Taking a Tour of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
One of the perks about visiting Washington D.C. is that almost all the attractions are free, including tours to see our most popular government buildings. Simply send an email to your Congressman/woman and let them know the dates you will be in town (they’ll need other personal information as well to book your tour). Our Congressman (actually his assistant) was able to give us a date for our Capitol tour right away but it wasn’t until about 2 weeks before our trip that we were given the date and time for our White House tour. The U.S. Capitol tour was at 3:20 in the afternoon which I thought was great because the afternoons are when Stink is most active and well-behaved. It turns out that 3:20 is the very last of the tour times and because of this we were rushed through the whole thing.
The entrance for the tours is located behind the Capitol building, on the opposite side of the National Mall. A wide walkway has elevators on opposite sides that take you down to the first level, or you can take the stairs. After going through a security check we went indoors to present our reservation tickets. Unlike at the White House we were permitted to bring a very compact bag for Stink and even her stroller. I also brought my camera as photos are permitted at the U.S. Capitol (but only in December for the White House).
The tour starts off with a 13-minute introductory film. Disabled persons and families with strollers are taken up an elevator to a balcony where they can view the film. Afterwards the group is divided up between 3 or 4 guides for a 45-minute guided tour. Our group consisted of about 10 people. Everyone is given a set of headphones that is connected to their guide so that they may hear what they’re saying without the guide having to shout. Genius!
Our guide’s name was…hell, I don’t even know because he talked so fast. This was partially because he was just a fast talker in general but also because we were the last group of the day and he said we could either get a thorough and incomplete tour or we could get the quick and dirty.
Guide NoName took us through multiple rooms, showed us a spot where George Washington was supposed to be buried but never was, pointed out various statues and artwork and showed us the beautiful dome which was still is under construction. By the way, did you know that they’re going to be electrifying the dome to keep the birds from shitting on it? Seems like the wrong way to go about it, doesn’t it? I mean, wouldn’t the electric zap just scare the shit right out of them? Digressing again. Back on track.
I honestly do not remember much from our tour (except the bird shitting thing, obviously) and we were all so rushed that we weren’t given time to ask questions before the tour was over and we were literally escorted out the door. One thing that did stick with me was the history of the frieze, the panoramic artwork inside the dome that depicts 19 scenes of major events in American history. The giant paintings and statues in the dome also match many of the scenes sculpted in the frieze.
The Verdict: I wouldn’t really want to do this more than once but I feel that I need to visit again in order to fully enjoy the experience of seeing the Capitol. Though by the time we make it back Stink will be out of the stroller which will allow us to finally see the galleries!
When to Visit: If you’re given the 3:20 pm reservation time I really recommend asking for an earlier tour. If that’s not possible then try arriving about an hour or two early so you have to visit the gift shop and check out the Senate and House galleries before your tour begins. You will not have time to visit these places after a 3:20 tour.
What To Bring: You can bring a camera, small bag and stroller on the tour but these items are not permitted in the Senate and House galleries. We had brought food and juice for Stink for our trip to the Smithsonian museums but by the time our Capitol tour came she had eaten everything. Food and drink are not allowed on the tour.
Child Friendly? Older kids will enjoy visiting the Capitol, especially if they are studying American history. Toddlers like Stink, though, wouldn’t find any interest in this so it’s best completed during naptime.
Pet Friendly? No