What to Expect from a Tour of the United States Capitol Building

Heading up to the U.S. Capitol Building

I love the architecture of the Capitol Building, inside and out. If you love it as much as I do, you’ll be happy to know that you can tour the Capitol Building for free, provided they aren’t closed for special events. During off-peak season, it’s easy to just walk in and join a tour slot. I suggest advance online booking if you’re visiting in the summer.

Headsets, which are handed out after the obligatory welcome film, is how your tour guide will talk to you about the Capitol Building’s standout features, (as well as call to group members who straggle a little too long at one spot for the tour guide’s comfort.)

During the tour, don’t be surprised to find your gaze focused upwards more than half the time.

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The famous dome

Coffered ceilings feature gold-gilded geometric shapes and trim, which are offset by matching and eye-pleasing wall colours — making them beautiful and interesting to observe.

Coffered ceilings

Most of the notable murals and paintings are also located above eye level. The “Apotheosis of Washington,” located on the ceiling of the Capitol dome, requires a 180-degree head tilt. Good eyesight is an advantage.

Stairwell leading up to the rotunda, the room directly under the Capitol dome

“The Apotheosis of Washington,” which depicts a revered George Washington in heaven

Statues of historical Americans abound. Every state is represented by at least one famous person from decades past, some positioned in the visitor lobby, others in the “crypt” and still others in the National Statuary Hall. Dozens of marble-limestone figures tower above everyone else, stoic and dignified.

The grand National Statuary Hall

Liberty and the Eagle statue in the National Statuary Hall

My favourite one here is Rosa Parks, the one that is (naturally) sitting down.

The Car of History: Clio, muse of history, “recorded” the proceedings of the House of Representatives when they convened in the National Statuary Hall, back in the day

Other tour highlights include: the “crypt,” where forty columns stand two by two in a circular pattern, holding up that grand ol’ dome of the Capitol Building. That’s a heavy responsibility! (Pun unintended.)

Old Supreme Court chamber, used in the 1800s before present day Supreme Court got built. Back in those days, the chamber’s ceilings were considered an architectural feat. A gold clock sits on the opposite wall facing the seats of the judges. It’s survived about 150 years and still displays the correct time.

The former location of John Quincy Adams’ desk in the National Statuary Hall, also known as the whisper spot and the only part of the tour that you’ll be asked to look downwards. Legend has it that from his desk, Adams could hear conversations being held on the other side of the room, even those muttered in low voices. To demonstrate this, your tour guide may walk over to the other side of the room as you gather around the whisper spot. Moments later, you’ll hear her/his voice as if she/he is standing next to you.

I’m little skeptical that it worked as well back when the entire room was filled with desks, people working, chattering and moving about, but the story was quite memorable, and an entertaining end to the tour.

View from the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building

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