Are you planning a trip to Washington, D.C.? Don’t miss out on the U.S. Capitol Building, where American democracy comes alive.
Inside, you’ll explore rooms and halls filled with stories of our nation’s past.
Learn about the legislative process and the Capitol’s vital role in shaping our government. Whether you’re a history buff or just curious.
I’ve had the opportunity to take this tour twice now. If you are wondering if it’s worth it, we’ll let me tell you, I’m still humbled every time I walk in.
If you are curious about what’s inside, how to get a tour, and all the details, I’m going to get all your questions answered.
Why you should visit the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC?
When planning your trip to Washington DC, make sure to include a visit to the U.S. Capitol, as it offers a unique and enlightening experience.
The U.S. Capitol isn’t only the home of the U.S. Congress but also serves as a museum of American art and history. It’s a symbol of freedom and democracy, representing the heart of the legislative branch of the federal government.
Exploring the Capitol gives you a deeper understanding of the history and significance of American governance. From the stunning architecture to the historical rooms and exhibits, the U.S. Capitol provides a captivating journey through the nation’s past.
History of the U.S. Capitol Building
The U.S. Capitol Building has a rich history spanning over two centuries.
The Capitol Building has been the home to the U.S. Congress and the seat of the legislative branch of the federal government since its completion in 1800. It’s located at one end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
In addition to its role as the center of American democracy, the Capitol Building also serves as a museum of American art and history.
Over the years, it has witnessed significant events, including presidential inaugurations, important legislative debates, historic speeches, and even an attempted insurrection.
The building itself has undergone various expansions and renovations to accommodate the growing needs of the nation.
Moving the US Capitol to Washington DC
The US Capitol to Washington DC wasn’t always there. Our nation’s first Capitol, Supreme Court, and even the president’s house was in Philadelphia. It was decided that they would stay in the existing location for one year while they built a new location.
In 1790, Congress passed the Residence Act, which authorized the creation of a new capital city along the Potomac River.
The relocation of the US Capitol from Philadelphia to Washington DC was seen as a symbol of the young nation’s commitment to a strong central government and its desire for a fresh start.
The move also aimed to promote unity among the states by placing the seat of government in a more central location.
How to sign up for a tour of the U.S. Capitol Building?
To sign up for a tour of the U.S. Capitol Building, you can reserve a pass online or through the offices of your state Representative or Senators. Booking in advance is preferable to showing up on the day of the tour without reservations, as it may result in waiting for an opening and obtaining tickets.
The entire tour process, including security checks and waiting time, takes about 1.5 to 2 hours. The tour may be longer on busy days or if standby slots are required.
Cameras and certain devices aren’t allowed in the galleries of the U.S. Capitol Building, but you can have them with you on the normal tour.
The tour starts with a short video providing an overview of the establishment of a representative democracy in the United States.
Are tours of the U.S. Capitol Free?
Tours of the U.S. Capitol Building are free for all visitors. That’s right, you can explore this historic landmark without spending a dime.
Whether you’re a citizen of the United States or visiting from another country, you have the freedom to experience the grandeur and history of the Capitol without any cost.
So, if you’re planning a trip to Washington, D.C., make sure to include a tour of the U.S. Capitol Building on your itinerary.
Do I need a reservation to tour the U.S. Capitol?
Reserving a spot in advance is recommended to tour the U.S. Capitol Building. It’s best to book your tour online or through the offices of your state Representative or Senators.
By reserving a spot ahead of time, you can avoid the hassle of waiting for an opening and obtaining tickets on the day of your visit.
When are tours of the U.S. Capitol?
You can schedule tours of the U.S. Capitol Building in advance to explore its history and architecture. The tours are available from 8:50 am to 3:20 pm, Monday to Saturday. It’s recommended to arrive 30 minutes early for the tour, as you’ll need to pass through metal detectors and have your bags searched.
Remember to not bring any food or drinks inside the building. Visitor Tour Stickers are required for the tour and can be picked up at the Visitor Center.
Take the time to explore the Visitor Center before your tour begins.
Where is the visitors center in the U.S. Capitol?
The U.S Capitol’s visitors center is on the opposite side of the Mall. Walk around the exterior of the building and down the set of stairs positioned in front of the main entrance. Here you’ll get in line to go through security, before entering the visitors center.
How to get a walk-up ticket to tour the U.S. Capitol?
To obtain a walk-up ticket for a tour of the U.S. Capitol, simply arrive at the Visitor Center and inquire about availability.
How to book a tour of the U.S. Capitol with your local representative?
To book a tour of the U.S. Capitol with your local representative, simply reach out to their office and inquire about availability. You can do this by calling or sending an email.
Most will have a process already in place on their website. It’s just a matter of filling out a form and listing your preferred time.
By booking through your representative’s office, you may also have the opportunity to obtain gallery passes for the Senate or House of Representatives.
What Will You See on a U.S. Capitol tour?
On your U.S. Capitol tour, you can expect to see a variety of fascinating sights. From the Visitor Center, where you’ll pick up your badges, to the theater where you’ll watch an introductory video on the history of the Capitol Building and our growth.
As you meet your tour guide, you’ll be led through iconic spaces such as the Rotunda with its stunning paintings, and the Statuary Hall showcasing statues of prominent citizens from each state.
Let’s dive into each stop.
When you visit the U.S. Capitol Building, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the Visitor Center. Located underground on the east side of the Capitol, the Visitor Center offers a range of amenities and exhibits for you to enjoy.
Take some time here to view some of the great statues around the capitol. Each state provided two different statutes.
Additionally, the Visitor Center is home to gift shops and a dining option called the Capitol Cafe. Make sure to visit the bust of the Statue of Freedom at the Visitor Center as well.
The start of the U.S. Capitol Tour is at the Theater. where you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about the history and significance of this iconic landmark.
In the Theater, you can expect to see a short film that provides an overview of the Capitol’s history and its role in American democracy.
Once the film is done, you’ll exit the theatre from the top, and get into your individual tour groups. It’s that reason I recommend going to the top of the theatre.
Meeting your Tour Guide
After the theatre, you’ll get into different lines to meet with your individual guide. If there are any large groups, they’ll pre-assign them to specific lines. Otherwise, just pick whatever one is open.
They’ll give you your headphones and make sure everyone can hear.
U.S. Capitol Audio Guides
You will be taking a tour with about 6 other groups, each with 40-50 people in them. In order to make sure the guides aren’t talking over each other, and that the capitol building is filled with non-stop noise, they give everyone headphones.
Each set up of headphones is synced up to your guide.
These guides provide a wealth of knowledge about the history, art, and architecture of the Capitol building.
As you explore the various rooms and halls, the audio guides will provide detailed explanations and interesting facts, allowing you to fully appreciate the significance of each space.
The first official stop on your U.S. Capitol tour is the Crypt. The Crypt is located directly beneath the Rotunda and serves as a bridge between the House and Senate chambers. It is probably one of the highest-trafficked areas.
The Crypt, while dark, is not actually sinister at all.
As you walk through this underground chamber, you’ll see 40 Doric columns, each representing one of the original 13 states.
The Crypt was also intended to be the final resting place for George Washington. He ended up dying before its completion and the family wanted to keep him at his home at Mount Vernon.
Additionally, you’ll find various historical artifacts and exhibits that highlight the role of the Capitol in American history.
As you continue your U.S. Capitol tour, you’ll enter the rotunda, where you’ll be surrounded by stunning paintings and statues that represent the 13 original colonies.
The rotunda is a circular space located beneath the Capitol’s iconic dome. It serves as a symbolic center of the building, showcasing important historical and artistic elements.
The walls of the rotunda are adorned with magnificent frescoes depicting significant events in American history, such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the discovery of America.
Additionally, you’ll find statues of prominent figures, honoring their contributions to the nation.
Take a moment to admire the grandeur of this space and appreciate the rich history it represents.
Before walking into Statuary Hall, you’ll pass the Speaker of the House’s office. Keep an eye out on your right for it. They don’t make a stop, so have your camera’s ready.
When you enter Statuary Hall on your U.S. Capitol tour, you’ll be greeted by a collection of statues representing prominent figures from each state, paying tribute to their significant contributions to the nation.
Statuary Hall was actually the old location of the House of Representatives before it expanded. On the ground, you’ll notice different placards on the ground. These mark the spots of some of the desks of prominent members. You’ll even see where Abraham Lincoln’s desk was.
This is also where you’ll see the majority of the statues in the capital. Each state provided two statues representing famous members of their state. Make sure to ask your guide where yours is located.
Fun fact, if you don’t like the status, or think they are outdated, you can reach out to your own state’s representatives and ask that they send new ones. The states can replace them at any time.
While not all 100 statues are in this room, you’ll see them throughout the tour.
Just past the doors the columns from the statue room are where the main doors to the House of Representatives are.
We were there at a fun time. There was a sea of press standing outside of the chamber because they were in the middle of trying to come up with a new speaker of the house. Let’s just say it was an interesting time to be in Washington DC.
How to get a pass to the Senate and House Galleries?
To obtain a pass to the Senate and House Galleries, you’ll need to request one through your state Representative or Senators. If you are unable to get one ahead of time, you can also stop into their office and request one after your tour.
Before entering the galleries, you’ll be asked to empty out your pockets of anything and store them with the guard. Then you’ll take an elevator upstairs and go through another set of security.
If you forgot to store something downstairs, don’t panic, they do have a security guard that can hold stuff upstairs too. They aren’t equipped to hold much.
Keep in mind that cameras and certain devices aren’t allowed in the galleries.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are There Any Additional Fees or Charges for Touring the U.S. Capitol Building?
No, there are no additional fees or charges for touring the U.S. Capitol Building. The tours are free, but it’s advised to reserve a pass in advance. Enjoy exploring the historical and architectural beauty of the Capitol!
Can Children Participate in the Tours of the U.S. Capitol Building?
Yes, children can participate in the tours of the U.S. Capitol Building. It’s a great opportunity for them to learn about our government and history.
Is There a Limit on the Number of People Allowed in Each Tour Group?
Yes, there is a limit on the number of people allowed in each tour group. You may have to break up into smaller groups if you are with a large tour group.
Are There Any Restrictions on What Visitors Can Bring Inside the U.S. Capitol Building?
Yes, there are restrictions on what you can bring into the U.S. Capitol Building. Food and drinks are not allowed, and you will need to pass through metal detectors and have your bags searched.
Is Photography Allowed During the Tour of the U.S. Capitol Building?
Yes, photography is allowed during the tour of the U.S. Capitol Building. You can capture the beautiful architecture, statues, and historical rooms. Just remember to be respectful and follow any guidelines provided by the tour guide.
How much walking is on the tour?
The tour is fully accessible to all. If you are in a wheelchair, they will get you on elevators when appropriate.
For the rest of the group, there is an escalator and a set of stairs. Most of the tour is walked at a brisk pace from one location to the next. There is no sitting once you are out of the tour.
Would I Tour The U.S. Capitol Building again?
I toured the U.S. Capitol building once by myself and again with the rest of the family. The first time, solo, I had enough time to visit the gallery. It was a fun and eye-opening experience. There was just one person giving a speech to a room of sinographers.
The next time I’m in DC, I’d love to take a personal tour by one of the state representatives interns. They can get you into places that aren’t available on the regular tour. To do that, fill out the process as normal, just make sure to follow up with an email and see if anyone is free.
If you are on the fence about doing a tour, I highly recommend it. It’s very informative and gives you some amazing history about our government.