Setting up your Washington DC tours will have an influence on the rest of your itinerary, as availability and times can vary greatly. This page was written to assist you on the steps that you need to take to maximize your chances on getting into some of DC’s most coveted tours.
The most popular tours include: White House Tour, U.S. Capitol Tour, and the Pentagon Tour. All of these tours require a request application and review period which likely includes a background check. So if you’re to maximize your chances, you’ll need to do the following:
- Be flexible – provide a few dates, if your schedule permits
- Try a weekday over a weekend day
- Send request with as much advance notice, as possible (up to 6 months)
The White House & U.S. Capitol tours require an application and review process that is initiated by your representative. This is the only way. If you know the dates of your trip, contact your congressman. You can do this by going on the House of Representatives website, scroll down to the map to find your representative’s website. On their site, you’ll be able to contact them for tour tickets. They will send you a request form to fill out that includes personal information for you and all of your family members. This helps them run necessary background checks. In your correspondence with the congressional staffer, ask them when you should hear back. Follow-up. Everyone’s human – it’s far better to ask twice than assume your request is being processed when it might have been forgotten.
White House Tour
This is the Washington DC tour. The tour itself only lasts about 45 minutes, but the security process takes almost as long. You will meet at the southeast gate and wait in a security line. You will need to show your tickets and ID, and then you’ll go through a process similar to the airport with multiple detectors and screeners.
Read the White House Tour website carefully to see what to bring and what not to bring. Many people lost snacks, drinks, umbrellas, or did not even enter the tour because they had a camera or other prohibited item. So make sure that you read the restrictions carefully and plan ahead. The tour takes you through the Library, China Room, Vermeil Room, East Room, Blue Room, Red Room, Green Room, State Dining Room, the Map Room, and the Diplomatic Reception Area. While the tour is self-guided, there are Secret Service officers and volunteers at multiple locations that will tell you some great stories and facts (if you ask!). You’ll see pictures and hear stories about Presidential family escapades and adventures. When you’re in the East Room, ask about recent and upcoming events held in this room and you’ll be amazed about the dignitaries, historical events and presentations that have occurred in this very room! You won’t be able to take many pictures at the White House, so be sure to go back to the White House Visitor Center after your tour where you can take pictures and buy souvenirs. They have many exhibits and activities for the kids, including the junior ranger program!
U.S. Capitol Tour
The U.S. Capitol has been the meeting place for our representatives since 1800. It has office spaces, committee meeting spaces, and the House & Senate Galleries used for our 435 Representatives and 100 Senators. The tour will take you through an introduction film (<15 minutes), which I thought was fantastic, “Out of Many, One”. You’ll then walk through the Crypt of the Capitol, the Rotunda, the National Statuary Hall, and finish back at the Capitol Visitor Center.
You’ll see some great architecture, statues, and hear stories about their origin. You’ll walk by office spaces and hallways of the men and women of our current Congress. It’s another essential must-see Washington DC tour. Similar security restrictions as the White House (above) apply, so make sure to pack accordingly. See the U.S. Capitol website for more information.
Home to over 25,000 Department of Defense employees, the Pentagon is an office building, a piece of history, and a museum in and of itself. The most convenient way to travel to the Pentagon is by Metro (Note: You’ll want the “Pentagon” stop not “Pentagon City”). The Metro escalators will bring you up to the entrance and security building. You’ll go through the metal detectors and security check, receive your visitor pass, and meet your tour guide who will escort you into the Pentagon.
Like the tours above, make sure that you read the restrictions and don’t take in any forbidden items, lest they be confiscated. The hallway display cases have loads of history from civil war uniforms to hardware from various conflicts – an amazing building. Your tour will include quite a bit of walking (1-2 miles)…so wear comfortable shoes! Check out the Pentagon Visitor webpage for additional information.
While most of the attractions in our Nation’s capitol don’t require much advance planning, the above Washington DC tours do!
It’s well worth the time and efforts to go ahead and pursue these – you’ll be glad that you did.