“Give me liberty or Give me death!” So proclaimed a fervent Patrick Henry, Virginia governor and patriot in the lead up to the Revolutionary War. Much was afoot in Virginia during the late 18th century when Henry and “radical” colleagues Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were laying the groundwork for the country’s fight for independence. It’s this history that now frames the historical destination of Colonial Williamsburg, VA.
Along with Jamestown and Yorktown, Williamsburg completes Virginia’s “Historic Triangle” — perhaps the most significant locale in America’s creation story. As the capital of the Virginia colony, Williamsburg was at the epicenter of the action, and lucky for us, it has been exquisitely restored for our enjoyment today. If experiencing a day in the life of a pre-revolutionary Virginian inspires your inner colonist, then a visit to Colonial Williamsburg, VA may be just what you’re looking for.
What’s in store
Colonial Williamsburg is as much an experience as a destination. The exquisitely restored historic district is a living museum complete with “interpreters,” or actors in period costumes who entertain, inform, and engage to tell the tale of America’s founding during the late 18th century.
Take a stroll down the main artery, Duke of Gloucester Street, to take in period workshops, homes, taverns, and historic sites replete with the faux gentry and commoners going about their daily colonial life. There are plenty of opportunities to chat with the residents and learn first-hand what it was like to live in Williamsburg during this momentous time.
A stop at the blacksmith’s shop in the Public Armory, for example, includes braving the intense heat from the forge and taking in the industrial smell of coal ash and molten iron. While you absorb the heat, talk to the blacksmith about what his job entailed in the 18th century.
Many sites include self-guided tours while others have scheduled tours that require reservations, so keep both in mind as you plan your trek through the town. Additionally, there are reenactments of famous events and plenty of taverns throughout the city, prime for a hasty pudding and a bit of prattle with the locals. Don’t be surprised if you run into Patrick Henry (yes, that one) having a coffee at the Raleigh Tavern Bakery; apparently, it’s a local favorite. And if you feel the need to get in on the act, 18th century costume rentals are available for the entire family at the William Pitt Store in Historic Market Square.
Planning your visit
With over 300 acres and 40 historic sites and attractions to see, planning your visit in advance will be key. Check the website or Visitor’s Center for tour times, site map, and daily schedule of events. Seeing everything will generally take two days, but there are various ticketing options available to accommodate whatever time you have.
To help establish your historic bearings, consider an orientation tour. These run daily through 1 pm and give a good overview of the area and attractions. The Colonial Williamsburg Explorer App can also help with planning, giving visitors a look at area tours, dining, and events. While there are buses that stop at some of the more popular attractions and horse-drawn carriages are available (for a fee), prepare to do most of your exploring on foot. So long as you’re not in a rush or tired, this can be a big part of the fun.
There are several dining options in and around the historic district of Colonial Williamsburg. If you’re looking for traditional fare, try the King’s Arm Tavern for lunch or a candlelight dinner, Chowning’s Tavern for all-day pub fare, or Christina Campbell’s Tavern – George Washington’s go-to destination for locally sourced seafood. More contemporary options include The Rockefeller Room and Social Terrace, among others. Reservations are a must for dinner.
As expected, there are plenty of lodging options for those who want to go “full colonial.” A handful of restored houses within walking distance of the historic district offer canopied beds and crackling fires — but with the updated amenities you’ve come to rely on. Other options range from more contemporary luxury couple suites to family-friendly accommodations. Visit the Colonial Williamsburg website for a full list of options.
Several shops selling authentic colonial wares are scattered throughout Colonial Williamsburg. The Greenhow General Store offers porcelain, leather, and pewter goods for those looking for authentic colonial takeaways. You can even get your own tavern ware — an ale stein with the King’s Arms insignia could make a great gift for the beer aficionado in your life. If you need a dose of modernity, contemporary shopping with over 40 stores and restaurants is available at Merchant Square, just adjacent to the historic area.
For more information on planning your visit, check out the Colonial Williamsburg website.