The domed U.S. Capitol is the nerve center of Washington, DC. From the lawmakers on Capitol Hill to the steady stream of lobbyists, advocates, students and celebrities who ascend the Hill to meet with them, the U.S. Capitol Building is where the business of Washington - and America - happens.
Construction on the iconic building began in 1793, with George Washington laying the cornerstone on Sept. 18. The north wing was completed in 1800, and the U.S. Congress finally had a home. Today, with 435 Representatives and 100 Senators, the U.S. Capitol is a massive network of buildings, offices and meeting rooms - even an underground subway that travels from the House side to the Senate side and back.
Seeing the home of the United States Congress is an exciting attraction in Washington, DC - and therefore tickets must be booked in advance. For U.S. residents, tours may be booked through the office of your appropriate Congressional representative or Senator. Tickets may also be reserved online through the Capitol Visitors Center. Visit visitthecapitol.gov for more information on tickets, small group tours and special exhibitions.
All tours begin and end at the underground U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. It’s from here that you can pick up your free tour tickets and begin to explore the Capitol complex. The Capitol Visitor Center is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Tours of the Capitol are conducted from 8:50 a.m. to 3:20 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Tours start with an informative movie about the history of Congress. From there, you’ll take a guided group tour. Tour stops include the Old Senate Chamber, National Statuary Hall (make sure your tour guide demonstrates the “whispering gallery”) and the Capitol Rotunda. Your tour finishes in the Visitor Center, where there are a number of family-friendly interactive exhibits.
If Congress is in session, the House and Senate galleries (the rooms seen on C-Span and the evening news where Congressional representatives are making impassioned speeches) are typically open to the public. (The galleries are not included as a part of the U.S. Capitol tour.) To obtain passes to watch the House and Senate in session, call your representative or one of your senators at (202) 224-3121.
International visitors are always welcome to view a session of the Senate or House, and should inquire about passes at the House and Senate Appointment Desks on the upper level of the Capitol Visitor Center.
The Capitol Visitor Center serves as the main entrance to the U.S. Capitol. It is located below the East Plaza of the Capitol between Constitution and Independence Avenues. There are three Metro stops within walking distance of the U.S. Capitol: Union Station on the red line, Capitol South and Federal Center SW on the orange and blue lines.
The U.S. Capitol is located on the aptly named Capitol Hill. Be sure and check out the beautiful grounds of Capitol Hill, which features great views of the Capitol Dome. The female, bronze Statue of Freedom holds court atop the dome, standing tall at 19 feet 6 inches and weighing 15,000 pounds. In addition to the Capitol Building and its dome, you’ll find a number of other federal government buildings that are open to the public, including the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress.
Union Station is also located on Capitol Hill. Whether you have a train to catch or not, the beaux-arts architecture, fabulous restaurants and hustle bustle of Washingtonians coming and going are worth a stop.
Capitol Hill is also a residential area, with many Congressional staffers calling it home. Check out Eastern Market, an expansive open-air market featuring fresh food stalls, local crafts and killer blueberry pancakes. A number of bars and restaurants like Dubliner Pub, Johnny’s Half Shell and Art and Soul can also give you a look into how the locals live.