The United States Capitol is a monument, a working office building, and one of the most recognizable symbols of representative democracy in the world. Visitors are welcome to enter the building through the Capitol Visitor Center, located underground on the east side of the Capitol. You can begin your Capitol experience at the Visitor Center by visiting the Exhibition Hall, perusing our Gift Shops or dining in our Restaurant.
The United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., is a symbol of the American people and their government, the meeting place of the nation's legislature. The Capitol also houses an important collection of American art, and it is an architectural achievement in its own right. It is a working office building as well as a tourist attraction visited by millions every year.
Construction of the U.S. Capitol began in 1793. In November 1800, the U.S. Congress met in the first completed portion, the north wing. In the 1850s, major extensions to the North and South ends of the Capitol were authorized because of the great westward expansion of our nation and the resultant growth of Congress. Since that time, the U.S. Capitol and its stately dome have become international symbols of our representative democracy.
The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center is the newest addition to this historic complex. At nearly 580,000 square feet, the Visitor Center is the largest project in the Capitol's more than two-century history and is approximately three quarters the size of the Capitol itself. The entire facility is located underground on the east side of the Capitol so as not to detract from the appearance of the Capitol and the grounds designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1874.
The Capitol Visitor Center is open to visitors from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year's Day and Inauguration Day. Tours of the U.S. Capitol are conducted from 8:50 a.m. to 3:20 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Visitors with official business appointments may enter the Visitor Center as early as 7:15 a.m.
(Note: Many places fill to capacity on busy, nice weather days, especially holiday weekends. Please call ahead or visit the official website to get the most up-to-date information before visiting.)
Admission to the Capitol Visitor Center is free. However, passes are required for tours of the historic Capitol and may be needed for other special events. All visitors to the Capitol are required to go through security screening.
Tours of the U.S. Capitol need to be scheduled in advance through the Advance Reservation System or through the office of one of your Senators or your Representative
Tours, gift shop, and restaurant, exhibition hall
The Capitol Visitor Center is fully accessible to people with disabilities. Listening devices with audio description of the films and exhibition are available at the Information Desks. All films have open captioning. In addition, there are a variety of other services for visitors with disabilities, including adaptive tours of the Capitol, wheelchairs, and sign-language interpreting services for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.
On September 18, 1793, George Washington laid the U.S. Capitol cornerstone at the southeast corner of its foundation to mark the building of the nation's most symbolically important and architecturally impressive building. It was laid with great pomp and celebration. President Washington and his entourage of a company of volunteer artillery from Alexandria crossed the Potomac River and joined with Masonic Lodge members from Virginia, Maryland, and the Federal City (Washington). Together they marched with music playing, drums beating, colors flying, and spectators cheering to the Capitol site about a mile and a half away. Following the laying of the cornerstone ceremony, there was a celebratory barbeque and other activities. It was well attended and festivities took place until dark. This occasion signified the importance of this special place and what it represents to the American people then and now—the design of this building is rooted in an ideal ages old; that citizens can build a government driven not by the whim of a dictator, king or tyrant, but based on the consent of the governed.