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How Do I Tour the U.S. Capitol and See Congress in Session?

United States Capitol East Front - Washington, DC

Learn all you need to know about touring America’s center of democracy.

The U.S. Capitol Building is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world and the center of American democracy. The world-famous domed building is home to the United States House of Representatives and Senate; where America’s congressmen and congresswomen conduct business, debate laws and pass bills on behalf of the American people. The U.S. Capitol and U.S. Capitol Visitor Center is also one of DC’s most popular monuments and museums and welcomes millions of visitors each year.

How do I arrange a tour of the United States Capitol Building?

Plan your visit in advance! A public tour of the U.S. Capitol is free and open to anyone who makes an advanced reservation, although there are some same-day tickets available by standing in line at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center (lines will be long during spring and summer). We recommend reserving a tour date and time online, or you can book a staff-led tour through the office of your representative or senator.

All tours begin and end at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, open Monday-Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (except Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day and Inauguration Day). Tours typically take about 90 minutes and are fully accessible for people with disabilities.

capitol rotunda

What will I see on the tour?

Guided tours begin with a 13-minute intro film, followed stops in the Capitol Rotunda, where guides point out the center point of the District of Columbia, as well as demonstrate the unique acoustical effect where a speaker several yards away can be heard more clearly than a speaker close to the listener. The Capitol Dome is encircled by murals, and the fresco on the eye of the ceiling is called The Apotheosis of Washington showing President Washington rising to the heavens in glory with Liberty and Victory/Fame beside him. Below, on the walls of the Rotunda, are large paintings depicting significant events in American history—The Signing of the Declaration of Independence, The Baptism of Pocohontas, The Embarkation of the Pilgrims, The Landing of Columbus and General George Washington Resigning His Commission. Other stops on the 45-minute walking tour include the CryptNational Statuary Hall and some connecting corridors of the U.S. Capitol, where you’ll see statues representing every state, now 100 in total.

Can I see Congress in session?

The guided tour doesn’t include the Senate and House galleries. However, visitors can obtain free passes through their congressmen to view both chambers when Congress is in session. International visitors can ask about gallery passes at the House and Senate Appointment Desks on the upper level of the Capitol Visitor Center. When Congress is not in session, the galleries are open to the public Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. However, viewing hours are subject to change and are not always the same for the House and Senate galleries. You can check the schedules with your Congressional office when requesting gallery passes. Read more information about watching Congress in session and viewing the House and Senate galleries here.

@paddyleahy - U.S. Capitol Dome as seen from the Capitol Visitors Center - Washington, DC

What’s in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center?

You’ll find a cafeteria and gift shop in the Capitol Visitor Center. The gift shop carries merchandise inspired by the art and architecture of the U.S. Capitol. The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. for continental breakfast and lunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you haven’t printed your tour reservation, bring along the number you were assigned. There are free listening devices in multiple languages for international visitors.

How do I get to the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center?

Because there is very little parking, it is best to travel via the Metro or the DC Circulator. There are three Metro stops within walking distance of the U.S. Capitol: Union Station (Red Line), Capitol South and Federal Center SW (Orange, Silver and Blue lines). The Capitol Visitor Center, which serves as the main public entrance, is located beneath the East Front plaza of the U.S. Capitol at First and East Capitol streets.

Looking for more in the neighborhood? Take advantage of our guide to Capitol Hill.