Friday, August 17, 2012

Tours of the US Capitol and Library of Congress

 Outside the US Capitol

I had heard before going to DC that if you wanted to take a tour of any of the famous national sites, you had to petition to your state representative many weeks or months in advance. While it may be true that you need to do this to get on some of the very in depth tours... and to get into the White House, most places, even the capitol building, have do-it-yourself internet reservations and even tours for walk-ins. I was very excited to find this out from my friend when I arrived in DC, so the first thing I did was book myself a tour of the US Capitol for Tuesday morning at 9:50. 

The instructions on the reservation I printed out said to arrive 45 mins early, and so I got myself there at precisely 9:05. I found it very easy to get into the building (especially since I entered through the Library of Congress rather than the Capitol Visitor's Center entrance) and I didn't need to wait in any line to get through the x-ray machine and explosives check. So, now I was there 45 mins early with nothing to do, so I asked the woman at the desk if it would be possible to get on an earlier tour. She said there was no problem with me getting on the 9:00 tour (which hadn't started yet now at 9:10) so she printed me a ticket and I got in line just as we were shuffled into the movie room. 

The ceiling of the Rotunda inside the Capitol building

A close up of the fresco in the dome of the rotunda, titled the Apotheosis of Washington. Apotheosis meaning rising to the rank of a god.

First we watched a little movie about the greatness of America and the legislative branch of government. I was a little nervous about the tour since there were probably about 100 people here for the 9:00 tour. Fortunately, after the movie, the group was split into four smaller groups and everyone was given a headset so they could hear the tour guide’s voice. 

Statue of Lincoln

Overall, the tour was fine, considering I made reservations 2 days before the tour and it was free. But, there is no way that they could show off the most interesting parts of the Capitol to the thousands of people that visit every day. We were only really shown three rooms: the rotunda, the crypt and the National Statuary Hall. If you want a more in-depth tour, you need to contact your representative well in advance. 

Staircase of the Library of Congress

While I was happy I got to go in the capitol building, I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t see everything. Fortunately, before starting the tour of the capitol, I had wondered into the Library of Congress and saw how beautiful it was. I decided to try to get on a tour for that next. 

Second floor of the Library of congress

I was in luck, the US capitol tour ended at 10:00 and there was a Library of Congress tour starting at 10:30. Perfect timing! This time, I was much happier with the tour of the Library of Congress. The building is absolutely fantastic. It is like a church dedicated to knowledge rather than religion (although, they do have a copy of the Guttenberg Bible and another lesser known, but equally impressive handwritten bible in the front lobby). The library itself is a wonder, it is the most decorated federal building in the entire US. It was basically built to impress anybody who might have though, back in the late 1800’s that maybe The United States of America might not survive. Gold leaf paintings, mosaics, (Americanized) cherubs lining stairways, plus electric lights throughout the whole building (the first government building to have been built for electricity). Marble floors and stairways, stained glass windows plus all the most modern technology for a library at the turn of the century, like conveyor belts and tube delivery systems (like a bank today). 

 American style Cherub with a graduation cap on

Plus, our tour guide for the library was fantastic. She really seemed to have a passion for the library and explained everything in such vivid detail. I could have listened to her all day. 

 The whole library was fitted with electricity when it was built, which was revolutionary at the time of construction. 

So, moral of the story here? Go to the Capitol, just so you can say you’ve been there (or schedule yourself a good tour with your state rep early in advance) but be sure to check out the Library of Congress to see the cool stuff.

To make reservations for the US Capitol tour, see here:

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