Planning a trip to Washington D.C.?
A tour of the U.S. Capitol Building is a must-see for visitors to Washington D.C. Here are some tips to help you make the most out of your visit.
There are two ways to schedule tours of the U.S. Capitol Building. The first is through the office of your Representative or Senator from your home state, if you are a U.S. citizen. The second is to book a tour through the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.
Here is what you can expect from each tour, and tips for making the most of your visit.
If you live in the United States, one of the best ways to plan a tour of the U.S. Capitol Building is by contacting the office of your Representative or Senator. He or she probably has a tour request form on his/her website.
Allison’s family made a request several weeks in advance, and it worked well. Their tour was given by an intern in Representative Rob Bishop’s office. It was just her family and another couple from Utah. They were also able to see Rep. Bishop’s office, but did not get to meet him.
The advantages of an intern-led tour is that it will probably be a smaller, more casual group, so he/she can personalize it to your interests. You get to talk to someone from your state who knows your Representative. A possible disadvantage is that the tour is given by an intern, not a professional guide, so you’ll see and hear whatever the intern finds most interesting.
Plan time before or after your tour for the exhibits in the Visitor Center.
Visitor Center Tours
When you book a tour through the Visitor Center, you’ll 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.
Reserve online in advance
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. It is possible to walk in and pick up tickets, but there are a limited number of same day tickets.
If you are late to pick up your reserved tickets, they will usually hold your tickets for a short while after your scheduled time. After that, the tickets will be released and you will have to pick up walk-up tickets.
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.
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.
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?
How to get there: I recommend using Metro, Uber/Lyft/taxi, or walking to visit the U.S. Capitol Building. There are three Metro stops within walking distance: Union Station, Capitol South and Federal Center SW
In general, I do not recommend renting a car in Washington D.C. If you do have a car, the Capitol Building is in a central location, so consider a parking space where you can stay all day. The Library of Congress, Supreme Court, National Archives and National Mall are nearby.
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