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Visiting the US Capitol in Washington, DC

Updated on August 14, 2016
The United States Capitol
The United States Capitol | Source

If you are planning a visit to Washington, D.C. then one of the most important stops you should make is a visit to the U.S. Capitol. The seat of power in the city and a symbol of democracy, the United States Capitol is one of the most important and recognizable landmarks in the world.

Thinking it is only one building, most first-time visitors are unaware of the scale of the U.S. Capitol, and are surprised to learn how large the area really is. They may not realize the numerous sights there are to see and because of this, some visitors may not be prepared for their day, which can lead to disappointment. The good news is that the U.S. Capitol is very easy to visit.

Find out how you and your family can avoid any pitfalls and enjoy an educational and fun-filled day with some:

  • Information about the layout of the Capitol grounds
  • History of the U.S. Capitol
  • Planning suggestions and tips

Grounds near the U.S. Capitol Building.
Grounds near the U.S. Capitol Building. | Source
Grounds near the U.S Capitol Building.
Grounds near the U.S Capitol Building. | Source

Capitol Grounds

The U.S. Capitol is an area that makes up approximately 274 acres of land in Washington, D.C. and includes the following buildings:

  • U.S. Capitol Building
  • Russell Senate Office Building
  • Dirksen Senate Office Building
  • Hart Senate Office Building
  • U.S. Supreme Court
  • Jefferson Building: Library of Congress
  • Adams Building: Library of Congress
  • Madison Building: Library of Congress
  • Cannon House Office Building
  • Longworth House Office Building
  • Rayburn House Office Building
  • Ford House Office Building
  • U.S. Botanic Garden
  • Capitol Visitor Center

Other points of interest on the grounds include:

  • Bartholdi Fountain
  • Capitol Reflecting Pool
  • Various Hardscapes
  • Various Monuments
  • Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon
  • Senate Fountain
  • Summerhouse

While many of these areas are open to the public, with some even providing tours, many are not. Check with the U.S. Capitol website for more information regarding the various landmarks.

Map of the United States Capitol

A markerUnited States Capitol, Washington, D.C. -
United States Capitol, Washington, D.C. 20510, USA
get directions

Get a flag that has flown over the Capitol building

Did you know you can get a flag flown over the Capitol building? All you need to do is order one through your Senator or Representative's office. Many of them have links on their websites to order a flag. Just follow their instructions.

Pioneers of the women's suffrage movement monument in the U.S. Capitol Building.
Pioneers of the women's suffrage movement monument in the U.S. Capitol Building. | Source

Brief History of the U.S. Capitol

Designed in 1874 by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, the U.S. Capitol grounds were originally chosen in 1791 by the designer of Washington, D.C., Pierre L'Enfant, and approved by President George Washington. The sight was primarily chosen because it sits on a hill overlooking the city.

The land was originally occupied by Manahoac and Monacan tribes until it was owned by Daniel Carroll of Duddington. When the federal government acquired it from him, the land was still overgrown and considered wilderness. One area that was particularly swampy is where the U.S. Botanic Garden now resides. Over the years the land was cleared for a more formal Capitol grounds area.

The cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol Building was laid in 1793. The building was designed by architect James Hoban who began, and saw the completion of, the first phase of the project which was finished in 1813. In August of 1814, British troops set fire to the building, which was luckily extinguished before the entire building burned down.

Reconstruction began in 1815 and continued with a succesion of architects and builders. Over the years numerous additions and changes were made. The original dome was replaced with a cast iron one and the Statue of Freedom was installed on the top of the dome in 1863. It was during this time that construction came to a halt because of the Civil War. The building was temporarily used as barracks and a hospital.

In the late 1800s and very early 1900s, modernization continued and more areas were added.

From 1903 until 1970 mainly interior and exterior repairs and upgrades were made to the building. From 1970 until present day, there have been, and continue to be, major preservation projects and additions to the grounds. The grandest of these additions is the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, which opened in 2008.

The United State Capitol Building
The United State Capitol Building | Source

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

What was your favorite thing about visiting the U.S. Capitol?

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Planning suggestions and tips

There are so many things to see and do when visiting the U.S. Capitol and you don't want to miss a thing, so make sure that you spend some time planning your visit.

  • The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center is a must-see stop. The free tour and exhibits will take approximately 2 hours.
  • Unless you are only going to visit the Capitol Building, plan to spend one day at the U.S. Capitol. Remember that there are many areas that you will be able to visit.
  • Make tour reservations ahead of time and take the tour of the U.S. Capitol building in the morning. It gets busier as the day progresses. Remember to check out tours of the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court lectures. While some attractions require reservations, others do not.
  • While making tour reservations is easily done online, you can also contact your Senator or Representative for tours. Getting tour passes this way sometimes gets you access to other areas not available on the regular tours.
  • Don't miss the beautifully landscaped grounds and the U.S. Botanic Garden. It is an easy walk from the Capitol Building and a change of pace from all of the monuments and history you will be seeing.
  • Take public transportation when visiting. There is very little parking in the area, and any parking that is available fills up quickly.
  • Many items are prohibited when visiting the various areas of the U.S. Capitol. Check the website before you visit to make sure you don't bring prohibited items. They will be confiscated upon entry. Even things like liquid and food are not permitted. This is difficult for parents with children, but there is a nice cafeteria in the Visitor Center.
  • Restrooms are available are various locations.
  • Wear comfortable footwear. You will be walking a lot. Strollers are permitted and there is access for people with disabilities.

The United States Capitol Building
The United States Capitol Building | Source

Visit the US Capitol

Make time to visit the United States Capitol when traveling to Washington D.C. Filled with incredible history and beautiful sights, it is not to be missed. You'll come away in awe, knowing that you have visited one of the most important sights in the world.

© 2012 Glimmer Twin Fan

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    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Thank you Mary. The Vietnam Memorial is incredibly moving and worth a visit. I appreciate the comments.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 4 years ago from Florida

      The first time I visited Washington, it was on a senior class trip. I have taken our kids there, too. I'd love to go back and see the Vietnam Mem.

      Voted this UP, etc.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      I appreciate the comments Alecia. DC is an awesome city and when you do visit you have to go to the Capitol.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Visiting DC is definitely on my to-do list of places to visit. It's not far from where I am. I like history and I think it would be interesting to trace the steps of political leaders both good and bad. You did a great job of outlining the sites. Great hub- voted up!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Well next time you go to DC Millionaire, you have to make it to the Capitol. It is loads of fun and you definitely won't be disappointed. Thanks so much for commenting!

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 4 years ago from USA

      I've been to Washington D.C. but haven't been to the Capitol buildings. They certainly have made it a very convenient place to visit with the visitor center right there. The photos are fabulous. I hope to go again sometime. Voted up.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      marcoujour - Thanks for the kind comments. It was a fun hub to write!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Thanks so much Nell. It is such a fascinating place. I was lucky to grow up about 15 a minute drive from this building, but only get back a couple times a year. I appreciate the comments.

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 4 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      I have also visited Washington DC several times and now have a fabulous, comprehensive and meaningful guide when I return to visit the Capitol.

      Excellent job and spectacular photography...Voted UP and UABI.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      I would love to visit. Living over here in England we get to see it on TV, and I often sit there moaning that I would like to come over and explore! lol! just the history of the place fascinates me, how lovely to see it in the flesh so to speak, great hub and voted up! nell

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Thanks so much teaches! This gives you a great excuse to come back for a visit. There is always something to do in D.C.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Kingbraswell - It probably is difficult to find a hotel around that time. Good luck and thanks for commenting.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I was in DC a couple of years ago but didn't get to see the capital. Now I would love to return to visit it. I didn't realize is was built back in the early 1800's. Great share and well done.

    • Kingbraswell profile image

      Kataurus Braswell 4 years ago from macon,ga

      I am trying to plan a trip to the inauguration but the hotels are so expensive.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Thanks so much ESPeck!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      shiningirisheyes - what a cool place to take a honeymoon for your parents. Thanks for visiting!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
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      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Hi Bill - You are so right. It really is an amazing place. Standing where Abraham Lincoln's desk was gave me chills!

    • ESPeck1919 profile image

      ESPeck1919 4 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

      Again, very interesting! The history was fascinating, as were your pointers.

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

      I have never been but would like to go someday before I leave this world of ours. My parents honeymooned there.

      You provided me a wonderful review.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I have only been there once, in 1997, and I found it to be the most fascinating city I have ever visited. I was in awe, and several times moved to tears, by all of the history surrounding me.

      Great review; now I want to return.

      Have a great weekend my friend.