Uncategorized · Washington DC

The Right Way to Visit the U.S. Capitol

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It’s Museum Monday! The United States Capitol is part museum, part history factory, and part office building. It is also one of the most sought-after sites in Washington, D.C. You can certainly go through the Capitol Visitor Center at the Capitol when you arrive, but you will get a better tour if you request a staff-led tour from your Congressperson!

The Process

1. Start Early

Your Congress Member may have a time requirement for submitting your form on their website. Each Congressperson’s website varies, but my Congressperson’s website will only allow your request to fall between 3 months and 3 weeks out from your trip. No Congressperson’s office will allow you to book a tour within 3 weeks of your trip! People do call the week before or the day before and ask for tours, but it is simply not a possibility.

2. Visit Your Congressperson’s Website First

There is no regulated format for Congressional websites, but each one has a tour form. Here is an example:

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3. Wait for an E-mail

You will receive an e-mail after you submit your request with more information.

If your Congressperson sends you to the CVC, your e-mail will give you your confirmation number, number of passes as requested, the date and time of your tour, and a list of prohibited items. I recommend arriving 30-45 minutes in advance of your tour time to get through security and get your tickets. If you have extra time while you’re there, you can look around the gift shop, look at the statues, or talk to one of the guides in a red coat to ask any questions you may have.

If your Congressperson’s office organizes your tour, they will contact you with the time to meet at their office and give you any other information you may need.

Benefits of a Staff-led Tour

There are some benefits of taking a tour of the U.S. Capitol with a congressional staffer that you just won’t get going through the Capitol Visitor Center (CVC).

  • Personalization: You will get to spend more time at the sites that interest you, and you may feel more comfortable asking questions. Staffers from your district will give you more information than the CVC tour will, maybe even some interesting information connecting the Capitol Building with your state or district!
  • Be with People You Know: If you’re on a tour with the CVC, you’ll be with a bunch of people, many of whom you don’t know. Some people Are comfortable with that, and some are not. If you’re not, you can take a tour with your group only (or just yourself!) with a staffer from your Congress Member’s office.
  • Take Your Time: The CVC tours have a schedule to keep, so you may be rushed from one site to the next on your tour. On a staff-led tour, You are able to walk around a little more and really take in what you’re seeing.
  • Leave Your Stuff: You are very limited in what you can bring into the Capitol Building itself. You will be going through a metal detector, and your bags are subject to search. Everything you have with you will have to be screened, so it will be much more efficient if you leave your bags in your Congressperson’s office. They will be safe there, and you won’t have to throw out your food, water, or anything else you may have with you that is not acceptable to take into the Capitol.
  • See More Sites: The CVC tours have to stay to a schedule and keep to a certain path.  However, if you can tour with a Congressional staffer, you may be able to go onto the balcony, to the House and Senate floors, and if you’re lucky and can take a tour with a member of Congress, you could take the “Dome Tour,” which takes you up to the top of the Capitol dome and outside at the top!
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View from the Capitol Balcony

What to See

So what exactly is there to see on the Capitol Tour? Well, I’ll show you some of my favorite sites:

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The marker for the geographic center of DC–when it was a square!
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Don’t forget to look up!
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And don’t forget to look down.
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Painting on the Capitol Dome
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Just hangin’ out with 7th President Andrew Jackson.

Every state has two statues somewhere in the Capitol. Be sure to ask where yours are!

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Old Senate Chambers
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Office of the Speaker of the House
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James K. Polk, Representative from Tennessee, had a desk here before becoming President.

Tips for Your Visit

So now you know how to book your visit and what you should look forward to seeing, but there are still some tips that might help you out:

  • Not all Congressional office offer tours. Some prefer that you take the CVC tour, and they will only give you that option. It is up to the Congressperson.
  • If you can go on a Capitol tour when Congress is out of session, you will likely be able to visit more sites.
  • If you visit the Capitol when Congress is in session, you may see Congresspeople walking around for work!
  • Want to reserve tickets or take a tour of an agency in D.C., your Congressperson’s office may be able to book that for you. Options include the White House, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the National Archives, the Holocaust Museum, and tickets to the Marine Corps Parade on I Street.
  • The busiest months to visit the Capitol are March, June, and July; the least busy months are April, August, September, and the Winter months.
  • When requesting your tour date, do not request for your fly-in and fly-out days; once those dates are in the system, they cannot be changed. If your tour gets scheduled for 8:00am the day you arrive, but you yourself don’t arrive until 8:30am, you’ve just missed your tour.

The Capitol Building is full of history and is well worth a visit every time you come to visit the District. I hope this blog post is helpful and that you will make the most of your time there at the U.S. Capitol!

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