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Here is a complete guide to fun things to do at George Washington’s beloved estate in Mount Vernon Virginia, plus tips for making the most of your visit. Extensive grounds, the restored Mansion and outbuildings, an education center and museum, and numerous activities make George Washington’s Mount Vernon a perfect day trip from Washington DC.
George Washington lived at Mount Vernon both before and after his time as Revolutionary War General and his two terms as the first United States President. He personally oversaw the design and construction of his estate over a 45-year period.
There are so many things to do on a trip to Mount Vernon that you will need several hours or repeat visits to do them all. If you plan to make repeat visits, you can support Mount Vernon and save money by buying an annual membership. Whether you only have time for the highlights, or choose to spend the day, you’ll find lots of interesting things to do in Mount Vernon Virginia for history lovers of every age.
Fun things to do at George Washington’s Estate in Mount Vernon Virginia are listed in the order you will encounter them as you explore the grounds. Our tips will help you prioritize which activities to include in your visit.
1. Purchase Mount Vernon Tickets and Get Oriented
All visitors enter and purchase tickets at the Ford Orientation Center. When you pay the entry fee, you are issued a timed ticket which tells you when to get in line for your tour of George Washington’s home. Pick up a map and check the calendar for the day’s special activities. Take a photo with the first First Family, rendered in bronze just inside the center, before you head out.
If you have plenty of time, watch the 25-minute film about Washington’s experience in the French and Indian War, which prepared him to lead the Colonial Army.
2. Tour the Mansion, George Washington’s Home Near Washington DC
The most popular activity at George Washington’s Mount Vernon is the Mansion tour. Tours cover all of the main rooms on the first and second floors, including the rooms where the Washington family lived and entertained a steady stream of important guests.
Tips for Mount Vernon tours:
- Your Mount Vernon ticket will tell you when to line up for your Mansion tour. You will likely have a wait until your tour begins.
- Once inside the Mansion, tours move quickly on crowded days at Mount Vernon. If you want more time to ask questions and a shorter wait, avoid visiting during the summer and nice weekends in spring and fall.
- Photography is not allowed inside the Washington home, so plan to get your photos outside.
- Special tours are available that include the basement and third floor. During the Christmas season you can see the simple greenery the Washington’s used to decorate their home for the holidays. Check the Mount Vernon events calendar for special tour offers.
3. Enjoy Potomac River Views from the East Porch and Grounds
Your tour of Washington’s house will include a brief stop on the East Porch as you move between rooms. A row of Windsor chairs lining the porch are open to anyone, and offer a nice spot to take a break during your visit. The Potomac River was busy with commerce in Washington’s early days, so imagine the view filled with ships and traders.
READ More: Mount Vernon’s East Front Porch
4. Visit the Slave Quarters and Outbuildings to Learn About Life at Mount Vernon
Contrast life in the slave quarters with the Washington family life in the Mansion. Shared rooms, meager possessions, and back-breaking physical work was life for the enslaved people at Mount Vernon. As you tour the kitchen, smokehouse, wash house, and other outbuildings, imagine the difficult conditions experienced by the workers who toiled here.
Tip: Re-enactors in period dress are often on hand to answer questions and tell you more about what life was like at Mount Vernon. There is also a one-hour guided Slave Life Tour.
5. Take a Stroll in the Gardens
There are several gardens at Mount Vernon, all of which contributed to life on the Estate. George Washington was a successful and innovative Virginia farmer, always looking for ways to improve the fortunes of his vast farmlands. There are formal and decorative gardens near the Greenhouse and Lady Washington Shop. The Lower Garden was used to grow produce and herbs to feed the Washington’s and their workers. Further down the hill are fruit orchards and a nursery.
6. Meet the Heritage Sheep and Pigs
Mount Vernon is home to several of the same animal breeds kept by George Washington, including hogs, sheep, chickens, and cattle. In late winter and spring you’ll see adorable baby lambs in the paddocks.
Tip: George Washington brought a camel to Mount Vernon during the Christmas season to amuse his guests, and that tradition continues today. Visit Aladdin the Christmas Camel every December through early January.
7. Pay Your Respects at Washington’s Tomb and the Slave Memorial
George and Martha Washington are buried side-by-side in a tomb located below the fruit orchard. Washington died in his bedroom at Mount Vernon, and his will specified that he be buried on the estate. The Slave Memorial, located 50 yards from the tomb, is located on the site of a burial ground for slaves and free blacks who worked at Mount Vernon. Special wreath laying ceremonies are held at Washington’s Tomb and the Slave Memorial daily, but you can stop and pay your respects any time.
Tip: Washington’s Tomb and the Slave Memorial are located downhill from the Mansion on a dirt path so can be difficult to reach for people with limited mobility.
8. Visit the Pioneer Farm and 16-Sided Barn
If your time and energy allow, continue down the hill, or follow the path through the woods, to visit the Pioneer Farm. Here you can see Washington’s innovative 16-sided treading barn. The barn was carefully constructed to efficiently separate wheat from chaff using horses, but protected from the elements. The Pioneer Farm also includes a recreated slave cabin and farming demonstrations.
Tip: The farm is at the bottom of a steep hill, down a long flight of stairs, but a seasonal bus is available for those who don’t want to walk.
9. Take a Scenic Boat Cruise on the Potomac River
Steps from the Pioneer Farm, the Potomac River makes it’s way from Washington DC, past the Mount Vernon estate. Take a sightseeing cruise of the Potomac to view Mount Vernon as river travelers would have seen it during Washington’s time. 45-minute narrated cruises leave from the Wharf from mid-March through fall.
Tips: Potomac River cruises are often free on special weekends and holidays like Presidents Day, on a first-come, first-served basis. The Wharf is a steep 30-minute walk from the Mansion, but a shuttle bus is available in season.
10. Explore the Forces in Washington’s Life at the Education Center
Allow time at the end of your visit to explore the excellent Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center. The Education Center has interesting displays that cover George Washington’s life, from his days as a young surveyor to his time as the first United States President. Don’t miss our favorite interesting and interactive exhibits:
- Be Washington is an interactive and fun way to learn about important challenges in Washington’s life before and during his Presidency. Get input from advisors like Alexander Hamilton, then decide how you will advise George Washington to handle each conflict.
- The 4D Revolutionary War Theater is an immersive overview of the Revolutionary War, complete with fog, cannon blasts, and snow.
- Learn the true story of George Washington’s false teeth. Washington was plagued with dental issues throughout his life but, despite what you may have learned in grade school, he never wore wooden teeth.
11. Have a Meal at the Tavern
The Tavern is the only table-service restaurant at Mount Vernon (there is also a food court near the gift shop). The rich and creamy Virginia Peanut soup is a popular first course. Try the grits and you’ll be enjoying a bit of history. They are stone ground by water power at George Washington’s Gristmill (details below), and a generous order is only $3. You can also try a shot of the whiskey produced at Washington’s Distillery, but it’s going to set you back $25 to $70 per shot, depending on how long it has been aged.
12. Shop in the Gift Store
The gift shops at Mount Vernon are quite large and filled with interesting items, which are also available online. There’s a large section for children, some fun POTUS1 gear, and the most extensive George Washington-themed bookstore in the world.
If time allows, we highly recommend a visit to George Washington’s Gristmill and Distillery. Both historic businesses have been restored and are fully operational. Expert docents in period dress demonstrate the steps required to stone-grind grain and distill spirits as it was done in Washington’s time. The huge wooden gears and waterwheel are really impressive when grinding demonstrations are underway.
Tip: The Gristmill and Distillery are open from April through October. On busy weekends, consider parking at the Gristmill and beginning your tour there before heading to the Mansion and estate on the free shuttle.
14. Attend a Special Event at Mount Vernon
There are special tours at Mount Vernon every day, and special weekend events are a great time to visit. On President’s Day you can meet and get a picture with “George Washington.” Fourth of July, Fall Harvest Days, Mount Vernon by Candlelight holiday tours, and other annual events feature special activities on the estate.
Tip: Admission is free on President’s Day. Several annual events include fireworks over the Potomac River. Check the Fun in Fairfax VA monthly events in Northern Virginia round-up for the latest events in and near Mount Vernon.
15. Bike the Mount Vernon Trail
The Mount Vernon Trail follows the Virginia side of the Potomac River from Theodore Roosevelt Island to Mount Vernon Virginia. The bike route links natural and historic sites, and offers beautiful views across the river to Washington DC. While most of the trail is level, the mile closest to Mount Vernon VA is a steady climb.
16. Visit River Farm
The current Mount Vernon estate is large, but it is a small portion of Washington’s original holdings. Nearby River Farm, 5 miles northeast of the Mansion, was once part of Washington’s sprawling farmland. Today River Farm is a lovely garden and headquarters of the American Horticultural Society.
READ MORE: Peaceful River Farm in Alexandria Virginia
More Tips for Your Visit to George Washington’s Mount Vernon
- General admission Mount Vernon tickets are $20/$17/$11 for adults/seniors/youth 6 to 11. Children 5 and under are free. Discount tickets are available online and parking is free.
- Mount Vernon hours are 9:00 to 5:00 daily from April through October; 9:00 to 4:00 November through March.
- A free shuttle runs between the estate and the Distillery and Gristmill approximately every 20 minutes. If you visit on a busy day you could park at the Gristmill and shuttle to the main estate.
- Special Events are popular and often sell out at Mount Vernon. If an event is one of your top things to do at Mount Vernon, purchase tickets well in advance.
- Only the first floor of the Mansion is wheelchair accessible. Some of the gardens and outbuildings are also viewable from accessible pathways, but the paths to the tomb, the barn, and the Wharf are steep. Shuttle buses travel to The Wharf from April to October.
- Strollers must be parked outside the Mansion during tours.
- Mount Vernon welcomes leashed dogs on the grounds, but they are not allowed in the Mansion or other indoor spaces. George Washington’s love of dogs is honored at the annual Horses and Hounds event.
- Photography is not allowed in the Mansion or the museum.
Here are more places in the Virginia and Washington DC area where you can visit sites important in the life of Virginia farmer and President George Washington:
- 5 Historic George Washington Sites in Northern Virginia
- Saturday Postcard: George Washington Birthplace NM, Virginia
- Scenic Drive: Georgetown Pike & George Washington Memorial Parkway
- Saturday Postcard: Seneca Regional Park in Northern Virginia