Visiting Monticello, the famous house of Thomas Jefferson, should be on every American road trip list. It showcases Jefferson’s passions and his important role in American history. Despite what you think you know about this Father of America, meet the man at the home he loved and worked on for decades.
Learn about his personal life including his controversial treatment of his slaves by touring their living quarters underneath his house. This site was truly the highlight of our Virginia trip and made Jefferson come to life for our family.
Where: Charlottesville, Virginia; an hour northwest of Richmond, 2.5 hours south of Washington, D.C.
Who Was Thomas Jefferson?
When you hear of Jefferson, you automatically think of the American Revolution and his role as a founding father. New word for the kids: polymath. Aka – the man knew about everything. Mr. Jefferson continuously learned, voraciously read, and painstakingly recorded his life and thoughts. He wrote his nature and weather observations while conducting experiments and inventing throughout his life. He knew six languages and even taught himself Italian in order to learn architecture from a primary source.
In full admission of my ignorance, I knew very little about Thomas Jefferson until we started reading books and learning about him in preparation for our trip to Monticello. The more I learn about him, he becomes ever more fascinating and a great example to kids to continue lifelong learning and follow their passions. He is the adult friend we all wish our kids had in their life to learn from. Every place we explored during our time in Virginia seemed to link back to Jefferson.
Is Monticello Worth Visiting?
After retiring from the presidency, Thomas Jefferson lived most of his time at Monticello, rarely even leaving Virginia. His mountain top home where he truly wanted to be. If you want to know President Jefferson, you need to see his house and inventions and gardens. And the role of slavery in his life.
During his five years as the minster to France, Mr. Jefferson studied ancient architecture. Back in America, as an effort to further separate from British influence, he wanted the new buildings to have a different appearance, distinct from that which had been built previously in Jamestown and Williamsburg. Self-trained in architecture, the Jeffersonian style of architecture brought Greek revival architecture to Virginia. This is most evident in his own Monticello where he lived for more than fifty years.
Monticello is the only presidential or private home designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the United States. According to their website, this indicates “the designation for places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity and as such, have been inscribed on the World Heritage List to be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.” Also included in Monticello’s designation is Jefferson’s pride: the University of Virginia which is only 15 minutes away from his house.
Want to visit more US World Heritage sights? Check out these Posts: Cahokia Mounds, The everglades, Yellowstone
How Much Does It Cost to Visit Monticello?
In 2023, online ticket prices for full-access, self-guided house tours are Adult $32, Kids 12-18 $10, Kids under 12 free. To me, there is plenty to e discovered with a self-guided tour. However, there are plenty of add-on tours depending on the interest-level and attention of your group. Reservations are for a specific date so make sure you double check your reservation; don’t hesitate to call, however, if you miss your ticket date in case of emergency.
What’s Included in a Ticket to Monticello?
With the purchase of your ticket, you have full access to the grounds, Jefferson’s gravesite, museums, and surrounding area. Two guided tours are included with your tickets: Slavery at Monticello and Gardens & Grounds.
How Can I Save Money on Monticello Tickets?
Consider seeing the grounds and museum only for a cheaper price. Although you won’t be able to see inside the house with the Gardens and Grounds Pass, it will save you $10 on each adult ticket. Tickets additionally may be cheaper online than in person, so plan ahead.
Locals can save even more money. If you’re from the area around Monticello, make sure you grab the local discount by getting a refund when you arrive to the ticket office. If you’re from the area, consider getting a membership – there’s definitely enough to see speed out over several days.
Can You Tour Monticello for Free?
Yes! Although I didn’t see this information advertised on the Monticello website, I did see multiple sources after our visit stating that you can actually visit the exhibits at the Monticello visitor center without a ticket for free. If you’re just driving through the area, consider this a great free little museum area. With a small replica of Monticello, you can learn a ton without even seeing the house. You do have to have a ticket to get onto the trail or bus to the house, however.
How Long Does It Take to Tour Monticello?
With all the areas at Monticello, inside and outside, plan to spend an entire day exploring. You could easily spend several hours watching videos and exploring the different museum areas before ever heading up to the house… depending on your interest level.
Time can be saved by taking the free shuttle to the top to the house. However, if the weather is lovely, plan to walk the half mile from the visitor center up to the house which takes you past Jefferson’s grave.
If you only have a few hours, focus on touring the grounds, admiring the different plantings, and exploring the farms.
When Is the Best Time of Year to Visit Monticello?
With all the walking outside that happens during your visit to Monticello (and the cost of the tickets), I would make sure to go when the weather is nice. However, if you only have one possible day to visit, don’t let a little drizzle keep you from exploring this most-favorite history destination.
What Is There to Do at Monticello?
On the top of his “little mountain”, his home is surrounded by his extensive gardens including the specimens brought back to him by Lewis and Clark on their cross-country trip.
The Monticello Visitor Center
Allow for at least an hour at the visitor center before getting on the tram for the five-minute ride to Monticello. At the visitor center, there is a documentary-style, narrated video about Jefferson and his life which is easily understood. In contrast, the next-door museum shows a non-speaking, abstract video about Sally Hemmings which we left as none of us had the patience to read.
Focusing on the architecture and structure of the actual building, the first floor of the visitor center museum has replicas and diagram to help show the layout of the house before seeing it in person. The museum’s second floor, which leads out to the tram, covers Jefferson’s intellectual pursuits. His tools and natural studies and inventions are on display and introduces those that can be seen in the house.
Ride the Free Monticello Shuttle
When it’s your turn to go to the house, you can ride the shuttle bus or walk. Just so you know, the walk will be uphill to the top of the mountain. Make your life easy. Take the five-minute shuttle up to the house, and plan to walk back downhill after a couple of hours up top. Walking back will take you past the family cemetery and Jefferson’s grave.
Visiting Jefferson’s Monticello House
Your Monticello ticket will allow you access to the bottom floor of the house. Honestly, this will be the shortest part of your visit to Monticello, but it’s also well-worth it!
- Stand in the entryway and see his collection of treasures including those brought to him by Lewis and Clark.
- Visit his bedroom and living areas of the house.
- Look for the dumbwaiter in the dining room.
- See the desk in his office planned out his inventions.
Make sure you take the time to follow the covered hallway to see where the enslaved people worked and made the household run.
The Monticello Gardens and West Lawn
Did you know that Thomas Jefferson was one of the first to bring the idea of a grass-only lawn to America from Europe. Still present today, it’s a lovely place to let the kids get out some energy.
The lawn at Monticello is surrounded by gorgeous flower beds. Don’t overlook the identifying markers which tell the origin of the plantings including some original Jefferson plants and specimens given to him from the Lewis and Clark expedition. It’s a beautiful way to learn history.
Walk down the hill from the house to explore the workshop area of the Monticello plantation. This is also where you can see all the vegetable gardens, stables, and storehouses.
Halfway between the house and the visitor center, the family cemetery can be accessed as you walk down or by getting off the shuttle bus. Here, you will see the grave of Thomas Jefferson as well as that of many family members. Enclosed in an iron gate, you don’t be able to get up close to the gravesites.
- You are unable to carry big bags up to the house. No bags or backpacks larger than 11″ by 15″ by 6″ are allowed past the Visitor Center. Expect your bag to be inspected.
- The free parking lot is very close to the visitor center and easy to go back before heading to the house to grab snacks or drop off bags.
- Give the little hands something to do. There is a Monticello app for your phone that gives more information. Additionally, there is a $10 book you can buy in the bookstore that shows colored pictures of the house and is a guide for each room. Our family enjoyed looking over this at home.
- Bathrooms. There are plenty of bathrooms throughout including the visitor center, the house, and the gardens.
- Clear plastic water bottles are allowed to go up to Monticello. The staff simply asks that you don’t get them out in the house.
- Don’t forget to check those kids for pocket knives. Weapons of no size are allowed on the grounds.
- Plan to pull out a picnic and at the picnic tables near the visitor center. At the time of our visit, there were people eating their picnic on the beautiful lawn at the house. While the website says no eating in the house, I don’t see that it says no food. You might want to double check at your visit before heading up top with your meal.
- Save the gift shop for the end. There is a well-stocked gift shop next to the visitor center downstairs. Grab a new book. Get the shirt. Kid souvenirs are there but also nice gifts. They even sell heritage seeds and plants from Monticello. But don’t get it ahead of time – it’s just more to carry around.
A Warning about Visiting Monticello
Slavery is handled very tactfully at Monticello without being glossed over. Sally, Jefferson’s presumed slave mistress, was mentioned in our house orientation talk but not in details that made it child inappropriate. However, it was a very obvious element in their living in slave quarters, building the house, and maintaining the garden.
If you believe your children are not ready to learn about slavery in the US South, I suggest you choose to avoid the videos. At the time of our visit, there were no graphic displays or pictures presented of slavery. You could also choose this real-life display of slavery as an introduction.
But… At the same time, shouldn’t I be hesitant to talk about Jefferson with my kids regarding his views on slavery and the relationship with Sally Hemings? My kids know that slavery was a fact at that time, and it hasn’t been glossed over in our house. We’ve talked about how he inherited many slaves and debt from family members, the different racial views of the time, and that he does have children from his relationship. It was a different world.
You cannot ignore the role in history of slavery. We openly discuss it in our family as we study the Civil War, learn about Abraham Lincoln, and visit cotton plantations. Check out the book list below as a possible gentle introduction to slavery at Monticello. Like some of the other harder topics, it’s easier to prepare the kids ahead of time.
Looking for other real-life black history trips? Check out these blog posts about black history and the civil rights movements during our travels in memphis, tennessee and Montgomery, Alabama
Family Learning about Jefferson’s Monticello
Learning about Thomas Jefferson is such a great way to bring in so many aspects of American history. If you’re a homeschool family or Classical Conversations family, learning about Thomas Jefferson will bring in deep dives into America’s other founding fathers, Lewis and Clark, Westward Expansion, and the American Revolution.
Learn about Jefferson the naturalist and scientist. Because they knew what to see inside Jefferson’s Monticello house, the kids were excited to see Thomas Jefferson’s inventions like his innovative bed, polygraph, instruments, and dumb waiter. They further appreciated him as a scientist when finding the wind-vane in the ceiling of the porch that Jefferson used for his daily weather measurements and his cannon day calendar in the entrance hall.
There is a ton of information online on the Jefferson’s Monticello website including information about the house, historical interpreters and all about the history. Don’t overlook this resource!
Although it might seem silly, I also recommend the musical Hamilton. It’s definitely the most fun way my kids have embraced all things Thomas Jefferson. I promise they won’t be the only ones rapping their way through his house.
Adults Books About Thomas Jefferson and Monticello
A warning from one homeschool mom to another, you’ll start to read the books, love Thomas Jefferson even more, and feel even more conflicted. There’s so much good reading out there!
- The Women Thomas Jefferson Loved – This nonfiction reads like a novel. It was my first deep dive.
- America’s First Daughter – This is historical fiction novel will let you appreciate all that goes into the Jefferson’s household and how important his daughter was to running it
- Jefferson’s Sons – This excellent book is technically young adult historical fiction, but there are mature themes including slavery and children born out of slavery
- Jefferson’s Daughters – A triple autobiography about Thomas Jefferson’s white and black daughters
Kid Picture Books About Thomas Jefferson
Check out this pre-adventure children’s book list about Thomas Jefferson to help the whole family love Jefferson the president, the inventor, and the architect. There are so many beautiful picture books about Thomas Jefferson and America’s founding fathers!
- Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything
- Thomas Jefferson and the Mammoth Hunt
- My Name Is James Madison Hemings
- Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library
- John, Paul, George, and Ben (And Tom?)
- Those Rebels, John and Tom
- Worst of Friends: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams…
- Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation
- A Picture Book of Thomas Jefferson
- Bones in the White House: Thomas Jefferson’s Mammoth
- Thomas Jefferson’s Feast