A great mini-trip from the DC area is to see the homes of Presidents who lived nearby. George Washington was not the only early President to call Virginia home. The most impressive Presidential home in Virginia beyond Mount Vernon is Thomas Jefferson’s home of Monticello.
Monticello is a stunning site. Monticello means “little mountain” but the scenic drive to reach the home might make you wonder what is so little about it. Jefferson’s home itself is very impressive and has been fully restored and furnished to look just as it was in Jefferson’s time with impressive attention to detail.
There are different options available to tour the home. We highly recommend the Family Friendly tour for children about 12 and under. This tour, which is very informative for adults as well, tells the history of Jefferson and his family in an accessible way. The tour is also highly interactive with the tour guide asking many questions and passing around objects for children to touch and explore.
Besides the house, admission to Monticello includes access to the expansive grounds which include lovely flower and vegetable gardens, a fish pond, viewing a small graveyard where Jefferson and his descendants are buried, as well as a museum and a nice play room for children which includes replica items from the house. During our visit, excavations were taking place and replicas of slave quarters were also in the process of being built.
Although Monticello is definitely the grandest Presidential house in the Charlottesville area, James Madison and James Monroe’s homes are also close by. In fact, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were neighbors. A visit to Madison’s house of Ash Lawn-Highland is a nice stop if you have some extra time. Although there is no family-friendly tour here, my children were given seek-and-find pages to help them look for objects within the home when they got bored of listening to the tour guide. They enjoyed the activity.
A bit further afield, but a nice stop on the way back to the DC area, is James and Dolley Madison’s home of Montpelier. My children (ages 7 and 4) didn’t quite make it through the entire tour but loved playing in the large children’s play space in the basement, complete with a full replica kitchen from the Madison era and toy food.
Unlike Monticello and Ash Lawn-Highland, Montpelier was in private hands until relatively recently and has only been open to the public for about 10 years. The home is still in the process of being furnished with period pieces and much research is still occurring onsite regarding what the home and grounds (including slave quarters) looked like in the Madison era. The grounds at both Ash Lawn-Highland and Montpelier are not as expansive or elaborate as at Monticello but are still pretty.
Things to note
- Tickets can be purchased in advance online, which will allow you to skip the line at Monticello. Tickets start at $8 for children and go up to $25 for adults depending on the season.
- When in the area, a nice place to stop for lunch is the historical Mitchie Tavern (established circa 1784). There is also a café at Monticello.
- The family-friendly tour at Monticello is great for children about 12 and under and is available during the summer and other times schools may be closed, such as spring break, winter break, and long weekends. Be sure to check the calendar as school breaks vary.
- When visiting Monticello you can either take a bus to/from the visitor’s center or walk on a nice path about a 1/3 mile to reach the estate grounds and house.
- Strollers are allowed in Monticello and the grounds are stroller-friendly.
- Strollers are not permitted in Ash Lawn-Highland and Montpelier.
- Monticello has several restrooms with changing tables. Ash Lawn-Highland and Montpelier have fewer facilities.
- Monticello and Montpelier both have short, informative movies you can watch before you tour the home and grounds. My children (7 and 4) were able to absorb the information in the movies easily.
- Photography is not permitted inside any of the homes but is allowed on the grounds.
- If you are visiting multiple sites look into a discount pass.
Photos by Jamie Davis Smith.