Virginia – Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, is one of the most visited estates in the U.S. It is ideally situated with a peaceful view of the Potomac River, and there is so much to see and do that it would be worthy of visiting even if it didn’t belong to the first president of our country.
Because there are many other people who also want to see and do the same things, it is essential to have a plan. The Orientation Center has a display titled “Plan Your Visit,” but I would recommend having a plan before you arrive.
When planning your trip, you will likely need an estimate on how much time to spend at Mount Vernon. I had read estimates that ranged from two hours to all day. I can’t imagine only spending two hours there. Even their own website has recommendations for three-hour self-guided tours. I recommend allowing no less than five hours to see Mount Vernon. (We spent seven hours there.) If you don’t have that much time, then it’s even more important that you have a plan of what to see and what to skip. Familiarize yourself with a map of Mount Vernon before you arrive.
The Orientation Center has an introductory film about George Washington. The film is less than a half-hour long and was very well done. If you have time for only one movie, I’d recommend the 4-D movie that is in the Education Center (a different building). We really enjoyed both films, so if you can, see both. The Orientation Center also has a replica of Mount Vernon that was constructed to a scale of one inch to one foot.
When you arrive and purchase your tickets, you will be given timed-entry tickets for the Mansion Tour. We arrived at 9 a.m. and the first available Mansion Tour was at 12:30 p.m. If you know you will be on a tight schedule and don’t want to risk missing the mansion tour, you can purchase advance tickets online.
Kids are given a copy of an Adventure Map which has a map of the estate with nine numbered locations to visit. The back side of the map has a puzzle to figure out for each location, then a final puzzle. At the end of your visit, you can turn in the completed puzzle for a prize at the gift shop. I like activities like this because they give kids a goal and keep them engaged.
We spent the morning exploring the gardens, grounds, and outbuildings. The gardens have plants that would have been grown during George Washington’s time. They even had seeds for sale in the gift shop so you can bring home a piece of Mount Vernon.
There were both utilitarian and ornamental gardens.
Large trees line the bowling green in front of the mansion.
But these aren’t just ordinary trees. Take a closer look.
Mount Vernon has many, many outbuildings to explore. My youngest daughter’s absolute favorite was the Blacksmith Shop where you can watch a blacksmith at work.
It can take quite a while to visit all the outbuildings. We saw most of them. Here are a few pictures of the Slave Quarters, Overseer’s Quarters, and Wash House.
You’ll also want to take some time to enjoy the view of the Potomac River just as George Washington did. There are chairs on the back porch, perfect for resting for a few minutes.
And here’s the view.
The back side of Mount Vernon is just as lovely as the front.
The Mansion Tour lasts 20-30 minutes. It probably isn’t very exciting for younger kids, but since it only lasts 20 minutes, it’s doable. Photography is prohibited in the mansion, so I don’t have any photos to show.
Further away from the mansion is the pioneer farmer site, along with the 16-sided barn.
You can also walk down to the wharf on the Potomac River where you can take a sightseeing cruise for an additional charge. We didn’t take the cruise, but if I’d had more time, I would have liked to.
Mount Vernon is also the final resting place for the body of George Washington and you can visit his tomb.
By the time we’d explored the estate, we were ready for a break and some refreshment. There are two dining options on site: the Mount Vernon Inn, a sit-down restaurant with costumed servers and colonial cuisine, and a food court, with a decidedly non-colonial menu including pizza and burgers. Reservations are not accepted for lunch at the Mount Vernon Inn, but are recommended for dinner. We chose the quicker food court option before backtracking to the Museum and Education Center.
By the time you’ve seen the mansion and grounds, you’ll probably feel as if you’ve already got your money’s worth from this attraction, and you might be tempted to just skip the Museum and Education Center. Don’t! It’s very well done and there’s a lot to see. Don’t miss the 4-D film about the Revolutionary War. My kids loved the special effects which included seats that vibrated when cannons were fired and “snow” that fell from the ceiling. There are also several interactive exhibits and a Hands-On History room that’s perfect for younger kids.
The Education Center has several short videos produced by the History Channel, George Washington’s dentures, and more. The Museum has many artifacts from George and Martha Washington. A temporary exhibition that runs through August 11, 2013 shows how food was prepared in the 18th century. You can even pick up some of Martha Washington’s recipes to try at home.
The Distillery and Gristmill are located a few miles down the road. We did not visit these.
Do you want your kids to learn more about George Washington before or after your visit? Check out this Pinterest Board for lots of ideas.
Ready to Visit?
3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway
Mount Vernon, VA
April through August: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
March, September, and October: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
November through February: 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
This attraction appears in my e-book, How to Visit All 50 States in 12 Trips.