How to Plan a Trip to the U.S. Capitol

[Image Credit: klotz / 123RF Stock Photo]

No trip to Washington, D.C. is truly complete without a visit to the United States Capitol Building. Public transportation is the best way to get there since no personal parking exists around the capitol building. Those who prefer to drive can find two-hour on-street parking near 2nd Street NE/SE and East Capitol Street. The Red Line stops at Union Station and the Orange Line and Blue Line stop at Capitol South.

Capitol Building tours are available Monday to Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day. The tour is free, but visitors need to request a ticket in advance at this link. Visitors should be prepared to go through a metal detector upon entrance to the Capitol. The following items are prohibited:

  • Food or beverages of any kind, including water
  • Any liquids, such as gel, spray, or lotion
  • Any pointed object, such as needles for knitting
  • Any type of weapon, even a toy replica
  • Box cutters, mace, pepper spray, or razors

Cameras, cellphones, and wallets are permissible.

What to Do at the United States Capitol Building

With so much to see and limited time to see it, deciding what to do once inside the Capitol Building can be a challenge. The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center website offers these possible itineraries:

  • The 45-minute Capitol tour begins with a brief film entitled “Out of Many, One.” The documentary describes how the country became self-governing. The tour brings people through the Capitol’s Rotunda and National Statuary Hall. Another option is to visit Exhibition Hall to learn the story of the United States Congress.
  • Visitors who have more time can stop by the galleries for the Senate and House of Representatives and watch Congress in session. Passes can be obtained from the visitor’s senator or representative’s office in advance.
  • The website also offers details about several specialty tours.

The Capitol Building has its own gift shop, which is open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Saturday. It also has its own restaurant. Breakfast is available from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and lunch is available from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. six days a week.

Visiting the Capitol Building dressed like a tourist is one thing, but coming dressed in character makes it an even more entertaining experience. Most politicians and Capitol Building staff dress in formal attire, so dressing the part helps tourists blend right in.

The United States Capitol Building Dome Restoration Project

Many people who visit the Capitol Building do so because they love history. They will probably be interested in knowing about the recent dome restoration project, the first one in 150 years. Although the dome has survived everything from the Civil War to an earthquake in 2011, it was apparent by 2013 the time had come for restoration. The dome’s water leaks caused its ironworks to rust and seep into the Capitol Rotunda.

Stephen Ayers, architect for the Capitol Building, completed construction in the fall of 2016. This was great news for Capitol staff who hoped it would be ready in time for the January 20, 2017 inauguration of President Donald Trump.

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