Which U.S. President’s home is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site? You guessed it—Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello! Just about two and a half hours from Washington, D.C. (it took longer in Jefferson’s day), Monticello is on many a history lover’s “must go” list. It’s so popular, in fact, that it’s become a bit of an undertaking to visit these days—arrive 30 minutes early, buy tickets in advance, but which ticket, since there are about a dozen tours to choose from?
To clear the mud a bit, here is your quick, concise, effective guide to visiting Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello—his “Little Mountain” in Italian.
Know Before You Go
As with anything else, it’s helpful to be prepared! Because Monticello is a bit off the beaten path and an important site for many visitors, you want to get it right the first time. I get it! Here are the important things to know before you go.
Reserve Tickets Online, in Advance
Because this is such a popular site, tickets can sell out quickly! Buy your tickets online 6-8 weeks in advance, or earlier if you can. If you wait until you arrive, you may find that you made quite a long and winding journey only to visit the gift shop and be turned away. Better to book early!
Arrive 30 Minutes Early (or more!)
All visitors are asked to arrive at least 30 minutes before their reserved tour time. This gives you time to check in at the visitors’ center, then high-tail it up the “little mountain” on foot (15-20 minutes hiking uphill) or on the shuttle. Trust me, you’ll need the cushion factored into your time! If you arrive earlier than 30 minutes before your tour time, you can definitely fill your time elsewhere on the estate, and you’ll be glad you did. I wish we’d arrived a little earlier than necessary, in fact.
Also this: Why It Pays to Be an Early Bird on Travel
Plan for 4-5 Hours to See Everything
There is a lot to see here! That’s good, because Monticello is quite off the beaten path, so you can rest assured that your time getting there won’t be wasted, and you won’t leave feeling like it wasn’t worth the effort of getting there. Between the house tour, outside activities, exhibits, and separate museum, you’ll definitely be busy the whole time you’re there!
There are 12 ticket options—12! That’s a lot, and all tours, prices, and details are subject to change. So, to cut down on confusion and to give you the most accurate information possible, here is the link to the Monticello tours page.
The tours page is the best place to go for all your options, but for first-time visitors who just want to visit Monticello, you’ll want to take the Highlights Tour!
Keep reading: Presidents’ Homes within a Day’s Drive of D.C.
Directly from the website: “This new 45-minute guided experience includes first floor spaces in Thomas Jefferson’s home, the West Lawn, and the South Wing. You’ll learn about Jefferson and his vision for America, the realities of slavery on the Monticello plantation, and the mountaintop’s iconic architecture. This popular pass includes access to our gardens, grounds, walking tours, family-friendly activities, and exhibits.”
As of summer 2022, the price of admission for the Highlights Tour is $42 per adult, $13 per child 12-18, and FREE for children under 12 (FREE tickets still required). This price covers the Highlights Tour, Slavery Tour, and Garden Tour.
The Best Parts of the Highlights Tour
Here are some of the things you can look forward to on your tour!
The first room you walk into is, in a word, overwhelming! There’s a lot in there (but there was much more crammed in while Jefferson lived here), and you’ll want to know more about all of it. Jefferson had so many interests, and he was into so many things; this room is evidence of that. Let’s say it’s part museum, part curiosity shop, part experimentation location, and part geography class. Don’t miss the famous weighted clock!
Read next: 10 Trips Every Traveler Should Take
“I cannot live without books.” –Thomas Jefferson
Did you know Thomas Jefferson could read in seven languages? He taught himself to read Italian just so he could read the works of an Italian architect. That architect inspired what became his beloved Monticello. He sold his library to pay off debts… and then bought more books! I loved seeing the full bookcases, especially the books behind plexiglass, since those really belonged to him!
More here: Check out my latest reading list here!
The Dining Room
I love yellow! It’s bright, it’s happy, and this room is yellow, y’all! The blue Wedgewood compliments the yellow of the room, and while it seems small, it’s very efficient. Jefferson used to have small tables set up like you’d see in a present-day restaurant, to promote conversation. And there are hidden compartments in unexpected places so everything his guests needed could be on-hand at a moment’s notice.
Keep reading: The Best Day Trips from Washington, D.C.
The “Nickel Shot”
Your tour will end outside, where you’ll see the “Nickel Shot” of the house. Why nickel? Because this is the view you’ll find on the back of every nickel! Be sure to take photos! This is also a great spot for a family or group photo after the tour as well.
Tips here: My Best Travel Photography Tips
Tips for Your Trip
All that information is helpful, but here are a few tips to help you be super prepared!
Wear Reasonable Shoes
Even if you opt to take the shuttle to the mansion, there is still a lot of walking to do at Monticello! The gardens and grounds are not to be missed, and access to both is included in whichever ticket option you choose. There are also some hiking trails on the property, so if you want to take advantage of those, come prepared with appropriate footwear.
The Visitor Center is a Little Far from the House
You can walk or take the shuttle from the Visitor’s Center to the mansion. The shuttle is complimentary and easy. It’s a bit of a hike if you choose to walk, so just be prepared! Plan for the walk to take between 15-20 minutes, and it’s uphill, so wear good shoes!
Read next: How to Plan a Trip: The Ultimate Guide
There is Food Available at the Monticello Farm Table
Michie Tavern down the road serves historic tavern fare and is a great option for groups or large families, but not everyone loves a buffet. If you want something a little less overwhelming (and healthier), you can have a meal from the Monticello Farm Table. It’s a grab-and-go style, and you can choose from sandwiches, salads, quiche, cookies, muffins, beverages, and more. They use local ingredients–some come straight from the estate’s gardens!
Just be aware of your timing; it’s open daily fom 8:30am-3:30pm, and things are a little picked over by 2:00pm… We found that out ourselves!
There is a lot to see and learn here! This is not a 45-minute tour, one-and-done, kind of place. Take your time, and make sure you see everything! It’s kind of a lot of trouble to get here, so take full advantage of being here and make a day of it. The day you visit Monticello is not the day to micromanage and over-plan your day. Just plan to come to Monticello at least 30 minutes before your tour, and see how long you stay!
Know how to plan well: How to Use Trip Advisor to Plan Your Trip
Want more? Check out all my posts about Virginia on my United States Page!
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