Location: Montpelier, VA
Full Price Admission Cost: $22 adults; $9 kids; under 6 free
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Montpelier is the place James Madison called home. It’s a gorgeous property and paying the attraction a visit is a fabulous way to step back in time and get up close and personal with the 4th president of the United States.
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Guests are welcome to visit the Montpelier property free of charge. That said, the only way to see the Madisons’ mansion is through a tour. Because of this, and because they are so very educational, a tour is highly recommended.
The Signature Tour is perhaps the most popular option. It’s a one-hour guided affair that tells the story of the Madisons, the forming of the U.S. Constitution, and slavery. The information provided is detailed and deep, making this tour better for older students with some understanding of (and interest in) U.S. history.
That said, there is a family-friendly, hands-on tour on weekend mornings. This option is ideal for families with younger children who would likely become disinterested and antsy during the longer tours.
In the basement of the house is an exhibit on slavery. This includes detailed information about slavery and the slave trade in general. It also gets more specific with information on the slaves at Montpelier, including the names of every slave known to be owned by the Madisons and details about their lives. Please note that the exhibit contains audio that is powerful and potentially upsetting.
Outside, visitors can tour several reconstructed buildings used by slaves. There is a daily walking tour that further examines the lives of the enslaved community.
The visitor center includes an exhibit on the Dupont family (the family who owned the home for most of the 20th century), an introductory movie, and an exhibit about First Lady Dolley Madison in popular culture. This is also where you’ll find a gift shop and counter-service cafe.
A short walk away from the visitor center is the Madison family cemetery and a slave cemetery. Also found on the grounds are nature trails and a formal garden that is lovely to walk through. As you might imagine, when all is said and done, seeing everything on the property can easily take several hours.
- Food is available for purchase on the premises. However, outside food and drink is also allowed as long as it isn’t taken into the mansion.
- Limited bus parking is available.
- Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk, as the grounds are quite extensive.
- Pets are allowed on the grounds, but not in the mansion itself.
- A discount of $2 per adult and $1 per child is available when tickets are purchased online.
- Arrive in time to watch the 13-minute movie at the visitor center.
- Plan for 1–2 hours in addition to the one-hour tour.
- There is a lot to do outside, so try to go on a day when the weather is good.
Books to Read
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- If You Lived During the Time of the American Revolution by Kay Moore
- If You Were There When They Signed the Constitution by Elizabeth Levy
- If You Lived When There was Slavery in America by Anne Kamma
- The Great Little Madison by Jean Fritz
- Salt: A Story of Friendship During a Time of War by Helen Frost
- A History of US: From Colonies to Country by Joy Hakim
- A History of US: The New Nation by Joy Hakim
- James Madison: A Biography by Ralph Ketchum
- The Madisons at Montpelier: Reflections on the Founding Couple by Ralph Ketcham
Videos to Watch
- James Madison Videos by History Channel
- Crash Course History: The Constitution
- Crash Course History: The War of 1812
- Crash Course History: Jefferson
- Crash Course History: Slavery
- 60 Second Presidents: James Madison
Audio to Hear
- Podcast: “What Would Madison Think Today?” — Ages 12+
Activities to Do
Things to Discuss
- What historical events might have gone differently had Madison not been around? How do you think they would’ve gone?
- If you lived during 1808, would you have voted for Madison? Why or why not?
- What would you do differently than Madison had you been allowed to take his place?
Other Area Attractions
Below are some of the other great attractions in this area. We try to keep things affordable, sticking to free and cheap attractions and/or museums and zoos on reciprocal lists. If an attraction is affiliated with a reciprocal program or offers free admission, I have noted that beside the attraction listing. To learn more about saving money using reciprocal programs, see this post.
- Manassas National Battlefield Park (America the Beautiful)
- Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Military Park (America the Beautiful)
- Appomattox Courthouse National Historical Park (America the Beautiful)
- Monticello, The Home of Thomas Jefferson
- Michie Tavern
- Highland, The Home of James Monroe
- The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum
- Shenandoah National Park (America the Beautiful)
- James Madison Museum
- Civil War Medical Museum
Closest Places to Stay on a Budget
For information on camping memberships, see this post.
- Thousand Trails: Harbor View RV and Camping Resort (76.8 mi)
- RPI and Passport America: Small Country Campground (22.4 mi)
- Coast to Coast: Shenandoah Crossing Resort and Country Club (17.4 mi)
Related Attractions in Other Areas
For more great roadschool guides, have a look around our blog or visit Wonder Wherever We Wander.
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