A Library of Congress tour may not be on the top of the list for first-time visitor’s to Washington D.C., but it should be. The Thomas Jefferson building, one of three Library of Congress buildings on Capitol Hill, is open for public tours and is well worth your time. Completed in 1897, this beautiful building is decorated to honor learning, literature, knowledge, creativity, and intellectual achievement.
Library of Congress tours showcase two of the library’s greatest treasures: a handwritten Mainz Bible and a printed Gutenberg Bible. The Gutenberg bible was the first bible printed on moveable press in Europe, around 1455.
Here are six tips to make Library of Congress tours easy and enjoyable.
1. Take a docent-led tour.
The Library of Congress is open to the public Monday-Saturday, but plan to take advantage of the free one-hour docent-led tours. These tours are led by knowledgable volunteers who love the Library of Congress and are happy to share many unique stories and insights that you will miss if you try to enjoy the beautiful building on your own. Learn how many books are submitted to the Library each day. Find out who the brilliant minds are that are memorialized in the Reading Room. Learn about the first electric light bulbs to be installed in a building in Washington D.C.
2. Library of Congress tours are best for children over 8.
There are no age restrictions on Library of Congress tours, but the Jefferson building is usually crowded and the tour groups are large so listening can be a challenge for younger children. The information on the tour will be much more meaningful to older children. However, if you do decide to bring young children like I did recently, you can start the tour and slip out when your children are finished. The security officers at the entrance and exit have nice Junior Officer stickers for younger children if you ask them.
3. Check out the exhibits.
Plan to take the guided tour, but leave yourself plenty of time to also explore the impressive exhibits. You can see a replica of Thomas Jefferson’s library, which consisted of 6,487 books that Jefferson sold to the library in 1815 after the British burned the original Library of Congress during the War of 1812.
Visit the map room to see the first known map that uses the word “America” to identify this continent (circa 1507). Take a few minutes to explore the amazing treasures inside the Library of Congress.
4. Pair this tour with a U.S. Capitol tour.
Library of Congress tours work very well in conjunction with a U.S. Capitol tour. There is a very convenient underground walkway between the two buildings. Access it from the basement of the Library of Congress, near the building exit. The beauty of using this underground tunnel is that once you’ve gone through security in one building, you can walk to the next without going through security a second time. Pairing this tour with a U.S. Capitol tour makes for a lovely day of sightseeing.
I strongly recommend that you ride the metro to the Library of Congress. Use the Capitol South stop (orange/blue lines), exit and walk about 2 blocks north on First Street SE.
If you insist on driving in like I usually do, you can park at Union Station but allow yourself plenty of time. The Library is only about 0.5 miles away from Union Station, but it takes time to wind through the parking lot and Union Station. Give yourself at least 20 minutes to park, exit, and walk to the Library if you are planning to arrive in time for a tour.
There is a limited amount of two-hour metered parking nearby. I successfully found free street parking one Saturday, but read the parking signs carefully since D.C. parking enforcement is very strict.
Good to Know
Where: 10 First Street SE, Washington D.C. Just east of the U.S. Capitol.
When: Open Monday-Saturday 8:30-4:30. Closed New Years, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
How much: Free
Amenities: Restrooms, small gift shop. Picnic tables outside the exit.