Other DC spots are closed. But Capitol tourism is booming

The Capitol Visitor Center is open, partial shutdown or no — and tourists are taking note

There have been more visitors to the Capitol so far this month than usual as other attractions on the National Mall are closed due to the partial government shutdown. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
There have been more visitors to the Capitol so far this month than usual as other attractions on the National Mall are closed due to the partial government shutdown. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 9, 2019 at 5:01am

Other attractions on the National Mall are locked up tight, but one tourist spot is seeing a traffic boom.

More visitors than usual have come to the Capitol so far this month, even as a partial government shutdown puts a damper on the best-laid plans of D.C. vacationers. 

Unlike the Smithsonian museums, the Capitol Visitor Center is very much open for business. Legislative Branch agencies — including the Architect of the Capitol, the Library of Congress and Capitol Police — are all up and running during the shutdown because their funding was secured back in the fall.

For tourists, that translates into a warm, no-cost place to check out some exhibits, touch a model of the Capitol Dome, learn about the civil rights movement or take in some 19th-century art. (Fans of cherub-heavy murals are in luck.)

It may not be the National Gallery of Art, but that’s closed. So is the National Zoo and the Smithsonians, which ran out of money last week after initially using past funds to ride out the early days of the shutdown. A number of other historic sites and parks have been closed since before Christmas.

That could be funneling tourists who’d hoped to see other sights — the Bill of Rights at the National Archives, for example — toward the Capitol.

“We’re up 10 percent in the number of people on tours compared to this point in January 2018,” said Laura Trivers, an Architect of the Capitol spokesperson for the Capitol Visitor Center.

While the winter months are usually the slowest for tourist traffic, with just a third of the number of visitors who come during the peak spring and summer months, that hasn’t been the case since 2019 kicked off.

Trivers cautioned against drawing a direct correlation between the shutdown and the uptick, citing school vacation schedules. But schools in the D.C. region are on similar winter schedules as previous years.

For those looking for an extra reason to visit the Capitol, the visitor center is offering special video and discussion programs each Friday in the run-up to the State of the Union.

This year’s speech is slated for Jan. 29. If the spending stalemate lasts until then, it could mark a first for Donald Trump. No other president in modern times has delivered a State of the Union in the throes of a government shutdown.

Watch: What really happens during a government shutdown, explained

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