Your gateway to the historic U.S. Capitol building is the new 580,000 square feet Visitor Center which opened in 2008. Located on three levels beneath the East Front of the Capitol, the Visitor Center celebrates the history of American democracy as well as the art and architecture of the Capitol building, where the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have been meeting since 1800.
The center’s soaring ceilings are punctuated by six overhead skylights which create a light-filled space and provide striking views of the Capitol dome. Prominently displayed is an 11-foot-tall touchable model of the dome. If you peer inside the windows, you see a replica of the dome’s interior including its historic paintings. Also on display is a plaster model of the Statue of Freedom that crowns the dome and 24 statues from the National Statuary Hall collection, including those of Helen Keller, astronaut Jack Swigert, Jr., Sakakawea and Hawaiian King Kamehameha I.
A 13-minute orientation film recounts the origins of American self government, while two shorter films describe the different cultures and traditions of the House and Senate. Live television feeds are shown when either body is in session.
Many original historic documents line two 93-foot long curving marble walls. Among them is the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, John F. Kennedy’s speech to Congress vowing to put a man on the moon in 10 years and the Medicare Act of 1965.
Guided tours of the Capitol begin in the Visitor Center. The tours are free but passes are required. You can order them online at www.visitthecapitol.gov or through the office of your Senators or Representative. A limited number of same-day passes are available each day at the tour kiosks on the Capitol grounds and the information desk in the Visitor Center. Contact your Senators or Representative for free passes to watch the Senate and House in session from the galleries.
The Visitor Center includes a restaurant and gift shop. Visitors must pass through security screening before entering the Visitor Center. Strollers and cameras are allowed in the Visitor Center and the Capitol, but not in the Senate and House Galleries.
For more information, visit www.visitthecapitol.gov.
U.S. Capitol Visitor Center
Hours: 8:30 am to 4:30 pm Monday – Saturday.
Admission: Free. Passes are required for guided tours of the Capitol and for the Senate and House Galleries.
Parking: There is very little public parking available near the Capitol. The nearest public parking facility is at Union Station, to the north of the Capitol. Metered street parking is available along the Mall to the west of the Capitol.
Metrorail: Union Station on the Red Line, Capitol South and Federal Center SW on the Blue and Orange Lines
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