Today I bring you a guest post and photos about how amazing Colonial Williamsburg is for families. It was generously provided by Daphne from Free at 50 Blog!
Being location-independent is a dream come true! I met the man in my life over 20 years ago. A military guy from a military family, he grew up in southeast Virginia and introduced me to it. And specifically to Colonial Williamsburg.
I love history and now that I’m out of the 9-5 life and into writing my Free At 50 blog, it’s the perfect place for me to wander, live, and be inspired. In fact, I wrote a blog post after seeing an upholstery exhibit – seriously- click here and check it out.
The good news for Roam & Capture readers: Colonial Williamsburg is great for families, it has something for everyone and brings history to life for all ages, even kids! (so much so that we have home-schooling programs!) We can all learn from history by being immersed in it, making this, the largest living history museum in the world, a must-visit.
There is so much to cover, a true review would be a novel, not a blog post. I’m hitting the highlights with the goal of getting you started and offering my best recommendations.
Colonial Williamsburg: How history is portrayed and shared at the largest living history museum in the world
Everything is listed on the Events Calendar section of the “visit” tab of ColonialWilliamsburg.org and if you start at the Visitor’s Center, you’ll get a map and intro to the place. That said: you can also pick up tickets at the Art Museums, entrance on Nassau Street.
If it existed in the 18th century, you’ll find it here! When you have a ticket, you can wander into multiple trade shops. You’ll receive a map or can view the calendar online to see which shops are open on which days.
One of the coolest things about this place is the fact that everyone works together on projects. It often starts with archaeology and reconstruction of sites. For example, historians found out that the original Bray School had been moved to the College of William and Mary. It was found, moved, and next up: various trades will play a part in the reconstruction. The bricklayers are firing bricks, the joiners will be creating trim, and the carpenters will repair the roof, and get this: the dressmakers in the millinery even created sewing bags based on findings about the students. That’s just the beginning.
How visiting each site works: “open” trades sites will have a flag outside. Most of the year, they’re open from 9 am-5 pm. Fun fact: the tradespeople REALLY are tradespeople. They do apprenticeships and work to be masters of the trade. This covers everything from Colonial cooking to tin-smithing to engraving and even weaving fabric!
These are happening both indoors and outdoors throughout the day. They include educational discussions, acting performances, and interpretations by our Nation Builders. For example, you may see actor interpreters for George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette discussing the Battle of Yorktown or experience a theatrical performance by the Jug Broke Theatre Company based on 18th-century entertainment.
Daily tours of buildings, including the Governor’s Palace, the Capitol Building, Peyton Randolph’s home, and the Raleigh Tavern (among others!) are a must-do. In addition to tours of the sites, you can join a behind-the-scenes tour of departments, such as Archaeology or Coach and Livestock! Throughout the year, special tours are also available for an additional cost, but most are included with your ticket!
Side note: George Wythe’s home served as Washington’s headquarters in preparation for Yorktown and was also where Mr. Wythe met with pupils such as Thomas Jefferson. The home is original and so are the staircase and handrail according to tours I’ve taken there. You’ll be touching the same banister!
The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg
Take a break indoors to view Folk Art or furniture (and honestly, there’s a lot that’s included in each museum!). Speaking of those guided tours, most days you’ll find a 20-minute “at a glance” tour of the museum available where a museum volunteer or employee shows you specific items. It’s an effective way to learn about a topic or home in on items you may not notice wandering on your own. This is an outstanding opportunity for adults and kids alike to get a taste of history.
Colonial Williamsburg: Bonuses on-site and nearby
Jamestown and Yorktown are the other two cities that comprise the historic triangle.
My recommendation: take the Colonial Parkway, run by the National Park Service, from one to the other. It is a beautiful drive with views (and pull-offs!) of both the James and York Rivers.
You can even buy passes that will allow you to bundle your tickets and visit both the Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown’s American Revolution Museum.
A second (and separately ticketed) site for Jamestown is “Historic Jamestown,” which is the actual fort. It houses a museum of artifacts found there and is an active excavation site! Insider tip: if you’re in the military, you can use your National Park Service entry option for a discount.
You may know that the namesake, John D. Rockefeller, was the financial support behind the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, which began about 100 years ago. The library is where the actor-interpreters and tradespeople working here study the history of their characters, life in the 18th century, and their trades.
And it’s open to the public! The employees are fantastic and happy to show you around. There’s also a small room off to the side displaying Williamsburg on film.
The College of William and Mary
Chartered in 1693, it’s actually older than the City of Williamsburg, which became Virginia’s second capital city after Jamestown.
The Wren Building and courtyard face Merchant’s Square and sit a one-mile walk from the historic Capitol Building. Take a few moments to wander the property. It’s where Thomas Jefferson studied and where George Wythe (his mentor and professor) taught.
The Liberty Lounge
Colonial Williamsburg has a place for veterans and military families to chill out, grab some heat or A/C, and be treated to refreshments (including the best hot chocolate around). Enter it from the Duke of Gloucester Street, behind the Millinery.
For a separate ticket (currently, you pay by the ride, not the person), you can experience the historic area led by a knowledgeable coachman and horses who are members of the Rare Breeds program. We’re known especially for breeding Cleveland Bays; a breed linked to Queen Elizabeth II and literally being restored here!
In addition to the horses, which might be found in pastures and paddocks around the area, you’ll find other rare breeds all over: oxen, chickens, and sheep of the 18th century! Watch for them wandering the streets or in pastures around town. Bonus for visiting in April: lambs! This year (2023) we expect up to 15.
For families wanting to hit the rollercoasters, this is the spot! It’s a 10-minute drive from the historic area.
Buying tickets, dining while visiting, and where to stay: all you need to know
Tickets to the largest living history museum in the world.
Tickets for Colonial Williamsburg can be purchased as daily, multi-day, or even annual passes.
- If you decide to donate, certain levels include annual passes and discounts for additional family members’ passes.
- If you’re in the military, ask for specials.
- If you live in Williamsburg, make sure you get the Good Neighbor annual pass.
The Colonial Williamsburg area offers multiple accommodation types
Colonial houses and hotels: yes, we have them available! From the upscale Williamsburg Inn to the Williamsburg Lodge in the Marriott Bonvoy Autograph Collection to individual original and reconstructed Colonial homes to rooms in a tavern (yes, do what 18th-century visitors did – stay at a tavern!), there are many options right in the heart of the historic area.
Get a condo! It’s a thing here. Marriott, Hilton, and more have resort communities with accommodations. If you want kitchens, washers, and dryers, and of course, access to amenities like pools or golf courses, this is an outstanding family option. Our top choice was always Marriott at Fords Colony and the Patriot’s Inn, which I’d describe as a condo within a hotel and is not a resort property.
Traditional hotels and motels. For those of you that want to keep it simple, there are SO MANY hotels and motels, in every price range. A lot of them are within walking distance, and all are near dining options. Popular areas are Bypass Road, York Road, and Richmond Road hotels.
Bed and Breakfasts: quite a few are within walking distance and all of them listed on review sites have fantastic reviews.
Campgrounds. Two popular options are the Anvil campground (highly rated but FYI, it’s near a train track) and the Newport News Park, which is about 20 minutes from the Colonial Williamsburg area, but is a fantastic property that includes water for those who may want to hike or kayak for example.
Food: one of my favorite topics!
Where to start?
The taverns. It’s best to make a reservation and sometimes it’s required. You can view the menus as well as reserve your spot right from https://www.colonialwilliamsburg.org/
It’s a special thing and my personal favorite is Christiana Campbell’s. This tavern is also rumored to have been George Washington’s fave!
For some reason, we have a lot of Italian and Mexican food options, and I’ve run into nothing short of excellent there. Sal’s by Victor has a special spot in my heart, and they make their own pasta. A must-do if you’re in the mood for Italian, just west of the Colonial area in a strip mall. Seek it out!
That said, there are TONS of food options. Including around Merchant’s Square where you can eat at one of the restaurants or bring your own food and grab a table. Speaking of that, you can also pack a picnic or grab a pizza to go from Mellow Mushroom and grab a spot on the Palace Green or one of the many beautiful spots around the historic area.
Closing tips about visiting the largest living history museum in the world
The museum slows down New Year’s Day into early March then picks back up. You may see fewer programs and shops open during that time, but there will also be fewer people visiting, and this means more affordable hotel options.
The museum is open every day of the year (yes, that includes all holidays!).
Visiting in winter means you’ll see Christmastide decorations, the holiday market, and special programming. Spring brings an abundance of flowers and blooms as well as lambs! Summer means crepe myrtles are in bloom (well into autumn actually!) and the foals start arriving. But if you don’t do well with hot-and-humid, skip summer. Autumn means so much color for weeks and weeks. It’s an especially beautiful time to take a drive on the Colonial Parkway, connecting all cities in the historic triangle.
If you love history half as much as I did before I moved here, you’ll be blown away and so will every member of your family. Let us know in the comments if you’ve been here, have questions or plan to visit!
About the Author
Daphne Reznik is the creator of the Free At 50 blog, which focuses on life after corporate, how to transition into professional freedom, and resources to create income streams. She has a diverse background having worked in state government, small business, and most recently, a large corporate entity. Her experience supporting businesses and leading a national staff training program, provided her with a skill set she is using to design a lifestyle as a blogger and to inspire others.