A tour of the U.S. Capitol is a must-see for visitor’s to Washington D.C. Here are some tips to help you make the most out of your visit.
What to expect on U.S. Capitol Tours
Once you get through security, begin in the basement by picking up your tickets and waiting until your tour is called. If you have extra time, check out the interactive museum adjacent to the lobby of the visitor’s center. We toured it at the end of our visit and enjoyed the films and hands-on exhibits.
Your tour will begin with a 13-minute film in a state-of-the-art theater, followed by a guided tour. My favorite upgrade to the Capitol tours in recent years is that all visitors wear headphones. The tour groups are quite large, and yet everyone is able to enjoy the tour without straining to hear what is being said.
Capitol tours last about one hour during the busy season and perhaps a little longer if your guide is not in a hurry. My most recent tour lasted about an hour and 15 minutes.
Here are a few tips to make your visit stress-free and enjoyable.
1. Reserve advance tickets online.
You may book tours through your senator or representative’s office, but you may also book online. You will be grateful for a reservation if you are going in the spring or summer. Capitol tours are busiest during the spring months, followed by summer crowds. It is possible to walk in and pick up tickets, but there are a limited number of walk-up tickets.
If you are late to pick up your reserved tickets, they will usually hold your tickets for up to 20 minutes after your scheduled time. After that, the tickets will be released and you will have to pick up walk-up tickets.
2. Leave food and drinks behind.
Absolutely no food or drink is allowed on Capitol tours. We had to throw away our bottled water. Plan accordingly and pack lightly.
3. Allow extra time to get through security.
Like most government buildings in Washington D.C., the Capitol operates under tight security and you need to plan to arrive 15-20 minutes early to get through security.
Last time I toured the Capitol, I started with a tour of the Library of Congress and walked through the underground tunnel connecting the Library to the Capitol. One trip through security when I entered the Library of Congress allowed me to access both buildings, and I didn’t have to walk outside in the oppressive heat that day.
4. Special tours are available.
If you want to tour the house and senate chambers, you need to tour the Capitol during the work week. The house and senate chambers are closed on the weekend.
Capitol tours showcase three rooms: the Rotunda, the Crypt, and the National Statuary Hall. When the Capitol is less crowded, your guide may be able to show you the Old Senate Chamber and the Old Supreme Court.
If you have already seen the Capitol and want to try a different approach, consider a Brumidi tour or a Civil War tour, each of which run once daily in the afternoon Monday-Friday. There are a number of special activities and tours available at the U.S. Capitol.
Capitol tours are free, family-friendly (strollers welcome), and educational. Make sure to tour the Capitol next time you are in Washington D.C.
How else can we help?
Need a place to stay? Allison has stayed at Kimpton Hotel Madera and Hotel Harrington, which are both within a short walk or Metro ride from the Capitol Building. Read her review of Hotel Madera HERE. Check rates and read reviews at TripAdvisor or Booking.com.
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