As the top tourist destination in the Historic Triangle, Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum. It served as the capital of the Virginia Colony from 1699 to 1780, when it was moved to Richmond. During the early 20th century, a rector of the Bruton Parish Church pitched the idea for the museum to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. They aimed to restore, preserve, and reconstruct the historic center of the town.
Nowadays, Colonial Williamsburg includes 85 percent of the area of the capital as it was in the 1700s – including Bruton Parish Church. The original vision for a living museum has evolved and grown in exciting, fascinating ways. Whether you’re new to town or have visited before, there’s always something engaging and immersive happening in the Colonial Williamsburg.
General Tips for Visiting Colonial Williamsburg
If you’re planning to spend a few hours in Colonial Williamsburg, be sure to wear comfy shoes. While there is a shuttle that runs between the Visitor’s Center and the perimeter of the area, you’ll still spend a lot of time on your feet. Of course, you can always take in the atmosphere from a number of convenient benches around the town.
When you get hungry, try eating at least one meal at a Colonial Williamsburg historic tavern. The experience is unlike any other – kids and grown-ups alike will delight in the chance to try period-specific specialties and dine like our forefathers once did.
If possible, always try to do at least one special event or program. These vary from day to day, but each program gets visitors up close and personal with the CW actors. These historians are incredibly knowledge – and incredibly entertaining. The heart of the CW experience, the staff can truly make your visit feel memorable.
One last tip – always grab a map! While the area isn’t huge, it’s easy to find yourself off the beaten track if you don’t have a map to refer back to now and then.
Where to Stay in Colonial Williamsburg
You’ll find no shortage of excellent options for lodging near Colonial Williamsburg. There are several hotels and resorts affiliated with CW, including the Williamsburg Inn, Williamsburg Lodge, Woodlands, and the Griffin Hotel. There are also a number of colonial style vacation homes for rent, as well as budget motel chains.
Our favorite spot for visiting CW is the Residence Inn Williamsburg. It’s just a quick drive from the visitor’s center and comes with free breakfast. All the rooms have kitchens, too, in case you want to cook meals and save some cash on your trip.
Ticket Options for Colonial Williamsburg
There are a number of ticketing options available on the Colonial Williamsburg website. If you’re only planning to see Colonial Williamsburg itself, go for the multi-day ticket. It’s just $10 more than the one day ticket and includes admission for three consecutive days.
If you’re planning to see other Historic Triangle sites, it’s definitely worth visiting Jamestown and Yorktown, too. This helps you get a more complete picture of the area’s history. Of course, the kids may also enjoy a trip to Busch Gardens while you’re in town!
Must Visit Sites in Colonial Williamsburg
You could spend a week in Colonial Williamsburg and never see or do it all. To make the most of your visit, prioritize the following sites:
The Governor’s Palace
When walking from the visitor’s center, the Governor’s Palace is the first major building you’ll see. It’s typically open for self-guided visits. The gorgeous building features beautiful gardens, and was once home to the colony’s royal governors. It also served as the home base of several elected Virginia governors.
Curious about how the average CW residents lived and worked? Head to the Trade Shops, where you can view demonstrations in the armory, at the blacksmith, the wig maker, the silversmith, the cabinet shop, the cobbler, the printing press, the bindery and in the apothecary. So long as there is a flag out front and a staff member inside, you’re welcome to enter and ask any questions you might have about their role in the town.
While the Capitol in CW is a replica building, it’s no less impressive than the real thing. Previous capitols burned down over time, but artwork and furnishings were salvageable. It’s a fascinating building to walk through, but only available via guided tour. Check your schedule before planning your day to ensure you don’t miss out on this stunning piece of architecture.
There are four historic taverns worth visiting during your trip to CW. Christiana Campbell’s Tavern, Shields Tavern, King’s Arms Tavern, and Chowning’s Tavern all offer delicious, historic menus. That doesn’t mean vegetarians are left out, though – there’s plenty of options for everyone to enjoy. Be sure to make reservations in advance, though, as these popular spots are prone to crowds.
Dining and Shopping at Merchant’s Square
When you’re ready to re-enter the 21st century, Merchant’s Square is there to greet you. This charming corner of CW offers a number of great restaurants, delightful boutiques, and no shortage of William and Mary school pride. Merchant’s Square is directly adjacent to the campus of William and Mary, and students routinely make their way into town to enjoy the sights and smells near the school bookstore. Don’t let your visit to CW end without a stop into these charming destinations:
The Cheese Shop
This bustling sandwich shop is a must-visit for tourists and locals alike. Order your favorite sandwich, stock up on domestic and international cheeses, and sample unique products and flavors. William and Mary students are especially passionate about the Cheese Shop’s bread ends. College kids have been snacking on them – and dipping them into the famous house dressing – for decades!
Wythe Candy & Gourmet Shop
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’ve got to stop into Wythe’s. A candy lover’s dream come true, the shop is bursting with fresh fudge, nostalgic favorites, and hand-dipped caramel apples. Bring your appetite – there’s plenty of free samples to try!
The Peanut Shop of Williamsburg
Speaking of free samples, swing through the Peanut Shop for even more local goodies! Virginia peanuts are world-famous – and for good reason. This adorable shop has been producing crisp, distinctive, and unique peanuts for more than 40 years. It’s a great place to pick up a souvenir to bring back from your trip.
Wrap Up: Visiting Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
Colonial Williamsburg is a living history museum that tells the story of America’s founding fathers and the early years of our nation. The city was restored to its 18th-century appearance in 1926 and has been a popular tourist destination ever since. If you’re ever in Virginia, be sure to check out Colonial Williamsburg for an exciting educational experience!
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This article originally appeared on Wander With Alex.
Alexandrea Sumuel is a travel writer and the founder of the Wander With Alex travel blog, where she provides vacationers and travel enthusiasts with trip ideas, travel guides, news, and itineraries. She travels to experience, eat, and explore-- and, on occasion, escape! Alex’s mission is to help people travel a little easier.