The White House
Visiting the White House takes some advance planning: Up to six months and at least 21 days before you want to take a tour, contact your senator or representative to book a slot (you’ll need to present a government-issued photo ID for every guest on the tour 18 years or older).
Self-guided tours are available from 7:30 to 11 AM Tuesday through Thursday, 7:30 AM to noon on Friday, and 7:30 AM to 1 PM on Saturday, excluding federal holidays. You won’t get to see the West Wing, but tours go through the East Room, where you can see the portrait of George Washington that Dolley Madison saved from a fire in 1814, as well as the Green Room. Security guards are often keen to offer some tidbits of information, and the White House Visitor Center (15th and E sts., NW) has information and exhibits about the history and architecture of the building.
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-456-7041; whitehouse.gov. Metro Station: Farragut West. Free.
Touring the Capitol is easier, but it still takes a little extra effort. You can book tour slots online as late as the day before, and a small number of same-day tickets are available at the information desks in Emancipation Hall. It’s recommended that you arrive at the Visitor Center early.
Tours begin with a short film about the history of the building and the institution of Congress. After that, you’ll get to see the grand central rotunda, adorned with an 1865 fresco called “The Apotheosis of Washington,” as well as statues of Lincoln, Jefferson, and more. The House and Senate galleries are open to visitors, but you’ll need to arrange a pass ahead of time through your senator or representative. Tickets aren’t required for the Visitor Center itself, a 580,000-square-foot, $600 million space that includes an exhibition hall, a cafeteria, and two gift shops. Closed Sunday.
First St. and Constitution Ave., NE; 202-226-8000; visitthecapitol.gov. Metro Station: Capitol South. Free.
The Supreme Court
Advance tickets aren’t necessary to hear an oral argument at the Supreme Court, but it does pay to get there early. There are usually two lines outside for visitors: one for oral arguments (seating begins at 9:30 AM), and one for a quick three-minute hearing (beginning at 10), Monday through Friday. Information and a schedule are available on the Supreme Court’s website, and the building stays open until 4:30 pm.
If the court isn’t in session, you can still tour the building, which was designed by Cass Gilbert and finished in 1935, and attend a courtroom lecture, view a film about the court, and visit the cafeteria and gift shop. The building also hosts rotating exhibitions from time to time. Sadly, no visitors are permitted to the “highest court in the land”—the indoor basketball court on the fifth floor. Closed Saturday, Sunday, and federal holidays.
1 First St., NE; 202-479-3000; supremecourt.gov. Metro Station: Capitol South. Free.