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It’s easy to impress first-time visitors to Washington DC. A lot of people have a negative preconception of the capital city and they are pleasantly surprised when they see all it has to offer. By far, the most common comment I hear from first timers is “We didn’t realize DC is so green and beautiful.” Followed closely by “There are a lot of good looking guys here.”

Last week, I invited a long time Northern Virginian to go into the city with me. Since she hadn’t been to the city in a long time and had already seen all the typical tourist sites, I decided to expand her horizons a bit.

My first suggestion was for her to visit the Madison Building located at 101 Independence Avenue SE to get her Library of Congress Reader ID card.  The free Reader card gives a person access to multiple reading rooms including the stunning Main Reading Room. It’s best to register online prior to going to the ID office where they will take a photo then print your ID card. It takes less than ten minutes. Click here for all the information needed to obtain a reader ID card.

Library of Congress Reading Room I
Main Reading Room at the Library of Congress
Library of Congress the stacks

Once she obtained her card, we decided we should utilize our cards. There are several reading rooms to choose from but, since we’re both interested in photography,  we headed to the Prints and Photographs room. The head researcher was incredibly helpful and we really appreciated her taking the time to explain in detail how to find photos both online and in the reading room.

We then ventured a couple of blocks over to the Russell Office Building  (2 Constitution Avenue) to visit Senator Warren’s (VA-D) office for gallery passes. Both the Senate and House galleries are open to visitors whenever either legislative body is in session. I’ve been to both galleries on a few occasions and find it fascinating to watch our Representatives in action.

The galleries are not part of the U.S. Capitol tour but passes to enter either gallery may be obtained from the offices of your respective Senator or Representative. For International visitors, go to the House and Senate Appointment Desks on the upper level of the Capitol Visitor Center to inquire about gallery passes.

The passes are good for one year (October to October) and when the House of Representatives is not in session, visitors with passes may visit the House gallery on weekdays from 9:00 am to 4:15 pm. The House gallery is closed on holidays and sometimes due to unplanned temporary closures.

The Senate gallery is open during scheduled recesses and visitors are admitted to the gallery weekdays from 9:00 am to 4:15 pm. The Senate gallery is closed on holidays (unless the Senate is in session), and during any recess or adjournment of less than one week.

Both the Senate and House are closed on weekends, unless they are in session.

To get your gallery passes, you’ll need to visit your respective Senator and Representative. If you’re not sure who your elected officials are, please go to League of Women Voters and enter your zip code.

If you’re a local or frequent visitor, you may want to get your own Reader card to do research or visit a Senate session to see you government in action.Library of Congress rain day II

At the United States Capitol

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