The United States Capitol, often referred to as the "Capitol Building" or simply "The Capitol," is a revered landmark and a central hub of political activity in the United States. Seated on Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the Capitol is the seat of the U.S. Congress and the legislative branch of the U.S. federal government.
The construction of the Capitol began in 1793, and since then, it has been built, burnt, rebuilt, extended, and restored, making it a living testament to the nation's history. The current structure boasts a significant architectural mix, with its neoclassical style reflecting designs prevalent in Ancient Greece and Rome.
The building's iconic white dome, a symbol recognized worldwide, is a marvel of 19th-century engineering. Inside, the Capitol is decorated with a rich array of artwork, including statues, paintings, and frescoes that tell the story of the United States.
The Capitol Complex is more than just the domed Capitol Building. It includes multiple structures, such as the Senate and the House of Representatives office buildings, the U.S. Botanic Garden, the Library of Congress, and the Supreme Court Building. There's also an intricate network of underground tunnels and a private subway, primarily for the convenience of Congress members moving between the buildings.
Why should you go?
Historical importance. The U.S. Capitol isn't just a building; it's a living monument to the American democratic process. By visiting, you step into a space where some of the most critical decisions in U.S. history have been made. It is where legislation that shapes the nation is discussed and passed, making it a must-visit for anyone interested in U.S. history and governance.
Architectural splendor. The Capitol is an architectural masterpiece. Its iconic dome, based on the Pantheon in Rome, the rotunda beneath it, and the striking columns and porticoes all showcase the grandeur of neoclassical design. It's a testament to the talent of its many architects and builders across the centuries.
Educational insight. There's much to learn at the Capitol, from the structure's history to the legislative process. The Capitol Visitor Center offers a range of resources for visitors, including interactive exhibits, educational programs, and small theaters where you can watch a short film illustrating the establishment of government in the United States.
Artistic treasure. The Capitol houses a vast array of artwork. From the fresco in the Capitol Dome to the National Statuary Hall Collection, which includes two statues from each state, art and history enthusiasts will find a wealth of material to explore. The building itself is a canvas, with sculptures, murals, and architectural details that tell the story of the nation.
Free tours. You can take advantage of free guided tours that cover key areas of the Capitol, including the Rotunda, the Crypt, and the National Statuary Hall. These tours provide fascinating insights into the nation's history, its lawmakers, and the building's architectural features.
Breathtaking Capitol Grounds. The grounds, spanning over 270 acres, are a tranquil oasis in the heart of the city, featuring a 58-acre park. It was originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, famous for New York's Central Park, and boasts lush landscapes, beautiful gardens, and charming paths.
Proximity to other landmarks. The Capitol's central location makes it a perfect starting point for exploring other significant sites in Washington, D.C. The Library of Congress, the U.S. Botanic Garden, and the Supreme Court are all a short walk away.
Best places to visit near United States Capitol
National Mall. Located right next to the Capitol, the National Mall is a vast park stretching to the Lincoln Memorial. It is home to iconic landmarks, including the Washington Monument, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Reflecting Pool.
Smithsonian Museums. The National Mall is also home to numerous Smithsonian museums, such as the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of American History. These museums offer a wealth of exhibits and collections.
U.S. Botanic Garden. Situated adjacent to the Capitol, the U.S. Botanic Garden is a serene oasis featuring a variety of plants from around the world. It offers beautiful indoor and outdoor gardens, including a tropical rainforest and a rose garden.
United States Supreme Court. Just a short walk from the Capitol, the United States Supreme Court is an impressive architectural landmark. You can take a guided tour, attend lectures, or observe court proceedings, depending on the availability.
Library of Congress. Located near the Capitol, the Library of Congress is the largest library in the world and a treasure trove of knowledge and history. You can explore its impressive collection, attend exhibitions, and take a guided tour.
Union Station. A short distance from the Capitol, Union Station is both a transportation hub and a historic building. It features stunning architecture, shops, restaurants, and a beautiful main hall. It's a great place to relax and grab a bite to eat.
Eastern Market. Situated in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, Eastern Market is a vibrant indoor and outdoor market. It offers fresh produce, local artisan goods, antiques, and a variety of food options, including cafes and restaurants.
National Archives. A short distance from the Capitol, the National Archives houses the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. You can view these important documents and explore various exhibits on American history.
What's the best way to see the United States Capitol?
Visiting the United States Capitol is a memorable experience. Here are some options for the best ways to see and experience the Capitol:
Guided tours. Free tours, available Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., are the most common way to see the Capitol. It's recommended to book these guided tours in advance due to their popularity. The tour includes visiting the Crypt, the Rotunda, and the National Statuary Hall. The tour does not include visiting the Senate and House Galleries, for which you would need to contact your senator or representative for a pass.
The Capitol Visitor Center. If you can't get into the Capitol building itself, the Capitol Visitor Center is a fantastic place to learn about the U.S. Congress and the Capitol. The center has an extensive exhibition gallery with artifacts from the Capitol's history.
Exterior tours. Even if you can't make it inside, the Capitol grounds are worth exploring. The exterior architecture of the Capitol building is beautiful, and the surrounding grounds, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, are also impressive.
What are the most interesting and unique facts about the United States Capitol?
The cornerstone of the Capitol was laid by President George Washington in 1793 in a Masonic ritual.
While not always the case, most presidential inaugurations from 1829 through 1977 had taken place on the west front of the Capitol building. This tradition was popularized due to the space available for crowds. Since the 1981 inauguration of Ronald Reagan, the ceremony has been held at the west front of the United States Capitol facing the National Mall.
The Capitol's dome is made of cast iron, not stone. It was added to the building during the expansion in the 1850s and 1860s. At the time, some critics thought the dome would be too grandiose, but today it's one of the most iconic parts of the building.
During the Civil War, the Capitol was used as a bakery, hospital, and even a barracks for soldiers. It also continued to be used for its intended purpose: the governance of the country.
The Capitol Building has a "whisper spot." If two people stand at diagonally opposite panels, they can whisper to each other and be heard as if they were standing right next to each other.
The U.S. Capitol has its own subway system, which consists of three lines. It was first constructed in 1909 to link the U.S. Capitol to the Senate office buildings. The subway has been updated several times over the years, and the current system uses small automatic trains.