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Take a tour through the United States Capitol

The United States Capitol, or as it is often referred to as The Capitol is the place where the United States Congress meets. It is now one of the most prominent landmarks in Washington D.C. Located at the eastern end of the National Mall, the United States Capitol has been home to Congress since 1800. In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson took his oath as the President of United States on its steps.

Let us delve further into the United States Capitol and take a sneak peek into how its history and the role it plays in today’s America.

US Capitol dome scaled


Pierre Charles L’Enfant was initially expected to design the Capitol. He chose the site and had claimed that he had a plan in his head. L’Enfant, however, did not submit any official drawings or paperwork and hence President George Washington had to dismiss him. It was William Thorton whose designs impressed Thomas Jefferson after Thorton made a late submission in a competition held in 1792.

Though Thorton had submitted the plans, he had no formal training in architecture and construction. Stephen Hallet, who was the runner up in the competition, was supposed to be supervising the construction of the Capitol. However, when Hallet tried to change Thorton’s plan he was removed and replaced by James Hoban, the architect of the White House.


The North Wing was the first wing to be completed and Congress assembled there in 1800. The very next year Thomas Jefferson was the first President to be inaugurated at the Capitol which has now become a tradition for every President since then.

The rest of the building was completed by Benjamin Latrobe who followed Thorton’s concept for the exteriors. In 1807 the South Wing which accommodates the chamber of the House of Representatives was completed. Unfortunately, in 1812, during the war, the capitol was partially burned and looted by British troops even though the rain protected it from complete annihilation. When French historian Alexis De Tocqueville visited the United States Capitol in 1832, he was quite impressed by its magnificent structure.

To have more space to accommodate the increasing number of legislators from new states, in 1850 Congress approved another competition for the design to expand both wings. The winner of the competition was architect Thomas Ustick Walter, who completed the expansion of the South Wing in 1857 and the North Wing in 1859. During Walter’s tenure, the major change to the Capitol was the removal of the old dome with a new high iron cast dome. The work on the dome continued at the insistence of President Abraham Lincoln despite the ongoing war.

A new 19.5-foot statue was installed on the top of the dome on December 2nd, 1863. In 1864, Congress decided to institute a National Statuary Hall which would depict two prominent figures from each state. Apart from a few modernizations, which include the addition of central heating, electricity, and elevators, no major changes were made to the structure until 1959-60. In 1960 the east front was expanded 32.5 feet and in December 2008 the 580,000 square foot Capitol Visitor Center was opened.

US Capitol 1 scaled

The Capitol Visitor Center

The Visitor Center is like an extension of the Capitol itself . The colors, textures, and materials used in its construction match the Capitol. It is the newest installment to the already rich history of the United States Capitol and is approximately three-quarters the size of the Capitol. So that it does not distract from the design of the Capitol itself, the Visitor Centre is situated underground on the eastern side of the Capitol.

The care that has gone in, in the selection of the design of the Visitor Center is quite evident in the Emancipation Hall which was named to recall the contributions of the enslaved labor slaves who helped to build the Capitol. In the Emancipation Halls, visitors can see a plaster model of the Statue of Freedom and many other statues from the National Statuary Hall Collection. The exhibition hall offers various presentations that tell the story of Congress and the U.S. Capitol.

Visitor Guidelines

There are some important guidelines that you need to follow to support a respectful environment.

  • Food and beverages and not allowed in the building.
  • Make sure all your electronic devices and cell phones switched to the silent mode.
  • Do not touch the sculptures, pictures, art, or statues on the wall. Even clean hands can sometimes cause damage to art.
  • Restrict yourself from leaning too hard on the walls or pedestals.
  • Please do not sit on any sculptures or displays.
  • Any areas that are roped off are out of bounds to visitors.
  • Refrain from pushing or shoving as it may cause harm to you or others.
US Capitol scaled

How to get to the Capitol

  • Walking – The Capitol is located at the east end of the National Mall. The main entrance to the Capitol is below the East Front Plaza at First Street and East Capitol Street.
  • Shuttle Services – For those with mobility issues or in wheelchairs, the Capitol Visitor Center provides on-demand shuttle service. They start from the southwest corner of Capitol Square at Independence Avenue and First Street, SW, and to the Capitol Visitor Center.
  • By bicycle – There are bicycle racks that are situated right along the entrance of the Visitor Center along First Street NE and First Street SE. Bicycle racks also provided on the West Front of the Capitol between Russell and Dirksen Senate Office buildings.
  • Capitol Subway System – There are 3 subway stations which are located close to the Capitol. Union Station is the first one (First Street, NW, and Massachusetts Avenue), next is the Capitol South (First Street between C and D Streets, SE), and finally it is the Federal Center, SW (Southwest Corner of Third and D Streets, SW)
  • Car – There is very little parking space available near the Capitol. You need to find the nearest parking facility, which is located at Union Station, to the North of the Capitol.
US Capitol 1 scaled


It is highly recommended that you make a reservation for the tour of the U.S. Capitol. Those with tour reservations are welcome at the hours of 8.30 am -4.30 pm from Monday to Saturday. This is obviously except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and Inauguration Day.

Admission into the Capitol Visitor Center is free upon reservation, and you will have to go through security clearance. You can reserve tours through the Capitol Visitor Center website. The last tour of the day is usually at 3.20 pm. Smoking is prohibited inside the Capitol. There are ATM Machines located inside the Capitol Visitor Center.


During the day, the neighborhood is crowded with visitors and hence you must find a good place to eat. Here are some of the best restaurants and street food options available around the Capitol.

  • Rose Luxury
  • Pineapple & Pearls
  • Little Pearl
  • Belga Cafe
  • Ted’s Bulletin
  • Matchbox
  • LA Collina
  • The Wells
US Capitol at night scaled

In and around the National Mall and in general, the whole of the United States, the United States Capitol has become one of the most must-see tourist attractions of our times. It is a highly recommended viewing and visitation on anyone’s journey through Washington D.C.

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