There are a couple of ways to tour the US Capitol Building. You can do a standby tour where you walk in with a large group, stand in line, and get led through the building. You can also contact your Senator or Representative and ask for a tour. Though this must be done in advance, it is an individual tour led by your representative’s aide. We decided to take the second option and book a tour with our Congresswoman.
We liked the requested tour because the aide geared it toward our children as best as she could. That being said, both tours seemed to go the same places, and we moved along the same path as the large snake of people who were seeing the Capitol themselves. So if you aren’t able to get a tour from your Senator or Representative, definitely schedule a tour through the Capitol building. We did get to see a few more things, because we met our tour guide at our congresswoman’s office and not everyone was allowed into the office buildings, so that was interesting. We also had the chance to ask lots of questions since our tour was more personal.
Things to See
The Capitol tour includes some cool stops, all of which can be photographed. One of our favorite sites was the Capitol Rotunda. This is where you stand directly under the dome of the US Capitol. There are large murals on the walls representing different periods of history. They run at different heights all the way up to the ceiling, which is amazingly high and beautiful. The walk through the halls of Congress is worth it to see this area alone.
Other interesting stops in the Capitol include the whisper spot, where, according to our guide one cagy old Senator used to pretend to be asleep while listening to his political opponents discuss strategy. Due to the acoustics of the room, you can clearly hear a whisper from 40 feet away even with the cacophony of noise from the snake of people on tour.
The original Supreme Court Chamber is located in the Capitol, too. It is surprisingly small and dark. This room served as the Senate Chamber and the Supreme Court Chamber. It is a good reminder that all of these rooms were lit by lamps or candles when they were first in use. We even learned that part of the Capitol was destroyed by a gas explosion in 1898 when gas was used to light the building.
House & Senate Chambers
The final leg of the tour is to visit the House Chamber and the Senate Chamber. There is heavy security for both these areas, but that’s because you can actually see these members of Congress in action. Senators and Representatives were out of session the day we visited, but we still got to look in the Chambers. It was fun to see where our members of Congress sit, and our 6 year-old said, “Wow, Dad! The President gives his speech here. Can we watch it on TV?” So it looks like we’ll be watching the next State of the Union. No pictures are allowed in this area.
Tips for Families
Make sure to visit the US Capitol when you are in Washington, DC. It helped our boys understand the political process and created a lot of great conversations (even though it was a lot of walking for little feet!)
- Schedule a tour ahead of time so you are guaranteed a spot. Especially if you would like a more personalized tour with a congressional aide.
- Wear comfortable shoes. There is a lot of walking through Washington DC.
- They have a wonderful cafeteria with tons of options. We ate lunch at the cafeteria and everyone found lots of things they wanted to eat. It was also affordable, so we recommend grabbing a bite to eat while you are here.
- No outside food or drink are allowed in the Capitol Building.