American Masterpiece: Visiting the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Jessica Peterson

Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Can’t visit Europe but want to feel like you’re there? Head to D.C.

The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. is an opulent alternative to Europe for architecture buffs, literati, and photographers. It’s one of the most beautiful constructions in American history.

By the numbers, the Library of Congress is monolithic:

  • More than 164 million items total
  • Including more than 38 million cataloged books and other print materials in 460 languages
  • More than 70 million manuscripts
  • The largest rare book collection in North America
  • The world’s largest collection of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music and sound recordings

The Thomas Jefferson Building alone is worth making the trip to D.C. Completed in 1897 and built in the Italian Renaissance style, no expense was spared in its construction.

More than 50 American painters and sculptors were commissioned to ornament the Beaux Arts style building with fine decorations, murals, and paintings. Marble halls, columns and steps, carved hardwoods, and a stained glass dome are features of the design.

How to Visit the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is open to those age 16 and older without charge or special permission.

By taking free guided tours offered several times a day you can see both the Great Hall and, from the Visitors’ Gallery located just off of the Great Hall, you will be able to view the Main Reading Room from above (but not enter it). Monday through Saturday you also have the option of walking around on your own, using the self-guiding brochure.

The Library is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to the public. You must exit by 5:30 p.m.

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Stay tuned for a full Washington, D.C. post with more things to do!

I visited Washington, D.C. in my Airstream trailer on the Great American Roadtrip. To see where else I’ve been, sign up for my weekly newsletter.

What’s your favorite spot in Washington, D.C.?

Jessica Peterson
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Jessica Peterson

Jessica Peterson is a travel filmmaker, photographer, and journalist. She released her first documentary film about indigenous culture on Guam in 2016, after having lived nearly 7 years on the Pacific island. Jessica is currently on the Great American Roadtrip in her Airstream trailer.
Jessica Peterson
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  • Diana – MVMTblog

    The architecture inside is just incredible. My favorite part is in the lobby area with the towering pillars and the intricate, beautiful designs on the ceiling. Great photos, and thanks for sharing about this.

  • FullTimeCanada

    I’ve travelled quite a bit on the eastern part of the US but I’ve never been to Washington yet but really hope to. It’s a city filled with so much to do and see such as the Library of Congress. You did a wonderful job of detailing it and accompanying those details with some really stunning photography!

  • Well said. The Library of Congress is a masterpiece indeed. It really wows. I saw it as a kid on a school trip, but I need to get back soon. Its so gorgeous.

  • I was in DC once – on my way to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Washington DC is definitely one of the great North American cities (one of my favourites – history-wise, along with Quebec City in Canada). The Library of Congress is stunning – as are your pictures. Nice post with helpful info! Thanks for sharing.

  • Jennifer Morrow

    Three of my favorite things; History, Architecture, and BOOKS! I ran out of time on my last visit to DC, I should have made this a higher priority. Free admission is also nice for visitors, I wish it was open later, then I could have made it in.

  • Jackie Taylor

    Love the architecture and the ceilings… it is all so stunning! I would love to visit DC some day. Looking forward to reading your upcoming post all about Washington DC! 🙂

  • Kassie- The Fly Away Life

    This looks like my personal heaven! I didn’t know this was a thing. This may be strange, but I can just imagine that this building just permanently smells like old books. Which if I could bottle that smell up and spray my home with it, I would 😂

    Thanks for sharing. Definitely adding this to my list in DC!