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Make a Plan to See Smithsonian Museums in D.C.

Posted by on Aug 17, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Smithsonian visitor center castle

If you’re traveling to Washington D.C. for the first time and your list of things to do includes “see the Smithsonian,” you might be in for a surprise.

The Smithsonian Institution is not a single sight you can check off in an afternoon. It’s a collection of 19 different museums of varying sizes, research centers, gardens, galleries, and a zoo. There’s just way too much stuff to see it all in one trip, let alone a day.

In fact, a couple of the museums aren’t even in D.C., they’re in New York. A few more are scattered throughout the D.C. metro area. However, most of them (13 or so) are clustered right around the National Mall.

I’m calling them the “Mall Smithsonians” for short.

National Mall

In the coming weeks, Phillip will be sharing what it was like inside the Mall Smithsonians he was able to visit during our short D.C. trip – specifically, the American History Museum, Air and Space Museum, and café of the Native American Museum.

But, first, I wanted to give you some practical information about how to tackle the Mall Smithsonians.

Depending on how much time you have, you’ll probably want to pick 1-3 museums and prioritize the parts of each you want to see most. Choosing what you’re interested in is the easy part, though. Figuring out how to get there, when you can go, and where you can eat or find wifi or store your stuff gets a bit more confusing.

So here are some tips to help you make the most of these Mall museums.


DC

6 Things to Know about the Mall Smithsonians

1. Admission is free.

Donations are, of course, accepted and appreciated.

Since you’re not tied to paying a daily entrance fee, you can be more flexible in how you experience the museums.

You don’t have to spend the whole day in one museum…

  • If you’re short on time, stop in for an hour or two. Or just long enough to see whatever you were dying to see before leaving town.
  • If you’re tied up during the day (with business, a conference, or other obligations), check the hours. You may be able to do an evening visit.
  • Go museum hopping, seeing just the exhibits you’re most interested in at each.

You don’t have to see it all in one day…

  • Take your time checking out a museum you’re particularly interested in. Come back the next day if there’s more you want to see.
  • Instead of one long day, break a visit up into two weekday afternoons or weekend mornings, when crowds are typically lighter.
  • Leave when your (or your kid/s, travel companion/s, etc.) energy begins to wane, knowing you can pick up where you left off after a nap, a change in activity, or another day.

There are a few activities that do require free or paid tickets (like the IMAX theaters), but these are the exception rather than the rule.

Smithsonian visitor center castle

2. They’re open daily.

Mall Smithsonians are typically open every day, unless it’s Christmas (December 25) or if they’re closed for renovation.

  • Most have opening hours from 10am to 5:30pm (exceptions below).
  • In addition, some have extended hours on certain days or close early for special events. Double check the Smithsonian Special Hours Calendar to see what’s up before you go.

3. Large bags are not recommended.

  • Some museums (noted below) have storage lockers available for smallish items (like maybe under-your-airplane-seat sized bags).
  • For larger luggage, ask if you can leave it where you are/were staying (most hotels and Airbnbs will allow guests to store luggage before check in or after check out).
  • Otherwise, your best bet is the Tiburon Lockers Baggage Check Counter at Union Station, Gate A ($6/hour). (From there, you can take the DC Circulator to the Mall.)

4. You’ll need to go through security as you enter.

  • Bags will be checked either by hand or X-ray machine, even if you’re planning to store them in a locker.
  • During peak times, this can cause lines, especially at the Air and Space Museum. So, even though you don’t have to pay admission, you may have to wait to get in.

DC Museum cafe

5. Many of the museums have a café or food court.

  • You can also bring your own food for a picnic on the Mall’s lawn or in the Portrait Gallery’s courtyard.
  • As long as everything is sealed up well, you can carry food and water with you in your bag or store it in a locker.
  • Map of food vendors on the National Mall – with menus. Or check the list below.

6. Parking: don’t count on it.

  • None of the Mall Smithsonians have their own designated parking.
  • The Smithsonian Parking Map (PDF) lists other local lots.
  • Consider alternative transportation, like the DC Circulator (which stops near all the Mall-area Smithsonians) or the Metrorail (which has a stop – literally called “Smithsonian” – that exits onto the Mall itself in the middle of a bunch of museums.)

With this in mind, driving (and attempting to park) in the area may be more trouble than it’s worth – unless you need a place to stash your oversized luggage (see #3).

 

Air and Space Museum

Museum by Museum Guide

Here are the Smithsonian museums located around the National Mall listed geographically, roughly west to east – from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol Building (Smithsonian National Mall Map PDF).

I’ve gathered information about each to help you with planning:

  • Nearest Metrorail stop/s and where to exit*
  • Nearest Capital Bikeshare rental station/s and station number/s*
  • Hours (if different than 10am to 5:30pm)
  • Important things to note (closed to the public, requires a timed ticket, etc.)
  • If there are cafés (or food courts, carts, kiosks, etc.), wifi, storage lockers, and/or bike racks on site.
  • Other features (garden, planetarium, etc.)

*More info in our post on transportation tips for the National Mall!
Washington DC

On the Mall –

National Museum of African American History and Culture

1400 Constitution Avenue, NW

  • Metro: Federal Triangle or Smithsonian (Mall exit)
  • Bikeshare: 15th St & Constitution Ave NW, Bike station 31321
  • Requires timed ticket.
  • Café

National Museum of American History

1300 Constitution Avenue, NW

  • Metro: Federal Triangle or Smithsonian (Mall exit)
  • Bikeshare: 10th St & Constitution Ave NW, Bike station 31219 or Smithsonian-National Mall / Jefferson Dr & 12th St SW, Bike station 31248
  • Cafés on lower level and 1st floor
  • Wifi in Welcome Center and cafés (free)
  • Lockers available
  • Bike racks outside

National Museum of Natural History

10th St. and Constitution Ave., NW

  • Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)
  • Bikeshare: 10th St & Constitution Ave NW, Bike station 31219 or Smithsonian-National Mall / Jefferson Dr & 12th St SW, Bike station 31248
  • Butterfly Pavilion – tickets $6. Free admission on Tuesdays with timed ticket.
  • IMAX Theatre – tickets required (about $9-15/adult).
  • Cafés on ground level, food carts outside
  • Lockers available
  • Bike racks outside (Constitution Avenue entrance)

Freer Gallery of Art (Asian art)

Jefferson Dr. and 12th St., SW

  • Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)
  • Bikeshare: USDA / 12th & Independence Ave SW, Bike station 31217 or Smithsonian-National Mall / Jefferson Dr & 12th St SW, Bike station 31248
  • Closed to the public until October 14, 2017.
  • Lockers available

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (Asian art)

1050 Independence Ave., SW

  • Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)
  • Bikeshare: Independence Ave & L’Enfant Plaza SW/DOE, Bike station 31633
  • Closed to the public until October 14, 2017.

National Museum of African Art

950 Independence Ave., SW

  • Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)
  • Bikeshare: Independence Ave & L’Enfant Plaza SW/DOE, Bike station 31633
  • Lockers available
  • Bike racks outside (between African Art Museum and Sacker Gallery, outside Haupt Garden gates on Independence Avenue)

Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle)

1000 Jefferson Dr., SW

  • Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)
  • Bikeshare: Independence Ave & L’Enfant Plaza SW/DOE, Bike station 31633 or Smithsonian-National Mall / Jefferson Dr & 12th St SW, Bike station 31248
  • Smithsonian Visitor Center
  • Daily hours: 8:30am – 5:30pm. It opens earlier than the other museums, so you can start there and get oriented.
  • Café, food carts outside seasonally
  • Wifi (free)
  • Bike racks outside

Hirshhorn Museum (international modern and contemporary art)

Independence Ave. and 7th St., SW

  • Metro: L’Enfant Plaza (Maryland Ave. exit)
  • Bikeshare: L’Enfant Plaza / 7th & C St SW, Bike station 31218 or Independence Ave & L’Enfant Plaza SW/DOE, Bike station 31633
  • Sculpture Garden – open 7:30 a.m. to dusk
  • Café (dessert and coffee)
  • Wifi (free)
  • Lockers available
  • Bike racks outside

National Air and Space Museum

Independence Ave. and 6th St., SW

  • Metro: L’Enfant Plaza (Maryland Ave. exit)
  • Bikeshare: Maryland & Independence Ave SW, Bike station 31243
  • Open until 7:30pm on select dates.
  • Entrances on Independence Avenue and the Mall/Jefferson Avenue. If lines are long at one entrance, try the other.
  • IMAX Theatre – tickets required (about $9-15/adult).
  • Planetarium – tickets required (some shows are free, others may be about $9/adult).
  • Observatory
  • Food Court (First Floor-East Wing), food carts outside
  • Bike racks outside
  • Wifi (free)

National Museum of the American Indian

4th St. & Jefferson Dr., SW

  • Metro: L’Enfant Plaza (Maryland Ave. exit)
  • Bikeshare: Maryland & Independence Ave SW, Bike station 31243
  • Café, espresso bar
  • Wifi (free)
  • Bike racks outside

 

Walking in DC - treasury

Near the Mall –

Renwick Gallery (contemporary craft and decorative art)

1700 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

  • Metro: Farragut West or Farragut North
  • Bikeshare: 17th & G St NW, Bike station 31277
  • Barrier-free access at 17th Street entrance.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery

8th and F Sts., NW

  • Metro: Gallery Place-Chinatown (9th St. exit)
  • Bikeshare: 7th & F St NW/Portrait Gallery, Bike station 31232
  • Both museums are inside the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture.
  • Daily hours: 11:30am – 7pm
  • Kogod Courtyard – bag lunches allowed.
  • Café
  • Wifi (free)
  • Lockers and self-check coat room (near the F Street Lobby) available

National Postal Museum

2 Massachusetts Avenue, NE

  • Metro: Union Station (Mass. Ave. exit)
  • Bikeshare: North Capitol St & F St NW, Bike station 31624
  • Lockers available
  • Bike racks outside

National Mall, Washington DC


Have anything to add? Did you use this on a trip to D.C.? Leave a comment and share your experience!

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National Mall Transportation Tips

Posted by on Aug 11, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Lincoln memorial

The National Mall in Washington D.C. is bigger and more spread out than many first-time visitors expect.

While seeing the sights usually means a lot of walking, you may want to switch it up at some point. Here are a few other transportation options.

 

DC traffic and Washington Monument

Car

Traffic often gets very congested as you get close to the Mall. However, it can be an even bigger challenge to find parking once you get there.

  • Sights around the Mall tend not to have designated parking.
  • You may be able to find street parking, but it’s tricky.
  • There are several parking garages in the area with varying rates.

Car + Metro

  • To avoid the traffic, leave your car at your hotel and take the Metro in.
  • You can also park in Metro lots for about $5/day and pay with your SmarTrip Card.
  • Metro lots are free on weekends and federal holidays!

If you’re still in the trip planning stage, be aware that many of the hotels closer to the Mall charge guests for parking.

DC Metro

Metrorail

Washington D.C.’s Metro (subway/underground) system is a really convenient way to get to and from the National Mall.

Smartrip fare machines dc

Bus

DC Circulator

  • The National Mall route goes from the Lincoln Memorial to Union Station, then around the other side of the Mall and Tidal Basin, back to the Lincoln Memorial.
  • Route maps are available online, as a printable PDF, or via mail. There’s also an interactive map for finding the stop closest to you.
  • Frequency: Every 10 minutes from 7am to 8pm (9am start time on weekends).
  • Fare: $1 per ride. Pay with cash or a SmarTrip Card.
  • Order in advance for a 1-day pass ($3) or 3-day pass ($7).
  • Not a guided tour, just a (cheap) transportation option – although it might be a good way to get at least a visual overview of the Mall.

Big Bus Tours

  • Commentary via recording or live tour guide.
  • 3 different hop-on/hop-off routes available.
  • Tickets: $39-49 for 1 day.
  • Wifi on board.
  • Sightseeing bus recommended by Destination DC.

National mall dc pano

Bicycle

There are bike racks throughout the Mall to lock up your bike while you visit a museum, monument, or gallery.

Rental

You can rent a bike for short rides via Capital Bikeshare.


 

Have you been to D.C.? How did you get around?

National mall sign

– Resources for Finding Your Way in D.C. –

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Good Times at Monticello (part 2)

Posted by on Mar 30, 2017 in Travel | 2 comments

Monticello

Let’s say you read last week’s post on Monticello, and now you’re ready to plan a trip.

On the positive side, there’s so much good info on their site. On the challenging side, there’s so. much. info.

So here’s the breakdown on admission and tour options and when to be where – the stuff that confused me when I was first planning to visit Monticello.

Monticello visitor center display

Getting In: How Much Is Admission?

Unlike a museum with optional tours, there’s not a general admission that lets you just wander around Monticello. Instead, you purchase a timed tour ticket that also acts as your day pass.

Tours vary based on what they cover and cost. The most basic, most popular one is the Monticello Day Pass and House Tour ($20-28, see below).

 

Monticello house model

Which Tour to Choose?

All Monticello Day Passes/Tour Tickets include:

image

You’ll want to find a tour that fits your interests, schedule, mobility, and the time of year you’re visiting, so here are summaries to help you sort it all out.

Tours Offered Year-round:

Monticello Day Pass and House Tour – This is the main tour, and it takes you through the first (ground) floor of Monticello.

  • 30-40 minutes
  • Wheelchair accessible. (Small strollers are also allowed.)
  • Adults: $20-28, Children (ages 5-11): $9

Behind the Scenes House Tour and Day Pass – Tour of the first, second and third floors, including the Dome Room.

  • The upper floors are not wheelchair accessible.
  • Not recommended for children under 7.
  • $48-60.

Monticello Neighborhood Pass – Combination ticket that includes Monticello Day Pass and House Tour, Ash-Lawn Highland admission and tour (home of fifth U.S. President James Monroe), and the Michie Tavern ca. 1784 Tour.

  • Save up to $6 on adult passes, if you visit all 3 sites.
  • If you only plan to visit 2 of the sites, buying tickets individually is a better deal.
  • I was not able to confirm whether you have to visit all 3 sites in one day.
  • Adults: $34-43, Children (ages 5-11): $19

Touch Tours for blind / seeing impaired individuals or groups are available by advance appointment.

Monticello Private Guide – Tour for 1-8 people, which includes the Dome Room and the gardens and grounds or museum galleries. Tailored to your interests.

  • Call (434) 984-9884 at least two weeks before your visit to schedule your tour. Subject to availability.
  • 3 hours
  • 1-4 people: $600, 5-8 people: $750-1200

Monticello garden sprouts

Tours Offered Seasonally or on Select 2017 Dates:

Hemings Family Tour – Interactive tour of the House and Mulberry Row that centers around stories of seven members of the Hemings Family.

  • February – November, Friday through Sunday
  • 1 hour, 45 minutes
  • Not wheelchair accessible.
  • Not recommended for children under 12.
  • $27-30

Family Friendly Tour – House Tour with hands-on activities geared toward children ages 5-11.

  • April 3 – 23, June 10 – September 4, October 7 – 9, December 26 – 30
  • 40 minutes
  • Wheelchair accessible.
  • Adults: $20-28, Children (ages 5-11): $9

Walk-Through Tours – Alternative to Monticello House Tour with guides stationed in each room.

  • April 14 – 15, May 27 – 28, June 3 – 4, July 1 – 2, September 9, October 7 – 8, November 26
  • Wheelchair accessible.
  • Adults: $20-25, Children (ages 5-11): $9
  • Add 30-minute Upper Floors Tour on these dates: +$25

Hamilton Tour Takeover – Interactive House tour that contrasts the ideas of Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, followed by a moderated discussion.

  • April 7, 28-29; May 6, 12 – 13, 19; September 15 – 16, 22 – 23, 29 – 30
  • 1 hour
  • $40

Jefferson

How to buy passes?

  • In-person at the Dominion Welcome Pavilion, subject to availability. Plan to wait in line.
  • Online and print out yourself – This gives you more choices of tour times, plus you can skip the lines when you arrive. Under delivery options, select “print at home” at checkout. As far as I know, only paper tickets are accepted.
  • Online and pick them up at Will Call – If you don’t have access to a printer or don’t want to worry about losing/forgetting tickets, you can select “Will Call” under delivery options at checkout. You may have a small wait for Will Call, but otherwise you get the same benefits as above.

Regardless of whether you print or pick up, purchasing online saves you about 10% on adult passes. You can buy tickets online from maybe 3 months in advance up until midnight the day before you visit.

Monticello

Other Event Tickets:

Tickets for other events at Monticello may not include a House Tour/Day Pass. To attend a Harvest Tasting Tour (offered weekends May – October), for example, you’d need to purchase one of the Day Passes above plus a ticket for the tasting tour itself ($15). There are also a la carte workshops (which we sometimes feature on our Happenings List) like Get to Know Your Trails on April 1 ($18) or Toddler Time, the third Saturday of each month ($10).

Monticello

When Should I Arrive?

Even if you’ve already purchased and printed your pass, you can’t just roll up to the parking lot at tour time. It takes time to get up to the House. Here’s the “Last-Minute Monticello” list of the minimum time Monticello recommends you allow each step of the way.

Last-minute Monticello:

  • Arrival – At least 30 minutes before tour time (1 hour if you plan to watch the introductory film)
  • Shuttle – Board at least 15 minutes before tour time. (Shuttles arrive every 5-10 minutes.)
  • In front of the House (East Walk) – 5 minutes before tour time.

Allow additional time during peak travel times (weekends, holidays, etc.).

If you are pressed for time, you can check out the visitor center exhibits after your tour.  (This is what we did, because we were really tight on time.) However, arriving at least an hour before your tour allows you to get some context before going up to the House.

The Monticello Mellow itinerary is my suggestion for a less rushed way to take it all in.

 

Monticello

 


Monticello Mellow

A mid-morning tour time would allow you to explore the visitor center and get up to the mountaintop before the most crowded part of the day (11am – 3pm).

  • Arrival – 1-2 hours before tour time. Park, pick up tickets (if needed), see the introductory film, and visit exhibits.
  • Shuttle/walk – 30-40 minutes before tour time be at the shuttle stop or walk (.5 mile) up to the mountaintop.
  • If you get to the mountaintop with time to spare before your tour, check out the dependencies, cellar, fish pond, or hang out on the West Lawn. You may want to set an alarm so you dont get so engrossed that you miss your tour!
  • At the East Walk of the House – 5-10 minutes before your tour, find your way to the staging area for your ticket group. Check with a guide to make sure you’re at the right spot.
  • House Tour lasts approximately 30 minutes.
  • Afterwards, explore the rooms below the House and Mulberry Row.
  • From April to October, there are additional tours offered that are included with admission, no reservation required. If time allows, check out the Garden and Grounds and/or Slavery Tours.
  • When you’re ready to head back down the mountain, you can check out the Monticello graveyard (the shuttle stops there on the way back) and/or any exhibits you missed at the visitor center.
  • Have lunch at the cafe, drive over to Michie Tavern, or pack a picnic.

Monticello fog

You could probably spend most/all of the day at Monticello if you wanted to. Or, spend a few hours there then take a hike, tour another historic site (both Ash-Lawn Highland and the tour at Michie Tavern are included in the Monticello Neighborhood Pass), visit at vineyard, or just chill in Charlottesville.


We were guests of Monticello.

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A Friend in the Cellar

Posted by on Mar 27, 2017 in Travel | 13 comments

Monticello

Phillip and I are walking through the passage into the cellar under Monticello, when a woman coming the other direction stops us. Because she wants to take a photo. Of us. For us.

Wait…what?

“It just looks so cool with the light filtering through the fog behind you…it’s okay…I work here,” she reassured us with that non-sequitur.

Still slightly stunned, we hand her a phone, pose for a photo, and then find ourselves in a conversation about our visit to Virginia and her work at Monticello (which does not typically involve walking around taking strangers’ photos).

Momticello window

“Have a good trip!” she calls after us when we finally part ways.

I randomly respond with “Thanks! May the Force be with you!”

She stops in her tracks. “Have you seen it?”

Of course, she means the then-newly-released Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, that had shocked fans (including us) with the death of a hero.

“Yes!” I was still moving through the stages of fictional character grief, and she just opened her arms to hug me.

The three of us stood in the passageway awhile longer, talking about the movie and the plot twist and feelings and nostalgia, and it was this beautiful moment of connection in a really unexpected location.

monticello passage by liz marshall




P.S. I just posted more about what to see at Monticello and will be posting how to tackle tickets and tour schedules later this week.

Last photo by Liz Marshall.

Microblog Mondays: Write in your own space

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Our Time at Monticello (part 1)

Posted by on Mar 23, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Monticello

The fog had started rolling in as we wound through the woods on the way to Monticello and had thickened by the time we were standing outside the House itself. It obscured the view, swallowing up all but the nearest trees. We stood on the side of the House away from the waning crowds, and, for a few moments, it was as quiet as if we were the only ones in the world. As if we had traveled back in time. As if, at any moment, we would hear approaching hoof beats and see Thomas Jefferson emerging through the white-gray veil.

Monticello

Even in his day, visitors to the House would not have been unusual. In fact, Monticello had already become a tourist attraction during the former president’s lifetime [audio].

People touring the U.S. or who wanted to learn more about Jefferson stopped at his Charlottesville, Virginia home frequently enough that they strained the resources of both the residence and the residents.

Monticello

Today, people continue to stop there for many of the same reasons as those early admirers – although a visit no longer comes with free wine or overnight lodging.

The House and plantation buildings continue to perch atop their hill (a.k.a. the “mountaintop”) with orchards, vineyards, and gardens stretching out across the landscape.

Nearly 100 years ago, a foundation was set up to maintain the House and the grounds, continue research, and manage the steady flow of visitors. In keeping with Jefferson’s ardor for order, the whole place still runs like clockwork.

Thomas Jefferson at Monticello

Places you can visit at Monticello:

Monticello visitor center

1. Visitors Center

The entry point for contemporary visitors is a complex of buildings at the bottom of the hill. The Rubenstein Visitor Center, Smith Education Center, Milstein Theater, Smith Gallery, gift shop, and cafe all form kind of a square around a central courtyard.

Visitor center exhibits take a variety of forms: models of Monticello, a projection of key Jeffersonian ideas, hands-on activities for kids, explanations of Monticello’s architecture, and interactive LCD screens about liberty.

Monticello

At the far end of the square, there’s a shuttle stop with a covered waiting area. Shuttles arrive every 5-10 minutes to take you to the mountaintop, parking you directly in front of the East Walk to the House. You can also walk the half mile (25 minutes) to the top. Either way, make sure you have your ticket first.

If you haven’t already purchased and printed out your pass, you pick it up at the Dominion Welcome Pavilion on your way in from the parking lot.

Monticello house

2. The House

When the shuttle dropped us off for our House Tour, there were still crowds of people around the East Portico, waiting for their tour time.

You need a timed ticket to go inside Monticello.

Monticello

While we waited for our tour, we saw how the guides work in sync to keep groups staggered just the right distance apart. Once a tour headed inside, the next one began right there on the front-porch-like portico, while the following one was gathered off to the side.

We saw two different guides’ introductions. They each had their own style but were very knowledgeable and passionate about the place and its history.

The main house tour is wheelchair accessible, but you need to be in a chair that meets a certain size requirement. If not, you can borrow one of theirs. Even though some of the spaces are tight, the guides know exactly how to navigate through and are very helpful, making sure everyone on the tour is taken care of.

Monticello bookshelf

A few objects that stood out:

  • The Great Clock has faces inside and outside and a system of balancing weights that also show the day of the week. The days were listed down the wall and, due to a miscalculation, had to extend down through the floor into the cellar. It is still wound weekly [video].
  • Books – Jefferson’s entire collection went to help re-establish the Library of Congress after it was burned down during the War of 1812. The original volumes are still in D.C. on exhibit at the Library of Congress (Southwest Pavilion, 2nd Floor, Thomas Jefferson Building). So Monticello curators have stocked the Book Room’s shelves with other copies of the titles he owned that were published around the same time.
  • Jefferson’s bed was wedged into an alcove between two of his private rooms, as a space saving measure, and he would sleep sitting up. (I’m not convninced it actually saved space, but Jefferson was really into putting beds into alcoves.)
  • Polygraph – clever writing implement used to make copies.
  • Wine dumb waiter – contraption to bring bottles straight up from the wine cellar into the dining room (and the fixture in the House I may be most jealous of).

Monticello
To visit the second and third floors, you would need to purchase a Behind the Scenes Tour (or Upper Floors Tour) ticket ahead of time and be able to navigate a steep staircase.

Monticello

3. The Plantation Community and Grounds

Before or after your tour, you can check out the self-guided areas of the mountaintop.

Monticello

Walk through either the North or South Cellar Passage to go under the House. You can see food preparation and storage areas and wander into the wine cellar to find where the dumb waiter lands.

Monticello wine cellar

I should note that present-day Monticello does not shy away from – but certainly doesn’t condone – the fact that many of Jefferson’s workers were enslaved people. The introductory film even addresses the paradox that such an advocate for freedom also denied it to people on his own estate.

Monticello

In recent years, Monticello has moved to provide more information about the entire community who lived there along with Jefferson, highlighting the skills of the craftspeople, adding exhibits about enslaved individuals, and creating a Slavery at Monticello app. There’s also a House Tour option that focuses on the Hemings family, and all Day Passes include the option of an additional Slavery at Monticello tour.

Monticello kitchen

We did not venture into the grayness to find Mulberry Row or get off the shuttle at the Monticello Graveyard stop that already-dark evening, opting instead to head back to the warmth of the visitors center.

Monticello tree

As much as we enjoyed the romance of our fog-cloaked winter visit, condensation droplets hanging on bare branches like tiny glass ornaments, we hope to visit again on a clearer day, when leaves are back on the trees, and we have the luxury of a little more time.

Monticello

 




More info

  • Monticello is open 364 days a year (closed Christmas Day)
  • Parking is free.
  • Monticello is a short drive from Charlottesville, and there are a variety of lodging options there, incuding the Omni where we stayed and the Oakhurst Inn near UVA.
  • Your tour/day pass is your admission ticket. Adult passes start at $20.
  • Monticello is not a National Park. The House and 2500 acres (of the original 5000) are owned and maintained by a non-profit organization without federal or state funding.

Photos

No photos are allowed inside the house, due to certain items being on loan from other institutions or individuals.

You can also get a glimpse of what the tour is like and a close-up of some of Monticello’s objects and features in videos by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. There are also 360 views of rooms on the first floor, as well as an image gallery on Monticello.org.

Planning

If your schedule allows it, I’d recommend planning on at least half a day there. Visit Charlottesville suggested visiting Monticello in the morning, having lunch at Michie Tavern, and then visit another historical site (like Ash-Lawn Highland) in the afternoon.

I’ll have more itinerary recommendations for you next week, plus tips for picking your tour and planning your time.

Monticello


We were guests of Monticello.

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