No matter what people say about Congress (“Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” Mark Twain), Congress’s home, the Capitol, stands out as an architectural beauty and America’s grandest symbol of democracy.
So yeah: Wow. With its neoclassical columns, arches and shining white dome, the Capitol is quite the grande dame. Started in 1793, completed in 1863, the art-filled Capitol holds a magnificent central Rotunda, National Statuary Hall (originally the Hall for the House of Representatives, now a gallery for displaying statues donated by the states), and the separate wings of the House and Senate, including their legislative chambers.
This is where the sausagemaking—lawmaking—goes on. 435 representatives (plus delegates from DC and U.S. territories) and 100 senators write, debate and pass legislation, duking it out verbally and sometimes physically, as in 1856, when South Carolina Rep. Preston Brooks entered the Old Senate Chamber and caned Mass. Sen. Charles Sumner nearly to death for Sumner’s antislavery stance.
Attend a House or Senate session, if you dare!
Entry to the Capitol is via the underground Capitol Visitor Center, and this is where the tours begin, as well (best to sign up in advance online). If you haven’t reviewed the Visitor Center’s historical exhibits before your tour, you should make time for them after the tour, to provide more context to all you’ve learned. Then step outside to explore the lovely grounds and then the Capitol Hill neighborhood, where you’ll find longtime bars, like the Tune Inn, and popular joints, like Good Stuff Eatery, that cater to Hill staffers.
Metro: Capitol Hill South on the Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines.