White House & US Capitol Building Tours
Planning months ahead is key for these top DC visits By Suzanne Rowan Kelleher
United States Capitol in DC (Flickr: ThatMakesThree)
Question: I'm taking my son (age 8) to Washington DC for the first time in June. I’m going to try getting a tour reservation for the White House early, but I'm wondering if there are any other tours worth taking my son to? – Carolina from San Jose, CA
Answer: DC is a fantastic city to visit with kids, not least of all because there are so many free museums and tours. Two of the most worthwhile free visits require a ticket that must be requested months in advance. With a little less than six months before your trip, it’s time for you to get busy.
As you may already know, free self-guided tours of the White House are available Tuesday through Saturday mornings. Tickets are not as impossible to land as you may have heard, but you should get started now. Here’s how it works: No sooner than 30 days and no more than six months before your visit, submit your request through one of your members of Congress. You’ll need to provide your travel dates along with the names, Social Security numbers, and birth dates for everyone in your party. Tours are provided to groups of 10 or more, so if your group consists of just you and your son, your congressperson will group you with other tourists from your district. If you haven’t heard anything within eight weeks of your travel dates, follow up every week thereafter with your congressperson’s staff. If this tour is important to you, put this at the top of your to-do list. If you procrastinate until your visit is less than 30 days away, your chances become much slimmer of landing a tour; your only option is to enter a lottery for last-minute openings.
Keep in mind that the White House visit is a self-guided tour. When you contact your congressperson for your White House tour, make an additional request for a guided Capitol Building tour led by one of your congressperson’s staff. This is a fantastic way to see the Capitol Building and has to be booked through your senator or representative. Again, you’ll need to provide the names, Social Security numbers, and birth dates for everyone in your party.
The White House (Flickr: foxypar4)
You won’t need such a crazy lead time to snag tickets to visit the top of the Washington Monument, but it’s worth making the effort before you leave home. Again, admission is free but it requires a ticket. The hard way: When you’re in DC, get up early one morning and head to Washington Monument Lodge, located along 15th Street, which opens at 8:30am for distribution of free, same day, timed tickets on a first come, first served basis. One person may pick up as many as six tickets and choose a preferred time to visit. Each individual (including children) must have a ticket. Be aware that tickets run out quickly during the spring and summer. The easy way: Order them online in advance. You’ll have to shell out $1.50 per ticket in service charges, but it’s worth it.
Have a wonderful time!