Touted as the “handsomest building” President Theodore Roosevelt ever saw, the five story Pennsylvania State Capitol, covers over 5 acres in downtown Harrisburg. The current 600 room building was completed in 1906, after a 1897 fire destroyed the original building. It’s “home” to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, State Senate, State House of Representatives, and State Supreme Court, The campus now includes 10 additional buildings, although the main Capitol Building and East Wing will be most appealing to visitors.
Traveling with Kids:
- I wouldn’t recommend tours for the toddler crowd; they won’t be super engaged in the art and architecture, can’t read the visitor guides, and the steps down into the viewing galleries of the chambers are very steep and narrow. However, my upper elementary school children really enjoyed the tour. Kids of all ages should enjoy the interactive Welcome Center, which is open to the public, including people not on guided tours.
- Guided tours are free and open to the public seven days a week- check here for availability. Self guided tours are allowed on weekdays- check here for the mobile app.
- Metered, street parking is available on all sides of the Capitol, but try and get close to the Park and Third Streets entrance.
- No backpacks, food, or drinks are allowed on tours. There is a large cafeteria in the East Wing, open to the public.
- Tours are handicap accessible. Restrooms are located near the security screenings and tours last just under one hour and then plan for another half hour in the Welcome Center.
- Make sure kids grab an “Activities” booklet before the tour starts. Some activities can be filled out while on the tour. Find an electronic copy here.
Play “I Spy” to find the following items on the tour:
The Rotunda features a 52 million pound dome at the center and is surrounded by four Abbey murals representing the state’s major industries during the 19th and 20th centuries.
1. Before visitors even enter the Capitol building, check out the 17 foot bronze doors- each one weighs a (literal) ton, but are actually quite easy to open.
2. Some of the 370+ mosaics displayed in stone on the floor of the Capitol, which chronologically display famous Pennsylvania inventions, industries, and historical events.
The Senate Chamber is where over 2,000 bills are introduced during a two year session of the 50 member senate. Guests may view open sessions from a rear gallery (also a stop on public tours).
3. A painting depicting Abraham Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address.
4. Six two-ton bronze chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
5. Ten stained glass windows, each with a different theme such as history, justice, religion, and peace.
6. The original desks from 1906. Democratic lawmakers sit on the left side of the chamber and Republican lawmakers sit on the right side of the chamber.
The Supreme Court Chamber is one of three home to the Supreme Court (the other two “homes” are located in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia). The Chamber has 16 paintings on display.
7. The interior stained glass dome, made from green and gold opalescent glass.
8. The Painting of the 10 Commandments (behind the Chief Justice’s chair)
9. The “Divine Law” painting with the words “love”, “law”, and “wisdom” hidden in the painting.
10. Greek and Hebrew figurines at the top of the chandeliers
The House of Representatives Chamber, where over 3,000 bills are debated by 200+ representatives during each session, is home to America’s first independent legislative body. Over 1,000 people can fit inside the House Chamber.
11. Green and red buttons for voting on each of the 200+ desks. Like the Senate, members sit by political party.
12. Fourteen stained glass windows, each weighing 200 pounds.
13. The largest mural in the Capitol, located behind the Speaker’s podium, is “The Apotheosis of Pennsylvania” and is 35 square feet. It depicts famous Pennsylvanian residents and leaders.
14. Six crystal chandeliers, with a total of over 1100 light bulbs that must be changed every few years.
The Welcome Center is located in the East Wing (also home to the cafeteria and nearly 200 offices) and had a major renovation in 2014.
15. Commonwealth statue built out of Legos.
16. Pennsylvania Hall of Fame, featuring famous people and inventions
17. Trivia projection screens on the carpet, which are interactive.
18. School House Rocks video about how a bill becomes a law
19. Virtual Legislators, who explain their daily responsibilities and roles as state representatives.
20. Leave time, especially if it’s a nice day, to watch the computerized water displays in Veterans’ Memorial Fountain, located behind the East Wing.
If you’re looking for more fun in Harrisburg and nearby Hershey, check out our 10 Top post here and list of must do activities for Hershey Lodge here. If you’re planning a trip the area, I highly recommend starting your planning at VisitHersheyandHarrisburg.org. The tourism board is a great resource for tips on places to visit, eat, and stay. The website is well organized by season, activity, interest, and town. Parents will especially want to read through the Family Fun section. And if you want more recommendations for places to visit in Pennsylvania, check out our list here.