A trip to the US Capitol while visiting Washington DC is definitely a must do. The building is both architecturally & historically significant and with just a little advance planning you can make the experience a good one for both you and your kids. We put together 5 tips for visiting the Capitol with young children.
When we visited: Oct 2013
Ages of Children: 8,6,3
1. Schedule with your Senator
This is by far my number one suggestion. Of course, it also means that you have to plan ahead as most offices suggest that you submit your request at least a few weeks in advance. Mike Lee, who is one of Utah’s Senators, has an easy to navigate website with “Visit DC” right on the homepage. You fill out the online form with your available dates and which tours you’d like and one of the interns will get back with you via email or phone to set you up. In addition to the Capitol, you can also request tours for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court and the National Archives. Just note that you’ll meet your guide at the Senate Office Building, NOT at the Capitol itself.
The advantage of doing this is that your tour group is simply… you. Your guide can tailor the experience to suit your family’s needs. Ours skipped the video presentation (not enough time and we’d have to wait 20 minutes in the Visitor Center), and condensed a lot of the material so the adults still received interesting information and the kid’s attention spans weren’t maxed out.
2. Where to Park
Always a tricky question. We got lucky (although we got lucky a lot parking in downtown DC) and found spots for both us AND our friends on Constitution Avenue near 3rd St. We paid with the Park Mobile app and walked approximately .5 mile to our Senator’s office. All of the parking closer to the Senate Office Buildings and the Capitol building are permit only so plan on a bit of a walk no matter what and bring a stroller if your kids tire easily.
Alternatively, the Senate Office Buildings are only a .5 mile walk from the Capitol South metro station.
3. Ride the underground Train
Another perk of scheduling with your Senator is that you walk over to the Capitol via the underground tunnels and there is a TRAIN. What kid doesn’t love a train ride? Granted it is super short, but all the kids loved it. Our guide informed us that when Congress is in session (and debating an important piece of legislation), many of the Senators go back and forth between their office and the Capitol all day. While a train ride may seem a bit on the lazy side, walking that .5 mile over 20 times a day would definitely take its toll.
4. No Food or Drink Allowed
You can’t even take it in with you and just not eat it. If you have any food or water in your bags you’ll have to throw it out. Luckily, our Senator’s office informed us of this BEFORE we got to security. We stuffed all of our food and water into one backpack and left it with the interns at the office.
This is where parking close came in handy – once the tour was completed, dad ran to the truck and grabbed our cooler with lunch and we picnicked on the Capitol lawn.
5. Find your state’s statues
Each state was allowed to contribute 2 statues and all have done so (make your kids do the math to find the total number). Many are scattered throughout the Capitol and a fair number are located in Statuary Hall. Unfortunately, my kids weren’t as interested in a statue scavenger hunt as I hoped they’d be but they are still fun to find.
Utah has a statue of Filo T. Farnsworth (American inventor & pioneer) located in the Visitor’s Center, and also Brigham Young (Mormon prophet & pioneer who led the Saints to Utah) located in Statuary Hall.
Have you visited the United States Capitol? What was your favorite part?