There is no way around it but if want to visit areas of the Capitol beyond the Capitol Visitor Center, you must make reservations in advance. Here are our tips for visiting the Capitol:
The only safe way to reserve a space is to get a ticket from one of your senators or representatives and reserve in advance online. But even if you’re able to obtain a ticket, realize that the tour takes visitors only through a small part of the Capitol. Guided tours of the historic Capitol begin at the Capitol Visitor Center’s orientation theaters with a 13-minute film. Once inside the historic Capitol, visitors will see the Crypt, the Rotunda, and National Statuary Hall. Tours end at the underground visitor center.
If you want to see Congress in session, or either one of the galleries when visiting the U.S. Capitol you will need a gallery pass. The only way to get a gallery pass is – you guessed it – is through your Congress members. International visitors should go to the House and Senate appointment desk located upstairs in the visitor center to check for any possible availability.Note that only very few same-day passes are available at the public “walk-up-station” which is located at the information desk in the visitor center.
After an eight-year renovation construction project, the Capitol’s underground visitor center, which has a glorious skylight view of the Capitol dome, has made space for the many statues and artifacts that were in storage. Please note that the dome will be scaffolded for repairs throughout most of 2015, but this view will not be obstructed. The visitors center houses a cafeteria, a gift shop, restrooms and exhibit spaces, and is located at the east plaza.
While visiting the U.S Capitol needs some work it is certainly worth it. Did you know that that the statue on top of the dome represents freedom and holds a sword in her right hand and a laurel in her left hand? Her shield bears 13 stripes, and an eagle’s head adorns the helmet, encircled with stars. At just under 20 feet tall, the statue rises 300 feet above the east plaza. If a white light surrounds her, the House is in session. If a red light is shining the Senate is meeting.
More tips for visiting the Capitol: Not surprisingly the Capitol and Washington D.C. are in constant security alert. Prohibited items at the Capitol include knives, pointed objects, pepper spray, duffel bags, backpacks, aerosol cans, bottles, food and beverages. Don’t even think of taking them!
The opening hours for visiting the U.S Capitol are Monday through Friday from 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and tours are conducted 8:50 a.m. through 3:20 p.m. with no admission fee but with tickets required. The visitor center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and the Capitol is closed Thanksgiving, December 25, January 1 and on Inauguration Day.
If you enjoyed our tips for visiting the Capitol check out Eve Zibart’s book The Unofficial Guide to Washington D.C. for tips and expert advice.