After living in the D.C.Metro area for years and hearing how wonderful Monticello is, we finally made the trip to see it for ourselves.
The drive in to Monticello was nice and easy. Jefferson built his home on family land, like a mini mountain, so it's one road that pleasantly winds its way up to the Visitor Center. The parking lot has several tiers, which ends up as a possible advantage when you're finished touring, as its possible to walk down from the house and grounds, stop by the grave yard, and then continue to your parked car if you don't want to take the shuttle back.
When we arrived at Monticello we followed the path directly to the Visitor Center. While we decided to purchase our tickets and head directly to the house, there are certainly a few things worth seeing beforehand if you're interested. As a great way to prep yourself before touring Jefferson's house and grounds, the center offers a short movie and a couple of mini museums dedicated to his life and the property itself. They also provide a gift shop, a snack area and restrooms nearby.
There are different ticket options, but we went with the basic $25 tickets (per adult), which included a tour of the main house that was run like clockwork and four walking tours of the grounds. The tour of the main house is run in groups of about 15-20 people at a time--one group every 10 minutes or so, with the next group queuing up as the previous one is released to start. There are several helpful people at the shuttle stop to help guests with their scheduled time slots and inside the house itself to keep the pace and shut doors in between groups. (I'm reminded of a bad experience at Colonial Williamsburg where it was so torturous being held in each room with a monotoned actor that we cleverly timed an escape through the group ahead of us. No such problem at Monticello as all our tour guides were really entertaining and informative.)
The house is stocked like a museum and the entry way offers the first glimpse of treasures from the Lewis and Clark expedition. He loved books and on display are some of his actual volumes, the ones he held and read. There are many paintings to look at, which the guides will add stories and explanations to, as well as a number of his clever inventions that for the time were probably awesome. Like going to Doc Brown's garage in the 80s.
Only the ground floor is available on the general tour but I think there is a higher priced option to see some of the upstairs. The tour concludes outside of the house on one of the two porches that extend back and around the yard where you can see the famous dome of the University of Virginia. It was about an hour long and it moved at a good pace, thanks to all the people gently pushing and pulling each group through.
In addition to the paid house tour, there are two free tours given (weather permitting) in the slave quarters and the garden. You could feasibly park and hike up the hill, but it's a ways.
Our slave tour was the more fascinating of the two as it dived into the families working the plantation, how some were split up (even though he was against the practice of breaking up families, Jefferson was still a slave owner using them for profit), and what happened to the desk he wrote the Declaration of Independence on. The garden tour was interesting as well, mainly from the explanations behind much of the plants found there.
The garden and slave tours were around 45 minutes each, but depending on questions and the group they could easily go longer.
Beyond the guided tours are the areas of the house and grounds that are just open to whomever wants to walk around them. Under the porch are several rooms showing a wine and beer storage area (Jefferson loved his wine), a kitchen, a room where the butler could use a dumbwaiter to deliver wine upstairs, and a few other items of interest. The yard is wide open and people can easily walk around the flower beds and slave quarters to see the whole of the property.
We recommend getting there with enough time to spend about at least three hours comfortably. The earlier the better, so that you don't have a long wait until your group tour begins. We didn't think ahead and although we arrived at noon, our house tour didn't start until 2:10pm. By the time we were ready to leave it was several hours later and we were starving for a late-late-late lunch. If you do decide to stay for lunch or dinner, the downtown area (though TINY) is very charming.
Disclaimer: As always, our posts are our own opinions and may differ from yours.