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Architecture

The Best U.S. State Capitol Buildings to Visit

By Jersey Griggs
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State capitol buildings not only serve as headquarters for state government, but they are also oftentimes beautiful, historic structures that, in some cases, are even reportedly haunted. But with 50 state capitols to choose from, it might be difficult to narrow down which buildings are worth the visit. Check out our picks for the eight best state capitol buildings for architecture fans and history buffs to enjoy.

Iowa State Capitol – Des Moines, Iowa

Exterior of Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines
Photo credit: Grindstone Media Group/ Shutterstock

Iowa’s state capitol is a showstopper, featuring four towering domes surrounding a central 275-foot-tall dome covered in 23-karat gold. The only state capitol to boast five domes, the building is equally mesmerizing inside — particularly the law library, which houses an ornate spiral staircase. Fittingly, historic art and artifacts are spread throughout the building, from the handmade doll replicas of every governor’s wife to the scale model replica of the Battleship Iowa. Free tours of the building are available daily, but dome tours must be booked in advance.

Massachusetts State House – Boston, Massachusetts

Red-brick Massachusetts State House topped by gold dome
Photo credit: MISHELLA/ Shutterstock

The Massachusetts State House is instantly recognizable thanks to the iconic gold dome atop the Neoclassical-federal style building. Designed by American-born architect Charles Bullfinch and built in 1798, 15 years after the end of the Revolutionary War, the State House was ironically inspired by the architecture of London. As one of the stops on Boston’s Freedom Trail, the capitol offers free tours of the building and grounds, which contain various famous statues representing U.S. history.

Connecticut State Capitol – Hartford, Connecticut

Grandiose exterior of the Connecticut State Capitol topped by gold-domed tower
Photo credit: Wangkun Jia/ Shutterstock

The Connecticut State Capitol is an imposing Gothic-style building overlooking Bushnell Park in Hartford. Completed in 1879, the marble structure features ornate bas-relief sculptures that depict key figures and moments in Connecticut’s history. It was formerly adorned with a bronze statue named “The Genius of Connecticut,” but the capitol’s trademark sculpture was donated to the federal government and melted for ammunition during World War II. Today, the capitol building and the grounds remain open to the public for guided and self-guided tours.

Wisconsin State Capitol – Madison, Wisconsin

Side view of the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison
Photo credit: Patrick Lansing/ Shutterstock

The Wisconsin State Capitol is best known for its distinct X-shape formed by four separate wings. After it was completed in 1917, a subsequent law prevented other nearby buildings from surpassing its height of 284.4 feet, making it the tallest building in Madison. The capitol was built on an isthmus — a narrow stretch of land between two lakes — and contains 43 different types of stones from six countries and eight states. It was inspired by the council chambers in Doge’s Palace in Venice, which helps explain the grandiose decor inside. The capital is open to tours daily — don’t miss the sixth-floor museum and observation deck with spectacular views of the city.

Virginia State Capitol – Richmond, Virginia

Steps leading up to Virginia State Capitol in Richmond
Photo credit: Sean Pavone/ Shutterstock

Housing the oldest legislative assembly in the country, the Virginia State Capitol was designed by President Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson sketched his first design for the building in the mid-1770s, although his idea didn’t come to fruition until 1788. Inspired by Greek and Roman temples, Jefferson conceptualized the building by creating a scale model, which was considered a radical and extravagant practice at the time. However, Jefferson’s attention to detail resulted in one of the most visually arresting capitol buildings in the country. Free guided tours are available Monday through Saturday.

Illinois State Capitol – Springfield, Illinois

Statue of Abraham Lincoln in front of Illinois State Capitol in Springfield
Photo credit: Paul Brady Photography/ Shutterstock

The creation of a new Illinois State Capitol building was necessary due to Illinois’ rapid population growth in the mid-19th century. During construction, the site famously housed a coal mine, which was discovered during excavation and subsequently mined to heat the building. The tallest domed Capitol in the country, the statehouse hosted its first legislative session in 1877 and today is best known for its 405-foot-high dome containing stained glass artwork on its interior. Balcony seating is available to visitors who want a front-row seat to Illinois politics.

New York State Capitol – Albany, New York

Grandiose exterior of the New York State Capitol in Albany
Photo credit: Wangkun Jia/ Shutterstock

The seat of the New York government since the 1880s, the magnificent New York State Capitol took five architects to design and a team of masons 30 years to hand-build the carved stone building. One of the capitol’s most iconic features is the Million Dollar Staircase, built for $1.5 million at the time (equivalent to over $30 million today) and emblazoned with the carvings of 77 famous faces. Open to the public for guided daily tours, the building is also known for its fair share of ghost sightings and is home to haunted tours during October.

Washington State Capitol – Olympia, Washington

Monument and benches in front of Washington State Capitol in Olympia
Photo credit: CrackerClips Stock Media/ Shutterstock

The brainchild of New York architects Walter Wilder and Harry White, the Washington State Capitol Campus was the winning design from a contest held in 1911. Wilder and White proposed five separate structures to meet Washington’s governmental needs, including the Legislative Building which contains the State Legislature and the office of the governor. Also not to be missed are the Capitol Campus Gardens, home to a grove of cherry trees and the largest English Oak in the country. The capitol is best visited in the spring when the cherry blossoms are blooming, but various tours of the campus buildings and gardens are available daily.

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