Most people think they know the story of the birth of America. Generally speaking, it goes something like: Bostonians tossed tea into the harbor, Paul Revere warned everyone on his horse, a skirmish here, a battle there, and representatives from the colonies gathered in Philadelphia to declare independence. America!
Of course, there’s a great deal more to the story – so much more, in fact – and you’ll never know even half of it until you visit the one and only Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.
This summer, rather than sitting in traffic on your way down the Shore, consider a horse-drawn carriage ride along the most historic street in America. Give your worn-out baseball cap a breather and shield yourself from the sun with a gold-trimmed tricorn hat. Then, after a fun-filled day, ditch the trendy spiked seltzers for a throwback mug of ale at Chownings Tavern, an official Colonial Williamsburg Tavern.
As the country’s largest outdoor living history museum, Colonial Williamsburg provides history buffs, art lovers, families, and summer travelers with an immersive and authentic 18th-century experience.
With over 300 amazing acres to explore, the city is home to two world-class art museums, a boutique shopping district, five unique hotel properties, and endless resort amenities. The best part? When you book directly at the official Colonial Williamsburg Resorts, you’ll receive up to two complimentary length-of-stay tickets to enjoy all that the Historic Area and Art Museums have to offer.
Located in Williamsburg, Va., Philadelphians can load it up for a road trip or rely on Amtrak, where riders can score tickets as low as $23.
Ready to have some fun? Lay out your quill and start drafting your itinerary today.
A History Buff’s Bucket List
At the east end of town, head to the Capitol building to walk the halls where the colony’s representatives struggled with the British government over the meaning of American liberty. The building housed the Virginia General Assembly and the House of Burgesses for the Colony of Virginia. Its exterior features colonial-style red brick, curved archways, and a clock tower where an early British flag flies high. It’s also where several famous revolutionaries – including George Washington, George Wythe, George Mason, and Thomas Jefferson – helped create legislation that resulted in the Revolution. Guided tours start every 15 minutes, and you can even explore the historic site through a beautifully scored virtual showcase.
Speaking of America’s Founding, after immersing yourself in the place that influenced and created the American ideals, you can mingle with the Nation Builders all around town. The costumed characters portray the men and women who served critical roles in the making of America. Along brick alleyways or in Market Square, you’ll run into time-honored figures who’ll share the lesser known tales of our collective American story — anyone from Thomas Jefferson, Va. statesman and third president of the U.S., to Ann Wager, educator at the Williamsburg Bray School for Black children.
Once you’ve had the chance to chat with George and Martha Washington, take some time to visit the American Indian encampment and learn more about the ways of the regional indigenous peoples.
Don’t finish your tour before you explore the powder magazine, site of the infamous Gunpowder Incident of 1775. It’s explosive! Just before the Revolution, there was a wild confrontation between Williamsburg residents and the royal governor, whose soldiers absconded with the colony’s gunpowder. It’s a must-see!
Go on an Art Crawl
Got an eye for design and an appreciation for historical artifacts? Then check out the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum is home to the largest collection of American folk art in the world. In addition, the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum houses an extensive collection of British and American decorative art. A current exhibition features brilliantly colored and boldly designed Navajo weavings that will leave you feeling inspired.
Be sure to also see the Restoring Williamsburg exhibition, where you’ll see over 15,000 architectural fragments collected from Colonial Williamsburg structures over the years. See how these items from the collection guide the preservation of the working 18th-century structures around it.
After touring the Art Museums, take in some of the city’s most decorated buildings, including the Governor’s Palace and the Wythe House. Throughout your visit, you’ll find exquisite artworks in addition to brilliantly colored moldings and walls along the way. There’s always a treat for the eyes in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area and Art Museums. Regardless of where your gaze falls, it’s hard to miss the curated collections around the Historic Area, from the prim and proper tablespaces in the Governor’s Palace to portraits of the monarchy in the Capitol. Go see them for yourself!
Entertainment for Kids of All Ages
Did somebody say “neigh”? Bring on the “horsing around” dad jokes when you show your children the adorable animals in the pastures throughout the Historic Area. Colonial Williamsburg’s Rare Breeds program promotes genetic diversity in livestock that would have been in the area in the 18th century. Today, these animals are threatened or endangered, but due to preservation efforts children now have the opportunity to meet and greet the Leicester Longwool sheep or Cleveland Bay foals roaming the land. They’re un-baa-lievable!
Once you’ve had a “sheep thrill” or two, saunter the family over to one of the historic trade shops. There, you’ll witness 21st-century craftspeople practicing authentic 18th-century trades. From hammering iron at the Anderson Blacksmith to dyeing wool from Leicester Longwool sheep at the Weavers, learn how the community of Williamsburg carried out day-to-day life in the 18th century.
Continue your tour with a visit to the Raleigh Tavern, where your family can witness the Williamsburg community come to life and experience the daily activities of ordinary people during extraordinary times at Intersections, an immersive street theater performance. From the battle at Lexington and Concord to the capital moving to Richmond, hear diverse perspectives and relive the past. (“I said quit ‘foaling’ around back there!”)
Feed Your Appetite for History — and Luxury
Who’s hungry? When all these new experiences have you ready to toast the day, enjoy a prix fixe meal at the newly redesigned Rockefeller Room at the Williamsburg Inn, the crown jewel of the Colonial Williamsburg Resorts collection. Swing over to the award-winning Golden Horseshoe Golf Course and bask in the view from the lavish outdoor lounge of the Social Terrace. And, be sure to try a hand-crafted pizza made with milled flour from the red may wheat berry, the first improved wheat flour of the Colonial Era.
Hankering for more historically-inspired cuisine? No trip to Colonial Williamsburg is complete without a meal in one of our historic taverns. Enjoy a meal by candlelight and dine on authentic 18th-century inspired cuisine. But, wait, what did Williamsburg’s original residents eat — and how did they cook it? Visit the Governor’s Palace Kitchen to meet our Historic Foodways interpreters and watch them prepare authentic colonial dishes using the equipment and recipes that fueled the colonists. Come hungry — you’re in for a treat!
Want even more choices? Colonial Williamsburg’s Merchants Square, home to over 40 unique shops and restaurants, has something modern to suit your tastes. From award-winning fine dining and comfort casual to quick grab and go. No matter what you choose, Colonial Williamsburg has a meal – and an historic experience – you and your family will never forget.