Take a step back in time to relive our nation’s great past at Colonial Williamsburg, a destination that has been meticulously re-created to look how it did in the 1770’s. It is one of the world’s largest and best living-history museums, undoubtedly deserving of a spot on every travelers bucket list. The kiddos will enjoy a visit to nearby Busch Gardens Williamsburg, which is one of the best and most thrilling theme parks in the nation, offering a completely differently themed experience than it’s sister park in Tampa. Williamsburg is located just a 2½ hour drive from Washington DC (150 miles), 3 hours and 15 minutes from Raleigh, NC (210 miles) and a 50 minute drive (50 miles) from Richmond.
Top 10 Attractions
1. Colonial Williamsburg – Start at the visitors center where a film and an orientation walk are informative and will save you time. There is so much to see here, including: buildings, gardens, taverns, trade shops and demonstrations. The mini-city is laid out well and walking the area is a pleasure. Evening events are held during the summer, so be sure and check those out. Extended summer hours. It would take many days to see it all! A single-day ticket to all of the historic sites and trade shops, three art museums, and a complimentary shuttle is $41.95 for adults and $20.95 for children.
2. Busch Gardens Williamsburg offers a fun break from the historic parts of Williamsburg – which the kids will especially enjoy! The park is home to thrilling rides and villages inspired by Europe and Colonial America are among the attractions at this family theme park. Tour the French town of Aquitaine and the English village of Burberry Cross, and be sure to pet the Budweiser Clydesdale horses in Heatherdowns, Scotland. Also enjoy the looping Loch Ness Monster roller coaster and the frightful 205-foot drop from Griffon. Admission can vary but is typically $62 for adults and $52 for children. Also consider visiting Busch Garden’s water park, Water Country USA, where admission is $40 for adults and $35 for children.
3. Jamestown Settlement – View replicas of the three ships and a fort occupied by the first settlers to arrive at Jamestown in 1610. Historians, dressed in authentic period clothing, walk the grounds and are happy to answer your questions about life at the settlement. Explore the indoor gallery to see a documentary film and exhibits that document the lives of the English settlers, Powhatan Indians and African slaves who occupied the colony. Admission is $16 for adults and $7.50 for children.
4. Berkeley Plantation – The most historic plantation on the James River. Visit the site of the first official Thanksgiving (1619), as well as the birthplace of Benjamin Harrison and President William Henry Harrison, our 9th president. Taps was composed here (1862) at the Civil War headquarters of General McClellan. Enjoy the 1726 mansion, an architectural gem with exceptional antiques. Five terraces of restored boxwood and flowered gardens offer panoramic views of the James River. Admission is $11 for adults and $6 for children.
5. The Ghosts of Williamsburg Candlelight Tour – Based on the L.B. Taylor book “The Ghosts of Williamsburg,” this tour is informative and fun! It is a walking tour of the historic area, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes. Reservations are absolutely required — about 85,000 people per year take this tour, so reserve as early as you can. Tours are held rain or shine. Most major holidays they are closed but do offer tours on Halloween and Thanksgiving. Tickets are $11.
Another favorite is Colonial Ghosts, which we feature on our list of 13 Bone-Chilling Haunted Tours in the US. With over a dozen stories at haunted locations, this walking tour is likely to leave you coming face to face with a spook or two (if you’re lucky enough). See one of the most haunted places in Virginia, the Peyton Randolph House, as well as the Wren Building, the oldest academic building still used today, which once served as a hospital during the Revolution and Civil Wars and burned down three times. One of the coolest sights is the Haunted Gaol, which was once a prison that held pirate Blackbeard’s men. The tour leaves at 7:30 pm seven days a week; it’s an hour and 15 minute tour–to a 2 hour extended tour. It meets at Kimball Theater at 424 W Duke of Gloucester St, Williamsburg. It costs $11 for adults and children 12 and under are $9, with an added $4 for the extended tour.
6. Dewitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum – Built in 1985 by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei, the museum contains the world’s largest collection of southern furniture and one of the world’s largest collections of historical American and British furniture. Their collection of British pottery is also the largest outside of that country. See over 8,000 decorative art pieces from 1600 to 1830 are permanently on display in the 11 galleries. Rotating exhibits are also presented, and a courtyard, cafe and gift shop are located on the premises. Museum admission is included in all Colonial Williamsburg tickets, though museum-only tickets are available for purchase for $11.95 for adults and $5.95 for children.
7. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center – The first museum in the country dedicated to American folk art was refurbished and enlarged in the early 1990s. It houses everything from stenciled coverlets to mourning pictures to paintings and sculpture. It chronicles everyday life, as many of the items were once functional. Museum admission is included in all Colonial Williamsburg tickets, though museum-only tickets are available for purchase for $11.95 for adults and $5.95 for children.
8. Water Mill Park – The 2705-acre Waller Mill Park, centered around a reservoir, is Williamsburg’s outdoor escape. Locals and visitors come here for fishing, boating and picnicking. Wooded hiking trails and paved biking trails are also available, and your four-footed companions will enjoy the Waller Mill Dog Park. The park rents a variety of paddle boats and kayaks.
9. The College of William and Mary – The easiest way to explore this college is to get a map and start off on a self-directed tour. Wandering around the school is also an option — the students are not only bright (Phi Beta Kappa was founded here), they are also polite and helpful. For the second oldest college in the country, this place looks fantastic. This is an elegant site full of living history so don’t miss it. There are numerous cultural and arts events held on campus — check out a schedule while you are visiting.
10. Go Ape Treetop Adventure Center – New to Williamsburg as of 2012, the staff at Go Ape equip you with a harness, carabiner and training in how to safely use the equipment before letting you run wild on their aerial obstacle course. Ladders, walkways, bridges and tunnels are yours to explore, plus one of the state’s best zip lines. Great fun, particularly for older kids. Admission is $55 for adults and $35 for children.
Fat Canary – Located in Colonial Williamsburg, this seven-time AAA Four Diamond award winner needs to be reserved well in advance, as they only have 55 seats. wild rice-tasso stuffed quail with crawfish etouffée, while grilled lamb strip loin with farro, herbs, olives and ratatouille reflects his world travels. An open kitchen allows guests to glimpse the masters doing what they do best. Entrees include the $28 Grilled King Salmon, the $33 Braised Lamb Shank and the $39 Grilled Prime Beef Tenderloin.
Das Festhaus – Located inside Busch Gardens, this restaurant was ranked by USA Today as one of the 15 best amusement park restaurants in America. This enormous hall allows plenty of room to enjoy traditional German food and a show. Corned beef sandwiches, sausage plates, beers, potato salad, and apple strudel, as well as non-German selections (even pizza) are available.
Great Wolf Lodge – While the Great Wolf Lodge was not quite right for our family, it may be perfect for yours! They feature a massive 84-degree indoor water park with over 38,000 square feet of water-packed excitement, including jaw-dropping slides for thrill seekers or zero-depth entry areas for little ones. Grab a wand and battle a dragon in MagiQuest or get an ice cream-themed manicure in Scooops Kid Spa before gathering your family in our Grand Lobby for nightly fireside Story Time.
Kingsmill Resort – Founded by Anheuser-Busch in the 1970s, this resort has 425 rooms, five restaurants, a 15-court and a nine-hole golf course.