Williamsburg a crucial component of the Historic Triangle, which is found in the tidelands of Atlantic Virginia.
Visitors flock to the area year round for the amusement parks, proximity to Virginia Beach and the history offered with fine Southern hospitality.
Without Colonial Williamsburg, which is essentially a massive reproduction living history city set in the 18th Century, this area wouldn’t be the booming tourist spot that it is.
4 things you should know about the Williamsburg piece of this grand triangle:
1. History has a pricetag
The actors in period dress recreating Colonial history for your pleasure don’t do it for free.
But, here’s the thing, you can walk through Colonial Williamsburg without paying. Yes, you read this correctly. You can stroll along the streets, hear Patrick Henry rabble-rouse the crowds for the sake of liberty, and you can watch as horse-drawn carriages depart the Governor’s Palace.
You can even eat at period-ish taverns and shop in silversmith and millinery shops. Costumed historians will likely tell you, “Good day,” with a nod or smile, and talk about the war effort.
You won’t, however, be able to enter any of the multitude of living history exhibits, historic homes, museums, the capitol, courthouse or palace. Nor will you be able to jump aboard the shuttles to take you back to free parking at the Colonial Williamsburg visitor center.
To do any of these add-on things, you’ll want to purchase tickets—from sampler to multi-day passes, you’ll have a richer experience in Colonial Williamsburg. The pay scheme is a bit confusing, of what you can and can’t do between the sampler and one-day pass, so definitely ask the ticket agent whatever questions you have before shelling over your money. Note that veterans and active duty military families get half off admission.
You can purchase tickets at the visitor’s center or at a few places in or on the edge of where Colonial Williamsburg meets modern-day Williamsburg.
Benefits of the visitor’s center is that you do get free parking here, there’s a theater experience, and you can take a shuttle, or walk 10 minutes to the Colonial city. Cons are that it’s hectic and the lines are long—even if you purchase tickets in advance online. If you park in a garage in modern-day Williamsburg and walk a few streets over to Colonial Williamsburg, you might have to pay $8 or $12 for the day, but you will be able to avoid some of the crowd.
2. Historic reproductions abound
Colonial Williamsburg does have quite a few old, old homes. But it appears that most of what you’ll see are reproductions.
That’s to be expected, in many ways, as buildings catch fire, are torn down or otherwise fall into disrepair through the centuries.
The reproductions you will see here are quite impressive and it’s clear the Foundation has taken great care to be as precise as possible to match original buildings in layout, furnishings and feel.
The Governor’s Palace, for instance, is most impressive with its arsenal hanging on the wood-paneled walls and detailed furnishings. They found the original blueprints and artistic rendering of the original palace elsewhere and sought to replicate it with a modern building.
3. Expect to walk. A lot.
Colonial Williamsburg is about a mile long by a half-mile wide. Check out this map to show you where the historic, ticket-required places are (they’re noted in red) and where the restrooms, restaurants and shops are located.
You’ll zig and zag along bricks, cobblestones, gravel paths and concrete roadway. You’ll climb stairs and squeeze through half-open doorways.
If you choose to tour some of the historic spots, you’ll be standing on your feet for extended periods of time, walking from room to room and up and down steps.
The exhibits, trades shops and buildings are spread out and you’ll be hopping to try to fit most of it in.
After experiencing what this attraction has to offer (which is considerable), we were surprised to realize this is not exactly a handicap-friendly historic community.
This is unfortunate, especially given that it’s such a tourist attraction and much has been renovated or rebuilt in the 20th century.
Those with wheelchairs could roll along sidewalks or the roadway, but getting into the historic buildings, shops, taverns or restrooms could be a chore, so keep this in mind when planning this segment of your vacation. Note that Colonial Williamsburg does offer a half-off discount to those with disabilities as they seek to make this attraction accessible to all.
4. Get into the spirit
Colonial Williamsburg has a lot to offer couples, historians and families.
Here, you can immerse yourself in a day (and night) full of 18th Century adventure.
Despite the crowds that gather at the Visitor’s Center, you’ll be amazed at how much you’ll be able to spread out once you’re at the Colonial City. There’s much to see and do, and walking back into time is a break from the everyday norm.
Turn your cell phones off, look up and get into the Colonial spirit.
Or, better yet, pay for a historic tour, African-American experience tour or ghost tour of the Colonial City.
The stories of this town are exceptional, and you’ll want to take these stories back home with you.
They make for memorable vacations.
Tips: Plan for this to be an all-day attraction. Take a water bottle for every person in your family and refill them at comfort stations as you walk around. Make plans for rest breaks for little ones as they may quickly become overheated and over-stimulated. A map shows you where all the shops, refreshments and historic exhibits are, so you can follow that as a guide to this historic city.