Thomas Jefferson's home, long featured on the back of the U.S. nickel, is well worth the admission and the almost inevitable wait. Arrive early, ideally on a weekday, and allow at least three hours to explore the nuances of Jefferson's life as exemplified by the architecture, inventions, and layout throughout his grand, hilltop estate. Monticello (which means "little mountain") is the most famous of Jefferson's homes, constructed from 1769 to 1809. Note the narrow staircases—hidden
because he considered them unsightly and a waste of space—and his inventions, such as a seven-day clock and a two-pen contraption that allowed him to make a copy of his correspondence as he wrote it without having to show it to a copyist. On-site are re-created gardens, the plantation street where his slaves lived, and a gift shop.
Rte. 53, Charlottesville, Virginia, 22902, United States
Aug 10, 2011
My spouse and visited this historical sight over the Memorial Day weekend in late May 2011. Make an online reservation for your guided tour as far in advance as possible, particularly if you want to take the Behind-the-Scenes tour that includes the upstairs of the estate and the famous “dome room”. We waited until just a few days before our visit to purchase our tickets online (we were waiting for the weather forecast to choose the best day to
visit), and the more comprehensive tour was sold out. We had to content ourselves with the indoor tour of the first floor only, which turned out to be adequate. There is a timed entry for each guided tour group, appearing to leave every 5 minutes from the top of the mountain estate. (When I booked online, it seemed that tours departed every 15 minutes (perhaps those tours leaving at the 5 and 10 minute mark were sold on-site only). Tour groups are a bit larger than I would have liked (12+ people), and some of the rooms were small enough so that when filled with our group, there wasn’t much breathing room. Be sure to arrive early so that you can catch the 15-minute short film about Jefferson, although most of this information is repeated in the guided tour. The café is decent if you need a snack before or after the tour, although it is located down the mountain where you buy your tickets and watch the film, so it’s not very convenient to use in the middle of several tours. Take the shuttle bus from the visitors center area to the top of the mountain and begin your tour (allow a few minutes in case you must wait for the shuttle); you can take the shuttle back down, or alternatively, you can walk down from the estate. The walk is easy, even for someone who is not very active, and on the walk you can view the family cemetery. Ideally, take the 9:45 house tour (which finishes at 10:45), then catch the 11:00 gardens tour (which finishes at 12:00), and finally, hustle to catch the 12:00 slave cabins tour (which finishes at 1:00), otherwise you could spend a lot of time waiting around from the time one tour ends until another begins, although there is a lot to divert your attention as you "waste" an hour or two. There are restrooms and a gift shop (which sells bottled water) at the top of the mountain, but there’s no formal place to sit down and have a sandwich or snack. There is no smoking on the grounds at all. We thoroughly enjoyed our half-day at Monticello.
Jul 9, 2009
My husband and I planned a stop at Monticello on our honeymoon (a driving tour of Virginia). We'd spent a lovely night in a B&B near there the evening prior. Unfortunately, my stomach had other ideas the next morning. After purchasing the steep ticket price and waiting in line a little, I ended up seeing two rooms before dashing outside and becoming sick. The staff was wonderful and gracious during this horrifying experience of mine (at such a historic
site! I was so embarrassed), and after considerable time in the restroom, we decided to move on to the next stop so I could sleep in the car. The next year, with my in-laws, we decided to make the trip again (and pay another round of steep tickets with more waiting in line). This time it was wonderful and so worth the wait. My favorite part was the inventions inside and the plantation section. Everything is well-maintained and beautiful, and staff is knowledgeable and friendly. There's a lot to see for your $15. After having seen every inch of the place including the restrooms, I recommend it to everyone I can.