Colonial Williamsburg is heaven for anyone even remotely interested in America’s past. The living-history museum covers 301 acres of land in Williamsburg, Virginia, not far from Jamestown and Yorktown, two other notable sites. Built with no small amount of funds and effort from the philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., along with a number of community organizations, the town meticulously preserves the sights and sounds of Williamsburg right before the American War of Independence.
Is it worth visiting? Definitely. If you’ve any love for history, Colonial Williamsburg is an immersive and fun experience. The passion exhibited by the knowledgeable actors/scholars/workers here is incredible and infectious. It’s also an ideal attraction for family travel, as it gets the kids out of the textbook to see history tangible and alive.
5 TIPS FOR VISITING COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG
1) Plan ahead when it comes to purchasing tickets
You could see much of Colonial Williamsburg in as little as two or three days, though to get the thorough experience, a timeframe closer to five days would be appropriate. This is because there are numerous small exhibitions, walks and speaking engagements that change across the days of the week. There are also two impressive museums: the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum (I’m not a huge fan of decorative arts, but I found these museums entirely engrossing).
The multiday pass is the best deal for most visitors, as it costs just $10 more than a single-day ticket but gets you admission for the whole year. Consider also your plans for visiting Jamestown and Yorktown, as there are tickets that include admission to those historic attractions as well.
2) Suspend belief and get involved
Lose yourself in the time period and don’t be afraid to get a little silly. Ask a lot of questions. The staff here are all extremely knowledgeable about their era. They’ll even look at you oddly if you mention something anachronistic to their period. If you have children, you can rent costumes for them from the gift shop in the Regional Visitor Center. Because everybody loves seeing little kids in costumes.
3) Invest yourself in stories
Every actor in Colonial Williamsburg has a name and a backstory. Get invested with these characters, most of whom come straight out of history. I was particularly moved by the actress Emily James and her portrayal of free-black-woman Edith Cumbo. She delivered a moving performance on stage at the Hennage Auditorium in the DeWitt Museum. Later, she appeared at the R. Charlton Coffeehouse (pictured above) in which she went slightly off character and began discussing subjugated peoples across history.
4) Don’t forget about the rest of Williamsburg
Right at the edge of the colonial center sits Merchants Square, just across Nassau Street on Duke of Gloucester. The College of William and Mary (the country’s second-oldest school of higher education after Harvard and the college of Thomas Jefferson) lies just beyond it. In Merchants Square, you’ll find over 40 shops and services, including The Peanut Shop of Williamsburg, where you can sample a huge array of flavored Virginia peanuts, and Kimball Theatre, where they offer a variety of shows and films (some of which are free). Other attractions outside of Colonial Williamsburg include the numerous antique shops and obvious tourist attractions, such as the odd yet entertaining Yankee Candle megastore (where it’s always Christmas).
5) When you’re tired, grab a drink at Chowning’s Tavern
You’ll find Chowning’s Tavern on Duke of Gloucester Street, the more casual (read: cheaper) of the two restaurants in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg. Keep in mind that you’re still in a touristic location, so prices at this 18th-century alehouse don’t really reach true “tavern” levels. What makes Chowning’s Tavern fun is that they serve a menu of food items from the pre-Revolutionary War period, as well as colonial-era beers recreated by the local craft beer brewery, AleWerks Brewing Company. If you’re looking to save money but would still like to enjoy the ambience of colonial dining, stop in during an off-peak moment and grab a few drinks. They also have pub games during certain hours of the day.
Got any questions? Let me know in the comments section of this post!
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