When we visited: October 2013
Ages of Children: 8, 6, 3
First off, the mansion tour. This doesn’t count on my list, because I think its obviously the main reason you want to go. But just for fun, I’ll give you a quick run down of how our experience went.
Buy tickets at the visitor center and then take the shuttle bus up to the mansion. It is recommended to get on the shuttle at least 20 minutes earlier than your scheduled tour time in order to not be late. The shuttles ran continuously and often, and at most we waited 5 minutes to board.
Once on the mountain top, there are plenty of staff to direct you to the proper waiting location. You can definitely go up early and explore before your tour, but we timed things pretty close and saved everything else for after.
I loved the tour. Andrew (6) had a stomach ache and ended up in the back of most of the rooms lying quietly on the floor. I wasn’t sure he was listening, but it surprised me how much he actually learned. Our tour guide was nice, efficient, very open to questions, and even interacted the children on the tour asking them age appropriate questions to keep them engaged.
I loved that we had a group of 20 or so and a dedicated guide that moved with us from room to room. I felt we moved quickly enough and there were enough interesting objects and anecdotes about each room to keep my kids listening. One thing I noticed as we passed other groups inside the mansion was that not all tour guides gave the same information. Definitely motivation to go back as I feel like I could learn something new depending on the guide.
Rachel (8) was attentive and interested and loved the wine elevator and the spinning serving door. We mostly just had to corral Cara (3). You only get to see the main floor (which I thought was plenty) but my kids were disappointed they didn’t get to go upstairs. Monticello does offer Behind the Scenes Tours if that is something you are really wanting to see.
There are no photographs permitted inside the house as many of the pieces (art or otherwise) displayed are on a loan and they do not have the rights to let people photograph them. Definitely don’t forget your camera though because the grounds and area around the mansion are stunning.
Underneath the mansion is the cellar area. This is where my kids really got a feel for how busy, interconnected, and complex running an estate really was. Plus, we were underground in a tunnel. What kid doesn’t love that? They have restored the wine cellar, kitchen, smokehouse, and slave quarters.
There’s a small crossroads section where kids can see “Saturday” from the clock in the entryway, as well as try using old fashion keys, iron, and other hands on activities. They really loved this area so definitely don’t miss it. We probably spent 20 minutes or so exploring the area underneath the mansion. In every room there are signs detailing what the room was used for and generally which slaves or servants used those rooms.
Griffin Discovery Room
My kid’s favorite part was the hands on Griffin Discovery Room located below the Cafe in the main visitor area. It really gave my children a way to connect with Thomas Jefferson on their level. They have reproductions of Jefferson’s in-the-wall bed, his polygraph machine, slave quarters, and even a cipher wheel so they can decode a secret message!
You can also use one of their limited capability computers to architecturally design your own house and then email it to friends and family. We easily spent an hour here, and I had to drag the kids out. I definitely recommend visiting here AFTER your house tour, so your kids will connect what they saw in the house with what they can touch and feel here.
Slavery at Monticello Tour
Okay, so Cara took a nap on grandma, and Rachel & Andrew weren’t particularly riveted, but this was by far MY favorite part. Normally the slave tour guide will walk you down Mulberry Row while narrating and discussing the various slaves, their jobs, and their stories. It was pouring rain, so thankfully we stayed under the roofed porch outside the mountain top gift shop. The only thing that would have made it better were more benches.
Our guide was funny, interesting, engaging, and a joy to listen to. Luckily we did this last and the kids were tired as they had a full day of running around and playing and were okay to just sit for 45 minutes.
Definitely a win and highly recommended.
Tips & Tricks:
– Parking is free. Hallelujah. Its also not that far of a walk to and from the Visitor Center (the Mountain Top, however, is by shuttle bus), so if you forgot something, or need to leave jackets in the car they can easily be retrieved.
– Pack a lunch. If you need ideas, see some of our favorites here. Definitely saves on cost and there are convenient outdoor (yet under a patio roof) tables to sit at. We did, however, spring for some $1 hot chocolates at the cafe. Mmmm…. SO worth it.
– Visit the museum shop. As a rule, we don’t generally buy souvenirs (no place to really put them) but my kids like to look anyway. They found plastic enlargements of the nickel and immediately recognized Monticello on the back. Homeschool for the win.
– Don’t be afraid to take the shuttle twice. We did it. Mansion tour, back down for lunch and the Griffin Room, then back up for the Slavery Tour. It all depends on your timing, but my kids loved riding the shuttle anyway, so why not?
– You can stop and get off the shuttle to see Jefferson’s Grave. Or you can just view it through the bus window like we did. Have I mentioned it was pouring rain?
– That leads to, don’t be afraid of the weather! The gift shop sells umbrellas (we forgot ours) and there is quite a lot to do indoors! I think we probably would’ve spent more time out exploring the grounds (and taking photos – lets be honest) but we stayed pretty snug under our umbrellas and didn’t let it get to us too much.
-The Monticello website is amazing. Truly they have done a great job with providing information for visitors to really get to know Jefferson. They have an entire section dedicated to Visiting with Kids (I love it when companies and organizations do that!) with suggestions like, “Look for themes in the house” and “Look for plants with unusual shapes, scents or behavior”. They also have a .pdf Guide for Young Learners you can download or print and go over with your kids prior to your visit. I find that educating my kids on WHY we are going and WHAT is important usually helps them engage while they are visiting.
That’s it! Did I miss anything? Have you been to Monticello? What was your favorite part?