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dec 02 2008

D.C.: The Capitol gets a new visitor center

Emancipation Hall at the Capitol Visitor Center (Courtesy U.S. Capitol)
Exhibition Hall at the Capitol Visitor Center (Courtesy U.S. Capitol)

The old treasure of the Capitol building has been rejuvenated with a new visitor center.

The most practical improvement is the center's enormous size. The public area is nearly half the size of the Capitol's dimensions—made possible by the fact that the structure is underground. Under the old system, visitors stood in long lines outdoors. Now citizens can stand indoors in a temperature-controlled climate.

The center's 530-seat cafeteria is also a welcome addition because the National Mall is notoriously short on affordable places for families to eat.

Additional security is another plus. Visitors are screened at a safe remove from the center itself.

The process for getting tickets for a Capitol tour should also become more straightforward. Starting tomorrow, a new online reservations system is supposed to allow visitors to obtain free tickets. You no longer have to contact the office of your member of Congress, though that method will still work.

A tip from the Washington Post: A small number of same-day passes will be handed out on what seems like a first-come, first-served basis at the information desk on the lower level of the center.

It's free to visit the Capitol Visitor Center or to take a 45-minute Capitol tour. Located on the side of the Capitol facing away from the National Mall, the center has its public entrance on First Street, roughly between the Union Station and Capitol subway stops. It's open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.. Monday through Saturday, except for major holidays. Tours can be reserved via visitthecapitol.gov.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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