A trip to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, is a great idea and will be a rewarding addition to any trip to our nation’s capital. Washington wrote that he knew of no place that was more pleasantly situated than his plantation, and he may well have been right! The house is amazing, the grounds are gorgeous, there is an interpretive education center that is second to none, and so much more! You could easily spend an entire day enjoying Mount Vernon and its grounds, there are so many great things to see and do. Here we have highlighted the many things to see at Mount Vernon, and detailed the logistical nuts and bolts so that you and your family can make the most of your visit.
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Mount Vernon is large – you can easily spend all day there but if you have a lot of other sights in the city to see, you may want to know the best way to visit Mount Vernon. We suggest the following route to get the most out of your visit:
Additional sites to see are the:
Restrooms: The main restrooms at Mount Vernon are either in the Ford Orientation Center or at the Education Center/Gift Shop. Definitely hit the restrooms when you first enter the Ford Center, they are literally right next to the entrance. At the Education Center, they are immediately below the entrance (assuming you are coming from the historic area), and also across from the Food Court. The restaurant has restrooms as well.
Once you are in the historic area, restrooms become harder to find and farther away, so plan ahead and use the restrooms when you first arrive. There are restrooms near the entrance to the mansion. When you see people lined up for the mansion, there will be a break in the line, right before you enter the mansion. Walk through the break, with the main house on your right. Keep walking down the path and bear left, and there will be signs to the restrooms. Those will be the only restrooms in the historic area.
Upon arrival to Mount Vernon, the first place you will enter will be the Ford Orientation Center. Here docents will scan your tickets and check your bags, and are available to help point you in the right direction. Definitely use the bathrooms while you are here, once you get up to the mansion, bathrooms are harder to find. There are plenty of maps in the Orientation center and docents to help you interpret them. The 2 highlights of the Orientation center are the miniature Mount Vernon, and the action-orientation film called: We Fight to Be Free.
Mount Vernon in Miniature is an incredibly detailed, handcrafted model of the mansion that you are about to see. It was a gift from the State of Washington, and took 50 people over 5 years to complete! The miniature has walls that move and shift so that you can see the inside of the rooms, some of which you will see on your tour. The miniature also details some rooms you can’t see in real life, like closets and storage spaces, as well as back passages for servants. The miniature has furnishings based on the real pieces in the mansion, and artwork on the walls meant to represent Washington’s real artwork. There is even miniature wine chilling in buckets waiting for a dinner party!
Directly behind the Miniature are the theaters showing the orientation film. The films run in a continuous loop and both theaters show the same thing, the orientation film with Pat Sajak telling you about Mount Vernon, and then the action-adventure film called We Fight to Be Free, about George Washington, his wife Martha and the brutal winter at Valley Forge at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Altogether the films take about 25 minutes.
Tip: Skip the small gift store in the Orientation Center – There is a small gift store in the Orientation Center, but most of the stuff they have is also available in the much larger and better main gift store in the Education Center. If you buy something in the Orientation Center, you’ll have to carry it for the entire time you are at Mount Vernon as well. Better to get your gifts on the way out.
After the orientation film, it is time to head up to the Mansion. As you exit the Orientation theater, you will wind around a path towards the house, follow the signs until you see the Bowling Green and the Mansion at the end of it! This is a great spot for pictures. Head around to the left to get in line for your mansion tour, your entry ticket will tell you what time to line up for your tour.
Note: Photographs are not allowed inside the mansion, however have your cameras ready for the view off the porch!
The mansion tour itself takes about 15-20 minutes once you get to the front of the line. You will be escorted through many of the public rooms where George Washington lived, dined and visited with his many guests. One of the things to note in the main hallway is a key hung in a frame on the wall. That is a key to the Bastille, the famous French prison, and it was presented to Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette after the American Revolution. The tour continues upstairs into several of the bedrooms on the upper floor, including the room that Washington died in in 1799. The mansion tour concludes with his office and then exits out through the main kitchen.
Tip: Ask Questions – Perhaps the most common complaint about Mount Vernon in the summer months is that the guides in the mansion don’t have a lot to say. While it can be crowded, the guides are historical interpreters, not guards or docents, so make sure to ask them whatever questions you have.
Once you have exited the mansion from the kitchen, you will find yourself presented with the backyard of Mount Vernon on your left hand side, and a series of smaller buildings on your right. The buildings on the right are called out buildings, and were used for various purposes. In Washington’s day, anyone who could afford to had several of these out buildings next to their main house, anything that was smelly, or potentially hazardous was taken care of in one of these buildings to keep such odor or hazard away from the main house, so kitchens were usually detached from the main house, as well as food storage areas, and animals. Feel free to check out as many of these buildings as you want.
The yard at Mount Vernon is also a wonderful area to explore, enjoying the amazing view that Washington would have looked out at every day! Feel free to sit on the chairs on the back piazza, or walk right out onto the lawn. The area on the other side of the river was purchased by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association to preserve the view that Washington would have known, so there is no construction allowed across the river.
For an extra special treat, visit the tomb at 10am or 3pm during the summer season. Wreath laying ceremonies take place here to honor the memory of General Washington.
After seeing where Washington lived, you can also pay your respects at his final resting place, which is also on the Mount Vernon property. In fact, Washington has two tombs, and you can visit both of them. The reason that he has two tombs is that there were plans to create an elaborate tomb for Washington, but he died earlier than expected, so he was buried on the Mount Vernon property (the Old Tomb), while his current tomb was being prepared. While there is nothing in the Old Tomb any longer, it is definitely worth a visit, and its also close to the current tomb.
At the tomb, Washington is buried next to his wife Martha, and in back of them is a crypt filled with Washington’s relatives. There are several obelisk markers outside the tomb for family members, including Washington’s nephew, John Bushrod Washington who was the last family member to own Mount Vernon.
Behind the Washington’s tomb, there is a path toward a marker of a different kind, the Slave Memorial at Mount Vernon. The Slave Memorial was added in 1983, and is in the spot where slave burials took place while Mount Vernon was a plantation. Local legend has it that the enslaved Africans were buried facing east, indicating their wish to return to Africa.
One of the highlights to any visit to Mount Vernon is at trip to the fascinating Donald W. Reynolds Education Center. The Education Center is very close to the Ford Orientation center, where you entered the property. If you have already been up to the mansion, you will get to the Education Center by heading back the same way you entered and following the signs for it. The Education Center can take up several hours all on its own, so definitely budget your time with that in mind. There are so many exhibits, movies, hands-on learning and a Museum so there is something for everyone.
Of particular interest, especially with kids, will be the main movie: General Washington, Commander in Chief, which is a 4-D movie! The movie is an incredible immersive experience, involving the rumble of canon, and “snow.” The movie is about 20 minutes, so lines can be long in advance of the movie. The movie is shown in the Revolutionary War Theatre. If you’re short on time, head there first to get in line and watch the film, then spend the remainder of your time visiting the exhibits.
The Education Center also contains Washington’s false teeth, which, as you will learn, are not made of wood.
In the same building as the Education Center is the main Gift Shop at Mount Vernon, down a hallway toward the front of the building, and it is not to be missed. The Gift Shop consists of two large rooms, on either side of the main walkway that leads out of the building. It is chock full of clothing, books, jewelry, and much more. There is plenty of food and candy made right at Mount Vernon, as well as beer and wine made from grapes grown on the property! You can even buy toys that are similar to the kind used in Washington’s day.
Eating at Mount Vernon
There is both a food court and a restaurant at Mount Vernon, so all of your dining needs are provided for as well. Both are in the same building with the Education Center and the Gift Shop. When you are heading from the Education Center to the Gift Store, the food court will be on your left right before you get to the Gift Shop. The food court has family fare such as pizza, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, coffee, etc.
The Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant is a sit down restaurant with colonial inspired food, in a beautiful space that will remind you of the mansion that you just saw! It is a beautiful place for a romantic meal or a special lunch with your family. If you want to eat at the restaurant, definitely make reservations in advance, as they tend to be very busy.
The Pioneer Farm is open at Mount Vernon in the summer months and it is well worth a trip to see. It is down the hill at the wharf, and is a full working farm designed to replicate the kind of farm that Washington would have had at Mount Vernon.
There are live demonstrations, animals to see, a slave cabin that you can walk through to see how slaves lived at Mount Vernon.There is also Washington’s 16 sided barn, his own invention to aid with the treading and preparation of wheat, which was his biggest crop.
The Pioneer Farm is included in the admissions price to Mount Vernon, and is about a 15 minute walk from the Mansion. There is a shuttle that runs from the Education Center down to the Farm, but if you’re going to walk it, be aware that it is down the hill, and what goes down must eventually come back up.
The Gristmill was built in 1770-1771 and can be found on the far side of the Mount Vernon grounds. As its nearly 3 miles from the main gate, its a good stop before or after you visit the grounds. You can drive to the Gristmill & Distillery located at 5514 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy, Alexandria, VA 22309
Admission to visit the Gristmill & Distillery are included in the regular admission cost.
It still works to this day! You can taste Rye Whiskey made using the General’s recipe at the Mount Vernon Inn or buy a bottle to take home at the gift shop.
These two sites are open seasonally, April-October 10am-5pm and are closed during winter months.
Mount Vernon is a great idea with kids, there are so many things to do and see.
The Hands on History Center is a big part of the Education Center and will teach your children all about George Washington and allow them to learn for themselves.
Children’s programs are held Monday through Friday from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. Activities are designed for children ages 5-10. Children must be accompanied by an adult; space and supplies are limited.
Also in the Education Center is the 4-D movie, and lots of information about the efforts to forensically recreate Washington and his life at Mount Vernon.
For outdoor activities, there are so many grounds and gardens to walk around and check out, as well as the Pioneer Farm, which is sure to entertain your kids. They have demonstrations of what farming was like in Washington’s day, as well as farm animals who would love to meet your kids!
There are 2 ways to get to Mount Vernon on the road; either driving or via public transit.
You can also get there by boat – Mount Vernon Cruises.
Getting to Mount Vernon on Public Transit
Historic Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s Estate, is one of the most enjoyable visits to the Washington, DC area. The problem for many of our visitors is that it can be difficult and expensive to visit Mount Vernon Estate. Even many locals who live in DC have never been to his house! But many people don’t know that they can actually take a public bus to get there and back! The journey is simple.
Take the Metro Rail Yellow Line Train to Huntington Station in Virginia. Exit at the lower level (Huntington Ave.) of the station and then…..
Board the Fairfax Connector Bus #101 (Fort Hunt Line) from Bus Bay E at Huntington Station for a 20 minute trip (approx. 7.5 mile) directly to the Mr. Vernon front entrance gate. Buses run about every half hour Monday through Saturday and every hour on Sunday. There is a bus stop directly in front of the visitor center and gift shop for the return ride to Huntington Station. The good news is that you can use your SmartCard on the Fairfax bus system.
If you are using a SmartCard, then the trip per person round trip should be approximately $10.50. Compare that to the $28 round trip fare on the cruise to Mt. Vernon.
For maps and schedules about the bus trip visit the Fairfax Connector Website.
If you’re visiting Mount Vernon on a weekend during the summer you can take a shuttle from Old Town Alexandria to Mount Vernon. It is $16 per person one way. You can purchase tickets here.
The shuttle picks up at the Alexandria Visitor Center (221 King St, Alexandria, VA 22314 ) which is easily accessible from the King Street Metro Station.
Driving to Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon is at the southern end of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The address for your GPS is:
Parking at Mount Vernon is free, and there are two lots. The lots are on either side of George Washington Memorial Parkway, east and west. If those lots fill up, you will be directed to an overflow lot. If you are planning to drive, definitely arrive early as spots can fill up quickly.
Ticket prices are cheaper online, so if you know what day you are going to go, it is definitely worth it to book in advance
Military members and veterans and their families are eligible for $3 off admission
Mount Vernon is open 365 days a year. From April to October they are open from 9am-5pm. From November to March they are open from 9am-4pm.
Updates on holiday specific activities can be found on the Mount Vernon official tourist website.
From March to June, expect the grounds to be crowded with school groups in the morning as they are allowed in earlier than the general public. An afternoon visit will be much quieter for individuals and families.
The closing hours are rolling as the last guest leaves the mansion. Generally, grounds close 30 minutes after closing time and Museum/Store 1 hour after closing time. On busy days where guests leave the mansion later than expected you’ll find the museum stays open longer but don’t expect that. Rather, don’t get worried if you’re still in the house at the advertised closing time – you still have about an hour to visit the tomb and the museum if you want!
Tip: The visit is all about your mansion time. A visit to Mount Vernon includes a timed ticket to the mansion, which will be the only timed event while you are there. Whenever your mansion time is, make your timed ticket work for you, not against you. If you arrive in the busy summer months and have a later mansion time, check out the Education Center or visit the tomb or Pioneer farm first, before heading to the line for the mansion. An early mansion time is ideal at any time of year, but having a later time is not necessarily bad, it just means you will need to see some of the other things first if you arrive early. Conversely, in the winter time, a later mansion time is a better idea, that way you can stay inside in the morning and be outside when the day is warmest.
Mount Vernon has done a great job making the historic area as handicapped accessible as possible. All of the newer buildings, the Ford Center, the Education Center/Gift Shop/Restaurant are all wheelchair accessible. There are ample handicapped parking spaces in the lots on either side of the entrance, and dropping off in the traffic circle is always an option. The historic areas are not paved, and while they are traversable by wheelchairs, it will make for a slightly bumpy ride. The mansion itself is handicapped accessible on the first floor only.
Standard (non-motorized) wheelchairs and walkers are available at the orientation center.
Devices are available at the Ford Center for those with special needs as well, with handheld devices for guests who are visually impaired and hearing impaired. You can reserve a device in advance by contacting Mount Vernon. Alternate format maps are also available.
Dogs are welcome at Mount Vernon, including service dogs.
Mount Vernon has a required bag check upon entering the Ford Orientation Center, right after your ticket has been scanned. Large bags or parcels are not permitted, and below is a partial list of prohibited items: