It’s going to be that time of year again soon… spring break! Since this feels…
Colonial and Greater Williamsburg, Virginia 3 Ways
Learning by doing is way more fun than reading a book. That’s just one of the reasons why you should consider a trip to America’s historic triangle. The Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown settlements mark major events in the story of colonial America… and they are so close to one another that you can really explore all three in one fell swoop.
While people may think of Colonial Williamsburg as more of a school field trip locale, complete with actors in traditional garb, it’s important to remember what happened here remains so relevant today. For example, 2019 marks 400 years since enslaved Africans arrived in Jamestown, as well as the convening of the first General Assembly, which lay the foundation for a democratic, independent United States. There’s many incredible stories to be gleaned, even if you arrive skeptical, you’ll leave with a greater appreciation for the United States.
Here are three ways to explore Williamsburg.
Good for everyone to know:
- It’s actually free to explore the streets of Colonial Williamsburg, the largest living museum in the world. However, if you want to go into most of the buildings, partake in tours, take a carriage ride or watch artisans hone their craft, you’ll need a ticket.
- Make it extra easy on yourself by downloading the free Colonial Williamsburg mobile app. You may purchase admission tickets, reserve carriage rides, and gain access to coupons.
- There’s a lot going on in Williamsburg—be sure to check out their weekly schedule prior to heading there.
- And if you’re looking for things to do on the cheap, check out the Yorktown Trolley and Jamestown-Scotland Ferry. Rides on both are free.
If you’re interested in American history, few places offer as much as Williamsburg. From the Governor’s Palace to the second-oldest university in the USA, you aren’t going to run out of things to do.
Where to stay:
There are many fabulous historic accommodations in Williamsburg, but why not go for the full experience by staying at an authentic colonial house? There’s plenty to choose from—ranging from single rooms to large houses.
Where to eat:
Christina Campbell’s Tavern was one of George Washington’s favorite haunts, and it hasn’t changed much since the 18th Century. The food is fine, but a meal here is really more about the experience. Please note it’s only open from 5-7:45 pm Tuesday – Saturday.
For something more modern, visit the Amber Ox Ale House. This place really doesn’t have anything to do with history, but if you want me to reframe the narrative, let’s say that if our founding fathers were alive today, this is where they’d hang out. Great food, delicious beer, and the perfect place to solve all the world’s problems.
Where to shop:
When it comes to antiques, the east coast can’t be beaten. Williamsburg offers lots of cool vintage and antique shops—perfect for bringing home a one-of-a-kind souvenir.
What to do:
Looking to do a deep dive into Colonial Williamsburg history? Sign up for the behind-the-scenes tour. You’ll gain exclusive access to areas of Williamsburg typically not open to the public. This tour operated often, but not daily, so visit their calendar to time your trip accordingly.
Historic Jamestowne Visitor Center
See the remnants of colonial life in Historic Jamestowne. Learn all about the area’s history, from prehistoric times to the present. Additionally, over 1,000 artifacts from Virginia Indian, European, and African cultures are on display. If you’re interested in archeology, check out their calendar to find a talk that piques your interest (or possibly watch a dig in action!).
The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown
Learn all about the nation’s founding, spanning the twilight of the colonial period to the dawn of the Constitution and beyond. Galleries include artifacts, interactive exhibits (you can help with chores on a Revolution-era farm), and partake in “The Siege of Yorktown,” a film screened in 180-degrees, complete with surround-sound musket fire and smoke machines.
William & Mary
As the second-oldest college in the states, William & Mary is full of interesting history. Explore the people, places, and events of this campus through a self-guided walking tour. TribeTrek is a free mobile app that puts the history of this school in the palm of your hands. Learn about buildings, like the Wren (the oldest campus building in the USA), sculptures, and other sites.
Fun Family Vacation
Who said an educational vacation has to be boring? With lots of immersive historical experiences aimed at kids (not to mention a big amusement and water park nearby), Williamsburg has something for everyone in your family.
Where to stay:
I used to spend way too much time researching interesting stylish, boutique hotels. Now that I’m a parent, I’m all about the convenience. Is it clean? Can I get a grilled cheese for the kids in a snap? Is there a pool? If you’re like me, check out the Kingsmill. There’s an indoor and outdoor pool; a marina with access to a pontoon, kayak, paddleboard rentals, and more; a spa, golf, and lots of food options. Staying here makes life easier.
Where to eat:
Who doesn’t love barbecue? Open since 1971, Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que remains a local favorite for smoked ribs and chicken, brisket sandwiches, and more.
It’s not a vacation without a daily sugar rush. Visit Shoofly Dairy Bar for soft-serve ice cream, snow cones, homemade whoopie pies, and their namesake treat, shoofly pies (a molasses crumb cake). Why not try them all? No one ever goes on vacation to lose weight.
What to do:
Short and sweet tours
It’s so much more fun to explore a place with a knowledgeable guide. That said, good luck surviving a two-hour historical tour with kids in tow. As a part of your Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket, you get access to two tours designed with kids in mind. The Governor’s Palace kids tour focuses on the governor’s family and their time at the Palace, and the Children’s Tour of the Capitol teaches all about seats of power in this government building. The best part? Both tours run about 25 minutes—perfect for elementary school kids.
Older kids will love learning about Haunted Williamsburg. From authentic 18th-century colonial ghost stories to creepy modern-day tales, this candlelit experience is fun and a wee bit unnerving. It’s for ages eight and older; if you’re with little kids, check out the Ghost Walk Junior tour.
Colonial times meet modern innovation
These days, your teenager probably doesn’t think of you as “cool.” Book a Segway tour of historic Yorktown and change that for an hour. This informative tour is so much fun, you won’t even realize you’re learning. Please note, that the minimum age for the Segway tour is 14.
Horse-drawn carriages are to Williamsburg what double-decker buses are to London: Super-touristy, but way fun. Close your eyes and listen to the horse hooves clopping down the street, wind rustling through the trees. You’ll find yourself transported to 18th-century America… until you get a text notification on your phone.
Carriage rides operate daily, weather permitting. Tickets may be purchased at the Lumber House Ticket Office, the William Pitt Store, or the mobile app on the day of use. Rides are a popular experience and often sell out. Book your reservation as early in the day as possible.
Fresh air alert:
If you have kids, finding a great park is the key to vacation success. Those ankle-biters need to burn off some steam. Kidsburg is the kind of park that will make a lasting impression on your little ones. This 30,000 square-foot lighted playground is housed within a public park—yep, that means it’s not only fun but free! There are areas for both little kids and older ones, plus a zipline and swing areas.
Relaxing Romantic Getaway
Rarely does one find “popular school field trip” and “romantic getaway” used to describe the same place. But it’s true in Williamsburg. From delicious wine to one-of-a-kind spa experiences, it’s a great spot for two.
Where to stay:
Drop your bags at Wedmore Place, the hotel at Williamsburg Winery. Your room (ahem, most have fireplaces!) comes with breakfast and wine tasting for two. There are many packages available, and if you’re really interested in the local beer, wine, and distillery scene, you can select an option that includes off-site tastings as well.
Where to eat:
Located in Merchant Square, Fat Canary serves food that’s decidedly more modern than what you’ll find in the old-school colonial taverns. Think seared ahi tuna, Caprese salad, and braised short ribs. Yummy cocktails and a nice wine list round out the experience. If it’s nice, grab a seat on the patio.
What to do:
Hit the spa-like it’s 1699
Who doesn’t love partaking in a little self-care? For something a little out of the ordinary, check out the offerings at the Spa of Colonial Williamsburg. This spa draws inspiration from treatments stretching as far as 400 years back (don’t worry, no leeches involved!). From a detoxifying herbal wrap and hot stone massage influenced by 17th Century healing rituals to a traditional African bath, dry brush exfoliation, and strengthening massage, it’s the most relaxing way to learn about the past that I’ve ever heard of.
Drink to your health!
It’s said that early American settlers believed drinking healed the body and boosted energy for the weak and elderly. Hmmm, not sure if that’s true, but why not see if you’re feeling extra strong after exploring Williamsburg Tasting Trail. Learn about the numerous wineries, breweries, and distilleries around Williamsburg here. Tick a few off your list, but please note that Ubers, Lyfts, and transportation services are plentiful, so do the right thing and let a pro do the driving.
Get out on the Water
Whenever I’m near a body of water, I want to get on it. Check into a three-hour tour (cue Gilligan’s Island theme song!) on the York River from Williamsburg Charter Sales. Bring your own wine, beer, and snacks to enjoy as the wind whips through your hair.
Have you been to Williamsburg? What are some of your favorite spots?
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Images from Colonial Williamsburg
This Post Has 11 Comments
After spending my college years at the College of Knowledge that produces the best educated athletes since 1693, any of the William and Mary alumni will tell you that The Cheese Shop is a must. We used to get their sandwiches and go to the Sir Christopher Wren building to eat them. And that building is the oldest academic building in continuous use in the United States.
Berret’s Restaurant and Grill makes the best Bloody Mary. Located just off Merchants Square, it is the perfect way to wind down after a day of sight seeing.
Elizabeth,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, I got people that have a bread company there.. They’re in the historic section and make an original dark/sweet bread.. They’re over by the Livery/saddle place.
Guess they didn’t like the fact I got people that live there
We have visited the Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown area at least once a year since 2002. The Fat Canary is truly awesome. I agree with the previous comment that The Cheese Shop is great, it is owned by the same family as the Fat Canary. Staying in a Colonial Tavern or Colonial House (for a family) is a great experience.
I do caution any one that is a light sleeper about staying at Kingsmill. The walls and floors are paper thin and you hear everything in every unit around you.
We love all the shows you have done over the years Samantha.
OMG – you recommended a trip to Williamsburg! My husband & I went there over the 4th of July holiday in 1978! Yes, a long time ago! We loved it! We lived in Maryland for @ 5 years while Bob worked for the National Weather Service. We tried to get out & see a lot even while living on a tight income! Williamsburg for the 4th of July was amazing!
We stayed right in the historic area – at the old Inn. We’d NEVER stay there again as the walls of that place were paper thin. The room & bath were ok. I think it was built in the 1920’s so we didn’t expect anything other than the basics. (No TV in the room.) We could hear everything coming from the next room – a big family including a crying baby. Not good. We ate breakfast once at the Inn & never had dinner there as men had to wear “jacket & tie” in the evening! We loved eating at Christina Campbell’s & all the other places right in Historic Williamsburg. How we got to eat at all those amazing places was just luck! We were told we’d had to have made reservations before we went down there! Well, since we like a late dinner so it was easy – we just asked for the last seating.
I don’t know if the family-friendly motel-like place is still there on the Williamsburg property but we realized that was where we should have stayed. They had the best breakfast around! (Trout for breakfast? Yes!)
We never left the grounds except to go to the main Tourist Center. That was also a good experience. We took all the tours within the historic area & met some really nice folks while on one tour. We ended up going out to dinner with them & really had fun. Since we were only there for 3 days we pretty much filled it with experiences on the property. But I’ve always wanted to go back again.
We moved back home (Louisiana) the next year, so we’re now near another of your TV shows’ locations – Lafayette, LA! Who needs to go anywhere when you live in Acadiana! LOL!
Love your shows & can only imagine how much fun it would be to travel with you this summer in Europe! As for returning to Wiliamsburg, I could never do that amount of walking around Williamsburg like we did back in the 1978 as I’m moderately handicapped. But would still love to go back there.
We are planning a girls trip with a few college friends next year! They are meeting us for a long weekend in New Orleans (but NOT in the summer!). Your suggestion for our group to rent a house or stay in a B&B sounds great! We’re all “old ladies” now so a relative who lives there is going to help us put together a long weekend of fun that is adjusted for seniors & our limited mobility.
My husband and I have been to Williamsburg twice in the last 6 months. Pierce’s Pit Bar-B-Q is a definite must go!! Also Food For Thought is a very good restaurant if you’re looking for an eclectic menu. My tip – check with your AAA office for specials on tickets. We got a deal on a 3-day ticket package for Williamsburg and Busch Gardens. The ticket package had paid parking at Busch Gardens – a big savings!
Love your show.
I’ve been a longtime fan. I’m curious…Did you actually visit Williamsburg when writing this article? I don’t think so.