A Guide To Visiting Monticello and Mount Vernon
Visiting Mount Vernon and Monticello was part of a larger road trip we took to Virginia. Like Washington and Jefferson themselves, Monticello and Mount Vernon are very different. There are several Presidential homes in Virginia and Monticello was our first stop. As a family that loves history, visiting Monticello was an absolute must. Located in Charlottesville, Monticello is perched on an 850′ high peak (and a reason why Monticello derives from Italian for “little mountain”). Monticello is an absolute treasure visited by over 500,000 people each year.
Visiting Monticello Basics
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Needless to say, we were all excited to see Monticello in person as it’s where Thomas Jefferson lived and worked. Work began on Monticello in 1768 and was completed in 1809. It’s also important to note that Monticello is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Although several types of tours are available, we opted for the general tour (which we loved). As a side note, there is also a family-friendly tour which is geared towards children aged 6-11. Regardless of the tour chosen, expect to have a great time!
When you arrive at Monticello, you will walk up to the Visitor’s Center which contains shops, a cafe, restrooms, and the ticket office. The Visitor’s Center is a good place to walk around while you wait for your tour time. You can also watch a 15-minute introductory film or visit the kid’s discovery room. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to plan on spending 2-3 hours at Monticello. After picking up your tickets, the staff will inform you what time to be at the bus departure point.
TIP: Buy your tickets ahead of time online. Not only will you guarantee your tour spot, but you’ll also save a few dollars buying online.
Once at Monticello, you’ll wait on the front porch until your tour time starts. Since the tour groups are on the smaller side, you really have a chance to enjoy every aspect of Jefferson’s home. Without a doubt, the tour guides were fantastic and very knowledgable regarding Jefferson and Monticello. The interior tour lasts about 30 minutes, but doesn’t feel hurried or rushed in the slightest.
In terms of Monticello’s interior spaces, it was clear to see that Jefferson was truly a renaissance man. Whether integrating his inventions, designing rooms to be octagonal to maximize light or incorporating alcove beds to maximize space, Jefferson’s sense of placement was evident. Within the parlor, portraits of Magellan, Columbus and Vespucci hang prominently indicating Jefferson’s respect for each. Jefferson’s love of knowledge was also on full display and the tour notates that a significant amount of Jefferson’s previous books became the core for the Library of Congress.
NOTE: Pictures are not allowed inside Monticello. While disappointing to not be able to take pictures on the tour, it was also nice. When you aren’t busy taking pictures, you get to really listen to the guide and absorb all of the history around you. The tour was thorough and it was amazing to see some of Jefferson’s inventions and ideas that he incorporated into Monticello.
Through additional tours and exhibits, you can learn more about the enslaved peoples of Monticello. Monticello seems to really take an upfront honest approach to this difficult topic. It was incredibly informative and well worth the time.
Now, on to the gardens which are spectacular! There is a guide that will discuss the way Jefferson designed his gardens, as well as, the different plants and vegetables that Jefferson selected. One of the most interesting things is that Lewis & Clark brought back plants from their expedition and Jefferson planted each to see how they would grow. Within the flower garden, there are markers that notate which of those were ones that Lewis & Clark brought back and the year that each was first planted. For those interested in the Botanist side of Jefferson, seedlings and seed packets from Monticello’s garden are available for purchase in the Gift Shop.
As we walked around the grounds for quite sometime experiencing the views, the thought that Jefferson walked these same hallowed grounds left us with a sense of awe. While the vegetable garden was quite large and there were a ton of vegetables to see along with a beautiful garden pavilion, the sweeping views of the surrounding countryside were just as amazing.
Visiting the Monticello Cemetery
The burial plots are surrounded by a large, ornate gate and Jefferson’s obelisk headstone is tall and prominent (although not the original). While there are many honors that could’ve been placed onto the obelisk, Jefferson only chose three honors (and left off such items as President of the United States, Secretary of State and Governor of Virginia as examples). Burials within the cemetery still occur today for direct lineal descendants of Jefferson. After visiting the cemetery, we took a relaxing and beautiful walk back to Monticello’s main grounds.
After Your Visit To Monticello
Visiting Monticello is a wonderful way to surround yourself with history. Our children really enjoyed the tour at Monticello and it was surprisingly child-friendly. After your tour at Monticello, we highly suggest going to the Virginian for lunch. The Virginian is Charlottesville’s oldest restaurant and is located by the University of Virginia plus a lot of other stores. Having lunch at the Virginian felt like a great way to continue being in the history of Charlottesville. After lunch, stroll around the square and the University of Virginia campus. On our road trips, we tend to visit college football stadiums and their campuses. The boys like to talk about their college plans and a college or university always has great energy.
Mount Vernon Basics
After leaving Monticello, we headed to Woodbridge, Virginia.
Mileage from Charlottesville to Woodbridge: 95 miles ( approx 2 hours with traffic)
We stayed the night in a Holiday Inn Express which was in a great location next to several restaurants and a large mall. As Woodbridge is only 23 miles from downtown Washington, DC you could easily include a visit to our Nation’s Capital. Karen at www.nourishingtweens.com has a great detailed article about visiting DC click HERE to read more. Additionally, if you or someone in your group has not crossed Maryland off the list, Woodbridge is close to the Maryland state line.
As a family, one of our favorite things to do on a road trip is to listen to podcasts or play trivia games. On the way to Woodbridge, we did a lot of Presidential trivia. With our visit to Monticello complete and Mount Vernon planned the next day, it really made the boys excited to see these important historic homes.
There are several “add-ons” available when you purchase tickets. One of the most popular is the “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” guided tour. We opted not to do this, but we’ve heard really good things about this particular extra tour. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what this tour will cover.
It was about a 25-minute drive to Mount Vernon from our hotel and we were blessed with an absolutely beautiful, sunny day.
When you think about Mount Vernon as one of the most visited homes in America, it’s hard to believe it was almost in ruins when the Mount Vernon Ladies Association was formed to buy and preserve it. Remarkably, Mount Vernon was almost lost to history.
TIP: Buy your tickets for Mount Vernon online before you leave. It will save you a little bit of money and you won’t have to stand in line for tickets. We went right to the will call booth and began our day.
The Gardens and Home Tour
Once you’re through the welcome area, you are on the property of George Washington (how cool is that?!) We were surprised how much land there was and with our tour time not starting for a while, we took the opportunity to walk around a bit.
Mount Vernon is perfectly centered on a HUGE lawn between rows of trees. There are tons of people everywhere and we were astonished at the number of school groups that were there that day.
I think one of the underrated aspects of Mount Vernon are the upper and lower gardens. One garden is more formal and the other was made to be more like an English garden. We were so impressed by its beauty and the large greenhouse. Washington’s greenhouse is the second largest building on the property and was quite advanced for the time. Like Jefferson, Washington was very involved in garden and landscape design.
After walking the beautiful grounds for a bit, we went to wait in line for our tour of the home to start. Here is where the tours of Mount Vernon and Monticello are very different. At Mount Vernon, you are taken in a large group basically single file and you rather quickly walk through the house. On a positive side, you are allowed to take pictures inside Mount Vernon. There are so many amazing artifacts in Mount Vernon that we would’ve preferred to have gone at a slower pace. However, just being able to tour Mount Vernon was special. The interior furnishings are either original or replicated to look authentic to the period.
One of our favorite items in the house was an ACTUAL key to the Bastille! This particular key was presented to George Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette. Washington thought so highly of the gift that he placed it in this case for display at Mount Vernon.
After the home tour, go to the back of the home and enjoy the amazing view of the Potomac. It will be easy to see why having this view was so important to George Washington.
After marveling at the view of the Potomac, walk to the original and new tomb of the Washingtons’. After George’s death, he was placed in a small tomb that eventually began to crumble. In 1831, the new tomb was complete and George and Martha were moved there permanently. The new tomb is surrounded by trees and it seems a lovely place to have their final rest.
Other Property Features and the Treading Barn
Just walking the grounds at Mount Vernon is a treat. Along the paths, you’ll see markers for plants and trees and it is fascinating to read how long some of the trees have been on the property. Allow plenty of time to walk the grounds and don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes.
The famous 16-sided barn was designed by Washington in 1792. It was an ingenious design that protected wheat from rain and mud, thus making a more stellar product that would fetch more money. This barn was recreated in the 1990’s from Washington’s own handwritten design plan. If you visit in late summer or early fall, there are daily demonstrations at the barn.
The museum and education center is truly remarkable! If your kids don’t like museums, this one will change their mind. There are immersive activities and interactive displays that your kids will really enjoy. There is a 4D movie that you can watch and all movies are included with your Mount Vernon general admission ticket, so no extra cost. Yay! There are over 700 objects on display for visitors to see, including George Washington’s famous teeth!
After going through the museum, you must visit the gift shop. The gift shop is very large and there are a lot of great items you and your family can buy to remember your visit. Don’t forget to pick up a Christmas ornament for your family travel tree.
After touring Mount Vernon, your group will be hungry. We chose to eat at the Mount Vernon Inn after reading its amazing reviews. It is located by the front entrance to Mount Vernon, so it’s easy to walk to. It lived up to its reputation as the food and service were simply outstanding! Prices were reasonable ( $5-$26) and I had the best fried green tomatoes ever! The Mount Vernon Inn is famous for its peanut and chestnut soup. We wanted to try it, but it was a warm day and soup wasn’t going to “hit the spot”. We meant to take a picture of our food, but we were so hungry we started to eat right away. However, I did get a picture of the napkin. 🙂 It’s easy to book a reservation through your phone with Open Table. If for some reason plans change, you have the restaurant number handy to call.
I am so glad that we visited both Mount Vernon and Monticello. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson have become almost mythical over the years. To see and walk where they lived was pretty remarkable. Monticello and Mount Vernon are very different and our visits to each were very different. We ask each other, “if you could only go back to one, which would it be?” Depending on the day, we get a different answer. When visiting Virginia, the choices for historical homes, battlefields and museums are endless. We hope to go back to Virginia to visit the homes of James Madison James Monroe in the near future.
Overall, both homes were very kid friendly and provided a great opportunity for our boys to learn even more about two of our Founding Fathers.
I always like to include a travel item tip and this time it is the Travelon Messenger Bag. I bought it several years ago and have taken it on every vacation and truly can’t imagine traveling without it. A cross body purse is great because it keeps my hands free. This purse, in particular, is great because it has RFID blocking, locking straps, several compartments and it holds a TON of stuff. Plenty of room for my wallet, hand wipes for us and the kiddos, an interior pouch for my phone, zipper expansion on both sides (that will hold a water bottle) and cut-proof shoulder strap. This purse comes in an array of colors and you won’t be disappointed if you get it.
Do you have any questions about Mount Vernon or Monticello that we didn’t cover? Have you made your summer vacation plans yet? We definitely want to hear from you!
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