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Library of Congress
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Owner description: Though the Library of Congress doesn't own every book ever published, it sure has most of them, with 532 miles of shelves and 115 million items, with 7,000 added each working day.
St. Louis, Mo
Level Contributor
31 reviews
13 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 153 helpful votes
Reviewed July 19, 2010

We wondered what could possibly be interesting about a library. Sure, it’s the largest library in the ENTIRE WORLD, but what an amazing building! We entered the Library of Congress through the US Capitol Tunnel (avoiding a 2nd security check) and were absolutely stunned when we walked up the steps to the Great Hall and it’s soaring barrel vaults, marble columns and breath-taking mosaics. Words simply do not adequately describe the interior. It’s like being transported to the Sistine Chapel!

After craning our necks at the ceiling for a bit, we walked back down to the lower level to wait for our tour stickers (no reservations are offered- it’s first come-first served). So we browsed though the gift shop and watched an introductory movie while we waited. A full-sized copy of the Declaration of Independence on parchment $6- not bad!

The tour guide first took us to the center of the Great Hall and explained the meaning of many of the carvings and mosaics. The Great Hall is absolutely massive and the building was crowded, so it was difficult to hear everything she said unless you were right on top of her. (Is it ironic that the Library should take a hint from the US Capitol tour system and offer headsets to tours, and the Capitol should take lessons from the Library’s tour system on how to give a proper tour?)

After the Great Hall we went into the Bible Gallery and saw the Giant Bible of Mainz (handwritten) and the Guttenberg Bible (the first printed Bible). You cannot tell which is which!...The tour moved up to the Mezzanine where the guide explained that the Library of Congress was the first building to be constructed with electrical wiring. One can only imagine how intimidating this building was to foreign dignitaries and common folk back in the day.

The tour ended with a balcony look at the grand and impressive Main Reading Room. The balcony is encased in glass and photography isn’t allowed. I suppose this is to prevent harsh flashing from deteriorating the priceless books. Although, from that height, the books were in stacks several hundred feet away. (I snuck a few flash-less pictures of the room. I couldn’t help myself!)

You don’t actually get to see many books while in the Library, as you would expect. If you want (and you can) personally see any of the 250 million piece in the Library. You must be 16 years old, obtain a Reader’s Card from the Adam’s Building (?), and provide a legitimate purpose for you to view the material. It’s an entire process that involved a lot of walking and a lot of waiting.

The most amazing exhibit at the Library of Congress is Thomas Jefferson’s entire personal collection of books. Nearly 6,500 volumes in all- a significant number of personally owned books at the time- were sold by Jefferson to Congress after the British burned the original Library in the Capitol building in 1812- an amazing mix of subjects, from Beekeeping to Philosophy. The bookshelves are encased in glass and you’re not allowed to touch or take photographs (Oops I did it again! Flash-less, in my defense. See accompanying photos.)

We had a difficult time locating the Waldseemuller Map (the map that named America), but once we did, we were able to navigate around the document with its accompanying computer screens. It was amazing to see the distorted perspective of the land.

Overall, the Library of Congress was an excellent experience! I wouldn’t recommend it for young children, but the architecture alone is enough to amaze anyone over 10. Plan to walk a lot of steps and spend 2-3 hours exploring the different exhibit halls. Finally, check out the LOC website before you visit. The online information is ever-changing, as the Library is in the multi-decade process of making everything they have available for viewing online. TWO THUMBS UP TO CONGRESS FOR THIS ONE!

8 Thank marndog1969
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Long Beach, CA
Level Contributor
5 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 2 helpful votes
“Beautiful architecture -- request a tour from your senator or congresswoman”
Reviewed July 11, 2010

I made a request to my congresswoman well in advance (months) of our Fourth of July trip to DC. The tour began w. a 10 min. 'promo' video then we broke into groups of around 15 people. The tour was led by a volunteer docent. Our docent was informative, albeit a little lackluster. Even so I have no regrets taking the tour. If you're going all the way to our nation's capitol, you have to see it once.
The interior of the building is a sight to behold. Photos are allowed in 90% of the areas, so you should take your camera. As for what not to bring, you can find a list on the Lib. of Congress web site. (Note: it isn't as restrictive as the Capitol Tour where just about everything, including your average sized touring bag, is forbidden.) Take advantage of checking your bags if only to be able to travel lightly on your hour long tour. They gave us a plastic bag so I could bring my wallet. Besides that all I carried was my camera.
There are several exhibits you can visit before or after your tour. The exterior of the building has a spectacular fountain and there's a nice gift shop.

Thank PickyTravelr77
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
LaCrosse, WI
Level Contributor
29 reviews
9 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 18 helpful votes
“Wish I would have allowed more time!”
Reviewed July 11, 2010

We went over after a tour of the Capitol utilizing the underground tunnel connecting the two (great because it was raining)! This is in the top three most beautiful buildings in Washington which we have seen. The artwork and architecture are amazing!! Did not take an organized tour as we did not have the time. Biggest regret is not allowing more time to tour the building...we only had an hour to spare. A must see!!

1 Thank wiscgrandma
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Jerusalem, Israel
Level Contributor
16 reviews
6 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 5 helpful votes
“Well, the place is amazing, the tour is...”
Reviewed July 8, 2010

Well, the place is amazing, the tour is interesting... But i really wanted to see more books and i actualy thought we'll get to see the reading rooms... So as a librarian it was a bit disapointing but overall the building and all is really stunning.

Thank Tali-n-Erez
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Athens, GA
Level Contributor
97 reviews
33 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 75 helpful votes
“Awesome to see for art and book-lovers and historians alike...”
Reviewed June 29, 2010

This place is spectacular, easily as beautiful as some of the grandest cathedrals of Europe. I could have spent hours just looking at the ceiling and walls. We saw the Carl Jung Red Book on display now, which was fascinating. They have copies of the new color reproductions that have come out recently to peruse. I would love to have had more time to spend with them. Also, some wonderful old maps in an exhibit about the early exploration of the Americas by the Europians. It was also great just to glance through the spines at the collection of Jefferson's books. I would love to go back and do some kind of tour here, I'm not sure what they offer, but to get a glimpse of the stacks would be great. I met a woman while travelling whose son works here, and she got to see the donation room, which she said is like a tremendous attic full of peoples' stuff, where they have to go through everything that is donated to decide what to keep, etc. Walk up around the Capitol Building from the mall, enjoy the view of the dome, then enjoy the AC and loveliness in this gem of a building.

Thank towniemel
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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