Visiting Mount Vernon with kids is a fantastic way to introduce kids to life in the 1700s, and begin to teach them about the early history of the United States and the role George Washington played in that story.
Visiting Mount Vernon, George Washington’s family estate, was not originally in our travel plan. However, we had a few days in Washington D.C. during our epic cross-country road trip and soon realized that most attractions in DC were closed Mondays and Tuesdays. So we booked tickets for a mansion tour at Mount Vernon and figured we’d give it a try.
I was skeptical about taking our kids (4 and 6) to visit Mount Vernon, but it was a lovely, manageable day that let us introduce a lot of historical concepts, and gave us reason to read up on George and Martha Washington as well.
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What is Mount Vernon?
Mount Vernon is the family estate of George Washington, Revolutionary General, and first President of the United States. He inherited the property from his brother Lawrence and expanded the mansion several times. Mount Vernon is the most popular historic home in the United States.
How far from Washington DC is Mount Vernon?
Mount Vernon is in Mt. Vernon, Virginia, an easy 30-minute drive south from the National Mall area of Washington D.C. The way is well marked along the scenic George Washington Memorial Parkway. Once you arrive, there is free parking with easy access to the visitors center.
When Can I Visit Mount Vernon?
Any time! Mount Vernon is open 365 days a year, from 9 am to 5 pm. It is owned and run by a non-profit foundation The Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union.
What Age is Best for Kids to Visit to Mount Vernon?
Our kids were almost 4, and 6 1/2 at the time, and both enjoyed the visit and got a lot out of it. I would say 4 and older is ideal so that they can understand the concepts of what a blacksmith does, what an ice house is, etc.
What Do I Need to Know about Tickets to Mount Vernon?
When visiting Mount Vernon you’ll need a grounds pass, and ideally, also a ticket to tour the mansion. The tickets to tour the mansion are just a few dollars and come with timed entry. You can also add tickets for other tours or even a boat cruise if available when going through the ticketing process.
How Big is Mount Vernon?
George Washington expanded the estate to over 8,000 acres. The house in its final state is almost 11,000 square feet, ten times the size of the average home at the time. However, you can easily walk through most of the estate in a few hours. We did not go out to the 16-sided barn or explore the outer reaches of the estate, but we did visit the main area around the mansion, the outbuildings, and the tomb. It was a very hot day when we visited, so there was only so much exploring we were willing to do in the blazing sun.
What to See and Do at Mount Vernon
There is a lot to see at Mount Vernon, but the highlight is the mansion itself. Starting at the visitors center, pick a route to the mansion, either through the Greenhouse and Upper Garden or around past the Enslaved Quarters and Shoemaker’s Shop. After the mansion, you can explore the outbuildings, lower gardens, and tomb.
Take a Mansion Tour
Be sure to get tickets for the mansion tour. As you move through the rooms in the mansion you’ll have different guides telling you about the space and the estate itself. You are only able to visit the first floor of the mansion, though there is a scale model in the visitors center where you can see the upstairs of the house. We found it important to contrast the house with the more sparse staff quarters outside. We talked a lot about how the mansion compared to the gardener’s house, and how that was much nicer than the enslaved quarters.
We did not see many staff or costumed interpreters outside of the mansion or its direct vicinity. There was someone posted at the tomb to answer questions. We visited during the week, on an extremely hot day, this may be different on a weekend.
Visit the Enslaved Quarters
Peek into the men’s and women’s enslaved bunks to talk about the approximately 300 enslaved people on the estate that did most of the work. On the mansion tour, they do a pretty good job mentioning by name a few of the enslaved that they know worked in the kitchens and house, but you’ll have to fill in the blanks yourself as to how they were treated and what life was actually like for them on the estate.
Is it True that Washington Freed his Slaves upon his Death?
Yes, but not immediately. In his will, George Washington stipulated that his slaves be freed upon the death of his wife, Martha Custis. Martha was afraid that one of the enslaved might harm her to hasten their freedom, so she declared them free two years after the death of George. However, over half of the enslaved people working on the property were not George’s property but rather were part of Martha’s bridal dowry. Neither she nor George had the right to free them, so they were returned to the Custis family when Martha died.
Explore the Outbuildings
From the Ice House to the Dung Repository or the Blacksmith Shop, these outbuildings are where you start to picture what life was really like in the 1700s. You can also see George Washington’s Riding Chair and more formal Carriage. The audio guides are helpful for these areas, as there were no demonstrations going on during our visit.
Visit the Gardens and See Heritage Animals
As you stroll past the stable and to through the lower gardens you’ll see heritage breeds of farm animals, from hogs to sheep that give you a sense of what the estate may have been like when it was fully working. When we visited most of the animals were quietly avoiding the worst of the heat.
Visit the Tomb of George and Martha Washington
Walk through the Lower Gardens to see the tomb of George and Martha Washington as well as other members of the Washington family. There are signs up asking for silence in this area, so be respectful of the tombs. Peek through the gate to see George’s coffin, I almost missed Martha, she’s next to him, but off to the side.
Take a Boat Ride
You can cruise on the Potomac River if you are visiting Friday through Sunday. This could be a great way to get another perspective on the estate. From the expansive back porch of the mansion, there are stunning views of the river below, the boat ride should give you reverse views.
Tips for Visiting Mount Vernon
Here are a few tips for making the most of your visit to Mount Vernon with kids. It’s a big estate, these tips will help you navigate the grounds, keep the kids interested, and have an enjoyable time.
Start Your Visit Early
We had 11:15 am tickets to tour the mansion but arrived about 9:30 am to see the grounds. Although only mid-June, we were in the middle of a 90-degree heatwave, so it was best to be out early and then take breaks in the shade. We were able to enter the mansion ahead of our ticketed time, which was a nice break from the heat outside.
Read up on George and Martha Washington
We love the kids reading app Epic, and it has a great short introduction the George and Martha Washington called National Geographic Readers: George Washington. This covers the basics of George Washington’s life and family as well as some facts about life in the 1700s. It also includes some “cool facts about George” including his favorite horse and his favorite food. This helped set the stage for what we learned once we were actually on the estate.
Make the Mansion a Priority
The mansion tells a lot of the story of the estate. From George’s study to the expensive paint colors in the more formal rooms and a stunning harpsichord, this is the most guided part of the tour. This is also your best chance to ask a lot of questions! We arrived at the line before our timed tickets and were whisked ahead, so be sure to inquire if you are there early!
Don’t Miss the Necessary
What do kids love to talk about? Bathrooms! There is a fancy, three-seat, drawer-style “necessary” just to the right of the main mansion. Look for a sign and a short path in the woods. It may not seem fancy by today’s standards, but it was for the 1700s. Discuss the job of cleaning and emptying it as well!
Get the Audio Guides
Both of our kids loved the free audio guides you can pick up at the visitors center. You point them at a sign with the guide symbol, then put them to your ear to hear about the area. You can pause and restart as much as you like. This was especially a big hit with E(4), and definitely extended our visit and our kids’ ability to focus.
There is limited food for sale, so we advise packing snacks and water, especially on a hot day. You can find a shady spot and take a break before you explore further. We took several small breaks- by the ice house, by the lower gardens, and finally behind the mansion overlooking the river.
There You Have it!
We found Mount Vernon to be a great way to introduce our kids to life in the 1700s and the history surrounding George and Martha Washington in a very visual, easy-to-understand way. We all enjoyed our time at Mount Vernon and would highly recommend it!
Spending time in the Washington DC area? Check out Washington D.C. with Kids: How to Have the Most Fun!