Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and Charlottesville, VA is just a 2.5-hour drive from D.C., and makes for a nice quick day trip to get away from the city.The drive is pleasant as soon as you leave the DC metro area. The quickest way is to take I-95 south past Quantico, then head west from Fredericksburg. Like the rest of Norther VA that we have driven through, the little country freeways are dotted with white historical markers that seem to always mark Civil War battlefields–at least that’s the best I can gather as we drive quickly by them. Apparently there are more than 2,500 of these things in Virginia’s rolling hills, and I’ve never seen anyone stop and stare at one, but if you’re interested, they’re everywhere, especially in wine country.
Anyway, Monticello is tucked away off of a windy road in the hills just 10 minutes or so outside downtown Charlottesville, best known (I think?) as the home of the University of Virginia, known locally in the DC metro area as “UVA” (not UV…whatever). Once you arrive at Monticello, parking is difficult but the visitor’s center is brand new, modern, and well-designed. Tickets are a little pricey ($28/pp). Apparently there is a discount for active duty military and when asked, I mentioned that H is FS and we only had to pay for one ticket. I didn’t ask if her ticket was free or if both were half price, but S got in for free since he is under 5. There are different ticket packages, but we bought the base package for a house tour and whatever special tours they have going on at that time. When we went, there was a garden tour and slave tour, but we only went inside the house.
At the visitor’s center, there is a short 15-minute introductory film to watch before taking the shuttle over to the house and grounds. The house is well known for its Neoclassical architecture that was designed by Thomas Jefferson himself. It’s only possible to visit the ground floor of the house on the tour and there are stewards in each room that explain the history and significance of the room. The house has been well-kept and a lot of the furniture is actually the original furniture to the house. Jefferson was a notorious tinkerer and he designed some quirky things inside the house, such as the dumbwaiters built into the sides of the fireplaces (to bring up booze from the cellar) and great clock that is powered by two sets of cannonballs that run through holes in the floor.
The tour takes you through sitting rooms and Jefferson’s study and bedroom (interesting quirk–he designed alcove beds to fit into the walls), but not upstairs. After the tour, visitors are free to roam the grounds, check out the cellar, and join tours of the grounds at will. We only toured the house because 1. S had a meltdown and 2. H is 30+ weeks pregnant and was done walking around for a while. No problem, so we headed into Charlottesville for some lunch and a quick drive through town.
Pro tip: Ask about a discount for Foreign Service officers when asked if anyone in the party is active duty military.
Extra golden stars: Take lunch at Ivy Provisions in Charlottesville, only 10-15 minutes from Monticello. The sandwiches are huge and they also have pastries, coffee, and beer on tap!