Getting into the White House – A Tour Story

Though it was on my recently crafted bucket list, I can’t claim that going on a tour of the White House, in Washington, D.C., was a childhood dream of mine.   I didn’t quite understand, nor probably care, about the significance of the White House back then.  I understand the significance now – or better yet – the symbolism, what it stands for, even if my faith in its occupants is is not always there…  IMHO, only warped egos nursing psychological gaps stemming from their childhood would endure the hell it takes to get there.  But I digress, I meant to write about a White House visit.  And I am not a mental health professional… 🙂

I approached the White House from the north side coming from work by crossing Lafayette Square, a great place to bring your lunch and sit to watch people and one of the most important residences in the world!

North side of the White House with Washington Monument behind it from Lafayette Square in Washingon, D.C.

View of the WH from Lafayette Square with Washington Monument behind it

Since taking a camera is not allowed and there are no lockers, the pictures you will see are from my smartphone (though you cannot take pictures during the tour) – excuse the lower quality!

Planning my White House tour

You may think after my VIP Delta treatment that I am now being recognized EVERYWHERE for the VIP that I am (in my own mind).  No, no, I wasn’t invited to the White House.  That is reserved for big donors or poster-children of age, race, gender/orientation, or other politically-convenient traits.  I did it the good ol’ way:  I contacted a congressman’s office and requested a tour, a White House tour.  And it wasn’t a 3-hour tour.  More like 30-45 mins…

A visit requires planning if you are an out-of-towner.  I am one of those except I work in DC on a very frequent basis.   After 1.5 yrs of this, I realized the foolishness of my ways:

  1. I had never been to the White House.
  2. I worked 2-3 blocks away.
  3. I could plan weeks in advance.
  4. I may not continue doing this for much longer (going often to DC, that is).

So, I decided to just send the darned email, fill out the silly little Excel spreadsheet (less than 10 fields to complete), and then sit and wait for the date and time of my “appointment.”

You too can visit the WH like these schoolchildren! Just get there before them…

The White House tour – some details

I eventually got my confirmation and so I waited.  I waited for this tour that is not a tour.  You walk yourself around a pre-defined path while no one is describing anything for you.  However, you are encouraged to ask questions of the people stationed in every room or area you visit for information about the room/area (you do get a National Parks brochure describing the visit too).  These folks are not your average docent/guardian at a museum room.  These are Secret Service folks.  Why?  Had we not been cleared well enough in advance?  Well, I am sure there is always a risk a visitor could do something requiring the training a Secret Service person has received but there is a more important reason.  At some points in your tour, you COULD BE within 6-12 ft of POTUS (this word always makes me giggle), the President of the United States!  You may not know it, and it may not matter if he (“she”, by the time someone reads this many years from now?) is there but they have to handle as if.  Pretty neat if you think about it.

These Secret Service folks, though, are not unfriendly.  A tad rigid maybe but I am sure they are being quite vigilant.  However, they gladly answer questions and even offer information – I was astonished that they went “above expectations” so kudos, Secret Service dudes and dudettes – most bodacious!

So the tour actually begins outside and you are warned to have gone potty and maybe bring something to eat plus water.  Not that you can consume them inside but so that you have for the waiting in line before you hit the security checkpoint.

Perhaps being off-season, I did not encounter any line at all.  Which I was happy for (my friend Leah will need to forgive the 2 faults I know this sentence has).  I first went through some weird checkpoint (maybe sensing powder/dust or chemicals?), then I went through the more standard metal detector and bag conveyor.  Of course, you are not allowed to bring many things on this tour, including cameras (cellphones are allowed to be carried in but cannot be used) and the instructions tell you all this so you are not taken by surprise.

Buyer beware:  Once you enter the White House no electronic devices can be used until you exit the White House through the front door and exit the large portico.

The start of the White House tour

OK, so you enter the White House from the east, one floor below the street in the front but at the level of the gardens facing south.  Large paintings of First Ladies and POTUSes {double giggle} await.  As you walk down this gallery, you see some photographs of presidents current and past doing the most mundane presidential things:  meeting prime ministers from other countries, playing with visiting children, and all the cute things POTUSes {giggle} do.

Then you can see the china chosen by different residents in the China Room and the hallway, and also peek at the Library (all books by key American authors).  You can also see here the Vermeil Room, so called because of the large amount of gilded silver;.  This room holds portraits of recent First Ladies and was at some point a former billiard room – or the White House man-cave, I suppose.  There are other rooms in the ground floor, like the Diplomatic Reception Room, that are not included in the tour.  The ground floor is interesting but nothing that wowed me other than knowing many greats (American or otherwise) have been there.

Let me throw in some White House history…

Before I keep detailing the tour, allow me a historical detour {wow, that was brilliant}…  It is important to know that  the White House, which was built between 1792 and 1800, has undergone renovations throughout its history.  The rooms are not exactly as they were after it got rebuilt after the fire set by the British in 1814 during the 1812 War.  This fire destroyed the interior, but not the structure, of the White House.

So this was news to me:  did you know the White House was designed by an Irish-American architect named James Hoban (and namesake of a favorite bar of mine in D.C.)?   George Washington had seen his work while visiting Charleston, S.C. and chose him to design the President’s residence in the future capital (in the meantime, Washington lived as President in the then-capital of Philadelphia).  As you may know, Washington was the only President to have never lived in the White House.

Hoban did not design all of what you see today (for example, the porticos were built later as were the East and West wings).  The third floor attic had the roof line changed in 1927 to convert the space to living quarters.  Finally, the actual structure itself underwent serious changes during the Truman years since the internal wooden beams among other things were found to be close to failure.  Truman actually had to move out of the White House for months while the internal rooms were dismantled, steel beams installed, and the rooms re-established.

North portico of the White House added in 1829

North portico was added on in 1829

East Wing from the northeast corner of the White House and the Dept of Treasury in the background

East Wing from the northeast corner and the Dept of Treasury in the background

Let’s move on… to the State Floor of the White House

You move on up, like the Jeffersons (as in the TV show, not the President), and hit the State Floor (or the main floor). On this, the last floor included in the tour,you get to see some neat spaces:  the Green Room (once Jefferson’s dining room; Thomas, not the TV show in this case), the Blue Room (often used by the President to receive guests), the Red Room (a favorite of the ladies, the First Ladies that is), the State Dining Room (which fools you because it can seat up to 130 people) and the East Room.  This last room is a large ballroom-like space that has seen even several weddings.  Also, the bodies of 7 Presidents have laid in state here.  The East Room contains probably the most important painting in the complex:  the 1797 (ancient by U.S. standards!) full portrait of George Washington that made Dolly Madison (a First Lady) famous.  See, when the White House was burning in 1814, good ol’ Dolly rushed to take this painting out of the White House to save it.  I appreciate her efforts but I wonder if, without such an effort, she would just be more of a footnote in history as are some other first ladies, whose names I cannot recall…

After seeing these rooms, you move to the large foyer/lobby where you are summarily “shown the door”.  The Secret Service individual standing at the door was actually quite informative and shared how he has seen the current and last Presidents in very private moments – being very human as they move about their abode after hours (or before hours for the early risers…).  From here, you walk out the north door to the massive portico we are used to seeing anytime shots of the White House appear on TV from the north side.  Once you step out of the portico, that smartphone camera can come out and you can snap away the photo you have been dying to take:  one of you at the White House!

My picture in front of the White House's north portico

Yea, that’s me in the middle of that crowd with the blue shirt…

In conclusion, fellow citizens, Romans, et ales

Yes, I am getting all formal, after all I am writing about THE White House.  Not the Pink House in Buenos Aires, or some other colored-named house.  In conclusion {drum roll}, the visit to this most important abode is way too short and way too limited.  Heck, I am paying for a lot of stuff in that place.  I want to see the Lincoln bedroom, perhaps enjoy a pillow fight there (nope, I did not even get to take a peek at the room!  pillow fight there remains in the bucket list).  I want to see the Oval Office even if not allowed in (the POTUS is not ALWAYS there, come on!).  But, I am thankful that, at least, us regular folks get to enter the precinct that is the home of the President of the United States of America and for a very short moment take a peek at a place that has seen a  lot of greats (and a lot more so-sos… no names…) lead this country or visit those who have led this country.  Check it out if you can!

North portico of the White House as the tour ends

Leaving the White House, turn around and soak in the view. You were just IN THERE!

No politicians were harmed in the writing of this post.



  1. I toured the White House when I was about 7and saw Carolyn Kennedy riding her pony on the WH lawn. Not that I’m ancient or anything – it was time travel I assume. But I still remember it very vividly – I enjoyed reading this, Missed you in Girona!
    Kay Dougherty recently posted..Euro and rubel us? Well we’ll fig and banana you!My Profile

    • I didn’t realize Carolyn was still around the White House in the early 80s, Kay! I have learned something 😉 And, I certainly wish I had been able to make it to Girona but my hike in Romania took precedence.

  2. Christina S. says:

    Great review! I have actually toured the West Wing, including the Oval Office (well, looked in through the open door). To do this, you need to know someone who is a political appointee working at the White House. I’ve been fortunate enough to do it twice – it’s very cool!
    Christina S. recently posted..Hotel Review: Hotel Duval; Tallahassee, FloridaMy Profile

    • Thanks for checking out the post, Christina! How cool that you got to see the West Wing and Oval Office! Maybe some day I will know someone and get to see a little more about this wonderful and intriguing building.

  3. First, I love the picture of the school kids and the advice to get there before them. Haha, we take our students to DC every year and there is nothing quite like carting 100 8th graders around the Capital. Luckily, we don’t take them to the White House…too complicated.

    I did take a tour here when I was younger. We had a family member who worked for Clinton take us on a tour, and it was quite impressive. This brought back a lot of memories.

    If it helps, I still consider you a VIP. 😉

  4. A place I have never been – and is unacceptable is Washington. Would love love love to go! 🙂 Thanks for this!
    @mrsoaroundworld recently posted..Photos of the Week – WhiteMy Profile

    • Mrs O, Washington DC is an incredible city. From the monuments and important buildings in it, to the little neighborhoods with old charm and good eateries, to the the wooded areas all around town, and to the river and great parks, DC is quite the city!

  5. hahaha. love this post. so funny, Raul. i’m glad no politicians were harmed. sorry you didn’t get to see all you hoped to. i’ve been there once before – a LONG LONG LONG time ago. and, i did get to see Lincolns bedroom but no pillow fight!
    lola recently posted..favorite travel spots – food for thoughtMy Profile

  6. I really have always wanted to do this, but it’s not come to fruition. Thanks for laying it out so easily. I’m pretty sure I could organize this. 🙂 Very cool, Raul. And I think you’re a VIP!
    Leah Travels recently posted..Daydream BelieverMy Profile

  7. the wino & the hubs both went to school in dc, with the romantic visiting almost monthly AND living their an entire summer… and not one of us have been inside. true story. thanks for giving us a glimpse!

    p.s. was seriously distracted by the boy posing like a flamingo in the middle of that group of schoolchildren.
    the lazy travelers recently travel requiredMy Profile

  8. I fee l honored to know be able to engage in conversation with…. 🙂

    Karl recently posted..Go Travel SoloMy Profile

  9. Thanks to you, Raul, now I have a new favorite acronym, POTUS! I’ve been to DC a few times and always outside the WH, never really felt the need to go inside. Your post makes me want to reconsider… 🙂
    Pola (@jettingaround) recently posted..Photo of the Week: John Hancock Center in ChicagoMy Profile

  10. I loved DC when I went there. It is such a beautiful place. I could easily live there.
    Spencer recently posted..Ten Top Hotels in LiverpoolMy Profile

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