A visit to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is like stepping back in time to the days of early America. Here’s your guide to visiting Monticello.
As the home of the third president of the United States, Monticello offers a unique glimpse into the life of one of the country’s most influential founding fathers.
With its stunning grounds and beautiful architecture, Monticello makes a great day trip in Virginia. It’s a must-see for any history lover or anyone interested in getting a taste of early American history.
In this article, I’ll walk you through what to expect from a visit to Monticello, how to get around the property, and the things you can do there. I also provide tips for where to stay in Charlottesville, Virginia, and what else you can do there.
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What is Monticello?
Monticello was the home of Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. President and author of the Declaration of Independence. It’s preservation is supported by the private non-profit Thomas Jefferson Foundation.
It has become something of an architectural and historical landmark, having been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 along with the University of Virginia’s Academical Village.
Rather obsessed with his home and an architecture enthusiast, Jefferson’s design for the house was the subject of painstaking study and work.
Visiting Monticello is like taking a step back in time into an immersive experience in U.S. history. It offers an intriguing peek into the life of an early U.S. president.
Where is Monticello?
Monticello is located at 1050 Monticello Loop in Charlottesville, Virginia, about two and a half hours from Washington D.C.
It’s just a short drive from downtown Charlottesville to Monticello (about five miles) and about 75 miles northwest of the Virginia capital city of Richmond.
Below are listed several airports in the region along with their distance from Monticello:
Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport: 17 miles
Richmond International Airport: 80 miles
Washington Dulles International Airport: 105 miles
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport: 115 miles
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How to visit Monticello
The first step in planning your visit to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is to review your ticket options.
I recommend that you buy your entrance tickets ahead of time online. I’d hate for you to be disappointed because you couldn’t get the Monticello tour or entrance time you wanted.
Some options are definitely more pricey than others, but Monticello tickets help support the preservation of the Monticello plantation. As of winter 2022, the only way to see the house’s iconic dome room and the upper floors of the historic house is to book the behind-the-scenes house tour day pass.
Self-guided passes are available for visitors who don’t wish to have a guided tour of the house or a grounds tour, but you will get a specific time to enter the house.
For those who prefer a guided tour, there are options such as the “From Slavery to Freedom Tour” and the “Highlights Tour.” There are also tours that will enhance your experience at Monticello and are included with your admission ticket.
Depending on the time of year, there may also be special exhibitions and activities or special events taking place throughout the grounds such as holiday evening tours around Christmas time.
There are so many options you could easily spend an entire day at this national historic landmark.
What to see at Monticello
Visiting a historic estate the size of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello can be a little overwhelming. Here are the “must-do’s” when visiting Monticello.
Plan to spend at least a few hours at Monticello if not more.
I recommend that you book your ticket first and then plan the rest of your time at Monticello around your tour time or self-guided house entrance time.
The visitor center
Make your first stop at the David M. Rubenstein Visitor Center and Smith Education Center. This is where you can tour special exhibits about the creation of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s life, and see many of his personal possessions.
There’s also a short film that plays on a loop that you can watch if you want.
I’m a visitor center nerd, so I love watching any films on offer. They usually provide important historical perspectives and insight into the people and events I’ll be learning more about later.
They have a beautiful and large gift shop there that’s full of wonderful souvenirs. We always try to get a Christmas tree ornament and a refrigerator magnet from each place we visit.
This area is also where you’ll catch the shuttle bus to the top of the hill to see the house. Or you can walk. It’s a bit of a hike, but it’s pleasant. And then you don’t have to wait for the shuttle.
Tour the main house
No doubt, the historic house is really what you’re at Monticello to see.
Designed by Thomas Jefferson himself, this iconic structure sits atop a hill overlooking the land below.
Inside, visitors can stroll through the rooms Jefferson lived in and take in the artifacts he collected over his long life.
If you select the behind-the-scenes tour, you’ll get to see inside the house beyond the first floor of Thomas Jefferson’s home.
Don’t neglect to explore areas around the house and even under the main house. They’re quite fascinating. You’ll also find other special exhibitions there like the Life of Sally Hemings.
Explore the grounds and gardens
Now, as amazing as I think Thomas Jefferson’s house is, the grounds also are part of what makes Monticello one of my favorite historic sites.
The lovely gardens and beautiful scenery make this site extra special, in my opinion. I just love the grounds, and I think you will too.
The 1,000-foot-long terrace vegetable gardens supported hundreds of varieties of vegetables. There were also fruit gardens and flower gardens.
Look at this view!
And make sure to talk a stroll down Mulberry Row.
Stop by the family cemetery
The cemetery on the grounds of Monticello is still owned by the Thomas Jefferson family’s descendants. Here you’ll find the final resting places of Thomas Jefferson along with many of his family.
Grab a bite at the Monticello Farm Table cafe
When you’re ready to sit down and have a little something to eat, stop by the Monticello Farm Table cafe in the Visitor Center area.
They have a lot of really great sandwiches, salads, and soups. I easily found a delicious vegetarian sandwich and there were some nice gluten-free options for Hubby to choose from
Other things to do in the area
In Charlottesville, there’s always something exciting to do. Here are a few ideas if you have enough time to explore more of this great city:
Historic Downtown Mall
The Downtown Mall is a great place to visit for its lively atmosphere and delicious local eateries. In fact, there are over 120 shops and about 30 restaurants located in the historic buildings along Charlottesville’s main street.
It’s the perfect place to unwind after a day touring historic Monticello and grab some dinner.
We loved our meal at Citizen Burger Bar. Yum!
University of Virginia
If you’re ever in the Charlottesville area, I highly recommend paying a visit to UVA’s beautiful campus. It was founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 and is the flagship institution of the state’s public university system.
The campus is beautiful and many of the buildings on campus are modeled after those at Monticello.
Virginia residents and U.S. presidents James Madison and James Monroe served on the board of the University of Virginia.
And if you’re also into American Literature, make sure to stop by Edgar Allen Poe’s preserved dormitory room. There’s a historical marker there and easy to visit if that’s of interest to you.
James Monroe’s Highland
If you’re really into history, consider dropping by the historic Highland estate after your tour of Monticello.
Highland was the private home of James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States. It’s only a few miles from Monticello.
The estate offers general admission tickets so that guests can enjoy a self-guided experience or you can book a guided tour of the estate’s buildings.
Where to stay in Charlottesville
On our visit to Monticello, we stayed at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Charlottesville Downtown. It was a comfortable hotel in a good location with a free breakfast. We don’t usually ask for much more than that!
Here are a couple of other highly rated options for places to stay in downtown Charlottesville:
- Inn at Court Square: charming inn just steps from dining and shops at the Downtown Mall. Just a few miles from Monticello and only 10 miles from Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport.
- Omni Charlottesville Hotel: guests enjoy this lovely hotel near the Downtown Mall and only a few minutes’ drive from the University of Virginia campus.
Final thoughts on tips for visiting Monticello
If you’re looking for a fun day trip in Virginia, Monticello is the place to go.
This historic site is home to many interesting exhibits and attractions. Whether you’re a history buff or just looking for something to do in Charlottesville, there’s plenty to see and do at Monticello.
And don’t forget that there’s much more to do in Charlottesville than just visiting Monticello. And no matter how you choose to spend your time at Monticello, we know you’re going to have a great time.
Are you planning a visit to Monticello? What are you looking forward to most? We would love to hear about it in the comments below!
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