When you get the opportunity to walk in any State Capitol, you have to go for it. I mean, why not? It’s completely free. It’s filled with history, artwork, and it’s where decisions are made.
Walking in, a feeling takes over you of awe and respect. It doesn’t matter where your politics lie. The Iowa State Capitol Tour in Des Moines didn’t disappoint.
Last summer, I was on a quest to see the Iowa State Fair. It had gotten so much praise, I had to find out if it lived up to its hype. But one thing I didn’t expect was to be parking on the grounds of the Iowa State Capitol.
When we wrapped up our fair fun, we decided we’d take a peek inside. It may have been the highlight of my day walking through the doors.
Types of Tours
There are two basic ways to tour the Capitol. With a Tour Guide or Solo. If you have the time, I highly recommend taking a guided tour. We did it at the MN State Capitol and they will unlock all kinds of different doors to legislative rooms.
The only downside to guided tours is that they usually take about an hour. They will customize the tour based on the group’s needs and show you what you are most interested in. But if the group includes more than just you, chances are you will end up doing the full tour.
The self guided tour is a great way to do the tour if you are shorter on time. Or are with people that may not be as great of listeners during a presentation.
For those that like to linger longer and take pictures, this is the way to go too. The only downside is that if the doors are shut, you probably can’t go in.
If you are planning on doing a self guided tour, download one of these maps, so you can use your cellphone and get the guided tour. Just remember your earbuds.
The Iowa State Capitol also a virtual tour available for those that cannot make it in person. You can get to it at https://www.legis.iowa.gov/resources/tourCapitol.
Our Iowa State Capitol Tour
Inside the Capitol, you can meet up at the Capitol Tour Guides desk and Capitol Gift Shop to start your official tour. The tours start every few minutes once they’ve gathered a group of people.
They run Monday – Friday from 8-5pm and Saturday from 9-4pm. Because of the impromptu nature of our visit and the tired state we were all in from walking around the fairground in 100-degree weather, we opted to do a self guided tour.
Designing the Capitol
One of the first things you’ll notice about the Capitol is how ornate it is. There is no bare wall in the place. Every banister, molding, and wall has some meticulously designed carvings.
The Grand Staircase connects the first and second floors and is constructed of several types of marble. Everything there is was designed to command respect. The art starts at the bottom and goes all the way up to the domed ceiling, the tiled floor.
The Capitol’s Size
The Capitol is not small by any means. From the outside, it appears huge. Even walking up the Grand Staircase, you know it’s got some size to it.
Once inside the main Rotunda, it’s got a coziness to it. Go one direction, and you’ve reached the Senate and the other size the House of Representatives.
On the main level, you’ll find the Supreme Court. But even though everything may seem grand and intimidating, it’s very compact. That is until you sit in the Senate or House.
Don’t Miss These Displays.
One of the favorites for kids to visit is the USS Iowa. It’s a complete replicate of the battleship USS Iowa that served during WWII up until 1990. The model is on loan from the U.S. Navy Department. The actual battleship has been residing in Las Angeles as a Museum.
For the girls, their favorite is the replicas of the Inaugural Gowns miniaturized on Dolls. The dresses first made an appearance as part of a biennial celebration in 1976.
It’s filled with over 40 porcelain dolls all with replicate dresses. It’s a fun look at fashion through time.
Other Things to Know
The tour is completely FREE. That is what I love about this country, all the government-related activities are Free.
The Iowa State Capitol is open Monday – Friday from 8-5pm and Saturdays from 9-4pm.
Where to Park for an Iowa State Capitol Tour
On a normal day, can park in a few of the public lots. Most of the lots are designated for legislative use, but they do have a few lots reserved for visitors. The closest to the main visitor’s entrance is Lot 6 on Walnut Street.
Though it may be easier to view their map because they have a lot of lots surrounding the building. They want all visitors to go through a secured entrance because there is a metal detector used. It’s nothing to stress you about. For directions on Google, click here: Directions.
Tips for your visit
- There are a few prohibited items, like … but nothing out of the ordinary.
- If you have a group of 10 or more, schedule a tour in advance. That way they can have staff on hand and you will have a more enjoyable time.
If you want to learn more about the Iowa State Capitol building and its tours check out their website: https://www.legis.iowa.gov/resources/tourCapitol. They have all kinds of resources on their history and different things to see and do there.
Other Things to Do Around the Iowa State Capitol
Other Attractions to Visit
If you decide to visit during August, hit up the Iowa State Fair. But beyond that, there is a lot of things you can see and do in the area. Like walking the Capitol grounds and seeing some o the art.
There is also the American Enterprise Art Park in downtown Des Moines and the Pappa John Sculpture Park. Visit Catch Des Moines for more great ideas. You can also pick up a copy of Iowa Off the Beaten Path by Lori Erickson.
Where to Eat Nearby
Zombie Burger and Drink Lab and Tacopocalypse is are just a few minutes’ drives, where Smokey D’s is a little longer, but totally worth it if you love BBQ.
If you only have an Hour
Really the tour should only take about an hour but if you are short on time, make sure you look around in the first-floor lobby and see some of the amazing artwork and the dome.
Grab a pamphlet from the visitor’s center and enjoy a peek at the history.