I’ve written so much about our family trips to Washington that you’re probably sick of it.
But I just can’t help myself! Visiting our nation’s capital this past year was a roller coaster. One of our trips went horribly wrong, but after a lot of careful planning, the next one went MUCH better!
Our tour of the United States Capitol Building was during the ‘good’ trip, thankfully. I was a little nervous about doing this tour with all 3 kids, but they didn’t mind it at all. I won’t lie and tell you that they loved it, but there were parts that they liked.
Here’s what you can expect when taking a tour of the Capitol!
What is the U.S Capitol Building?
The United States Capitol is home of the U.S Congress and seat of the legislative branch of the federal government. On one end of the National Mall and because of it’s long history, it is one of the most important buildings in Washington.
In addition to housing Congress, the Capitol Building is a museum of American art and history. It is open for tours from 8:50 am to 3:20 pm 6 days a week (Monday – Saturday). The tours are absolutely FREE!, but they require a pass. We reserved our passes in advance through an easy on-line process, which you can find here.
What to Expect
We arrived for our tour about 30 minutes early. You will have to go through metal detectors and have your bags searched before entering the building.
Absolutely NO food or drinks are allowed inside the building. Even our unopened snacks and water bottles stowed in the backpack were thrown away.
We picked up our wristbands at the desk in the Visitor Center using the e-mail sent after we made reservations. There was a few minutes to look around the Visitor Center while we waited for our tour to begin. There are several pieces of art, but the show stopper is the bust of the Statue of Freedom.
The Statue of Freedom is the tallest statue in Washington D.C. At 19.5 feet and 15,000 pounds, she stands atop the Capitol Building. The bust in the Visitor Center gives visitors a up close view of the statue that would never be possible from the ground.
When our tour was about to start, we got in line for the theater. The beginning of the tour starts with a short movie about the history and purpose of the U.S. Capitol.
Meeting Your Tour Guide
After the movie, we exited the theater with the crowd, which split into different groups. (Our family was able to stay together, but very large groups may have to separated.) We met our tour guide, who introduced himself and passed out headphones and audio players.
It’s not a pre-recorded tour, but instead plays his voice as he gives the tour. It made it much easier to hear what he was saying as the crowds can be quite large and loud.
After making sure everyone’s equipment was working and laying out the ground rules, the guide led us to the rotunda.
The U.S Capitol Rotunda is a huge domed room on the second floor of the building. It is decked out with some of the most iconic pieces of American art.
The Rotunda canopy features the Apotheosis of Washington, which depicts George Washington sitting in heaven after becoming a god, surrounded by figures from classical mythology. The painting is enormous, covering and area of 4,664 square feet. The figures in the painting are up to 15 feet tall, to make them visible from the floor below.
Below the Apotheosis of Washington are 36 windows, below them is the Frieze of American History. This frescoed band was painted to look like carved stone. It depicts 19 scenes from American history, such as the landing of Christopher Columbus and the Battle of Lexington.
Closer to eye level are 8 niches that hold framed historical paintings. Measuring 12 by 18 feet, these oil on canvas paintings have hung in the Rotunda since the 1800s. These paintings also depict scenes from American history, including The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis and The Baptism of Pocahontas.
In addition to all of the paintings, there are 11 statues in the Rotunda.
The Rotunda is used for ceremonial events, such as the dedication of works of art. However, it’s most notable use is for the Lying in State of distinguished citizens. This ceremony is a rare honor that occurs after the death of a member of government. Only 32 people (12 of which were presidents) have had this honor in the United States. The body of the official is placed in the Rotunda to allow the public to pay their respect.
After leaving the Rotunda, we were lead to the National Statuary Hall. One of the most popular rooms in the Capitol, it displays sculptures of prominent Americans.
Once called the Hall of the House, for nearly 50 years, this semi-circular room was the meeting place for the U.S. House of Representatives. However, the terrible echoing acoustics, courtesy of the curved ceilings, made conducting business with a group of people nearly impossible. After the House moved to a new meeting place, this room became an art gallery.
Congress invited each state to contribute 2 statues of their most prominent citizens for permanent display in the hall. Since the the room can’t hold all of the statues at once, they are placed in other areas of the Capitol Building (such as the Rotunda). Currently, there are 38 statues in the National Statuary Hall.
After looking around the Statuary Hall, our tour guide led us down to the Crypt. On the first floor of the Capitol Building, the 40 columns and beautiful arches support the floor of the Rotunda.
The star in the center of the floor denotes the point from which the streets in Washington D.C are laid out and numbered. There are 13 statues from the Statuary Collection, representing the 13 original colonies on display in the Crypt.
Other than that, there’s not really much to see there. The Crypt is the end of the of the Capitol tour. We handed back the headphones to our tour guide as we exited back to the Visitor Center.
I can honestly say that our tour of the U.S Capitol Building was not what I expected. It was so much more! I had no idea that the Capitol housed so much art.
The entire tour took maybe an hour and as I mentioned before, it was completely FREE! The kids didn’t love the tour of the Capitol, but they also didn’t hate it. They liked that they recognized some of the statues and historical scenes and that they didn’t have to sit through any lectures/presentations.
I definitely recommend a tour of the U.S Capitol if you ever get the chance. It’s worth it!
You can see more of our family adventures in the Capital here:
- Seeing the Cherry Blossoms in Washington D.C
- 3 Curious Facts About Our National Zoo
- Somebody Should Have Told Us These 5 Things BEFORE Our Trip to Washington D.C
- 3 Crucial Tips for Visiting Our Nation’s Capital
- Planning a Redemption Trip to Washington D.C
- Arlington National Cemetery: A Bucket List
- How to Find Kilroy at the WWII Memorial in Washington D.C