Tips for Visiting the Library of Congress

My standard 'self-taken giant head photo' outside the Library of Congress.

Most people who visit Washington DC plan to visit the Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol Building, and one or more of the fabulous Smithsonian museums.  And while all of these attractions are amazing in their own right, many visitors skip the one DC landmark that I consider the most beautiful, inspiring, and historic–the Library of Congress.

Hands down, the Library of Congress is the most beautiful building in DC.  The lobby alone is a work of art, and on any given day you’ll find hoards of people gaping in awe, craning their necks to look up towards the lovely stained glass ceiling.  I dare you to visit without taking at least a few photos of the lobby alone.  I could go on and on about how beautiful the Library of Congress is.  Or I could just post a bunch of photos.

Tips for Visiting the Library of Congress

Arrive early in the day or late in the afternoon.

There are two reasons why this is tip number one.  First, the line for security can get long, particularly when school groups are visiting from late morning through mid-afternoon.  You’ll have to go through airport style security to enter most buildings in DC, and for some reason I’ve found security at the Library of Congress to be the most thorough (and thus pretty darn slow).  But more importantly, early morning and late afternoon are the most beautiful times of day at the LOC, when the sun is lower in the sky and the light streams in through the windows, the entire lobby area seems almost otherworldly.

Take a guided tour.

There’s a lot to see here, but if you just wander around unaided you may miss most of it.  Additionally, during the majority of the day, a guided tour is the only way to see the Reading Room, which is the most beautiful part of the building.  You view it from a balcony area high overhead–an amazing vantage point of an amazing space.  Honestly, I don’t know how people get any research done in there.  I’d just be staring around in awe the whole time, books splayed open on the tables, unread.

Combine your visit with a visit to the Capitol.

If you also plan to check out the Capitol and the Capitol Visitors’ center on your visit to DC–and I think you really should–there’s a very good reason to check them both out on the same day.  I don’t know why this isn’t more widely publicized, but there’s an underground passageway between the Library of Congress and the Capitol Visitor’s center.  What this means to you is that you only have to go through security once to visit both buildings.  Considering the lines for each can exceed an hour’s wait on busy days, this is a huge time saver.  In fact, I wish more people knew about this tip–it would greatly cut down on the line at both places.  And shorter lines means more time to enjoy everything Washington, DC has to offer.

Honestly, even if you don’t follow any of the tips above, do consider taking this advice: visit the Library of Congress.  I promise, you won’t regret the time you spent there.  And I’ll bet you will return.  I did.


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