I had visited Colonial Williamsburg as a child but honestly wasn’t sure what to expect when I recently went to visit with my own children. Would it be too cheesy? Would they get bored? Is there really enough to do there to keep you busy for more than an afternoon?
I am happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised on all fronts. My children (ages 6.5 and 4) all had a great time and learned a ton. Colonial Williamsburg was much larger than I had remembered. It really is a small town complete with everything a Colonial resident could need, from a cabinet maker to a garden to a weaver. There is also everything government needs to function from a courthouse and jail to the Governor’s Palace. And, lest you forget Williamsburg’s connection to the Revolutionary War, there is a soldier’s encampment and armory.
Once inside Colonial Williamsburg there are tons of buildings to enter where just about any kind of (colonial) trade you can imagine is taking place. Some buildings you are free to enter at any time to watch the colonial actors at work and ask them questions. Many of these offer interactive exhibits for children such as the cabinet maker and the apothecary with lots of jars to touch and smell. Powell’s House is a definitely must-see for families as it is full of colonial games inside and out.
Other buildings are open by tour only and tours run constantly lasting about 20 to 30 minutes each. It can be hard for young children to wait for a tour, so we recommend looking at the list of available tours ahead of time and figuring out which ones are “can’t miss” for your family. For example, we are glad we didn’t miss the tour of the Governor’s Palace and the colonial jail (or Goal). There are also some tours you can obtain tickets to free of charge in advance in conjunction with a visit, such as the “Bits and Bridles” tour taking visitors behind the scenes to see the town’s horses and carriages.
There are also nightly events, such as cannon firings, and colonial taverns which should be a part of your itinerary for at least one meal. Entry to Colonial Williamsburg itself is free and allows you to wander the streets and enter the shops and restaurants. However, if you want the full experience, you need to purchase tickets to enter most buildings. Personally, I do not think a trip to Colonial Williamsburg is worth the ride if you do not plan on entering the buildings, which is where the most interesting experiences take place as well as the majority of the interactions with colonial actors. There is a shuttle bus which makes several stops around Colonial Williamsburg so you don’t need to walk the entire time if you don’t want to.
There is no shortage of passes and packages available for Colonial Williamsburg and which one is right for your family depends on how long you would like to spend there and what you would like to see. Colonial Williamsburg also operates several hotels which offer deals on admission and meals. Based on our research the hotel we found most suited to families in the area is the Williamsburg Woodlands, which is walking distance to the Visitor’s Center, and has a pool, splash park, mini-golf course, and family-friendly restaurant on site.
Within 30 to 45 minutes from Colonial Williamsburg are Jamestown and Yorktown and together the three are referred to as “America’s Triangle” because of their historical significance. Both have two sites of interest, a museum in a state park and an archeological site in a Federal park. The museums are better suited for children. Both the Jamestown and Yorktown museums have indoor exhibits and outdoor exhibits similar to what you find in Colonial Williamsburg with colonial actors and some interactive exhibits.
Jamestown also has full-size replica boats in the James River that the original settlers came over in from England as well as exhibits (indoor and out) explaining the lives of the American Indians who originally inhabited the land. Other than that, Jamestown and Yorktown are very similar to what is in Colonial Williamsburg and may be duplicative. Although both sites are very nice, unless you are a history buff or have a lot of time to spend in the area I wouldn’t consider these sites as “can’t miss” destinations during a trip to Colonial Williamsburg.
Photos by Jamie Davis Smith.