Colonial Williamsburg is a place I’ve been wanting to take my family for some time. I have vivid memories of traveling to the historical town as a child and have been waiting for them to be of a certain age to appreciate it. My kids are 7 and 9, maybe a little bit younger than needed to understand about the American Revolution, but its an education in its own rite and gave them a basic understanding of how life in America evolved over two hundred years ago. But I also didn’t remember it being so big and diverse in its history, as this was the first time I fully explored its every angle. If you really want your kids to experience Williamsburg, you’ll want to explore its Historic Triangle, consisting of Jamestown, Yorktown and Williamsburg. It was in these three places that Americans lived together and became the seeds of a nation.
Williamsburg got its name in 1699 in honor of William III of England– but later the town became the site of heated debates about whether the young colonies should break away from England’s reign. After the American Revolution, more than 500 18th-century buildings have been restored and rebuilt and the city became a historical and important part of our country’s birth. There is still a large English influence and many reminders of the era, including British flags, cuisine and in the mouths of the actors portraying the characters from the era (they utilize 3,500 every season).
We gave ourselves three days to explore the Triangle, but spent one of them at Busch Gardens, which I will talk about in a future post, and we could have spent more time there. There’s a lot to see and do, and if your kids are like mine, they won’t want to be rushed, running from one spot to another. We spread everything out over the course of the few days. It was education interspersed with fun at the sites, good food and walks on the riverfront. But we certainly didn’t get to see and do everything, as there was far more to do than I expected, and the town was much larger than I assumed. I’m already planning at what age we will return so I can experience and see more. For example, there was a walking tour in the evening about Women During Colonial Times, but I knew that my husband and kids needed me at dinner and for a round of miniature golf. So, I’ll be back.
Ticket prices for the attractions vary widely, depending on what you want to do. A Historic Triangle ticket will cost you $81 but lasts for 7 days. Kids are $35.50/free under 6. Or you can go for a single day ticket, a multi-day ticket, a bounce ticket or a flex ticket. You have to really gage where you want to go before you get there.
We chose the Williamsburg Woodlands Hotel & Suites as our hotel, conveniently located next to the Colonial Williamsburg Regional Visitor Center, really close to the entrance of Colonial Williamsburg. It was certainly convenient, clean and offered activities for my kids like table tennis, shuffleboard, a pool open until 10pm and miniature golf. All units have Colonial-style pine furniture and photos of the Historic Area on their walls,although a bit dated, which certainly kept us in the spirit of the town. The rooms range from $79-$159 for a double; $119-$209 for a suite. All rooms include continental breakfast. One of the best attributes is free shuttles to all three parts of the Triangle, which come every half-hour and are very reliable. This isn’t a 4 or 5 star hotel, but it’s very family-friendly and I’d stay there again.
We started our visit spending a few hours in Colonial Williamsburg, where you could actually spend a whole day. Once you set foot through the gate, you’re taken back in a time machine to another time with horse-drawn carriages and reenactments by blacksmiths, jewelers, soldiers, slaves, wig makers, seamstresses and patriots. We wandered in and out of homes, shops, the local jail cell, the Governor’s Palace, a cooper shop and learned about how Americans lived over 400 years ago. It was raining pretty hard during our visit, so unfortunately, all reenactments were called off outside but we managed to catch one in the Raleigh Tavern of shopkeepers negotiating fair market prices for goods due to the war and the food shortage. My kids’ eyes were wide open, particularly my daughter who began to understand the significance of what we were experiencing. As the day went on, we stopped to regroup about everything we were experiencing. You have to, otherwise it would be too much for a young child, and a bit overwhelming for anyone. But on a sunny day, kids can grind corn, saw wood, get water from a well, help with farm chores and really feel like it was to live in these times long ago.
Each actor never stepped out of character and made us feel like we had truly entered another era. They are actually historians and educators who love to tell a good story, each one of them and they are very informative. They stop you in the street to chat and agree to photographs like the following one with my daughter.
As a matter of fact, at Jamestown Settlement, our stop right after the Colonial bit, my son asked a guide how he knows the answers to every question asked of him when he wasn’t around 400 years ago. It was a good question and the guide was proud to tell him about his background as an academic. It’s definitely worth a visit to Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America where we learned more about Native Americans and how they lived (including Pochohantas), the famine of 1609 and how the colonists rebelled against the VA Governor in 1676 and burned the town down. We all enjoyed the introductory film, “1607: A Nation Takes Roots” which traces Jamestown’s beginnings in England and the first century of the VA colony. There are recreations of the colonists’ fort, three ships from 1607 and a Powhattan Indian village where historical interpreters bring the era to life.
On our last day, we drove ourselves to the Yorktown Victory Center to learn about some of the city’s later history. The siege of Yorktown was the final major battle of the American Revolution. We learned about life in a re-created Continental encampment and were witness to an actual cannon going off (hold your ears). This is an excellent way to end your trip as it focuses on the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Please note that the photo collages shown above were taken at different instances throughout our trip.
Needless to say, we all enjoyed our visit to the historic town. My husband and I were equally impressed with how well laid out the city is, how accessible everything is and how much there is for a family to do. With careful planning, good maps, guidebooks and advice from other parents, you’ll be in good shape. But definitely do your homework before your visit to get the most out of it.
Disclosure: My visit was mostly complimentary (the hotel was discounted) to facilitate this postsand many others that I will be writing for other publications, but all opinions are my own. We were given terrific advice on where to go and what to do and I could not have worked with a nicer publicist.