The 2013 session runs
from Jan 9 - Feb 22.
Visiting Capitol Square
Capitol Square is located in downtown Richmond, on a hill overlooking the James River.
By Car: Out-of-towners who travel to Richmond on I-95 or I-64 find that reaching Capitol Square is a relative snap. Thanks to “urban redevelopment” in the 1950s, transportation planners blasted a corridor within blocks of the heart of downtown Richmond. Today, I-64 comes within a mile of the Capitol Building, while I-95 is only five blocks away. Google Map
Finding the Capitol is one thing, but finding public parking is another thing altogether. All directions below are to the main public entrance to the Capitol Building. A better strategy might be to set directions to the parking lot/garage options found HERE.
From the North: Take Exit 74-B. CAUTION: Watch your speed as you exit -- the exit ramp is extremely short. At the light at foot of the ramp, turn right on Bank Street. Go up the hill four blocks, the main public entrance will be on your right at 1000 E. Bank Street.
From the South: Take Exit 74-C. At end of ramp, merge onto 17th Street. Continue three blocks. At the light, turn right onto Broad Street. Climb a steep hill and turn left on 8th Street. Go two blocks and turn left onto Franklin Street. Continue one block to a T-intersection – Capitol Square will be ahead of you. Turn right on 9th Street and take an immediate left onto Bank Street. After one block, the public entrance to the Capitol Building will be on your left.
From the West: At the intersection with I-95 (mile marker 186), follow signs for I-95 South. Take Exit 74-B. CAUTION: Watch your speed as you exit -- the exit ramp is extremely short. At the light at foot of the ramp, turn right on Bank Street. Go up the hill four blocks, the main public entrance will be on your right at 1000 E. Bank Street.
From the East: As you approach the intersection with I-95 (mile marker 190), follow the signs for the “5th Street” Exit. Continue on 5th Street for seven blocks. Turn left onto Franklin Street. Continue four blocks to a T-intersection – Capitol Square will be ahead of you. Turn right on 9th Street and take an immediate left onto Bank Street. After one block, the public entrance to the Capitol Building will be on your left.
By Train: Richmond is the southern terminus point for Amtrak's Northeast Corridor. There are two stations in the Richmond area. Nearly all of the scheduled trains use the Staples Mill Road Station in suburban Henrico County, about eight miles north of the State Capitol. Arrivals and depatures from Main Street Station -- a seven-block walk uphill to the Capitol – is far less frequent. For timetables, visit Amtrak.com or call 1-800-872-7245.
By GRTC Bus: Its location in the heart of downtown Richmond makes Capitol Square reachable from nearly every route on the GRTC system. Fare is $1.50 each way. Note: Many routes have limited or no service on weekends and holidays. Use the GRTC Trip Planner, view the Overall System Map or call (804) 358-4782.
Convenient, but Expensive
- #25: Surface lot on Grace between 7th and 6th Streets, two blocks from Capitol Square. You can't get any closer, but you'll pay for the convenience. Fills up early. $19 for the day.
Nearby, Good Value
- #6: Parking garage attached to the Marriott, four blocks from Capitol Square. Early bird special in before 9 a.m. - $7 for the day.
- #9: Parking garage on 7th Street, three blocks from Capitol Square. Early bird special in before 9 a.m. - $7 for the day.
- #42: Surface lot at corner of Main and 3rd Street, eight blocks from Capitol Square. $6 for the day. (The walk is made easier by staying on the ridge and avoid the hills. Walk two blocks north to Grace Street, turn right and head straight into Capitol Square.)
Mr. Jefferson's Capitol Building – the white jewel on the hill – draws all the attention. But visitors will spend the bulk of their time in a boxy amalgam of structures – known as the General Assembly Building – in the far northwest corner of Capitol Square. The “GAB” is where each legislator maintains an office and where most committee and subcommittee meetings are held.
The GAB is only 150 yards from the Capitol, but for the general public walking back and forth between the two building is no easy task. Heightened security procedures and a recent expansion have pushed the public entrance to the bottom of the hill on Bank Street. What used to be a short, flat stroll from the GAB to the Capitol Building has become a two-block climb down a steep hill, followed by an equally long climb through an underground entrance to the Capitol. (Insiders – legislators, staff, lobbyists and media – are granted special access directly into the Capitol, which spares them this long walk.)
Not so long ago, all of the public buildings on Capitol Square were open to the public. Anyone could come and go as they pleased, without showing an ID or emptying their pockets. After 9-11, public access was drastically restricted. Citizens now need an appointment to enter most state office buildings other than the Capitol Building.
To enter the Capitol Building and the General Assembly Building, members of the public must pass through metal detectors. The screening line outside the GAB can be long at certain times. If you have an appointment or are planning on attending a hearing, it's a good idea to arrive plenty early to give yourself time to clear security.
Under House and Senate rules, the following items are prohibited:
Any device that may disrupt the conduct of business, including but not limited to voice-amplification equipment; bullhorns; blow horns; sirens, or other noise-producing devices; as well as signs on sticks, poles or stakes; or helium-filled balloons.
Despite the metal detectors, firearms are permitted. Members of the public with a valid permit may carry a concealed weapon and anyone is free to “open carry” a rifle or pistol into the Capitol and GAB. Those who wish to exercise their Second Amendment rights should be prepared to present a valid state photo ID and/or a concealed weapons permit. Note: The Virginia Senate prohibits firearms of any type in its public gallery.
Virginia has one of the nation's most compressed legislature sessions, so the pace ranges from rushed to frenzied. Understanding how a typical day unfolds can help you make the most of your time on Capitol Square.
Before Hours: The GAB comes to life before dawn (except on Mondays). Some subcommittee meetings often are scheduled before 9 a.m. Still, the early morning can be one of the best time for unscheduled face time with a legislator or her aide.
Morning: The mornings are jammed with committee meetings, which are generally held in one of the four first-floor conference rooms of the GAB.
Late Morning: The GAB starts clearing out shortly after 11, as legislators head to the Capitol Building for the daily Republican and Democratic caucus sessions. The courtyard just ouside outside the main GAB entrance is a good place to catch a brief word with legislators as they make their way to the Capitol.
Noon: The House and Senate are gaveled into order at noon on most days. (Exceptions are Friday, when out-of-town legislators are eager to get on the road.) Things are much more quiet in the GAB and a good time to get face time with legisative aides.
Afternoon: After the daily floor sessions end (adjournment time varies and can be highly unpredictable), committee and subcommittees reume meeting in the GAB.
Evening: The GAB clears out around 6 p.m. as legislators head to one of several receptions around town or a quiet dinner at their hotel.
Richmond has plenty of optinons for foodies, but unfortunately none of them are located on Capitol Square. Still, there are two on-site options that provide a decent option for breakfast and lunch.
6th Floor Cafeteria in the GAB: There is a daily blue plate special, plus a salad bar and made to order sandwiches. The cafeteria great people watching venue for lobbyists, staff and other hangers on.
Meriwether's Café in the Capitol: Located in the Capitol Extension near the main public entrance. The café offer sandwiches, salads, sides and sweet treats. Seating is limited, and the café can be very crowded.
The main entance to the General Assembly building requires navigating a set of steps. There is a wheelchair/handicapped entrance on the 9th Street side of the building.
Getting from the GAB to the public entrance to the Capitol Building will mean staying on the sidewalk along 9th Street and Bank Street.
Start Virtual Tour (at virginiacapitol.gov)