George Washington was not only America’s first president, he was also the general who led the American revolutionaries into battle, ultimately defeating England for independence. This has been forever immortalized with the United States capital named in his honor, along with his face adorning the front of the US dollar bill (with the back having obscure latin phrases and eery masonic imagery). George and his wife Martha were also wealthy plantation owners, and his former estate at Mount Vernon is both a beautiful day out and an interesting history lesson to even casual observers.
On the day we attended we were fortunate to see a recreation of an old colonial market with lots of stalls and people in old style dress. There was a really fun buzz surrounding this and we felt the only thing missing was a revolutionary war reanactment. Washington’s former mansion has a beautiful elevated view of the Potomac River and surrounding area. The back of the house is lined with chairs for people to sit and admire the peaceful view. There’s horses, cattle, sheep and a nearby distillery and gristmill. Washington’s estate has been managed by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association since they purchased the estate in 1858, rescuing it from a state of disrepair from Washington’s heirs (interestingly, the US government turned down the opportunity to buy the estate). Mount Vernon has been open to the public since 1860 and is open 365 days a year. The Ladies Association claims that 80 million visitors have come to Mount Vernon over the past 154 years.
Other highlights of a visit to Mount Vernon are George and Martha’s side by side tomb, just a short walk from the mansion. The tomb is guarded by two men in colonial dress who stand firmly at attention. The museum was really interesting in detailing Washington’s life and how he became so powerful. Even the gift shop is unique, because you can even purchase whisky produced at the recreated distillery which became functional again in 2007. Yards Brewing Company produces some special beers based off original recipes by other founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, which are sold at Mount Vernon. These guys must have really liked home made booze!
Mount Vernon recommends at least 3 hours to tour the grounds and indeed there’s a lot to see. Afterwards, we jumped back into our zipcar for a lovely drive back to historic Alexandria along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, and enjoyed a lovely sunset before dinner.
Washington has pretty good public transportation for an American city but the metro runs less frequently on weekends, which is also the time that most construction takes place, often eliminating portions of metro lines or making trips more time consuming by replacing the trains with shuttle buses. In two recent trips to the DC area, we’ve found that combining the use of the metro with zipcar rentals is an excellent and convenient way to explore everything you want to see in DC, Virginia and Maryland. And while in Washington, not only is gas included with a zipcar rental, but so is parking in metered spaces! Have your own recommendations? Please let us know in the comments!
Where to Stay in Washington, DC?
Before living in Washington, DC, we visited a few times for work. A couple of our favorite stays were at the Washington Court Hotel, near the US Capitol Building. Some rooms have views of the US Capitol, so it’s worth requesting them. The Washington Hilton, which hosts the Washington Correspondant’s Dinner is also a favorite. If you’re looking for good value in DC, you can sometimes find it on weekends when the business travelers are gone. Weekend rates are sometimes 300% less than high weekday rates!
Budget travelers should check out Airbnb. If you’ve never used the service, sign up here to receive a discount off your first stay! Look for rooms or whole apartments and houses with consistently good reviews for the best experience.
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