A Visitor’s Guide to the Texas State Capitol

If you’ve been downtown, heck, if you’ve waited patiently in traffic on South Congress as would-be photographers clog the center of the street, their cameras pointed north at the spectacular view, you’ve seen the Texas State Capitol. It’s the focal point of this beautiful city—an ornate building full of history, symbolism, and maybe a few ghosts. You’ve probably admired the exterior and walked around the grounds, but when was the last time you took an official tour? Here’s a primer for Texans, transplants, and tourists alike.

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When the Texas State Capitol was completed in 1888, it was the seventh largest building in the world. Now, of course, knocked way off that list, the home of the Texas Legislature and the Office of the Governor is still the sixth-tallest state capitol in the country, and, at 308-feet-tall, is actually taller than the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.

In 1983, the 68th Texas Legislature created the State Preservation Board in order to preserve, maintain, and restore the Capitol, which was later designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986. In 1993, the Capitol grounds were expanded north, and from 1995-96 the south grounds were restored. Today, visitors can explore the building for free, seven days a week. A new tour leaves from the South Foyer every 20 minutes.

The best way to tour the Capitol is to allow yourself a couple hours. You can take a guided tour of the actual building, which takes about 30 minutes, walk around the 22-acre Capitol grounds, and stop by the adjacent Bullock Museum, and learn about how Texas became what it is today. Of course, self-guided tours are allowed from 7 a.m.- 10 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.- 8 p.m. weekends. Stop in the Capitol Grille for lunch or dinner if you have the time.

In addition to the normal tours, groups of 10 or more can take specialty tours, including Women in Texas History, The Texas Revolution, Texas Veterans Tour, and Rest in Peace, a tour centered around the urban myths and ghost stories of the Capitol offered around Halloween.

If you haven’t been inside since elementary school, it’s time for a field trip.