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Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens

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Visiting Mount Vernon is like taking a step back in time. Mount Vernon is George Washington's Estate and Gardens and is open 365 days a year.

Spend a day at this historic site and tour the Ford Orientation Center, the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, the Mansion, Gardens, Washington's Tomb and many more areas.

Mount Vernon offers so many programs suitable for families throughout the year. A highlight for the OK team is the Mount Vernon by Candlelight held during November & December as well as Christmas at Mount Vernon where you can tour the rarely-open third floor of the Mansion and learn how the Washingtons Celebrated Christmas.

Admission ranges from $8 to $17, annual passes and other packages are available. Purchase tickets online to avoid the lines at the Ticket Window (there is a $2 transaction fee)

Contact Info
703-780-2000
Price: $8/youth (ages 6 to 11); $17/adult (12 to 61); $16/senior; under 5 free
Age: All ages
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Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens
3200 Mount Vernon Highway
Mount Vernon, VA 22309
 
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Our entire family loves coming here. The grounds are so lovely. It is our favorite place to take out of town guest as well. There is plenty to see and the kids are always excited to go.

Thu Feb 19, 2015 by sandrai

Our entire family loves coming here. We have an annual pass and there are times we have just visited the education center. The staff in the Hands on History room is wonderful and really takes time to talk to the kids. We love walking the grounds no matter how many times we go. My daughter still discovers new things each time we come.

Sun Dec 8, 2013 by InnaB

5
Average: 5 (1 vote)
by Marla B. Hughes
April 6, 2011

Take a step back in time and visit Mount Vernon!

General Information

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.

Gift Shops

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!

Restrooms

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

  1. Wear comfortable shoes.
  2. The estate is not particularly suited for strollers and they are not allowed in many of the buildings.
  3. Since it can be cool and windy in the winter and early spring, dress appropriately.
  4. Share website photographs with youngsters prior to their visit to pique their interest before visiting.
  5. 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.
  6. Additional touring tips are available from the website as well as a list of Seasonal Activities.

Photo by Marla B. Hughes.

5
Average: 5 (1 vote)
by Kathleen Molloy
December 5, 2013

This past weekend we our family visited Mount Vernon specifically for their annual special event Mount Vernon by Candlelight. My daughter, almost 7, was visiting Mount Vernon for the first time and it happened to be the perfect combination of small crowds and mild winter weather.  

We gathered with our group, donning name tags of Washington’s guests.  Our group of 20 was known as Sara Blackburn.  Sara, daughter of Revolutionary war patriot, Colonel Thomas Blackburn, were guests at the estate back on January 5, 1785.  Looking around the Ford Orientation Center, I was in awe of brilliantly lit Christmas trees with ornate decorations, lilting music and the large scale doll house of Mount Vernon (big hit with my daughter).  There were other children on tour, but she was the only one in our group.  This was perfect for her because she was chosen by the crier to deliver the visitor invitation to Mrs. Washington!    

Our guide, Rita, led our group up the candlelit path to the grounds.  It was magical walking past real candles in the lanterns guiding us to Washington’s home.  The guide made several brief stops making the walk to the mansion about 10 minutes long.  Surprising to us was the use of greenery instead of trees or lights as they didn’t exist in the 18th century.

The tour inside the mansion is different from what one would experience during the day.  Several of us wanted to leisure about peeking in the rooms, but unfortunately there was not enough time in the tour to linger.  Every 15 minutes, tours were being led through the grounds.  The tour starts in the servants’ quarters, main dining room, main hall, bedrooms, and the study.  Costumed docents are in each room, covering two levels.  If you have a stroller, you will be asked to leave it outside before entering the home.  

Mount Vernon by CandlelightWhile the main dining room is under construction, Mrs. Washington, along with her granddaughter, Martha Peter, cleverly wove the renovation into the tour.  Washington said that between nursing troops during the war, family being away, and simply not being able to find the right colors to decorate, there was no time left to finish the room.

All of the re-enactors were delightfully charming, but I was particularly fond of Christopher Shields, Washington’s personal valet, who met us at President Washington’s study.  He was frantically trying to find the recipe book for Martha’s Great Cake and he knows how particular George is of having an organized home.  This brought us outside the main house to meet Mrs. Forbes, the housekeeper, in the kitchen.  Along with meat pie, she was hired to make Mrs. Washington’s Great Cake recipe which included 40 eggs, four pounds of butter, four pounds of sugar and five pounds of fruit.  No stress there!  Everyone received a copy of the original recipe and a modern day version to try at home.  

After the kitchen, the formal tour wrapped up and visitors ventured to out-buildings.  We made a brief stop at the blacksmith where he was forging nails.  Then it was off to see the slave quarters where a gentleman with a soothing voice sang and played the mandolin.  Visit the Greenhouse where hosts demonstrated and volunteers from the crowd danced the “Indian Queen.”  Our next stop was to say hello to Aladdin, the camel, that Washington paid 18 shillings for to spend a few days at the estate.  With hot cider and ginger crisps in hand, we sat around large bonfires and listened to a duo singing 18th century Christmas carols.

The visit concludes in the museum and education center which has more Christmas trees and performers playing the Jewish harp and hammered dulcimer.  We briefly looked at some of the museum exhibits, but for my youngster, the collection of Mount Vernon gingerbread houses done by elementary students kept her attention.

Good to Know

  • Purchase tickets in advance as many times sell out. 
  • Arrive early.  My family, along with several others, had issues with their tickets.  Whether it was will call or purchased online, there were technical glitches that had many of us almost missing our scheduled tour time.  Hopefully this will clear up, but it's worth getting there a little bit early to avoid any issues.
  • Photography is not permitted in the mansion.
  • Mount Vernon by Candlelight is not included in daytime admission and is a separate event from Christmas at Mount Vernon.  
  • The Shops at Mount Vernon and food court are open during Candlelight Tours.  The gift shops had several affordable items for children like a Nellie Custis doll, tavern games, and the camel mascot all under $20.  Only one vendor in the food court was open.  The selection of foods was nice with pre-made salads and sandwiches running $7.  A bag of chips or a cookie will cost you $2, $3 for a pretzel or drink, and so on.

Hours and Admission

Admission to Mount Vernon by Candlelight is $22 for adults and $15 for children under 12.  Tickets can be purchased online or at Mount Vernon’s Ford Orientation Center. Mount Vernon by Candlelight will run Saturdays and Sundays until December 22, 2013 from 5 to 8 pm.  My family spent 2 ½ hours at the event and given the amount of walking and historical context, the tour would be best for ages 7 and up.

Parking

Parking is free at Mount Vernon and there are parking lots in various area. If you are visiting Mount Vernon during the day consider taking the new Mount Vernon Holiday Trolley which departs from Old Town and goes directly to Mount Vernon and back.  The trolley makes round-trips every hour, on the hour, from 9 am to 3 pm, returning to Old Town every hour on the half-hour until 4:30 pm.  The trolley runs select weekends.  For time and ticket information, visit the Alexandria Visitors Center at 21 King Street or go to www.trustedtours.com and type in keywords Holiday Mount Vernon Trolley.

Bottom Line

Mount Vernon by Candlelight is a wonderful way to enjoy a serene evening in 18th century Virginia.  It is a great event to enjoy a simpler time in the home of our first U.S. president. 

All photos courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association.

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