If you’re like me, you might first believe that Monticello - home to Thomas Jefferson - is hugely overwhelming. There’s just not enough time in the day to do and see everything! Or so I thought. While Monticello might best be experienced over several trips, I’ve learned that you, your friends, and your family can have a memorable experience in just a few short hours.
So, if you aren’t sure what you’re signing yourself up for, here’s a handy guide to the top 6 things to get into while visiting Jefferson’s little mountain: Monticello.
- Take the “Behind the Scenes” guided tour
The regular house tour (officially known as the Monticello Day Pass) gets you a guided look at Monticello’s first floor, and optional (free) walking tours like Slavery at Monticello. These are interesting by themselves, but I’ve always wondered about the upstairs and lesser-known parts of Monticello.
Enter the Behind-the-Scenes Day Pass. In addition to exploring the private quarters of Jefferson and his family, part of the tour includes Monticello’s iconic Dome Room. The upstairs of his home is modeled after the Temple of Vesta in Rome. I’m certain it also pays homage to his love of French architecture (consider the Hotel de Salm) which he undoubtedly picked up during the 5 years he spent in Paris as the United States’ foreign ambassador.
Unless you’re sure you’ll be returning to Monticello, don’t miss the Behind the Scenes tour. It’s really eye-opening. And in case you’re not planning on taking a trip to Paris anytime soon, be sure to check out the French influence all over Monticello’s construction!
- Take a selfie with the life-sized replica of Thomas Jefferson
Did you know that Thomas Jefferson was nearly 6 feet, 3 inches? There’s a life-sized replica of him at the Monticello's David M. Rubenstein Visitor Center, right in front of the shuttle bus boarding area. That means you literally have to walk right by it to get up the mountain! So while you’re waiting on your bus, don’t miss your chance to get a #tjselfie.
- Check out the newly excavated kitchen
If you haven’t visited Monticello in a while, you’ll be pleased to know that a field research team has been unearthing discoveries in the South Pavilion and South Wing of the estate. The team is discovering Monticello’s methods of cooking and food preparation, and it’s really, really interesting.
Jefferson kept intricately detailed notes about all the on-goings of the house, but for several reasons the South Pavilion’s kitchen remains uncertain. Archeologists are now discovering that stew stoves (today’s cooktop equivalent) existed during the time Jefferson lived at Monticello, and the way they made them work is really clever.
If you’ve ever wondered about how cooking was handled back in the eighteenth century, come check out these new discoveries.
- Visit the Garden Pavilion
It’s no secret that Jefferson loved gardens. Thanks to his attention to detail in crops and harvests, Monticello was able to become almost completely self-sustaining. Jefferson even went so far as to stagger his planting of peas so that he could maximize how often he harvested fresh veggies in the summer months, while reducing food waste. You could say he was the first guy to go green. Terrible pun.
Jefferson designed the Garden Pavilion sometime around his second presidential term, or early retirement years. He hired a local to oversee the building of his pavilion, but midway through construction it was discovered that the crew had accidentally built a foundation that’s a foot smaller than Jefferson’s specifications. Imagine how frustrated Jefferson must have felt! Ultimately he decided to not chance building on unsupported footing and opted to reduce the size of his pavilion by a whole foot. Today, the pavilion stands in Jefferson’s garden. It was here that Thomas Jefferson would sit and read, overlooking one of his favorite views. Some people call it the ‘sea view’ because when you look out over the land to the south, it almost looks like you’re looking out over an ocean.
It’s definitely a view that you shouldn’t miss.
- Experience The Life of Sally Hemings exhibit
A groundbreaking new digital exhibit that relies on the words of Sally Hemings’s and Thomas Jefferson’s son, Madison, to explore her life and the legacy of freedom she achieved for her family.
- Griffin Discovery Room
Last but certainly not least is the Griffin Discovery Room. This is easily my favorite part of Monticello. Here, you can literally touch history through hands-on activities. Much of what sits inside are near-exact replicas of toys, games, and tools that Jefferson owned or developed in his lifetime.
You can even get your picture taken sitting at his (replica) desk. How cool is that?