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One of America’s best-known living history towns, Colonial Williamsburg is not a reproduction or a group of buildings collected from other sites. This was the capital of the colony of Virginia (and later the state of Virginia) from 1705 until 1779, and today re-creates those times in their original locale, often in the original buildings. Others are meticulously rebuilt or restored on their original sites.
But Williamsburg is not just for history buffs, nor is it all about the Colonial period and the Revolution. Its attractions and things to do include two outstanding museums of art, a major theme park, and a water park.
Even if you don’t go to Williamsburg for its history, you’ll enjoy walking through the restored area, where you’ll meet people dressed in 18th-century clothing and engaged in the everyday life of more than two centuries ago.
Discover interesting things to do with our list of the top attractions in Williamsburg.
See also: Where to Stay in Williamsburg
➡️ See more posts about Colonial Williamsburg Revolutionary City
1. Colonial Williamsburg: Revolutionary CityColonial Williamsburg
In the setting of more than 100 original and reconstructed buildings from the 1700s, costumed interpreters recreate the excitement of the era just before and during the American Revolution in a prosperous colonial capital.
Along with the everyday life of artisans, shopkeepers, and residents are daily reenactments of militia drills, trials, political meetings, 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 of these in Colonial Williamsburg) are also offered. Be sure to check the daily schedule to find those activities and tours that interest you, as some are not repeated frequently.
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 any of the many costumed parades and reenactments.
Tourists can secure tickets in advance, which grant access to all of Colonial Williamsburg’s museums, historic sites including Governor’s Palace, reenactments, and other attractions.
Address: 101 Visitor Center Drive, Williamsburg, Virginia
Official site: www.colonialwilliamsburg.comWilliamsburg Map (Historical)
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2. Governor’s PalaceGovernor’s Palace at Colonial Williamsburg
The original home of the Royal Governor was completed in 1722 but it burned to its foundations and was replaced with 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 the first two governors of Virginia.
Inside, along with its beautifully appointed rooms, you’ll see a display of period firearms and swords. Outside, explore the terraced formal gardens, which include a hedge maze, and a peek into the kitchen and scullery allows you to watch period foods being prepared.
➡️ See more posts about George Wythe House
3. George Wythe HouseGeorge Wythe House
The finest private home in Williamsburg, the George Wythe House was built for a prominent attorney in the mid-18th century. Today, it’s decorated and furnished in period pieces, so you can see what life would have been like in 1700s Williamsburg.
George Wythe was among 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 signer of the Declaration of Independence. But the distinguished history of the house doesn’t end there.
It was General George Washington’s headquarters before the British siege of Yorktown, and headquarters of the French General Rochambeau after the victory at Yorktown. In 1776, Thomas Jefferson and his family stayed here while he was delegate to the Virginia General Assembly. Along with the house are outbuildings that include a kitchen, smokehouse, dovecote, and stable, as well as lovely formal gardens.
4. Dine in Colonial TavernsColonial Taverns | Harvey Barrison / photo modified
In colonial Virginia, taverns were where local people and travelers gathered for news, food, and sociability. Some of those in Williamsburg are still active dining places where you can get a feel for 18th-century social life and taste authentic dishes that Jefferson or Washington might have enjoyed here.
Raleigh Tavern was a social hot spot favored by members of the House of Burgesses, and equally popular was Wetherburn’s Tavern, right across the street. Balls and banquets were held at both taverns, and during restoration, nearly 200,000 artifacts were found on the site of Wetherburn’s.
King’s Arms Tavern opened in 1722 and catered to the gentry with the finest furnishings and service. Today, it continues that standard as the premier dining room in the historic area, with 18th-century musical entertainment.
Much more informal is Chowning’s Tavern, which first opened in 1766 catering to a less lofty clientele. Today, the restaurant retains this spirit, serving traditional English fare, and featuring evening Gambols, with colonial games and music. George Washington’s favorite was Christiana Campbell’s Tavern, and you can still enjoy Christiana’s special seafood dish here as he did. Shields Tavern serves a varied home-style menu in a casual atmosphere.
Some of the taverns are also considered to be hubs of paranormal activity, and are featured in many of the town’s ghost stories. Tourists looking for a spooky treat can take a two-hour evening ghost and witch tour of Williamsburg, which is led by a costumed guide who will tell local legends while showing some of the town’s most haunted spaces.
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5. Play at Busch GardensWaterfall at Busch Gardens Virginia
Whether you’re a parent, a thrill-seeker, or you just like a day of carefree fun, there’s something for you at this lively combo of adventure park, zoo, playground, and entertainment stage. You can meet the Muppets, cruise the “Rhine,” clap to Bavarian oompah bands, ride in a teacup, or hop aboard the historic Loch Ness Monster roller coaster.
Rides have German and other European themes – a water ride through Pompeii’s ruins, the Verbolten, and the hair-raising 195-foot Alpengeist, one of the world’s tallest and fastest coasters with inversions at speeds up to 67 miles per hour. Less adrenaline inclined visitors can watch border collies herd sheep at the Highland Stables, meet Clydesdales, interact with colorful exotic birds at a free-flight aviary, and learn about wolves and other predators in Wolf Haven.
Little kids will love Land of the Dragons and Sesame Street Forest of Fun. To save time, tourists can purchase mobile tickets in advance, ensuring that your family gets the most out of your day at the park.
Address: One Busch Gardens Boulevard, Williamsburg, Virginia
Official site: https://buschgardens.com/
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6. Historic JamestowneHistoric Jamestowne
The Historic Jamestowne Visitor Center is home to an exhibit of more than 1,000 artifacts that were discovered on the site since excavations began, as well as exhibits that tell the history of the site as far back as prehistoric times. The largest collection, however, is in the Archaearium, an archaeology museum, which houses over 4,000 artifacts.
Exhibits include descriptions of the evolution of the recovery process and explain what the objects tell us about the everyday lives of the area’s native populations and its first European settlers. Tourists can also explore the active archaeological site, which has 33 separate dig sites, including the remains of row houses, barracks, a blacksmith shop, a bakery, churches, and wells.
A highlight of a visit to Historic Jamestowne is the Glasshouse. One of the first manufacturing attempts in America was glassblowing at Jamestown, but despite access to all the raw materials, the endeavor failed for lack of skilled glassblowers. Remains of the glass furnaces were discovered, and today glassblowing is demonstrated in a reconstructed glassworks, where glassware is created in the same way it was produced in the early 1600s.
A free walking tour is included with admission, guided by an archaeologist or scholar. In addition to regularly scheduled tours, specialty tours are available, which take a closer, behind-the-scenes look at the discoveries and the techniques used.
Address: 1368 Colonial Parkway, Jamestown, Virginia
Official site: historicjamestowne.org
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7. Jamestown SettlementJamestown Settlement
Adjacent to Historic Jamestowne on Jamestown Island, Jamestown Settlement recreates portions of the first successful English settlement on the mainland of North America. Designed to bring to life the artifacts and remains found in the nearby excavations of the site, Jamestown Settlement is a living history museum.
Among the attractions are a recreation of the original James Fort, a Powhatan Native American village, and authentic replicas of the settlers’ ships the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery. These replicas make it easier to relate the archaeological finds to the lives of the people who settled here.
Costumed interpreters demonstrate skills needed for settlers’ daily lives, and at the re-created Paspahegh Town, you can see how the Powhatan people prepared food and made tools and clothing. The historic recreation is based on archaeological evidence, artifacts and descriptions left by the settlers themselves.
The interpreters’ demonstrations and the number of interactive exhibits make Jamestown Settlement an especially good place to go for families with children.
Address: 2110 Jamestown Road, Williamsburg, Virginia
Official site: https://www.historyisfun.org/jamestown-settlement/
➡️ See more posts about DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Gallery and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum
8. DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Gallery and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art MuseumDeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Gallery and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum | Desiree Williams / photo modified
Two outstanding art museums share a building that, while connected to Colonial Williamsburg, is not part of the Revolutionary City historic area. The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Gallery displays American and British decorative arts from the 17th through 19th centuries.
Specialties are the world’s largest collection of furniture made in the American south, one of the largest collections of English porcelain outside of Britain, and a major collection of English silver.
The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum contains one of the most complete collections of American folk art, which includes sculptures, paintings, toys, woodcarvings, needlework, quilts, and decorative items created by untrained artists.
The fresh designs, vibrant colors, and creative ideas expressed in these works show an exuberance and spontaneity that makes them especially appealing. The combined museums require a separate ticket from the Revolutionary City sights.
Address: 325 Francis Street, Williamsburg, Virginia
Official site: www.history.org
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9. Bruton Parish ChurchBruton Parish Church
Bruton Parish dates from 1715, when it replaced an earlier, smaller building. At the time, the Church of England was the established church in the American colonies, and the General Assembly paid for pews for the governor, council, and burgesses. The cruciform design with transepts, the first in Virginia, was drafted by Royal Governor Alexander Spotswood.
On its box pews are the name plates of dignitaries who worshiped there: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, James Madison, and others. The original bell, cast in 1761, is still in use, the same one that rang out at the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and in 1783 at the signing of the treaty ending the American Revolution.
Bruton Parish is an active Episcopal church, with regular services, but is open to visitors at other times, with volunteers to point out historic details. Check the schedule for evening candlelight concerts; like entrance to the church, the concerts are free.
Address: 201 W Duke of Gloucester Street, Williamsburg, Virginia
Official site: https://www.brutonparish.org
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10. Artisans’ ShopsArtisan shop in Williamsburg
Some of the most fascinating places to visit in Williamsburg are the many artisans’ shops where costumed craftspeople practice and demonstrate the skills that were necessary in any prosperous 18th-century city. Step into these to see authentic tools, clothing, and utensils being handcrafted and to talk with the craftspeople.
Among the most interesting are the Blacksmith Shop, the Geddy Foundry and silversmith shop, the Harness & Saddlemaker Shop, the Bootmaker, the Gunsmith Shop, the Wheelwright, and the Cabinetmaker Shop. You can watch fashionable hats created at the Milliner’s Shop; see wigs made from human, goat, and horse hair at the Wigmaker’s Shop; and watch the cooper as he works on casks and pails at his shop in the Ludwell-Paradise Stable.
At the Apothecary, you’ll learn how apothecaries functioned as doctors at that time, treating patients and performing surgery.
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11. Berkeley PlantationBerkeley Plantation
The most historic of all the plantations along the James River, Berkeley has earned its National Historic Landmark status several times over. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated here in 1619, and Taps was composed here in 1862 when it served as the headquarters of Union General McClellan during the Civil War.
Berkeley was the birthplace of President William Henry Harrison. But today’s tourists will remember it most for its beautiful Georgian architecture and for the rooms furnished with priceless antiques. Be sure to visit the restored gardens in boxwood-hedged terraces overlooking the James River.
Address: 12602 Harrison Landing Road (off Rt. 5), Charles City, Virginia
➡️ See more posts about Great Hopes Plantation
12. Great Hopes PlantationWindmill at Great Hopes Plantation in Williamsburg | Branko Hodzic / Shutterstock.com
The restored houses along Duke of Gloucester Street were homes of the wealthiest leaders, but that’s not the way most 18th-century residents of Williamsburg lived. Most lived and worked on small plantations owned by farmers who were not men of wealth. They lived in small houses or cabins; 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 breeds of farm animals they would have known, visit their gardens, and see demonstrations of how they cooked. Interpreters are busy at the tasks of everyday life – planting, caring for animals, making implements, cooking, and domestic tasks – and are happy to discuss the lives of small farmers and their work.
➡️ See more posts about College of William and Mary
13. College of William and MaryThe Wren Building at the 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 reconstructed 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 visiting exhibitions, and throughout the campus are pieces of sculpture.
Address: 200 Stadium Drive, Williamsburg, Virginia
Official site: www.wm.edu
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14. Bassett Hall and the Brush-Everard HouseBassett Hall | Jasperdo / photo modified
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 has been restored to its appearance in the 1930s and ’40s. A 15-minute film sets the background, and a visit to the Rockefellers’ home gives a perspective on the family that made Colonial Williamsburg possible. Be sure to visit the extensive flower gardens.
Another fine example of one of Williamsburg’s oldest houses is the Brush-Everard House, restored to its 1773 state and authentically furnished to illustrate the life of Thomas Everard, an apprentice who rose to become a planter and community leader. The home is especially known for its beautifully crafted staircase with carved stair brackets and turned balustrades. You can also see the original kitchen and smokehouse.
Address: 522 East Francis Street, Williamsburg, Virginia
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15. Make a Splash at Water Country USAWater Country USA | Silveira Neto / photo modified
When children tire of restored colonial homes and antiques, and the summer afternoon heat is getting to the adults, everyone will enjoy a visit to nearby Water Country, a water park with pirate-themed rides and miniature golf replete with water hazards.
Visitors can ride on the Hubba Hubba Highway, not quite the placid river it appears to be, and get wet on one of the waterslides or in the wave pool. This park is affiliated with the mega-park Busch Gardens, and families who are planning on visiting both parks can take advantage of combination tickets.
Address: 176 Water Country Pkwy, Williamsburg, Virginia
Official site: www.watercountryusa.com/en/williamsburg
➡️ See more posts about Where to Stay in Williamsburg for Sightseeing
Where to Stay in Williamsburg for Sightseeing
We recommend these conveniently located hotels in Williamsburg close to the top historical attractions:
- Williamsburg Inn: The luxury hotel echoes Colonial Williamsburg in its decor and its over-sized rooms furnished with fine period reproductions. Relax from sightseeing at the spa, fitness center, or the indoor and outdoor pools; bike rentals are available.
- Woodlands Hotel & Suites – Colonial Williamsburg: Traditionally decorated rooms are priced in the mid-range, and the hotel offers mini golf, ping pong, and an outdoor pool.
- Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites, Williamsburg-Historic Gateway: The 3-star hotel has modern decor, an indoor pool, and free parking.
- Comfort Inn Williamsburg Gateway: Budget-friendly rates include breakfast, and there is an outdoor pool.
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Historic Virginia: History-lovers have plenty to explore in this part of Virginia, and two major historic centers are within an hour’s drive of Williamsburg. Coastal Norfolk, known for its naval base and military history, is full of related attractions including the Battleship Wisconsin. Inland, the vibrant city of Richmond was first an important colonial city with strong ties to the independence movement and later ravaged by war as the Confederacy tried to keep it out of Union hands for over five years during the Civil War.
Virginia’s Neighbors: The District of Columbia sits just over the border between the states of Virginia and Maryland. Washington, DC is home to some of the most iconic American landmarks and the most popular tourist attractions in the country, from the Lincoln Memorial to the massive collections of the Smithsonian Institution. Just beyond, Baltimore, Maryland is home to even more museums, ranging from fine art to cryptology, as well as many family attractions like the National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center.
Romantic Getaways: One of the top Virginia destinations for younger couples is Virginia Beach, loved for its festive atmosphere and multitude of things to do. Those looking for a different vacation experience might want to look just a little farther south to find romantic getaways in North Carolina.
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