Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tips for touring the US Capitol building

With so much to see and do in the D.C. area, when visiting, it can be hard to pick and choose what landmarks, museums and other activities - especially if you are on a limited time schedule. If time permits, one tour that is worth the time is the U.S. Capitol.

Having visited the exterior of the U.S. Capitol a number of times, until 2012 I'd never really had the opportunity to see the interior and, once inside, I realized what I'd been missing.

United States Capitol Building
U.S. Capitol Building

Booking your tour

I'd advise you book your passes as soon as you can. The Capitol tours can be arranged through the office of your Representative or Senator, online through the Capitol's website (this is how I have done it numerous times), or there are a limited number of tickets offered for walk-in visitors. 

The tour is free and it is advised visitors arrive 45 minutes prior to the tour. We did this, and actually received an earlier time slot, but during the spring months or other busy times, this may be less likely. Depending on the time of year, there may be a long line to get through security to get into the center, so you'll want to take this into consideration when planning your arrival time.

Visitor's Center

Prior to the Dec. 2008 opening of the Capitol Visitor Center, I used to see lines of people along the sidewalk leading up to the Capitol building. Visiting nowadays, the experience is quite different. While the visitor's center improves upon security and logistics of managing tours, it also provides a comfortable place for visitors to wait and/or explore exhibits before their tour (this is especially true during Washington's sometimes cold winters and almost always hot summers). There are a lot of things to look at while you wait for your tour time.

US Capitol Visitor's Center
Looking down into the visitor's center

Taking the tour

Prior to the actual tour, visitors are led into the auditorium to watch a 13-minute film called, "Out of Many, One," that talks about the history of the U.S. government and building of the Capitol. After the film, visitors line up and get their headphones, breaking up into groups; there are numerous tours operating simultaneously at any given time. 

The process is typically very organized and fast-moving. I didn't get the chance to do much of this, but visitors can also explore the Exhibition Hall.

After the film, we headed into the "Crypt Room", named this because George and Martha Washington were to be buried there, however, the family did not want to move their remains from Mount Vernon. The room contains 13 statues representing the original 13 colonies, and the crypt beneath the room remains empty.

US Capitol Building tour of Crypt Room
"Crypt Room"

After leaving this room we headed up another set of stairs, entering the Rotunda and then the National Statuary Hall. Numerous tour groups are meeting simultaneously. Be sure to stay with your group so you don't go out of range. 

Large portraits representing important moments in history are placed on each wall section in this room, along with several statues. The rooms are both exquisitely designed. (For more on the features, purpose and history of these rooms, please see this link and this one).



After your tour

Our tour guide highly recommended taking the time to visit the Library of Congress, which is located right behind the Capitol and is connected via underground walkway, which we did (more on that tour in another post). After the tour of the Capitol, visitors also have the opportunity to visit the gift shop. There are also restrooms here as well. After passing through this corridor you can head straight over to the LOC.

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