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Touring the Basilica: What You Need to Know

The Basilica has resumed in-person tours! What should you be aware of before planning a visit? Review the information below provided by Director of Visitor Services, Dee Steel, to ensure that you have the best possible experience and know what to expect when you participate in a tour.

Dee, now that the Basilica is once again offering in-person tours, can visitors just drop in, or do they need to schedule a tour in advance?

The North Apse of the Crypt Church

We recommend that visitors schedule in advance through our website since we have tour capacity limits. We do take walk-ins on a space-available basis, and have been able to accommodate them easily during these times. This will change in the spring when we have school groups coming in large numbers.

Due to the pandemic, there have been some changes to the Basilica’s tour guidelines. What do visitors need to know before they come?

They should know that it is very easy to register for a tour through our website! By visiting our Tours page and selecting “Request a tour,” they can choose their preferred tour type, date, and time. They will receive instant email confirmation after submitting their request. Our website will also have updated pandemic precaution measures, as these restrictions are changing constantly. For instance, masks are currently required upon entry due to the D.C. government mandate.

What advice would you give to first-time visitors? Do you have any recommendations for what to see? What about returning visitors?

First-time visitors should try to take a tour, attend a Shrine Mass, perhaps take advantage of confession during the many hours it is offered, and allow time to shop. The National Shrine Shops’ bookstore and gift shop have wonderful merchandise available for purchase. If there is no time to attend a Mass, they should at least enter the Crypt Church for private prayer in a very peaceful, beautiful worship space.

Our Lady and the children of Fatima in the Rosary Walk and Garden

All visitors should visit our outdoor gardens, weather permitting. Mary’s Garden is special, featuring a fountain and beautiful statues. The Rosary Walk and Garden is a peaceful, prayerful spot where mosaic representations of the mysteries of the Holy Rosary enhance the meditation. The marble statues of Our Lady and the children of Fatima are featured there, in addition to a sculpture of Christ Crucified – one of the most moving, realistic depictions of the sufferings Our Lord endured that you will ever see.

All of our docents at the Basilica work as volunteers – simply because they enjoy it! Tell us a bit about the volunteers you recruit and manage.

Our volunteers range in age from 18 to 91 and come from many different backgrounds. We have Catholic University of America students, educators, doctors and nurses, an airline pilot, military personnel (active and retired), a retired TV weatherman, seminarians, and representatives from many other walks of life. What they have in common is a love for the National Shrine and for demonstrating their faith through volunteering in this special mission of evangelization.

Is the Basilica currently hosting pilgrimages? What are the limitations that any visitors hoping to join a pilgrimage should be aware of?

Yes, the Basilica is once again hosting Pilgrimages! We hosted our first one in 2021 on September 11, as the Indian American Catholic Association celebrated their special day here. At the moment, there are no limitations to be aware of. We are ready to accommodate pilgrimages featuring Mass, tours, confessions, guest speakers, and whatever special items the groups wish to include.

We hope this information is useful to you as you plan your tour, and we look forward to welcoming you on your next visit to America’s Catholic Church!

Request a Guided Tour

If you desire to tour the National Shrine, we offer guided tours that last just under one hour. The tours include visits to chapels on the Crypt Level and the Great Upper Church and provide information about the history of the Shrine, the architecture, and the ecclesiastical artwork. View the magnificent mosaics ornamenting the chapels and the domes in the Great Upper Church, as well as several majestic sculptures depicting Our Lord, the Blessed Mother, and many saints.

Basilica Insider: Altar Mosaics of the Crypt Church
Saint Leo the Great: A Steadying Hand in Uncertain Times