The largest expansion in the long and storied history of the U.S. Capitol, the Capitol Visitor Center has added a number of amenities over the years, making it more comfortable and interesting to visit the home of the U.S. Congress. The main entrance of the building is located between Constitution and Independence Avenues, right in the center of Washington, D.C. Featuring soaring spaces lit by skylights, exhibits, films, and tours, the Capitol Visitor Center is a place to connect with American history and democracy. And history is still being made as members of the two legislative bodies, the U.S. Congress and U.S. House of Representatives, are debating and passing new laws.
Whether embarking on Capitol building tours or sticking in the visitor center, sightseers will find a lot to experience. The exhibition hall at the Capitol Visitor Center details the work of Congress and how the building was built. Interactive kiosks are located throughout, and visitors will have the chance to see priceless documents from the collections of the Library of Congress and the National Archives. For those interested in seeing more, a tunnel provides direct access to the Thomas Jefferson Building, where visitor exhibits are staged by the Library of Congress.The Folger Shakespeare Library and the U.S. Supreme are within a short walk as well.
While at the Capitol Visitor Center, there’s also the opportunity to shop, dine, and join in special events. The gift shops carry a wide array of souvenirs and collectibles, everything from books and toys to jewelry and t-shirts. The restaurant on the lower level of the Capitol Visitor Center serves up salads, sandwiches, pizza, and desserts. Public programs are staged every day, including lectures, hands-on workshops, and demonstrations.
Capitol Visitor Center
A Washington DC Capitol Tour is also akin to a visit to fine arts museum, with the collection of paintings and sculptures on display. A plaster model of the Statue of Freedom stands watch in the Emancipation Hall of the Capitol Visitor Center. It was used to cast the gold figure that graces the top of the Capitol dome.
Visitors also have a chance to take tours, which will tell them even more about this historic building. Reservations are needed for free capitol building tours and can be made through the office of your local senator or U.S. Representative. Capitol tours also can be reserved online through U.S. Capitol Visitor Services. A small number of tickets are available for walk-in visitors at various places throughout the Capitol, including the information desks on the lower level of the visitor center.
Once you’ve arrived and picked up your tickets, your Capitol building tours will take you to see the U.S. Congress in action. These guided Capitol tours begin kick off in the orientation theaters with a chance to watch a film. “Out of Many, One” details how America established its government, explores the role that Congress takes, and talks about the magnificent building where it all happens.
Visitors also have a chance to watch Congress in session, even without formal Capitol tours. Both the Senate and the House galleries are open when Congress is in session, and the House Gallery is open Monday through Friday, even during a recess. Passes are required for those not on a tour, which can be obtained from your legislator or can be picked up from the House and Senate appointment desks.
The Capitol Visitor Center and the grounds are open Monday through Saturday, with the exception of four special days -- Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, New Year's, and Inauguration Day.
The grounds of the U.S. Capitol are interesting, too. Originally designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the landscaper designer of New York’s Central Park, the acres that surrounded the building are lovely in every season. Winding paths, stone fountains, memorial trees, and lovely flowers are enjoyed by more than 3 million visitors every year. The grounds host many special events, including concerts and inauguration festivities.
The National Mall, another interesting gathering place, is located a few blocks away from Capitol Hill. Several Smithsonian museums are clustered around the Mall, including the National Gallery of Art, the National Air and Space Museum, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The memorials, including the towering Washington Memorial, stately Lincoln Memorial, the monumental Jefferson Memorial, and those honoring veterans are nearby. The White House is several blocks up Pennsylvania Avenue, and Arlington National Cemetery is a long (but manageable) walk away, over the border in Virginia. For those who want to take it easy, taxis, bus tours, trolleys, and the Metro trains will make moving through the city easy.