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. 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.
Buy tickets online
Buy your tickets online in advance. You’ll save $2 per ticket over gate price and get a better selection of times to tour the house. You’ll also find a lot of additional tour options and add-ons online.
We usually drive our own car from our home in Northern Virginia, but if you are visiting Washington D.C., there are several good ways to get to Mount Vernon. Allison’s family took a water taxi from National Harbor, Maryland. You can also bike to Mount Vernon, take public transportation or take a bus tour from Washington D.C.
The official Mount Vernon website gives more information on all these options. If you visit by bus or water taxi, your Mount Vernon ticket and tour time will likely be included in the tour price, so you won’t need to buy another ticket online.
Where to eat
Bottled water is the only food you can bring in with you, so I usually feed my kids a snack in the car on the way there or buy lunch at the food court. Yes, Mount Vernon has a food court. You won’t find familiar chains, but you will find a variety of reasonably priced food available for purchase.
What to do
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 around it. 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 find a working farm with a few farm animals near the water. The paths are generally stroller friendly (I’ve taken one down and back up many times), but prepare to sweat a bit or take the shuttle back up the hill.
Highlights of the Museum and Education Center
Mount Vernon has a beautiful new Museum and Education Center with lots of interactive exhibits and audio-visual features. Here are some of the highlights.
- 3 theaters and 10 short films. I teared up watching the tender film about the Washington’s love letters.
- George Washington’s false teeth. They aren’t made of wood.
- 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.
Tips for dealing with crowds at Mount Vernon
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 seeing!
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
Where: George Washington’s Mount Vernon is located roughly 15 miles south of Washington, D.C. and 8 miles south of Alexandria, Virginia on the banks of the Potomac River, at the southern end of the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
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: Free parking, bathrooms, food court, and the best gift shop in all of D.C. Plan to buy souvenirs here.
How else can we help?
Need a place to stay? Allison has stayed at the Gaylord National in National Harbor, Maryland. It has water taxi service to Mount Vernon. She also recommends Kimpton Hotel Madera and Hotel Harrington in Washington DC, which are both within a short walk or Metro ride from most popular attractions. Read her review of Hotel Madera HERE. Check rates and read reviews at TripAdvisor.