Monday, March 20, 2017

U.S. Capitol Building Tour

During my all too brief five night stay in Washington DC, I managed to squeeze in a tour of the Capitol building, and I do mean squeeze. I got into the last tour of the day, and within minutes realized my mistake. At the end of a long day, tour guides and security staff just wanted to go home, and our one hour tour - that included the awe-inspiring Rotunda and National Statuary Hall - lasted at most 45-minutes, as we were rushed from room to room with barely enough time to admire the Capitol's internal architecture, or time to pause and appreciate the wonderful collection of monumental paintings and the vast sculpture collection.

Sadly, those of us in the tour group who wanted to spend more time visiting the numerous displays and exhibition spaces in the Visitor Center had no time at all to do that. Clearly, visitors will need to allow another hour or two for this, and time their visit accordingly.

A Day In The Life of The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center
The two minute time-lapse video below, depicts a day in the life of the Capitol’s Visitor Center, and shows a constant stream of large school and veterans groups, along with thousands of other visitors pouring in and out of the building on what I assume is a typical day at the Capitol. So while joining the last tour group of the day may not be the best idea, visiting during the morning rush or mid-afternoon may not be such a great idea either.

Watching Congress In Session
The Senate and House galleries are open to visitors whenever either legislative body is in session, however the galleries are not included as part of the U.S. Capitol tour. Passes are required to enter either gallery at any time. American citizens can obtain gallery passes from the offices of their Senators or Representative. International visitors must inquire about gallery passes at the House and Senate Appointment Desks on the upper level of the Capitol Visitor Center.

Do Your Research
This student orientation video provides a good introduction to the Capitol Visitor Center and is worth watching, as are the numerous video on the U.S. Capitol’s YouTube channel here…

The official Capitol Visitor Center website has vast array of useful information that can either be examined online, or downloaded if visitors want to read through the numerous brochures highlighting different aspects of the building and its facilities. 

Permanent and temporary exhibitions at the Capitol

Last Thoughts On My Visit
Despite the rush through the Capitol Building, it was fascinating to hear some of the stories behind the works of art and the significant rooms in the building, and since the tour was free I can't complain about not getting my money's worth,.

 and despite my caveat about the obvious crowds of visitors during the day, I recommend that if you are planning a visit, go early, take a tour, and then allow plenty of time to wander on your own through the building, taking as many photos as you want—but only in areas where photography is permitted, of course.

Having given my truncated visit some serious thought, my recommendation would be to book a late afternoon tour, when the crowds have started to thin out, but get to the Visitor’s Center two to three hours before the tour begins if you want to view the exhibitions, visit the Senate and House galleries, or join one of the separate Specialty Tours or Activities, that also take place throughout the year.

Click here to download a .PDF map of the Capitol site…

East Capitol St NE & First St SE, 
Washington DC, DC 20004
Phone Number: +1 202-226-8000
U.S. Capitol Visitors Center...

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