Take a step back in time and visit Mount Vernon!
From 1759 until George Washington’s death in 1799, George and Martha Washington and their family resided in the “mansion” house on this estate. Originally six rooms, the family home was increased to twenty one rooms, most of which are visible to the public.
Mount Vernon is open 365 days a year, even on Christmas! During the busiest visiting season which runs from April through August, the estate opens at 8:00 a.m. and closes at 5:00 p.m. Winter hours are 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.
Perhaps the most noticeable for a first time visitor to Mount Vernon is the shear vastness of the grounds. The landscape seems to stretch for miles along the winding Potomac River! Every turn reveals a new site, garden, exhibit or path to explore with breathtaking views across the water.
A one day general admission ticket is $15 (12 and older), $14 for seniors (over age 62), $7 for youth (ages 6 to 11) and children under five are free. Tickets can be purchased inside the gate or in advance online, (additional service fee). Only bottled water is allowed on the grounds, all other food is prohibited.
When tickets are purchased, you will be given a pre-assigned time to tour Washington’s mansion, undoubtedly the most popular stop on the tour.
Plan on spending between 3 and 7 hours touring the estate. A multitude of activities for children aged 3 and up can turn into a very long day. Multigenerational families and groups will all enjoy the variety of activities and sightseeing available.
If you have young ones ages six and up, ask for a “Young Adventurer” map at the ticket booth. This map guides kids to solve nine puzzles about Washington by visiting the mansion and other outbuildings. Help from adults will probably be needed for ages 6 to 7, but an 8 year old could answer the questions with clues from the map. At the very end of your journey, the completed map is stamped by Mount Vernon staff and can be redeemed for a “special” prize at one of the gift shops. (Hint: the staff will help you complete the map and will assist with the correct answers prior to redeeming.)
The Grounds and Estate
After purchasing tickets outside, the fun begins in the Ford Orientation Center with a twenty minute film depicting major events during Washington’s life. The film helps to focus visitors on Washington’s life and the hardships endured during his historical time. If you have time before your assigned mansion tour, walk through the immaculately kept upper gardens containing native plants. The gardens are encircled by a green house, blacksmith shop, salt house and other buildings. If you’re lucky, you may even meet “Lady Washington,” dressed in her glorious garments as she greets visitors. Garden and Landscape walking tours begin at the Mansion circle from April to October at 11 a.m.
Your timed mansion tickets allow you to line up approximately five minutes prior to your tour, but not before. The line appears long, but moves swiftly at the appointed times. Knowledgeable staff are positioned throughout the mansion to explain the function of the different rooms and tell about life inside the home for the Washington family. The bedroom where Washington drew his last breath evokes sadness and grief. It is later told that Mrs. Washington locked the door to that bedroom after her husband’s death and it remained locked for 16 years.
Well marked signs guide visitors around the grounds. Thirteen original trees remain standing on the grounds and are clearly visible via posted signs which tell the age of each tree. After your mansion tour, you may want to stroll through the other buildings on your way to pay tribute at Washington’s tomb and the slave memorial. From April through October, “Tribute at the Tomb Ceremonies,” are held at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Slave Life at Mount Vernon tours start at the Mansion circle at 2 p.m. daily from April to October.
A thirty minute walk from the mansion, the Wharf is where sightseeing tours of the estate from a boat on the Potomac River are given. Additional fees ranging from $9 for adults to $5 for children 6 to 11 (under 5 are free) require advance ticketing either online or at the entrance. Forty minute cruises allow visitors the opportunity to view the magnificent grounds from the water. Cruises are seasonal and typically run from mid-March through the fall.
At the far end of the estate, the Pioneer Farmer exhibition uses farming and cooking demonstrations and hands on activities to illustrate farming practices during the 1700’s. The four acres of the pioneer farm site include Washington’s famous 16 sided barn and several animal species. Daily wheat-treading demonstrations are held from July 4 to September 6 and on Fridays to Sundays only September 10 to October 24.
Many species of birds, water fowl, wild turkeys and deer may be seen on the trails and the river. The estate is also home to a variety of animal breeds that are similar to those owned by Washington in the 18th century and include cows, oxen, horses, sheep, turkeys, chickens and hogs. Helpful guides will point out other animal exhibits throughout the grounds.
As you trek back toward the front of the estate, you may want to take a food or snack break prior to touring the Reynolds Museum and Education Center.
Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center
Both the Museum and Education Center are highly recommended for visitors of all ages. The newest additions to the sprawling estate, both buildings house artifacts and tell the story of Washington’s life in vivid depictions using interactive technology, film and actual relics from the family’s life.
Several short films in the Education Center are viewed in small theaters. For those not frightened by the loud noises of cannon fire and shooting, the film: “General Washington, Commander-in-Chief,” shows a realistic and educational depiction of military engagements led by Washington in Boston, Trenton and Yorktown. Visual effects and sounds help to propel viewers back in time to experience Washington’s battles. A milder film, narrated by actress Glenn Close tells of the 40 year romance of George and Mary Washington and includes major events during their lifetime together.
Three to eight year olds will delight in a room designed specifically for them to explore and learn about the many aspects of the estate. A few dozen picture books detailing the historical era and activity boxes containing log cabin pieces beckon young ones to learn through play. Dressing up in 18th century attire sized for toddlers allows photo opportunities for families. We saw several young ladies enjoying a “tea party,” complete with replica tea cups and saucers. Children can also color on low tables and chairs or identify the sounds associated with various farm animals. The room is staffed by patient, knowledgeable workers who politely enforce the twenty minute per child maximum.
The museum features a life mask of Washington and a video gallery where visitors can watch how the realistic mask was made. Several family portraits and original manuscripts, documents and letters are kept safe within display cases. Some of Martha Washington’s personal attire and jewelry as well as her husband’s shoes are prominently displayed.
Food and Restaurants
A food court offers a wide variety of options for children and adults. Pizza, burgers, grilled chicken and fish sandwiches, pre-made salads, french fries, and nachos are available. Most items are a la carte which allows families to choose different options. Soft serve ice cream, fudge and cookies round out the sweet treats. Inside seating is adjacent to the food court with outside tables set out in a lovely courtyard. The food court is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 daily.
Another more formal dining alternative is the elegant Mount Vernon Inn. Servers are dressed in clothing from the 1700s and the decor reflects the colonial influences of the time period. Lunch is served on a first-come, first-served basis while dinner requires advance reservations. Children’s meals are available for lunch on the lunch menu.
The shops at Mount Vernon carry everything from Virginia-made wine to coloring books and pencils showing Washington’s famous silhouette. There is a wide selection of collectibles and historical copies of Christmas ornaments and gifts. Souvenirs also include apparel, dolls, books and even chocolate!
Clean, well maintained restrooms are conveniently located in four of the indoor buildings. They can easily be found on the map of the property available at the entrance to the grounds.
Our Kids Tips
- Wear comfortable shoes.
- The estate is not particularly suited for strollers and they are not allowed in many of the buildings.
- Since it can be cool and windy in the winter and early spring, dress appropriately.
- Share website photographs with youngsters prior to their visit to pique their interest before visiting.
- To make sure you visit age appropriate activities, plan your visit ahead of time on the website. Not all of the exhibits will appeal to lower elementary aged students.
- Additional touring tips are available from the website as well as a list of Seasonal Activities.
Photo by Marla B. Hughes.