Visiting Thomas Jefferson's Monticello
Visiting Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is an amazing piece of history to see in person and as a family that loves history, visiting Monticello was an absolute must! Located in Charlottesville, Virginia 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.
Thomas Jefferson was interesting, ahead of his time in many ways and a complicated figure in American History. Are you ready to visit this beautiful and unique home of our 3rd President? Let’s Go……
Visiting Thomas Jefferson's Monticello Basics
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.
TIP: The Griffin Discovery room has a ton of hands-on activities that kids will enjoy
TIP: You can “meet” Thomas Jefferson while visiting Monticello! His typical schedule is:
- 10 a.m – At the theater in the Visitor’s Center
- 11:30 a.m. – West Lawn, near the Fish Pond
- 12:30 – 2:30pm – talking to guests throughout Monticello grounds
- 3 p.m. – back at the theater in the Visitor’s Center
- 4:30 p.m – West Lawn, near the fish pond.
Naturally, any of these times are subject to change, but this will give you a pretty good idea on where to find Thomas Jefferson.
Bonus: Throughout the year Monticello offers Mountaintop Activity Center where kids can write with a quill pen, try and break a code with a wheel cipher and so much more! This particular activity showcases Jefferson’ fascination with inventions and innovations.
The 2020 Dates for the Mountaintop Activity Center are:
- April 4-19
- May 23-25
- June 13- September 7
- October 3-4, 10-12, and 17-18
- November 27-29
Inside Thomas Jefferson's Monticello
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.
The Gardens at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello
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 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 Thomas Jefferson's 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.
Upcoming Events at Monticello
- Let’s Go Explore The Past Through Archaeology (February 8th, 2020) – For Kids 7-11
Spring Open House, Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants ( April 25th)
Spring Wildflower Walk (April 2, 4, 18, and 22)
Additional Things To See Near Monticello
- The University Of Virginia
- James Monroe’s Highland
- James Madison’s Montpelier
- Shenandoah National Park
- Washington D.C. ( 118 Miles)
- George Washington’s Mount Vernon ( 123 Miles)
- Colonial Williamsburg ( 119 Miles)
As huge history buffs we couldn’t wait to visit Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. The home is beautiful and it’s incredibly interesting to see not only some of Jefferson’s unique inventions, but even the layout and overall structure of the home. For example, Jefferson designed many gadgets with “a greater eye to convenience” such as a wine dumbwaiter directly below the dining room. In addition, Jefferson’s Great Clock is visible from both the front of the home and inside the entrance hall. According to some sources, when the clock’s gong rang, it could be heard as far as three miles away.
Our boys really enjoyed Monticello and liked learning more about our 3rd President. There are a ton of activities just for kids and it’s such a fun way to get kids to learn about history.