White House tours require advance planning, reservations, and a certain flexibility. Not so the White House Visitor Center, which is open every day but Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Thanksgiving. It’s worth popping in just to view the 14-minute introductory film, White House: Reflections from Within, in which former presidents, first ladies, and their families tell personal stories about what it’s like to live in the White House.
Assorted interactive exhibits further flesh out the history and behind the scenes events that have played out within the Executive Mansion, while displays of nearly 100 artifacts, like FDR’s desk, present visitors with intriguing details. You can also pick up brochures, buy souvenirs, and use the restrooms (a courtesy not extended during your tour of the actual White House).
Beyond these very good reasons to stop at the Visitor Center is one more: It’s a good place to get your questions answered by National Park Service staff stationed here, who know everything there is to know about the White House and other major National Park Service sites (all of the memorials, the National Mall and the Washington Monument are maintained by the NPS). In fact, the White House Visitor Center is the first and last stop for Rangers who conduct tours of President’s Park, the grounds that are north and south of the White House.
Metro: Metro Center on the Red, Blue, Silver, and Orange Lines (12th and F St. exit) or Federal Triangle on the Blue and Orange, and Silver Lines.