I always promise honest reviews here at Pit Stops for Kids, but this one will be brutally honest…and maybe a tad unpatriotic. While vacationing in Washington DC with kids, it’s hard to skip a tour of the Capitol Building. It’s iconic, right? It’s full of history. It’s the site of our ongoing democracy. But in my opinion, touring the US Capitol is mediocre at best and most the stops along it are boring to kids.
I’ve toured the Capitol twice, and both times, I’ve been disappointed. Not by the building itself: if I’ve been impressed walking up to it (and I always am), I’m doubly impressed looking up from the floor of the cavernous Rotunda. However, both times I’ve visited, our guide has been uninspired and many of the points-of-interest offered have not been what I’d select. Still, if I had my itinerary to do over again, I’d book a Capitol tour yet again. Why? It’s the Capitol, and it does have things I want my kids to see. I just wish they were presented differently.
On our most recent visit, the Rotunda was actually closed, due to an unnamed emergency. This didn’t help matters, of course, as the Rotunda is the most dramatic stop on the tour. And the omission of it left our guide scrambling to fill the 30 minute tour time. He was good with kids, but seemed a bit at a loss as to what to show us.
Confined to the first floor, we toured the crypt and talked extensively about the statues erected by each state. (We didn’t discuss the statue subjects, per se, but only that the statues existed, and why.) We saw the bust of Lincoln missing his ear (a mistake of the sculptor), and historic court chambers. And that was about it.
Because the Rotunda was closed, our guide presented us with admission passes to the House of Representatives floor. This proved to be the most interesting part of our tour. (To my recollection, this was included in the standard tour in past, but perhaps it’s not now.) Congress was not in session, but we were still able to sit at the top of the gallery and observe where everyone sits and votes, and check out the C-SPAN cameras. This stop required an extra security checkpoint, and we had to check our backpacks, but was well-worth doing. I’d ask the tour guide for admission at the end of any tour.
The other attraction open to the public in the Capitol is the Capitol Museum, located in an underground section attached to the Capitol. Again, uninspired. Compared the the Smithsonian museums or even the various historical museums we toured throughout our trip on the East Coast, the Capitol Museum was downright drab. There’s a replica of the Rotunda (but you’ll be seeing that anyway, at least in theory) and explanations for various bills made into law, but the best thing about it during our trip was definitely the free air conditioning. Harsh? Yes, but fair.
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Admission is free. You do need a timed ticket, which can be obtained when you arrive, or in advance online. We reserved online, as recommended for a summer visit. We brought our printed receipt to the ticket agent who issued us tickets. Easy-peasy.
The Capitol is located at the far end of the Mall, off Constitution Ave. To access the Visitor’s Center (where you get tickets and start your tour, and where the museum is located), proceed to the back of the building (or rather, the side not facing the Mall), and go down the stairs.
Wondering where to stay in DC? Check out our review of Grand Hyatt Washington.
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