I’ve lived in Washington, D.C. for more than a decade and still find the city a great place to call home. Having a restless personality, I never thought that I would be able to live in one place for so long, but D.C. is dynamic and constantly reinvents itself, creating endless opportunities to see and do new things.
One of the most enjoyable activities though is one of the most standard, a visit to the White House and U.S. Capitol Building. Although both are certainly more difficult to visit now than before 9/11, they remain open to tourists and are a great introduction to the true spirit of Washington.
The process detailed below is for American citizens. It is certainly possible for foreign guests to visit, but they must submit a request through their embassy in D.C.
American citizens must contact their Member of Congress in order to request a tour. While this may sound difficult, it’s actually quite easy and almost every Member has a section of their web site devoted to tourists visiting the city. To find your Member of Congress, visit the House of Representatives web site. In the upper left-hand corner of the site is a box to input your zip code.
- Requests can be submitted up to six months in advance and no less than 30 days in advance.
- Tours are free, self-guided and available on a first-come-first-serve basis.
While the procedure may be a bit of a pain, the experience is unique and absolutely worth a visit.
U.S. Capitol Building
Visiting the U.S. Capitol Building is a less arduous process than the White House, but there is still a process.
The tour begins at the recently completed Capitol Visitor Center; a gorgeous facility that does a great job highlighting the history of the building and the legislative process. From there, visitors may continue on to a guided tour of the Capitol Building.
As with the White House, tours are free and while some passes may be available on the day of your visit, it is highly recommended you book in advance. American citizens may contact their Senators of Representative for a pass or anyone can book through the Visit the Capitol web site.
The real treat though is watching the Senate and the House in session. In order to view proceedings, you will need yet another special pass available from one’s Senators or Representative. Foreign visitors may inquire about Gallery passes at the House and Senate Appointment Desks on the upper level of the Capitol Visitor Center.
Washington, D.C. is an exciting, modern city that really does offer something for everyone. At the heart of the city though is its role as the center of American political life, making visits to the White House and the Capitol Building a must-do activity for any visitor.