Gorgeous architecture and beautifully restored art make the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, IA a must-see for anyone passing through the Hawkeye State…
We’re here to clue you in on a little secret… if you’re looking for beautiful buildings on your United States road trips, you should be looking for state capitol buildings.
We’re yet to visit one and walk away thinking, “Well, that was a dud.” They’re all magnificent, but there’s perhaps none more amazing, more spectacular, more worthy-of-accidentally-spending-half-a-day-visiting than the Iowa State Capitol. (Scroll to bottom for gallery)
From the large monuments framing the shimmering gold dome on the outside to the tiniest details on statues inside, the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, IA is one of America’s architectural treasures.
And seeing it all won’t cost you a single penny.
What will you see? Oh, so glad you asked.
The showstopper and centerpiece is, of course, the beautiful rotunda. At the top you’ll see a banner featuring an American flag as well as the emblem for the Grand Army of the Republic. The banner, a symbol of Iowa’s Civil War contributions, is only the start of things to gaze upon while looking up inside the inner dome.
From the top, your eyes wander down through more painstakingly restored gold leaf until you reach the bottom rim of the rotunda. Here you’ll find 8 half-moon-shaped murals dating back to the 19th century, each representing things like agriculture, education, and science. Framing these is 12 statues from the late 1800s, each representing the progress of civilization.
While gawking at everything above, you’ll notice you’re actually standing on a glass tile floor, a feature removed from the building in 1915, but replaced with a replica nearly 100 years later.
From the rotunda, you can explore multiple floors and features such as the massive mural and mosaics.
Covering the expanse of the Grand Staircase, the mural “Westward” by Edwin H. Blashfield has so much rich symbolism of our westward expansion, you could spend an hour just trying to find each detail worked through the mural.
Above “Westward”, you’ll find 6 mosaics, all made in Italy. The last piece of artwork to be installed, the artist’s goal of using tiles to create architectural detail leaves you with a stunning collection.
Be sure to wander through the viewing galleries for both the Iowa House and Senate for some impressive photos of the massive and ornate chambers.
Our favorite part of the building, however, has to be the Iowa State Law Library.
Aside from the Library of Congress, it may be the most beautiful library in the country. Flanked by 4 spiral staircases, the multi-story library and its 100,000 volume collection beckons an older pre-internet time when almost all knowledge was held within the walls of ornate libraries such as this and those with a thirst for knowledge and truth would sit at its tables to learn.
And because we can't get enough, here are more stunning shots of the interior:
Some tips to make the most of your visit to the Iowa State Capitol:
Go early- A popular destination for school field trips, the Capitol is less crowded and much quieter before a few hundred 4th graders invade.
Call ahead- Find out if the legislature is in session on the day you plan to visit. If they’re out, you’ll have a less-crowded experience.
Get a tour- Call (515)281-5591. Tours can be scheduled Monday through Saturday. More of a “self guided” type of person? Grab a map and take their cell phone tour at your own pace. (Save some paper and download the pdf.)
Be ready for a security checkpoint- Make life easy on yourself by leaving most of your junk elsewhere so you can breeze through the metal detector. You just need some money for the gift shop, your ID, your phone, and your camera.
8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday - Friday
9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Saturday
The Capitol is closed Sundays, New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving (and day after), and Christmas Day.
For more information, visit the Iowa Legislature’s website.
We must also admit, we were pretty darn impressed with Des Moines. From stellar breweries like Exile to Science Center to the Capitol, this midwest city packs a big-city punch.
For help planning your road trip through Iowa's charming college towns, rolling fields, and vibrant cities, we also encourage you to stop by Travel Iowa.