The Capitol’s Visitor Center has a glorious skylight view of the Capitol dome; the addition has made space for the many statues and artifacts that have been in storage. It also shows films on the history of the building. Here’s where you sign up for a tour, if you haven’t done so in advance. (To sign up in advance, visit the website of The United States Capitol.)
The public tour takes visitors through a small part of the Capitol, the Rotunda, Statuary Hall, and the Crypt. It is a worthwhile and interesting learning experience for all ages. Multiple tours are available, such as the Halls of the Senate, the Freedom Fighters Collection, and Family Programs. See the website for information on these options.
If you want to see Congress in session, or either of the galleries even when nothing is happening, you will need a gallery pass. You’ll have to obtain one at the office of one of your Congress members. Passes for international visitors are issued at the House and Senate Appointment Desks on the upper level of the Capitol Visitor Center (bring your passport).
The statue atop the dome is Freedom, who holds a sword in her right hand and a laurel wreath of victory in the left. Her shield bears 13 stripes, and the helmet, encircled with stars, is adorned with an eagle’s head, feathers, and talons.
Just under 20 feet tall, she rises 300 feet above the East Front Plaza. If a white light surrounds her, the House is in session, and if a red light is shining, the Senate is meeting. Two lights are suitably bicameral.
Touring Tips and Location The visitor center, which houses a cafeteria, gift shop, restrooms, and exhibit spaces, is underground at the East Front Plaza. As the Capitol is on constant security alert, prohibited items include knives, pointed objects, pepper spray, duffel bags, backpacks, aerosol cans, and all beverages and food.
You can’t walk in off the street and tour the main Capitol building without a pass or without participating in a tour. Same-day passes are available at the public walk-up station near the information desk, but that can mean a long wait. Remember, one sure way to reserve a space is to request a ticket from one of your senators or representatives in advance and online.
The visitor’s entrance is at the end of the National Mall at the East Front Plaza on First St. NE. The nearest Metro stations are Capitol South or Union Station. For more information call 202-226-8000, or visit the website. Admission is free, but tickets are required. The United States Capitol is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. (closed January 1, Inauguration Day, Thanksgiving, and December 25).
For all there is to see and do in Washington, D.C., check out The Unofficial Guide to Washington, D.C by Renee Sklarew.