Exploring Colonial Williamsburg: Highlights and Tips for a Perfect Experience
Living in the southern east-coast area of Virginia, I'm surrounded by so much rich American history. Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg are a mere hour away, while other fascinating sites like Roanoke, Mount Vernon, and Washington D.C. are all within four hours of me. These incredible places offer so many insights into America's foundations, along with some remarkable immersive atmospheres.
Now, I understand that not everyone is into colonial reenactments and even history in general. But if you like these experiences at all, one of the best places to dive right into some early American history is Colonial Williamsburg.
So today, I'd like to share some of my favorite tidbits about Colonial Williamsburg and what you can look forward to while visiting! I'm also hoping to tell you all about some more of these great historical sites later this year as I get the chance to explore them a little more myself.
Colonial Williamsburg offers an in-depth look at the life of American colonists in the 18th century. All the shops, houses, and other buildings are either original or rebuilt in the style of architecture of that period. Horse-drawn carriages roll down the cobblestone streets while actors in period-style costumes perform the every-day activities of Williamsburg's original inhabitants.
Particularly on a sunny day, the peaceful simplicity is absolutely enchanting, and it's easy to forget you're living in the 21st century.
For the admission price of $45 per adult ($25 per child), Colonial Williamsburg offers more than 40 historic experiences, including trade shops, government buildings, and the Governor's Palace. It also has 2 museums, the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Libary, and 17 dining choices. All of this is broken up into three main areas: Market Square, Palace Green, and the Capitol. It's a lot to cover in a day, so you may want to splurge on a three-day pass for only $10 more per adult ($5 per child) to fit everything in.
Alternately, visit the itineraries page and choose one of the 14 listed itineraries that fit your fancy!
With that said, wear comfortable shoes! I made the mistake of visiting in sandals this fall, and I regretted it when I couldn't find the bus stop (facepalm). The site does offer a complimentary shuttle that runs every 15 minutes or so around the loop, but you'll want to do plenty of your exploring on foot to enter buildings and enjoy the atmosphere.
2. Special Programs
If you're interested in any of Williamsburg's special performances, you'll want to check their schedule and plan your visit accordingly. You can see so many incredible programs, from behind-the-scenes tours to the Fife and Drum corps. Many of these run daily while others only happen a few times a month, which is why you'll want to check the schedule.
Colonial Williamsburg also does a lot to highlight national holidays and important months like Women's History Month, Black History Month, President's Day, and the 4th of July. Around these holidays, Williamsburg runs special tours and talks emphasizing their history and importance.
3. The Governor's Palace
My favorite stop in Williamsburg is the Governor's Palace. This gorgeous building is one of the rebuilt homes, as the first one burned down. However, the Palace was rebuilt from the same plans as the original to keep the authenticity of the house intact.
This residence housed seven royal governors as well as the first two elected governors of Virginia! The tour reveals so much fascinating history about the former residents and their lives within the colonial period.
You'll get to see lavish bedrooms, walls covered in swords and pistols, and even the grand ballroom!
My favorite spot, however, was the garden in the back of the house (pictured at the start of this section). Two broad strips of topiary-lined garden plots frame a gravel lane leading up to the back of the mansion. The gardens are filled with colorful blossoms and butterflies, laid out in almost a wild-flower field aesthetic.
As a whole, the Governor's Palace is the perfect picture of 18th-century luxury and where I personally felt the most fully transported back in time. If you get the chance to visit, you'll understand!
4. Must-See Trade Shops
As I said previously, you can literally spend days trying to see everything in Colonial Williamsburg. Or you can pick and choose the experiences that interest you the most and prioritize them. Here are a few of my favorites that I'd recommend you check out!
Blacksmith and Public Armoury
Watch craftsmen up close as they shape iron straight from the forge into tools and weapons of the era. This exhibit really demonstrates how hard people had to work in the 18th century!
Did you know that colored hair was fashionable in the 18th century? Check out the elaborate fake hairdos of the wealthy and learn about the crazy styles of the period (I'm talking model ships on top of your head crazy!)
Public Leather Works
Learn about the process of tanning and working with leather and check out some cool items like hats, clothing, and saddles!
Have you ever wondered how people used to get their silverware so flat and shiny? As it turns out, they used little hammers fit for workshop elves to painstakingly pound every single imperfection out of the silver surface! You can watch this happening at the silversmith as he molds everything from spoons to pitchers from little lumps of silver.
At the printing office, you can examine an old printing press while the printer (an actual person), demonstrates how to arrange the letters, roll the ink, and press the individual pages of the newspaper. I particularly enjoyed this shop because the printer obviously loved his job and made everyone laugh quite a bit with his jokes.
If you're interested in fashion, this is the perfect stop for you! See how clothing was made in the colonial days and the kinds of fabric they used. You'll also learn about some of the fashion choices of the period.
At the weaver's house, you can watch the meticulous process of turning wool and cotton into fine threads for spinning clothes. They also show you the dying and weaving methods so you can see how much work went into making a single item of clothing. It's pretty cool, and they have some interactive parts for kids as well.
5. Tips for the Perfect Visit
A few vital planning points can make the difference between an enjoyable visit and a frustrating one in such a historically immersive area. Here are some tips to help you out:
Start early: Colonial Williamsburg has so much to see! If you want to maximize on that $45 ticket, get there when the doors open at 9 a.m. You'll beat much of the crowds and be able to squeeze in more experiences.
Plan a route: Yes, it can be fun to wander from shop to shop, but you might never make it out of the Market Square area if you do! I highly recommend you plan an itinerary to ensure you can fit in trade shops and self-guided tours around any scheduled tours or experiences you want to catch.
Decide where you'll stop for lunch ahead of time: The whole park is approximately a mile long by half a mile wide, which can seem very large when you're hungry. Decide beforehand where you want to eat and plan your day's route to land you in the right area around lunch/dinnertime. Yes, you can take the bus, but backtracking is no fun!
Get the app: If you enjoy the convenience of having everything on your phone, download the Colonial Williamsburg Explorer app. It's an interactive guide that lets you see what's in your area and even reserve tickets for shows and experiences. You'll be able to ditch the big paper map and avoid a lot of lines!
Bring water: Yes, there are vending machines scattered throughout the area, but why pay $2 for a bottle when you can bring your own and have it readily accessible? Just be sure to keep it sealed and tucked away when you're in any buildings.
Wear comfortable shoes: I know I said this before, but you will probably regret wearing anything other than close-toed shoes. On a hot day, your sandals will get dusty and can rub your feet raw. Plus, horses are roaming about the streets, so you'll occasionally need to watch your step.
Dive right in: Few places offer such an immersive historical experience as Colonial Williamsburg does. I'd encourage you to take the opportunity to disconnect from modern life for the day and just enjoy the simplicity of the town. Obviously, you need to take pictures and use the app if you have it, but don't let those be a distraction. You'll learn so much if you can pay attention and embrace the culture of those who helped form our country for even a single day!
As always, thanks for stopping by The Mandala Traveler! I hope you enjoyed reading about some of Colonial Williamsburg's charming stops, and that it helps you plan a perfect trip.
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