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Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

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Did You Know … ?

  • Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum at 301 acres.
  • The Wren Building at the College of William and Mary is America’s oldest academic building (1700).
  • Shirley Plantation, Virginia’s first plantation (1613), has been the site of the same family’s business since 1638.
  • The first mental institution in the U.S. was located in Williamsburg.
  • Berkeley Plantation was the site of America’s first Thanksgiving (1619), but not the origin of today’s harvest feast.

Historic Triangle

With good reason, the modern city of Williamsburg and its huge colonial museum town vigorously promote the area’s historical importance when pitching to prospective visitors. During the period when colonists first conceived of separating from England and for most of the Revolutionary War (until 1780), Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia, the largest and most influential of America’s colonies. Virginia extended to the Mississippi River and north to the Great Lakes.

Williamsburg was founded in 1699 when Virginia moved its capital from Jamestown, only a few miles down the road. Thanks to one of history’s quirks, Yorktown, the site of the last Revolutionary War battle, is only a few miles down the road from Williamsburg in the opposite direction. As a result, Williamsburg and its neighbors offer a tidy package for tourists, called the Historic Triangle, which links both the starting and ending points for English colonialism on U.S. soil.

In addition, while 85% of the old colonial town of Williamsburg was preserved with private funding, led by philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the original Jamestown settlement, called Historic Jamestowne, and the Yorktown Battlefield are part of the Colonial National Historical Park. The scenic 23-mile Colonial Parkway that links all three is part of the national park, too.

Visitors can travel among the three sites on the parkway by bicycle, by car or aboard a free shuttle service, depending on inclination and season. To make the destination more attractive, as well as educational, Colonial Williamsburg peoples its site with costumed interpreters who interact with 21st century visitors while plying the trades and discussing issues of importance to colonial residents. Jamestown and Yorktown have their own entertaining and educational features, too.

As if making history so accessible were not enough, the three sites sit on a narrow peninsula, with the James River on one side, the York River on the other side and, at its point, Chesapeake Bay. The rivers, a bay, plus several city and state parks on the peninsula yield a rich selection of sites for outdoor activities, often cycling and walking on land, plus various boating options.

Things to do for Venturers

  • At Colonial Williamsburg, you may learn all sorts of things about life in colonial Virginia. For example, you may enter into conversation with a “Founding Father,” discussing 18th century political and social events.
  • Pedal your mountain bike through Williamsburg’s Freedom Park. Or do the biking in nearby New Quarter Park or York River State Park.
  • Take a walking tour of the Yorktown Battlefield.
  • Make this vacation dovetail with your interest in Civil War history. The James River Plantation, on Virginia Route 5 Scenic Byway, is on one of the state’s several Civil War trails.
  • Join an after-dark ghost tour of Colonial Williamsburg.
  • Set aside time for kayaking in either the James or York River, both of which are only a few miles from Williamsburg. Kayaking is an option, too, in several area parks.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Attend the summertime Virginia Shakespeare Festival at Williamsburg’s College of William and Mary.
  • Taste wines at Williamsburg Winery, which is Virginia’s largest winery and located near Colonial Williamsburg. Tastings are available daily.
  • Depending on the timing of your visit, attend themed events at either Jamestown or Yorktown. Both sites stage such events which may focus on games, tools or foods of the 17th and 18th centuries, or on Christmas in the colonies.
  • Tour Berkeley Plantation, birthplace of President William Henry Harrison, led by costumed guides. The site, outside Williamsburg at Charles City, was the site of the first official Thanksgiving in America, but participants were giving thanks for their arrival in Virginia, not a harvest. The president’s father, Benjamin Harrison, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, also was born here.
  • Drive or use the free shuttle (mid-March through October) from Colonial Williamsburg to get to Historic Jamestowne to see what remains of the real 1607 village. At the nearby Jamestown Settlement, which is a living history museum, board a replica of a 17th century ship of the type that brought settlers to America.
  • At the Yorktown Victory Center, immerse yourself in the activities at its recreated Continental Army encampment and 1780s farm.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Spend a day or more soaking up the history and the atmosphere of pre-revolutionary America in Colonial Williamsburg.
  • The kids will love Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Sesame Street attraction.
  • Overnight in one of 26 historic homes in Colonial Williamsburg. Or choose the upscale Williamsburg Inn.
  • Play golf. Virginia’s largest golf resort is the Kingsmill Resort and Spa in Williamsburg, with 63 holes.
  • Pamper yourself at the Colonial Williamsburg Spa.
  • Drive or use the free shuttle from Colonial Williamsburg to go to Yorktown to see Moore House, the place where colonials negotiated the British surrender, ending the Revolutionary War.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Visit Williamsburg at www.visitwilliamsburg.com