Frequently Asked Questions

 Visiting the Capitol

If I have a tour reservation, when should I plan to arrive at the Visitor Center?
Is there a fee to enter the Capitol Visitor Center or to take a tour of the historic Capitol?
What time is the Capitol Visitor Center open?
How much time should I allow to visit the Capitol Visitor Center?
How can I book a tour of the historic Capitol?
Are tours offered in languages other than English?
Do I have to take a tour of the historic Capitol to enter the Capitol Visitor Center?
Can I bring my camera into the Capitol Visitor Center?
I do not have a working printer. Can I still come for my tour of the Capitol without a copy of my email confirmation?
How can I watch the House or Senate in session?
What is the difference between a Guide-led and Congressional Staff-led tour of the Capitol?
How can I learn about employment opportunities at the Capitol Visitor Center?
How can I obtain a flag that has flown over the Capitol?
How can I set up a meeting with my Representative or Senators?
How can I find out when Congress is in session?

The Capitol Visitor Center

What is the size of the Capitol Visitor Center?
Can my company rent rooms in the Capitol Visitor Center?
What is the Capitol Visitor Center's mission?
When did Congress ceremonially break ground for the Capitol Visitor Center?
When did construction of the Capitol Visitor Center begin?
What is the total cost of the Capitol Visitor Center?
Was anything of historical significance discovered during excavation?
What special security features were built into the Capitol Visitor Center?
How is the history of enslaved labor in the construction of the Capitol conveyed to visitors?
Why did you remove statues from the Capitol? Will the statues in Emancipation Hall be rotated back into the Capitol and other statues moved out to the Capitol Visitor Center?
Where do buses drop off visitors who wish to tour the Capitol?
Are there storage facilities at the Visitor Center for the items that are not allowed in the Capitol?
Does our national motto, "In God We Trust," appear in the Capitol Visitor Center? What about other religious references?

 

More Frequently Asked Questions are also available here at the Architect of the Capitol's Web site.


Visting the Capitol

If I have a tour reservation, when should I plan to arrive at the Visitor Center?
Due to the required security and screening process and the potential for longer wait times during peak visitation periods, we recommend that you plan to arrive at least 45 minutes prior to the start of your tour. If you have time to spare prior to your tour, you are encouraged to visit Exhibition Hall on the lower level. There you will find historic documents, artifacts, models, films, and interactive stations that tell the story of the U.S. Capitol and the Congress.
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Is there a fee to enter the Capitol Visitor Center or to take a tour of the historic Capitol?
No, there is no fee to enter the Capitol Visitor Center or to take a tour of the Capitol.
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What time is the Capitol Visitor Center open?
The Capitol Visitor Center is open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It is closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year's Day and Inauguration Day. Visitors with official business appointments may enter the Visitor Center as early as 7:15 a.m.
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How much time should I allow to visit the Capitol Visitor Center?
We recommend that you plan to allow at least 90 minutes for your visit to the Capitol Visitor Center and to tour the historic Capitol. There is much to see, including an Exhibition Hall where you can learn about Congress and the Capitol, two gift shops, and a 530-seat restaurant.
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How can I book a tour of the historic Capitol?
You can book a tour of the Capitol online with our Advance Reservation System or through your Member of Congress. Please click here for complete details.
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Are tours offered in languages other than English?
All tours of the U.S. Capitol are given by professional tour guides in English. Visitors may request listening devices for foreign-language versions of the orientation film and the items in Exhibition Hall at the Information Desks in the Capitol Visitor Center. There is no fee to use a listening device, but one non-passport photo ID for each device is required and will be held at the Information Desk until the listening device is returned. Foreign languages currently available include: Spanish, French, German, Japanese and Mandarin.
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Do I have to take a tour of the historic Capitol to enter the Capitol Visitor Center?
No, the Visitor Center is a public access building and you do not need a tour ticket to enter.
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Can I bring my camera into the Capitol Visitor Center?
Yes, cameras are allowed in the Visitor Center. However, photography in the Exhibition Hall is strictly prohibited to protect the original documents that are on display. Please click here for the complete list of all prohibited items.
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I do not have a working printer. Can I still come for my tour of the Capitol without a copy of my email confirmation?
Yes, you may still come for your tour of the Capitol even though you don't have your email confirmation. It is helpful to us if you make a note of your confirmation number and bring it with you. But we also track those confirmations by the last name of the person making the reservation, so we can get you your ticket in that way. Our goal is to check in tour participants as quickly as possible.
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How can I watch the House or Senate in session?
The Senate and House galleries are open to visitors whenever either legislative body is in session, however the galleries are not included as part of the U.S. Capitol tour. Passes are required to enter either gallery at any time. Visitors may obtain gallery passes from the offices of their Senators or Representative. International visitors may inquire about gallery passes at the House and Senate Appointment Desks on the upper level of the Capitol Visitor Center.

When the House of Representatives is not in session, visitors with passes may visit the House gallery from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., Monday through Friday. The House gallery is closed on holidays and is subject to unplanned, temporary closures when the House is out of session.

The Senate gallery is open during scheduled recesses of one week or more, and visitors are admitted to the gallery from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Senate gallery is closed on weekends and holidays (unless the Senate is in session), and during any recess or adjournment of less than one week.
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What is the difference between a Guide-led and Congressional Staff-led tour of the Capitol?
Many Congressional offices offer their own staff-led tours to constituent groups of up to 15 people. Visitors will see the same historic highlights of the Capitol on Guide-led and Congressional staff-led tours. Some Congressional staff include information specific to their state or district as they conduct their tours. To book a Congressional staff-led tour, contact the office of one of your Senators or your Representative to see if the office offers these tours.
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How can I learn about employment opportunities at the Capitol Visitor Center?
To learn about any employment opportunities at the Capitol Visitor Center, go the Website for the Architect of the Capitol, www.aoc.gov, and click on the "employment" button.
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How can I obtain a flag that has flown over the Capitol?
Visit the Architect of the Capitol's Capitol Flags Website for instructions.
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How can I set up a meeting with my Representative or Senators?
To get information about how to contact your Representative, go to www.house.gov, and to find information about how to contact your Senators, go to www.senate.gov.
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How can I find out when Congress is in session?
To find out when Congress is meeting, go to www.house.gov or www.senate.gov.
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The Capitol Visitor Center

 What is the size of the Capitol Visitor Center?
The Capitol Visitor Center is 580,000 square feet on three levels. For purposes of comparison, the Capitol itself encompasses 775,000 square feet. The Visitor Center, therefore, is roughly three quarters the size of the historic Capitol. The Visitor Center footprint also encompasses 170,000 square feet of new building space for the House and Senate.
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Can my company rent rooms in the Capitol Visitor Center?
The Visitor Center is not available for rental by any private entities or private event planning companies. Any event that held in the Capitol Visitor Center is sponsored by a Member of Congress. The same rules that apply to the room usage in the Capitol apply to the Capitol Visitor Center.
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What is the Capitol Visitor Center's mission?
The mission of the Capitol Visitor Center at the U.S. Capitol is to provide a welcoming and educational environment for visitors to learn about the unique characteristics of the House and the Senate and the legislative process, as well as the history and development of the architecture and art of the U.S. Capitol. The Capitol Visitor Center provides visitors with amenities including a Restaurant and two Gift Shops, resulting in a safe, secure, seamless, positive experience. Informative programs and special events along with changing exhibits will ensure that all visitors—local or from out-of-town—will have a unique and rewarding experience each time they visit.

Through national and international partnerships, outreach to schools and educators across the country, and a vibrant Web presence, the Capitol Visitor Center experience will actually begin for visitors long before they even set foot in the Capitol.
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When did Congress ceremonially break ground for the Capitol Visitor Center?
On June 20, 2000, members of the Capitol Preservation Commission, the guiding board of Congressional leaders who spearheaded the Capitol Visitor Center initiative on behalf of the entire U.S. Congress, ceremonially broke ground to signal the beginning of the project.
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When did construction of the Capitol Visitor Center begin?
Actual construction work began in 2002 after a major reassessment of the project following the events of September 11. Excavation of the East Front Plaza began in August 2002. In the fall of 2003, excavation was essentially complete and build-up of the Visitor Center structure began. In July 2008, the Architect of the Capitol's Fire Marshal issued a Certificate of Occupancy allowing for personnel to begin occupying the facility.
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What is the total cost of the Capitol Visitor Center?
The overall project cost was $600 million. The duration of construction was approximately six years, from August 2002 through November 2008.
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Was anything of historical significance discovered during excavation?
Nothing of a significant historical nature was discovered during excavation. The project architect, RTKL, hired an archaeological consultant to research the history of the grounds and to conduct surveys of Capitol Hill, formerly Jenkin's Hill, prior to the start of construction. The research showed that the Capitol Grounds were occupied to some extent by sub-tribes of the Algonquin Indians during colonial days, but research indicated that most of the tribal activities occurred closer to the Potomac River. Previous excavation work may have removed materials from earlier eras. In 1874, Olmsted called for the removal of 240,000 cubic yards of material from the East Capitol Grounds in order to lay a more fertile bed of soil. Later, in 1958-59, much of the area near the Capitol was excavated during the East Front Extension project, which extended the East Front of the Capitol 32.5 feet.
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What special security features were built into the Capitol Visitor Center?
Improving the security of the Congress, the Capitol, and visitors was one of the fundamental goals driving the construction of the Capitol Visitor Center.

The fatal shootings of two U.S. Capitol Police officers in July 1998 and the events of September 11 underscored the degree to which the Capitol and its occupants are at risk. Therefore, Congress directed the Architect of the Capitol to design and construct a visitor center to "provide greater security for all persons working in or visiting the United States Capitol and to provide a more convenient place in which to learn of the work of Congress."

The Visitor Center provides a secure public environment to welcome and manage millions of visitors and to protect the Capitol Building, its occupants, and guests.
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How is the history of enslaved labor in the construction of the Capitol conveyed to visitors?
The issue of enslaved labor in the construction of the U.S. Capitol is presented in a number of ways in the Capitol Visitor Center. In the Exhibition Hall, reading rails include text accompanied by images that discuss the contributions of enslaved laborers who cleared grounds, quarried stone, sawed timber, and labored on the Capitol's structure. Reading rails around the plaster model for the Statue of Freedom highlight the contributions of Philip Reid, an enslaved laborer whose talents were instrumental in the casting of the Statue of Freedom.

In addition, the importance of enslaved laborers is discussed in the 13-minute orientation film that is shown to all visitors at the beginning of their tour of the Capitol. Educational information on the role of enslaved labor is also incorporated into the script for guide-led tours and staff-led tours of the Capitol. The topic is also covered in the Emancipation Hall brochure available in the Visitor Center and online.
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Why did you remove statues from the Capitol? Will the statues in Emancipation Hall be rotated back into the Capitol and other statues moved out to the Capitol Visitor Center?
The Joint Committee on the Library approved moving 24 statues from various locations in the Capitol to the Visitor Center, which was designed as an extension of the Capitol, not a separate facility. The plan's goal was to make these sculptures more accessible to the visiting public and help alleviate overcrowding.

Overcrowding has been an issue in Statuary Hall since the 1930s, and Congress determined in 1933 that only one statue from each state should be placed in Statuary Hall, and that the others would be given prominent locations in designated areas and corridors of the Capitol. With the addition of the Capitol Visitor Center, it was decided that the statues would be rearranged again in order to further highlight and feature this unique collection, which represents the 50 United States and its citizens.

The statues selected to be moved were those that were most recently donated to the collection, and represent the diversity of our country. There is no plan to rotate the statues in Emancipation Hall or move other statues from the Capitol into the Visitor Center.
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Where do buses drop off visitors who wish to tour the Capitol?
Tour buses drop off visitors on the West Front of the Capitol. For people with mobility issues, there are shuttles driven by Visitor Assistants available to take them to the Visitor Center entrance at the East Front. Some city buses, including Metrobus and the Circulator, drop off passengers at the East Front near the Visitor Center entrance.
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Are there storage facilities at the Visitor Center for the items that are not allowed in the Capitol?
There are no storage facilities at the Visitor Center for prohibited items. Items that are allowed in the Visitor Center and the Capitol, but not in the Senate and House Galleries may be stored securely in the Senate and House Gallery Staging Areas.
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Does our national motto, "In God We Trust," appear in the Capitol Visitor Center? What about other religious references?
Yes, our national motto does appear in the Capitol Visitor Center in the House Theater exhibit and in Emancipation Hall. References to religion and faith are included in the context of several historic exhibits, and several religious items appear in the displays.
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