Why you might roll your eyes:
Gawk at the mansion and imagine you’ll meet the President? It’s an out-of-towner move.
Why you’ll love it:
The White House remains a singular symbol of the country. And there are some compelling ways to experience it. Here are four.
Tour during the holidays: You can submit a public-tour request through your member of Congress, three weeks to six months in advance. Our advice: Ask for a date in December, when the White House is draped in holiday finery.
Take the garden tour: No need to jump the fence to get onto the White House grounds. One weekend each spring and fall, visitors can get up close to some of the lawns, flowers, and trees. The National Park Service hands out free first-come, first-served tickets on those mornings at the Ellipse Visitor Pavilion at 15th and E streets, Northwest. Yes, there will be hundreds of people and you might find yourself in a long line to peek at the vegetable garden, but snapping selfies with the White House behind you should make up for any inconvenience.
Listen to ghost stories: For a spooky perspective on the White House and other historic buildings around Lafayette Park, try the Most Haunted Houses tour offered by Washington Walks. You’ll get a history lesson about the various murders and other grisly occurrences in the area while hearing chilling tales of the spirits those events supposedly left behind. The Octagon House—which served as a temporary White House after the executive mansion suffered a fire in 1814—is rumored to be Washington’s most haunted building. Still, the White House has its share of specters. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, visiting during World War II, swore that she answered a knock on her bedroom door to find Abraham Lincoln before her. She fainted. Find more details and information on the tour ($20 a person).
Party outside: On Election Night 2012, after Mitt Romney conceded to Barack Obama, hundreds of revelers showed up to dance and party outside 1600 Pennsylvania. Cheering crowds also gathered in 2011 at the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. Next time you see a TV news report or a tweet about a spontaneous celebration outside the White House, throw on your coat—because it’s an only-in-Washington experience.