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Ten Things to Do in and Around Williamsburg, Virginia

Updated on March 26, 2012

Colonial Williamsburg is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. Envisioned by the Reverend W.A.R. Goodwin of Bruton Parish Church (and financed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.), CW as it is known was one of the first outdoor museums in the United States devoted to the concept of "living history." Most of the buildings in CW have been recreated to reflect their Colonial splendor, and costumed guides and tradesmen and -women show what life was like in the Eighteenth Century, when Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia.

Visiting Williamsburg is a wonderful experience for the entire family, and if you get the opportunity to go, you should. Visitng the restored area and watching the craftsmen is, of course, a given. But here are some other things you can do, too.

1. See the Movie "Story of a Patriot"

You'll probably want to do this anyway. Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot is free with your admission and tells the story of Jonathan Frye, a colonist who gets elected to the House of Burgesses and meets George Washington -- in Williamsburg, naturally. The places Frye visits serve as an introduction to what can be seen in the restored area.

What's interesting about this film is its longevity. Created in 1957, it's the longest continuously-running film in the world. . And in case you didn't notice, that's Jack Lord playing Jonathan Frye in his pre-Hawaii Five-O days. (Whatever you do, do not shout "Book 'em, Danno" at the end of the movie. It's considered bad form.)

2. Eat in a Colonial Tavern

You've seen them in their wigs and tricorn hats and stockings. Now you can eat like they did, too.

Colonial Williamsburg operates four colonial-era taverns: Christiana Campbell's, which was a favorite of George Washington; the King's Arms; Chowning's; and Shields' Tavern. Each has a bill of fare modeled after what might have been served in the Eighteenth Century, but better. Diners are seated at candlelit tables, served by costumed waiters and sometimes even entertained. Chowning's, for example, regularly hosts Gambols, where Colonial tavern life is recreated through songs and games.

Tavern diniing is very popular and seating is limited, so be sure to make your reservations early.

3. Enjoy the Holiday Festivities

Christmas in Williamsburg is always a special time. The first weekend in December usually is devoted to the Grand Illumination, when all the Colonial buildings display candles in their windows and the taverns offer special menus. The entire month of December is devoted to holiday activities and decorations, including candlelight tours, wreaths, bonfires, holiday music and various special programs. There's even a special buffet dinner called the Groaning Board. Many of these are ticketed events, so be sure to check the Colonial Williamsburg website for details.

Also festive is the Celebration in Lights in nearby Newport News which is a drive-through panorama of electric Christmas lights and displays. One can see electric reindeer leaping over the road, Santa's workshop, sea monsters and even a mock cannon fight!

4. Go to Jamestown

Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in the New World, established in 1607, and is just down the road from Williamsburg. There are actually two sites of interest at Jamestown, each very different from the other. Jamestown Settlement includes a museum, a reconstruction of Jamestown Fort, and recreations of the Godspeed, the Discovery, and the Susan Constant, the three ships that brought the settlers over.

Historic Jamestowne, which is next door, is the site of the original settlement. It is administered by the National Park Service and the Commonwealth of Virginia and is often the site of archaeological digs. One area of special interest there is the glass house, where you can watch costumed craftsmen recreate the Colonial art of glassblowing.

5. Visit Yorktown

Yorktown is where it all ended -- the American Revolution, that is. Lord Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington here, sealing the notion that those pesky Americans were no longer British.

Administered by the National Park Service, the Yorktown Victory Center houses a number of exhibits about the Siege of Yorktown and Colonial life in general. Yorktown is often the site of Colonial encampments.

6. Visit Busch Gardens

Unlike its sister park in Tampa, Florida, this Busch doesn't have a lot of wild animals to view. What it has instead are countries -- England, France, Germany and Italy, to be precise, collectively known as the Old Country -- with shops, eateries and rides that have a European flair.

In England you can visit the Globe Theatre. In France you can ride a log flume known as Le Scoot. In Italy, you can get a chance to escape from Pompeii or ride Apollo's Chariot. And if you're really daring you can ride the Loch Ness Monster or the Griffon, the largest dive roller coaster in the U.S.

If a tamer experience is what you seek, try one of the park's numerous stage shows or be entertained while dining in the 2000-seat Festhaus in Germany.

7. Make a Splash at Water Country USA

If you're traveling in the summer, you'll want to go here, especially because Williamsburg in the summer can get quite hot. Water Country USA (which is owned by SeaWorld, which also owns Busch) is one of the largest waterparks in the area, and has plenty of water-related activities: water slides, dark slides, a wave pool, a rambling river, kiddie pools, a high-dive show, and even a slide where you can race against your friends. There are plenty of eating opportunities, too, if you want to make a day of it.

8. Stroll Through the College of William and Mary

Founded in 1693, the College of William and Mary is the second-oldest university in the United States, after Harvard. Like much in Williamsburg, the campus is full of Colonial architecture. The Christopher Wren Building, near Merchants' Square, is America's oldest educational building in continuous use. Take a walk through the Sunken Garden or kiss your sweetie on the bridge over Crim Dell. You can also visit the Muscarelle Art Museum which houses the college's art treasures.

9. Shop for Bargains at the Pottery Factory

As unbelievable as it may seem, some people come to Williamsburg just to go here.

The Williamsburg Pottery Factory began in 1938 when James Maloney opened up a small factory devoted to making reproductions of Eighteenth Century items. He later added china and glassware and other items from all over the world so that the Pottery Factory eventually spanned more than 200 acres and has 32 buildings crammed full of bargains galore. And it's not just pottery. There are also rugs, lamps, kitchenware, home accents, baskets and a garden area.

The site is currently undergoing a major renovation after having razed many of its buildings beginning in 2010. The new Pottery Factory promises to be even better than the old, providing not only the traditional bargains but also organic and gourmet foods, in a charming European market-style setting. The grand reopening is scheduled for April 2012.

10. Ride the Ferry

Right next to Jamestown Settlement, Route 5 comes to an end at the James River. But that's not the end of the road. The Jamestown-Scotland Ferry has been shuttling vehicles across the river since 1925 and is the only 24-hour ferrry service operating in the state of Virginia.

The twenty-minute ride provides views of several attractions along the James, including Jamestown Settlement, Bacon's Castle, and Chippokes Plantation, and is a pleasant ride on any day when the weather is nice. Over on the other side, in the town of Surry, is the Surrey House Restaurant, which serves a marvelous Virginia peanut soup as well as a she-crab soup. The Surrey House is also home to an eleven-room inn if you wish to spend the night and drive back in the morning.


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    • cloverleaffarm profile image

      Healing Herbalist 5 years ago from The Hamlet of Effingham

      Great info! I went to Williamsburg for my honeymoon, and loved every minute of it. Voted up.