When we decided to visit Washington D.C on our cross-country summer road trip, the first thing that popped into my mind was that we had to spend a day at Mount Vernon. As you know, I am kind of an history nerd and there was no way I could pass up the opportunity to visit the gorgeous ancestral home of America’s first president while we were in town.
This home was so special to Washington that he almost refused his nomination to be President of the United States just so he could enjoy retirement at his lovely Mount Vernon estate. Interestingly enough, the White House had not been built yet, so President Washington was able to continue living at Mount Vernon throughout his presidency and until his death in 1799.
Originally built in 1735 by George Washington’s father, George Washington took over ownership in 1754 and expanded it to the 21 room estate we can all visit today. In 1798 President Washington hosted 677 guests in one year. Now, Mount Vernon incredibly receives around a million visitors each year!
And let me tell you, this place is incredibly well-preserved! So if you are looking to have a delightful visit the historic home of America’s first President, READ ON because I will highlight ALL the fun things to do at Mount Vernon.
Visiting George Washington’s Mount Vernon
General Admission Prices
- Adults (12-61): $20 at gate $18 online
- Kids (6-11) $12 at gate $11 online
- 0-5: FREE
- Senior (62+): $19 at gate $17
HotMama Tip: I highly recommend to purchase your tickets online. It saves you money and time since you also get to skip the line at the gate.
All activities listed in this post are included in the general admission, however there are some specialty tours you can book if you want a more in-depth experience.
The Enslaved People of Mount Vernon – This 60 minute guided tour is a $10 addition to regular admission, but is free during Black History Month all through February. This tour gives visitors an inside look into the daily lives of those enslaved at Mount Vernon.
Through My Eyes Character Tour – With this 60 minute immersive experience, you get to experience Mount Vernon through George Washington’s eyes by hearing from the people who knew him best. This tour is also a $10 additional charge to the general admission.
Watch a video of our amazing visit to Mount Vernon
Things to do at Mount Vernon
Ford Orientation Center
Upon entering the main gate, the first thing you will see is the Ford Orientation Center. Here, you are greeted with a playful statue of George Washington with his wife and grandchildren, which my kids loved. We all thought Kevin looked like little Washy.
Then before you start exploring the grounds, take a minute to enjoy We Fight to Be Free action adventure movie. It gives a great overview of Mount Vernon and introduces you to the real man we all know as the first President of the United States, George Washington. The video and orientation center do a good job of humanizing this mythic person and help set the stage for exploring Washington’s historic home.
The experienced tour guides usher in small groups of visitors in 15-20 minute intervals so that there isn’t an onslaught of people to clog up the mansion. I mean the mansion is BIG, but not that big! To enter the mansion, you will have to wait until the time indicated on your ticket, which you choose at the time of purchase.
The Mansion tour includes a walkthrough of the three-story 20 room estate as well as all beautiful grounds surrounding the mansion. On the grounds you will find numerous building that were used for various trades and tasks, farms, gardens and the actual resting places of Martha and George Washington!
HotMama Tip: Strollers are permitted on the grounds, but not inside the mansion. Wheelchairs are only able to go on the first floor of the mansion
Central Passage – The central passage is where you enter the home. Located in the center of the home, this where you can gain entry to the other formal rooms on the first floor. The door to the large verandah is directly across the first door, making for lovely cross breezes from the Potomac. However, what really makes this room special is that this is where the Key to the Bastille is displayed.
The Key to the Bastille was give to Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette after the famous prison was destroyed in 1790.
New Room – This was the grand salon used for entertaining guests and also acted as a gallery. It is said that George Washington displayed 21 works of art in this room. Its tall two-story high ceilings, bright tealish-green wall paper and grand north facing window were meant to reflect the new country’s values. It was meant to make a statement and impress.
Front Parlor – This room was a more intimate space for entertaining. This is where tea and coffee were served over games and conversation. That being said, there have been some pretty impressive guests to grace the presence of this room including Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette.
Little Parlor – This was originally a bedchamber, but Washington wanted more space for informal entertaining and converted the room into a music and family room. Although not musical himself, Washington loved music and love to dance. He was happy to provide a space where his stepchildren and grandchildren could learn to play many instruments. What is really cool, is that the original harpsichord that Washington purchased for his granddaughter Nelly is still in this room!!
Downstairs Bedchamber – This was what we would call today, a guest room. According to Washington, Mount Vernon was a temporary home to overnight visitors two-thirds of the time.
Dining Room – This room is original to the 1734 construction of the home by George Washington’s father, although it has undergone some renovations over time. The room is striking with its bright green walls and ornate ceilings, perfect for an elegant meal.
The Study – This was George Washington’s retreat. He had a very busy household and no one was allowed into this room. This wasn’t only where Washington conducted business, but it is also where he would bathe and dress. It was the first room he would enter via private staircase in the morning.
Butler’s Pantry – This is where the everyday china was kept. What is interesting is that you can still see where the house’s bell system was wired.
Piazza – Okay, this was the highlight of our visit at Mount Vernon. Stretching the whole length of the house, this grand patio is lined with rocking chairs, perfect for enjoying summer breezes and sparkling views of the Potomac River. The Washington’s treated this space as an extension of their home, hence the grand size.
During our visit the skies opened and a major summer thunderstorm passed over, actually trapping us on the piazza! It was so exciting and surreal to be sitting on a rocking chair on George Washington’s back porch watching the storm! It was perhaps the biggest memory of our time at Mount Vernon.
Blue Room – This beautiful blue room served as another guest room. This was one of my favorite rooms and I would have loved to be one of the guests here.
Lafayette Bedchamber – This bedchamber was named after the General as he was said to have stayed in this very room during his visits to Mount Vernon.
Hall Bedchamber – This little room is described as a closet with a window, but honestly I think it is cozy and perfect for a child.
Chintz Room – This was Washington’s granddaughter, Nelly’s, room. The cool thing about this room is that the bed hangings in the room were purchased from George Washington from Betsy Ross. This was also the room the Nelly gave birth to her first child just days before George Washington’s death.
Yellow Room – The Yellow room is right next to the Hall bedchamber, but this room is larger and scored a fireplace!
The Washingtons’ Bedchamber – This was George Washington’s bedroom, located right above his study. This was also the room that wife, Martha loved to spend some tranquil time alone each day.
Sadly this was also the room that Washington died in on December 14, 1799. After that sad event, Martha closed off the room and never slept in the room again. Instead, she opted for a room on the third floor.
Garret Chambers – These four chambers were actually created after George Washington’s expansion in the 1750’s. Cute one with the yellow canopy and stove warmer is the room that Mrs. Washington occupied after the president’s death.
Lumber Rooms – These two rooms located on each end of the house and were added during the 1770’s.
Bull’s Eye Room – This room gets its name from the circular window in the middle of the wall as you enter the small room. It looks like a target. This room is really more of a closet that was used to house the Washington’s best china for formal occasions. Some pieces are on display in the museum.
Cupola – This gorgeous architectural feature atop the estate actually acted as the central A/C in the 1700’s. It drew the hot air up and out of the house, so that the cool air could breeze through. The weathervane on top of the cupola is a dove with olive branch, which symbolized Washington’s hope for peace in the new nation.
Mansion Cellar – The cellar or basement of the house consists of several separate rooms to the west, one huge room to the south and three arched vaults to the east that extend all the way underneath the piazza. With all its passageways and underground chambers it is easy to see why this was the filming location for “National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets.”
Although fun to fantasize about the possible usage of such an immense underground space, in actuality the cellar served many mundane functions. There was a cellar kitchen and served as storage for foodstuffs, wine, whiskey and brandy. Some rooms may have even been used as sleeping quarters for slaves.
HotMama Tip: The mansion cellar is not included with the general mansion tour tickets. To tour the mansion cellar you need to book the National Treasure Tour separately.
Outbuildings on the Mount Vernon Property
There were over 50 enslaved men and women working and living at Mount Vernon. Many of them were trained in skilled trades and worked out of the many outbuildings that surround the property.
Kitchen – In this time period, it is common to see kitchens kept in separate building from the living quarters. One reason is that kitchens are hot, smelly and dangerous places. The second reason was to keep the domestic tasks of the enslaved people separate from the functions inside the main home.
The kitchen building at Mount Vernon is where all the meals for the Washington’s were prepared. Above the kitchen was the sleeping quarters for the enslaved cooks and hired housekeepers. Other outbuildings include a dairy storehouse and a washhouse.
Smokehouse – This is where mostly pork was smoked over a large fire pit to make bacon and ham.
Blacksmith Shop – Blacksmithing was a really important craft in these days. The one on this property was mostly used to make and repair farm tools. Hot Tip: When you visit Mount Vernon, be sure to stop by with the family and watch the blacksmith at work.
Spinning House – This is where all the linens were made. In the spinning house you will find a linen loom and sometimes even live demonstrations on how it was used to make clothing for the household and staff.
Stables – George Washington loved horses and loved to ride his horses regularly. Thomas Jefferson even called him the “greatest horseman of his age.”
At the brick stable you get see where he kept his many horses and some his best carriages. In 1785 there were 130 horses on the Mount Vernon property. Also funny story, when the King of Spain gifted Washington a jackass named Royal Gift, a slave by the Peter Hardman oversaw a breeding program on the property and by 1799 there Mount Vernon went from housing zero mules to 58!
Greenhouse – This is one of the largest outbuildings on the property as it was used to house the enslaved farm workers as well as protecting plants during the winter months.
Although George Washington designed the landscaping, it was skilled slaves that maintained the gardens. The gardens were used to supply food as well as to enjoy. While Martha ran the kitchen garden, Washington took much pride in his pleasure garden.
Upper Garden – Next to the Greenhouse, the Upper Garden was what George Washington called his pleasure garden. Filled with shaded paths lined with beautiful flowers and vegetables this garden was meant for enjoyment of his family and his many guests and perfect for after dinner walks.
Lower Garden – Also known as the kitchen garden, the Lower Garden was responsible for growing all the fruits and vegetables to maintain the estate’s food supply. This was Martha’s domain. Yet, not intended for the public, Martha still had it looking beautiful in a Colonial Revival style and with a pleasant gate just off the Bowling Green.
Botanical Garden – The Botanical Garden is just a small garden located behind the Spinning House. This one was his special “little garden,” as Washington tended it himself, enjoying experimenting with plant varieties. He was often gifted seeds and bulbs from around the world and loved to see what plants would survive in Virginia.
Fruit Garden & Nursery – Funny enough, the Fruit Garden and Nursery started out as a failed vineyard. This four-acre area was for growing fruits and plants that required more space. Washington had a lot of fruit trees, including cherries, apples, pears and peaches. Fruit was popular for eating as well as for producing preserves and cider. Not to mention, they make a beautiful addition to the landscape at Mount Vernon.
This was probably the most interesting section of the grounds for me. It was surreal to visit the actual resting place of the first US president and first lady. After touring his home and doing some research it is clear to see that George Washington loved his home. He almost refused the presidency just to spend a nice retirement there, it seems fitting that Mount Vernon would be his final resting place.
Old Tomb – George Washington died in his bedchamber in 1799 and it was his desire to be buried in the brick family vault on the property. However his and Martha’s body were moved to the new Vault in 1831
New Tomb – The Tomb was requested in George Washington’s will as he was not happy with the location of the Old Tomb nor the fact that it needed repairs. So he designed a new brick vault at the foot of his beloved Fruit Garden and Nursery and requested that all the family members within the Old Tomb be moved as well.
The New Tomb was opened in 1831 and is the final resting place of George, Martha Washington as well as some key family members. Visitors can view these beautiful marble sarcophagi and pay their respects to the first president of the new nation.
Slave Memorial – Adjacent the New Tomb is the Slave Memorial that was erected in 1983. Placed near the Slave Cemetery at Mount Vernon, the site of many unidentified graves, the memorial commemorates the lives of all the men, women and children that lived and worked on the estate.
Although George Washington owned over 300 slaves, he didn’t completely agree with the practice and was quoted in 1786 as saying he hoped that “slavery in this country be abolished by slow, sure and imperceptible degrees.” When he died in 1799 his will stated that all slaves in his ownership be freed, 123 of which continued to be provided for at Mount Vernon after his death.
George Washington took his agricultural practices very seriously, not only to help Mount Vernon, but to help American farmers. He loved experimenting with a variety of crops. Everything from grains to tobacco were included in Washington’s crop rotation. He took much pride in his farm, and you can still visit this four-arce Pioneer Farm from April to October.
Slave Cabin – On Pioneer Farm is a reproduction Slave Cabin that shows how the slaves of Mount Vernon lived in the 18-century.
16-Sided Barn – This is replica of George Washington’s innovative design for grain processing and storage. He constructed this 16-sided circular barn with a floor big enough to accommodate the treading of horses. With a second floor ramp for the horses to access, they could treat the wheat while the wheat berries fell through the cracks of the floor to the first floor, keeping the process indoors and away from the elements.
Animals at Mount Vernon
Animals were important players on the farm, and when you visit Pioneer Farm you get a chance to see how they contributed to the family and farm. For instance, Mount Vernon raises a rare and native Virginian breed of Hog Island Sheep, dating back to the 1600’s. Sheep provided wool for clothing as wells as manure for crops, meat for meals and lanolin of ointments.
Other animals still on the Mount Vernon farm include, mules, cows, horses, hogs, chickens, turkeys, geese, deer and bees.
If you are visiting during the holiday season, but sure so visit Aladdin the Christmas Camel. In 1787 George Washington had a camel brought to Mount Vernon during Christmas to entertain his guest, and Mount Vernon continues the tradition.
HotMama Tip: This is a really fun section for the kids! They will love meeting all the animals that still live here at Mount Vernon. Plus there are live demonstrations to show kids all about farm life in the 18-century.
Donald W. Reynolds Museum & Education Center
The Donald W. Reynolds Museum & Education Center is also really cool and a perfect learning experience for kids.
There are interesting interactive displays, personal artifacts from the Washington’s, short films and an action adventure movie to create a full immersive experience.
Revolutionary War Theater: 4-D Experience – Our family enjoyed this 4-D action movie which follows Washington on three campaigns- Boston, Trenton and Yorktown. Cannons fire, fog fills the theater, snow falls and lighting strikes, making you feel like you are right there in battle with General George Washington.
Be Washington – Kids will really enjoy the interactive theater, where they get to pretend to be George Washington in a “choose your own adventure” style experience. You’ll hear from Washington’s trusted advisers and the tough decisions that Washington had to make in deciding whose advice to follow.
Hands-on-History – Getting a hands-on experience is great for keeping the kids entertained and interested in learning. At the museum there are a variety of crafts and activities that kids will love.
Story Time – Story time brings history to life for kids 3 to 8 from 12:00pm-12:45 daily. There is the Discovery Program which offers fun games, puzzles and activities from until 1:30pm and in the afternoon from 3:00pm-5:00pm there are is craft time.
Wharf – The Wharf is where you arrive if you come by boat, but it is also where the 45-minute sightseeing cruise along the Potomac River departs. The Spirit of Mount Vernon Cruise is only offered April through October.
Distillery & Gristmill
George Washington’s Distillery is actually located 2.7 miles from the estates entrance, so if you don’t want to walk, there is a free shuttle service offered April through October. Both the Distillery and Gristmill are still fully-functioning today. The Gristmill is a working mill that Washington used to grind flour and cornmeal.
In 1799 the distillery was actually the largest in America and is still the site where George Washington Whiskey is produced. It was one of the most profitable enterprises at Mount Vernon.
Shops at Mount Vernon
Don’t forget to take home a fun souvenir! The Shops at Mount Vernon is a collection of various shops offering all types of goodies like reproductions of Mount Vernon treasures, tea sets, books, jewelry, food items, whiskey, toys and more.
Where to eat at Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant
I highly recommend taking the time to sit down and enjoy a meal, brunch or happy hour at the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant. Finding awesome spots to have a great meal and cold drink is super important to our travel experience and the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant was one of the highlights of our day at Mount Vernon.
This colonial-inspired restaurant is just outside the entrance to Mount Vernon and the décor is simply adorable. You will honestly feel like you have stepped back in time. The food is really hearty and it’s a good opportunity to try some George Washington whiskey.
The food court is a good option if you don’t want to spend a lot of time eating or are on a budget. This area is open for breakfast and lunch, offering everything from snacks, salads, sandwiches, burgers and more. But trust me, plan on factoring in one hour to enjoy a meal at the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant (you won’t regret it)!
That’s A Wrap!
After one visit to Mount Vernon it is easy to see why George Washington never wanted to leave home. Imagine being a kid on these amazing grounds! With all the animals, gardens and views of the sparkling Potomac River, it must have been magical. The best part is that your kids can get a small piece of that magical experience for themselves at Mount Vernon.
Conversely, it is equally important to acknowledge the more somber side of life at Mount Vernon for those who were bound to the estate involuntarily. When you take in the surrounding beauty, take a moment to learn about the hundreds of slaves who worked tirelessly to maintain the grounds all those years ago.
Ultimately, there is so much to learn and be enjoyed that a full day at Mount Vernon with your kids is definitely worth the trip!
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