Visiting Washington D.C. | Capitol Tour

One of the highlights of our recent trip to Washington D.C. was the Capitol Tour. No building in Washington, except perhaps the White House, evokes as much emotion and national pride as our nation’s Capitol. It’s been years since I’ve been inside our Capitol building, and it is quite impressive.

You can’t just wander through the halls of the Capitol building without a guide, so if you want to go beyond the Capitol Visitor Center, you must book a tour. These tours fill up fast, especially in the springtime, so definitely book in advance.

Travel Tip: book Capitol tour in advance. Make sure to request gallery passes.

As I mentioned in my Advice for Family Travel in D.C., planning is crucial to any trip to our nation’s capitol. There is so much to see and do, and since it’s all free, tours do fill up fast. We didn’t plan our trip very well, but fortunately a good friend who knew more than we did hooked us up with this Capitol tour. Admission to the Capitol, and even the Capitol tours, are completely free, thanks to our tax dollars, so there is no reason not to take advantage of this opportunity!

Most people sign up for the larger Guide-led group tours. Each person is given a headset so they can hear their guide, as it is quite a crowded tourist destination.

What most people do not know is that you may contact your State Representative or Senator’s office and request a personal tour of the Capitol by a Congressional staff person. (Yes, this option is free too!!) It’s easy to do at visitthecapitol.gov. Definitely call in advance, and be willing to work around their schedule. It’s well worth it! I couldn’t figure out why all these people were meandering around in large groups, wearing headsets, when you can just as easily get a staff-led tour.

We were treated to a tour of the Capitol by Senator Toomey’s intern, Jonathan. Check out his blog, Keystone Liberty. We had fun comparing notes when I disclosed that I am also a blogger while we were waiting in line to see the House chamber.

Because we went during Spring Break, it was incredibly crowded, so I was particularly glad we had opted for the Congressional staff-led tour. It made it much easier to stick together and to spend time in the areas we liked most.

Travel Tip: travel light, heightened security measures are in place.

It is very crowded, and there is a lot of security, so it’s best to travel light. Security officers will dig through your backpacks and handbags. Also, no food is allowed so make sure all members of your party are properly nourished and hydrated before starting your tour. (We hadn’t had lunch, and it made for a bit of a stressful visit.)

And the architecture inside the Capitol building was enthralling. I knew about the gorgeous rotunda, but everywhere we went, we were treated to artwork and architectural design that was breathtaking. Jonathan knew a lot about the designer, and I wish I could regurgitate some of it! I was fascinating.

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We were particularly intrigued by the floors.

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Every section had a different design.

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If you want to see the House and/or Senate in session, that requires a gallery pass. Fortunately for us, Jonathan had thought ahead and grabbed some gallery passes for us. We by-passed an incredibly long line of people and got to hop right into the gallery line. (Another bonus of a staff-led tour!)

Another cool attraction is this newly renovated replica of an Old Senate chamber. They moved us right along, but my husband grabbed a quick snapshot.

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There is much symbolism in the columns and decorative moldings. I could have stood there for hours, studying the architecture.

Ceiling in Old Senate Chamber

Of course no visit to the Capitol is complete without visiting the Rotunda.

By this time, the girls were getting tired, but my son enjoyed looking at the statues around the room.

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Afterwards, we hung around outside on the grounds. The girls were a bit too young to fully appreciate the tour, and they were particularly happy to bask in the sunshine.

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And we couldn’t resist a few more photo opps.

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Family Travel Tips:

1. Arrange for a staff-led tour.

2. Make sure kids are fed and well-rested, especially little ones who might not find the tour so compelling.

3. The tour is best appreciated by kids ages 10 and up, but little ones can do it if they are kept busy.

4. Travel light, your bags will be searched several times along the way.

One last shout out to Jonathan — thanks for the informative and fascinating tour of our nation’s Capitol! (And thanks also for taking the only family photo we got on the whole trip!)

Family Photo

Comments

  1. Emily E says

    I worked at the Dept of Labor, right next to the Capitol, for 4 years. It’s such a beautiful place to visit in the spring. When the weather was nice, I would use my lunch breaks to walk around Capitol Hill or up and down the Mall. I did a 3 month assignment to the Senate, which meant I could go explore the Capitol building whenever I wanted, which was lots of fun. (And they didn’t give me much work to do so I had plenty of time to explore. ;) ) I’m glad you guys knew to call your congressman for a personal tour.

  2. says

    That architecture is amazing! We’ve never been but I’d love to be able to take the kids when they are older and could appreciate it. At 4 & 7 they would think booring! =) Looks like you all had a great time!! =)

  3. Beth says

    Love DC! We too loved the Capital Tour. Unfortunately when we were there though the galley was empty…they were on recess!

  4. says

    Again, having visited DC last fall, I can second the tip about traveling light! I couldn’t believe how much security we went through at the different sites. And, should you visit the White House, you can take basically nothing in….no cameras, strollers, etc. My husband and I had to take turns going in so that one could stay outside and hold the “stuff” since there were no lockers for storing items. However, that was a good time for the one not touring to take the other child (we split them up, too) over to the White House visitor center.

  5. says

    Thanks for the tips! I went there in 2001 with a high school group (and living out west– it was a big deal!) So I didn’t organize the hotels, tours, transportation, etc. I’m glad that you linked some things to help out because the next time I go, I’ll be the one planning it all!

  6. maryellen says

    Thanks… makes me want to visit it.. I live right outside of DC (Rockville area) and I’ve never been. Never been inside the White House either or the Washington Monument… I take having them right around the corner for granted!

  7. Jenn says

    It’s been a long time since I was able to visit DC – it’s definitely on the “must do” list as soon as my little ones get a bit older! At 2 & 4 I don’t think they would really appreciate the history yet :)

  8. says

    I think the last time I was in DC was just before our wedding almost 10 years ago. I took my soon to be in laws down to visit. They’re from Mexico so it was all new. It was hot, August, but we had a good time. I’d love to take our kids some day but they’re still too young to get it or make it worth it (5, 4, & 2). We’ll have to plan it for someday a few years down the road. I’d love to see the capital and I hope I remember about the tours! Maybe we’ll even still be homeschooling so we can go during an off time of year and avoid some of the crowds.

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