A trip to the nation’s capital should definitely include a visit to George Washington’s estate, which is why I take all my out-of-town guests to tour Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon gets a shout-out for being one of the most family-friendly historical sites you can enjoy with children of any age. My two-year-old loves running around the grounds as much as my teenager enjoys the interactive museum.
When to Tour Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon is open 365 days a year, so pick your day! Spring is the busiest season, with many school groups touring from mid-March until the end of May. If you plan to go in the spring, most school groups come early and leave by lunchtime so an afternoon tour might be better. The busiest day of the year at Mount Vernon is President’s Day, which is a free day. Holiday weekends, such as Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s are usually very busy times. Typically, Mondays are the least busy day of the week.
Mount Vernon handles crowds well, and the recent addition of timed ticket entry to the house saves guests hours of standing in line on busy days. My pictures were taken on a beautiful, warm day during Thanksgiving weekend, and it was as crowded as I’ve ever seen Mount Vernon. We arrived by 11:00 a.m., waited in line for 30 minutes to buy tickets, and our entry to the mansion was for 3:50 p.m. We enjoyed the grounds and museum first and finished up our trip by touring the mansion. Parking was available and people spread out across the grounds, so it didn’t feel too crazy. On busy days, the guides will move you through the mansion tour more quickly than on slower days.
Plan your day at Mount Vernon
***TIP*** Buy your tickets online in advance. There is a $2 service charge, but it is only applied once no matter how many tickets you buy, and you can skip the ticket line and immediately enter the visitor’s center. The best part of buying your ticket in advance is that you can choose your time to tour the estate, rather than buying your ticket after you get there and being at the mercy of crowds.
For example, before online ticketing was an option, I arrived on a busy day at 11:00 a.m. and the time I was given for my tour of the estate was 3:50 p.m. The kids couldn’t last that long and they missed the house tour.
Bottled water is the only food allowed inside the estate, so I usually feed my kids a snack in the car on the way there or plan to buy lunch at the food court. There is plenty of reasonably priced food available for purchase.
Start in the visitor’s center with the 18-minute movie about General George Washington. When you purchase your ticket, you will get a timed entry ticket to the tour the house, so you can plan your day accordingly. Depending on when your entry for the house is, wander through the outbuildings and see the nearby gardens before touring the mansion.
Make sure to spend a few minutes in the comfortable rocking chairs on the back porch overlooking the Potomac River to enjoy a view you will never forget.
Walk down to the tombs of George and Martha Washington, the slave memorial, and to the wharf on the Potomac. You will see gardens and a few farm animals as you wander through the estate. The paths are generally stroller friendly (I’ve taken one down and back up many times), but prepare to sweat a bit on the way back up the hill. Give yourself plenty of time to get back up to the house.
Enjoy the beautiful estate, but make sure to leave time to enjoy the new world-class museum and education center as you tour Mount Vernon.
Highlights of the Museum and Education Center
- 3 theaters and 10 short films. I teared up watching the tender film about the Washington’s love letters.
- George Washington’s false teeth.
- Hands-on History room for young children, with dollhouses, hand puppets, storybooks and puzzles.
- Wax models of George Washington at ages 19, 45, and 57.
- Many interactive exhibits with buttons to push and things to do.
Tips for dealing with crowds at Mount Vernon
If you tour Mount Vernon on a busy day, be sure to buy your tickets online and print them in advance to bypass the line at the ticket window. If the visitor’s center is crowded, see the grounds first and then come back to watch the 18-minute show about General George Washington at the end of the day. The upside of the busy season is that they often set up their living history tents, which are enjoyable if you can elbow your way in. We watched chocolate made from roasted cacao beans and also saw a demonstration on different herbs and spices grown on the grounds.
Tour Mount Vernon at Christmas
After several visits, I was excited to tour Mount Vernon at Christmas to see the home decorated for the holidays and see the 3rd floor of the mansion, which is only open between Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays. Expect period decorations on the mansion, such as greenery and a few extra candles. I was glad to see the 3rd floor of the mansion, but it looks quite similar to the 2nd floor, which is open year-round. You can see every room in the house in a detailed miniature in the visitor’s center.
The amazing gingerbread house in the visitor’s center was the highlight of my holiday visit to Mount Vernon. The aroma of gingerbread and the intricate candy detail on the house was definitely worth going to see!
What to Bring
- Wear good walking shoes.
- Dress for the weather as most of your time at Mount Vernon will be outdoors.
- Bring bottled water. Plan to purchase other food and drinks in the food court.
- Bring a stroller, but be prepared for rugged terrain.
Good to Know
When: Mount Vernon is open 365 days of the year, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. in the summer. Check here for year-round operating times.
How Much: $17/adult (ages 12-61), $9/child (ages 6-11), children 5 and under are free. Specialty tours are available for an additional cost.
How Long: Minimum of 3 hours, but I would recommend 4-5 hours, or perhaps an entire day.
Amenities: Bathrooms, food court, and the best gift shop in all of D.C. Plan to buy souvenirs here.
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