Colonial Williamsburg is one of America’s best-known residential history cities and is not a reproduction or a group of buildings collected from other locations. This was the capital of the colony (and later state) of Virginia from 1705 to 1779, and today those times are recreated in their original settings, often in the original buildings. Others are carefully rebuilt or restored to their original sites. But Williamsburg isn’t just for history buffs, nor is it all about the revolution. Its tourist attractions include two notable art museums, a large theme park and a water park. Even if you don’t go to Williamsburg for its history, you’ll enjoy strolling through the restored area,
1 Colonial Williamsburg: Revolutionary city
In the setting of more than 100 original and reconstructed buildings from the 18th century, costumed interpreters recreate the excitement of the era just before and during the American Revolution in a prosperous colonial capital. Along with the daily lives of artisans, shopkeepers and residents are daily reenactments of militia exercises, trials, political rallies and other activities, many of which are outdoors. Others are in the handsome Capitol building , which for 80 years was the political center of Virginia, one of England’s largest and wealthiest colonies.
Candlelight tours, carriage rides and tours following special interests such as gardens (there are more than 100 at Colonial Williamsburg) are also offered. Be sure to check the daily schedule to find the activities and tours that interest you, as some are not repeated often. While you can stroll down Duke of Gloucester Street through the center of the restored area, eat in the taverns and visit the shops, you cannot enter any of the historic buildings or gardens without a ticket, and even the street may be restricted to ticket holders for one of the many costumed parades and reenactments. Although tickets are expensive, they give you access to a huge number of attractions and activities not to be missed.
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Adres: 101 Visitor Centre Drive, Williamsburg
Official site: www.colonialwilliamsburg.com
The original Royal Governor’s House was completed in 1722, but it burned to its foundations and was replaced by a replica in 1934. The Governor’s Palace was the social center of Williamsburg, scene of gala dinners and balls, and it was built to impress the locals with royal authority. After the Revolution, it was home to Virginia’s first two governors. Inside, along with the beautifully decorated rooms, you will see a display of antique firearms and swords. Outside, explore the terraced formal gardens, which include a hedge maze, and a peek into the kitchen and utility room allows you to watch period food being prepared.
3 George Wythe House
The George Wythe House, the finest private home in Williamsburg, was built in the mid-1700s for a prominent lawyer. Today it is decorated and furnished in period pieces so you can see what life would have been like in 1700s Williamsburg. George Wythe was one of the most enlightened and influential men of the Revolutionary era, a mentor to Thomas Jefferson and other Virginia patriots and leaders. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. But the impressive history of the house does not end there. It was the headquarters of General George Washington before the British siege of Yorktown and the headquarters of French General Rochambeau after the victory at Yorktown. In 1776, Thomas Jefferson and his family stayed here while he was a delegate to the Virginia General Assembly. Along with the house are outbuildings which include a kitchen, smokehouse, dovecote and stable, as well as beautiful formal gardens.
4 Craftsmen’s shops
Some of the most fascinating places to visit in Williamsburg are the many artisan shops where costumed artisans practice and demonstrate the skills required in any prosperous city of the 18th century. Step inside to see authentic tools, clothing and utensils that are handmade and to talk to the artisans. Among the most interesting are the Blacksmith Shop , the Geddy Foundry and Silversmith Shop, the Armor and Saddlemaker Shop , the Shoemaker , the Gunsmith Shop , the Charioteer , and the Cabinetmaker Shop . You can view fashionable hats made at the Fashion Shop;see wigs made from human, goat and horse hair at the Wigmaker’s Shop ; and watch the cooper as he works on barrels and buckets in his shop in the Ludwell-Paradise stable. At the Apothecary , you will learn how pharmacists during that time functioned as doctors, treating patients and performing surgery.
5 Busch Gardens
Whether you’re a parent, a thrill-seeker or just looking for a day of carefree fun, there’s something for you in this vibrant combination of adventure park, zoo, playground and entertainment platform. You can meet the Muppets, cruise the “Rhine,” clamber to Bavarian oompah bands, ride a teacup, or hop aboard the historic Loch Ness Monster roller coaster. Rides have German and other European themes: a water ride through the ruins of Pompeii, the Verbolten and razor-sharp 195-foot Alpengeist, one of the world’s tallest and fastest roller coasters with inversions at speeds up to 67 miles per hour. Less adrenaline rushers can view Border Collies herd animals at the Highland Stables, meet Clydesdales, interact with colorful exotic birds in a free-flight aviary and learn about wolves and other predators at Wolf Haven. Little kids will love Land of the Dragons and Sesame Street Forest of Fun.
Adres: One Busch Gardens Boulevard, Williamsburg
Official site: https://buschgardens.com/
6 Brush-Everard House
One of Williamsburg’s oldest homes was restored in 1773 and authentically decorated to illustrate the life of Thomas Everard, an apprentice who rose to become a planter and community leader. The house is best known for its beautifully designed staircase with carved stair brackets and turned balustrades. You can also see the original kitchen and smokehouse.
7 DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Gallery en Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum
Two notable art museums share a building that, while affiliated with Colonial Williamsburg, is not part of the historic section of the Revolutionary City. The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Gallery displays American and British decorative arts from the 17th to 19th centuries. Specialties include the world’s largest collection of furniture made in the southern United States, one of the largest collections of English porcelain outside Great Britain and a large collection of English silver.
The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum contains one of the most complete collections of American folk art, with sculptures, paintings, toys, carvings, crafts, quilts and decorative items created by untrained artists. The fresh designs, vibrant colors and creative ideas expressed in these works demonstrate an exuberance and spontaneity that makes them particularly attractive. The combined museums require a separate ticket from the sights of the Revolutionary City.
Adres: 325 Francis Street, Williamsburg
Official site: www.history.org
8 Colonial taverns
In Colonial Virginia, there were taverns where locals and travelers gathered for news, food, and socializing. Some of those in Williamsburg are still active dining establishments where you can get a feel for 18th-century social life and taste authentic dishes that Jefferson or Washington would have enjoyed here. Raleigh Tavern was a social hot spot favorite of members of the House of Burgesses, and equally popular was Wetherburn’s Tavern , just across the street. Balls and banquets were held in both taverns and almost 200,000 artefacts were found on the Wetherburn site during the restoration.
King’s Arms Tavern opened in 1722 and cared for by the nobility with the finest furnishings and service. Today it continues that standard as the main dining room in the historic area, featuring 18th-century musical entertainment. Much more informal is Chowning’s Tavern , which first opened in 1766 for a more casual clientele. Today the restaurant retains this atmosphere, serving traditional English dishes and offering Gambols in the evenings, with colonial games and music. George Washington’s favorite was Christiana Campbell’s Tavern and you can still enjoy Christiana’s crab cakes there as he did. Shields Tavern serves a varied home-style menu in a casual atmosphere.
9 Great Hopes Plantation
The restored houses line Duke of Gloucester Streetwere homes of the wealthiest leaders, but that is not the way most 18th century Williamsburg residents lived. Most lived and worked on small plantations owned by farmers who were not men of wealth. They lived in small houses or huts; many were slaves. Great Hopes Plantation is a newer addition designed to represent the lifestyle on one of these small family farms. Along with replicas of their buildings, you can see rare species of farm animals they would know, visit their gardens and see demonstrations of how they cooked. Interpreters are busy with the tasks of daily life – planting, caring for animals, tool making, cooking and household chores – and are happy to discuss the lives of small farmers and their work.
10 College of William and Mary
The College of William and Mary was founded in 1693 and is the second-oldest college in the United States, behind Harvard. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and John Tyler all took courses here. The Wren Building is the oldest active educational building in the United States, originally built in 1695, and rebuilt in 1732 after a fire. The first floor of the Wren Building is open and student-led campus tours are filled with history and stories about the college. You can see the building where British General Cornwallis stayed and attend free organ concerts in the chapel. The Muscarelle Museum of Art stages hosting exhibitions and pieces of sculpture throughout the campus.
Official site: www.wm.edu
11 Bassett Hall
The 18th century home of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller was built by a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. The house was restored in the 1930s and 1940s. A 15-minute film provides the backdrop and a visit to the Rockefellers’ home provides a glimpse of the family that made Colonial Williamsburg possible. Be sure to visit the extensive flower gardens.
12 Water Country USA
When kids tire of the restored colonial homes and antiques, and the summer afternoon brings the heat to the adults, everyone will enjoy a visit to nearby Water Country, a pirate-themed water park with mini golf packed with water obstacles. Visitors can drive on the Hubba Hubba Highway, not quite the tranquil river it seems to be, and get wet on one of the slides or in the wave pool.
Adres: 176 Water Country Pkwy, Williamsburg
Official site: https://watercountryusa.com/en/williamsburg/
Where to Stay in Williamsburg for Sightseeing
We recommend these conveniently located hotels in Williamsburg, close to top historic attractions:
- Williamsburg Inn: Luxury historic hotel, Regency style, oversized rooms, spa with fitness classes, indoor and outdoor pools, bicycle rentals.
- Woodlands Hotel & Suites – Colonial Williamsburg: mid-range prices, traditional room design, mini golf, table tennis, outdoor pool.
- Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites, Williamsburg-Historic Gateway: 3-star hotel, modern decor, indoor pool, free parking.
- Comfort Inn Williamsburg Gateway: great rates, comfortable beds, outdoor pool, free breakfast.
Day trips from Williamsburg
The most historic of all the plantations along the James River, Berkeley has achieved National Historic Landmark status several times. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated here in 1619, and Taps was composed here in 1862 when it served as Union General McClellan’s headquarters during the Civil War. It was the birthplace of President William Henry Harrison. But today’s tourist will remember it most for its beautiful Georgian architecture and rooms furnished with priceless antiques. Be sure to visit the restored gardens on the box-covered terraces overlooking the James River.
Adres: 12602 Harrison Landing Road (off Rt. 5), Charles City
Official site: www.berkeleyplantation.com