to what we found elsewhere, making a last-minute Bahamas cruise even cheaper.
Click here to book a cruise.

What if I want to rent an RV?

We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
Click here to rent an RV.

What do you use for booking tours?

We don’t often book tours. Typically, we like to do stuff on our own. That said, there are some experiences you can’t have any other way. So, when we do want to book a tour, we always check Viator first.
Click here to book a tour.

Do you use anything to get discounts on the road?

We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.
We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.
Click here to get a AAA membership.

Leave a Comment

I accept the Privacy Policy