Convince Me DC Visits the U.S. Capitol

01Dec09

For the one-month birthday of Convince Me DC, I checked “Tour the U.S. Capitol” off my project to-do list.

My public school took us on many field trips, including Gettysburg and the very educational Kings Dominion several times, yet oddly never arranged an excursion to some of the most recognizable landmarks of the city such as the Capitol and Library of Congress (or Supreme Court or White House).  My parents have lived in the DC area for over 30 years and they had also never toured the Capitol.  To rectify this, I scheduled a Saturday afternoon tour for all eight of my family members who were in town to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Free tour tickets can be reserved through the office of your representative or senator, and you will need to implement this method should you wish to visit either the House or Senate, but tours can also be arranged directly through the U.S. Capitol Visitor Services using their online reservation system.  Tours run every ten minutes beginning at 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, from Monday through Saturday except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and Inauguration Day.  It’s also possible to pick up same-day passes from the Visitor’s kiosk when available.

Taking metro is certainly the easiest way to reach the Capitol.  The Capitol South and Union Station stops are only a few blocks away.  Instead of metro, however, we unwisely drove to Capitol Hill and spent a significant amount of time searching for parking.

Like a true out-of-towner, I went to the front of the Capitol by the reflecting pool and futilely looked for the visitor’s entrance.  I approached one of the security guards to ask where to pick up my visitor tickets and he pointed to the rear of the building (I’m confident that I was the first person to have ever asked him this question).  I eventually did see the couple signs with arrows pointing to the visitor’s entrance, but I was annoyed by the inconspicuous signage.

The new Visitor Center extension manages to simultaneously mimic the look of the original legislative branch while appearing modern, but the security screening remains inefficient.  Two lines form on either side of the entrance to process groups in waves.  We waited outside in line for about 30 minutes which is why they recommend that you arrive well in advance of your scheduled tour.

Thankfully, it was a pleasantly temperate day to be standing around.


I feel sorry for tourists who confine their visit to the National Mall because of the dearth of food options in sight.  The Capitol has a cafeteria restaurant with different stations; I paid $2.50 for a decent cup of Dunkin Donuts drip coffee.

I was a real tourist!  The informative guided group tour lasts approximately 40 minutes and includes a short film.

The Capitol is both a museum and a seat of government.  There is one statue donated by every state, as well as statues and paintings of historic figures significant to the birth of the country.

Freedom, the statue crowning the Capitol dome, is visible through some window angles along the tour (to the left).

The plaster model of Freedom has been restored and is displayed inside the Vistor Center.

The diamond of the rotunda marks the geographical center of the Capitol and divides the city into four quadrants.  Further, the crypt below this space was intended to house George Washington’s tomb rather than his current resting place at Mount Vernon.

Sixth President John Q. Adams’ desk used to sit here.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s desk currently sits inside here.

The frescos inside both the Capitol and Library of Congress reminded me of the opulent art inside many historical European landmarks.  The marble architecture and painted ceilings are beautiful.

We walked through the underground tunnel connecting the Capitol and the Library of the Congress.

More elaborate architecture and art inside the Library.

Soon after walking around the main visitor area of the Library without actually having peered into a stocked library yet, I started to wonder, where do they keep all the books?  There is one wide window where you can look into the reading rooms and rows of bookshelves, but can’t take photos.  To use the library, anyone can apply for a free reader ID card by showing a valid state ID.

Later, we crossed the street to the Supreme Court, another building that I have never toured.  I hope to see the Justices in session there someday soon.

Paired with a beautiful fall day and clear view of the National Mall, I found myself lingering on the Hill and taking “mental photographs”.

Could it be possible – this clichéd and classic DC day convincing me?  Maybe, maybe not, but I certainly appreciate the art and history of this city a little more.

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6 Responses to “Convince Me DC Visits the U.S. Capitol”

  1. 1 RK

    That looks like a fun outing! Two notes: John Q Adams was president #6 — daddy was already gone by 1831! And it seems like GW’s tomb would be more fitting in the crypt, no?

  2. Ever since they built the new visitor’s center I’ve made Capitol Tours a staple when my friends and family come to visit. I’ll share with you a tip, when I can I try and call a member of congress and ask for a staff-led tour. It’s always cool when we I can snag my friend’s local representative to sponsor a tour and those tours are smaller and sometimes include stops in the gallery.

    You can also just stop in your representatives office to grab a gallery pass to supplement your tour. Sitting in the chamber is always cool.

    • That’s a great idea! I’ll try it the next time I have visitors in town. There were so many groups of large tours walking around that it was hard to hear at some points. I know there is lots more to see and learn.

  3. 5 A George Masonite

    So sad, I’m old. I’ve done all those tours – White House, Capital, LOC, SC. All pre-shootings/lootings/crashes/bombings etc. Considering the seat of power that is there, it’s amazing that anyone gets to visit at all.

  4. WOW just what I was searching for. Came here by searching for
    aleph


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