Williamsburg, VA  - Vacation Travel Guide

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Williamsburg Area Features

Journey Through Early American History

In the Historic Triangle, engaging museums, portrayals and activities showcase monumental events from the past at five incredible locations.

The story of the United States began with the first permanent English settlement in 1607 at Jamestown. From there, it has been a tumultuous journey through the centuries. And though the story continues, many of its early chapters can be re-lived here in the Historic Triangle.

Venture back in history to the arrival of the English colonists in the New World at Jamestown. Then, follow the passage of time as we explore Virginia’s 18th-century colonial capital of Williamsburg. Afterwards, tour the sites in Yorktown to see how and where we ultimately gained our independence from England. Join Colonial Guide as we delve into the places where heroes were born, stories and legends emerged, and the path to our nation’s future was forged.

TOURING TIP:  Separate admission fees apply to all five of these historic destinations. However, a variety of multi-attraction tickets are available wherever you buy tickets. You can even shop online or through the new Colonial Williamsburg Explorer app to avoid the lines and save some money.

The Early Beginnings of America at Jamestown

In 1607, three ships carrying 104 people from England approached the coast of Virginia. They made their way up what is now the James River and began a new life at Jamestown. Today, visitors can see the site where it all began at Historic Jamestowne and learn about the colonists and Native Americans who shared the land. At the Jamestown Settlement, they can experience what life was like in the early 17th century through compelling exhibits and interactive exchanges with personalities from the past.

Historic Jamestowne
1368 Colonial Parkway
Jamestown, Virginia
www.historicjamestowne.org • 757-856-1250

Jamestown is a time capsule that is not yet entirely unsealed as its story is still unfolding, and its soil is still rich with treasure. Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than at Historic Jamestowne, the site of the original settlement. Strategically located, it afforded a good defensive position, and it was where some of this nation’s earliest forefathers established a tenuous foothold in a new world. They built a fort here. They practiced their religion and government here. They lived and died here, and their activities still echo through the Jamestown Rediscovery archaeological excavation that is located here today. Beneath the feet of all who travel here rest the remnants of a nation’s birth.

The journey begins at the Historic Jamestowne Visitor Center. The museum features exhibits and a multimedia theater presentation about Jamestown’s 92 years as the capital of Virginia. From there, visitors can walk through the original James Fort site featuring reconstructed portions of the palisade walls exactly where they stood four centuries ago. Once believed to have eroded into the James River, nearly all of the fort site still exists on dry land, and the excavation of it continues to this day. Preservation Virginia’s Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists work within the public eye, and their findings are on display in the Nathalie P. and Alan M. Voorhees Archaearium (pronounced ar-KEE-air-ee-um) archaeological museum.

Jamestown Settlement
2110 Jamestown Rd., Rte. 31 South
Williamsburg, Virginia
www.historyisfun.org • 888-593-4682

Jamestown Settlement, a museum of 17th-century Virginia history and culture, brings the story of America’s first permanent English colony to life. The living-history museum illuminates the daily existence of the colonists and the confluence of English, Powhatan and west central African cultures in 1600s Virginia.

Through expansive artifact-filled exhibition galleries and an introductory film, this popular attraction has succeeded in duplicating the sights, sounds and even smells of the 17th century. And that is where visitors are immersed as they explore the story of America’s beginnings while venturing through the numerous indoor and outdoor exhibits.

Within the palisade walls of Jamestown Settlement’s re-created 1610-14 fort stand a church, guardhouse, storehouse and governor’s house, all ready for exploration.  A re-created Powhatan Indian village features several reed-covered houses, crop field and ceremonial circle. Along the James River at the ships’ pier, re-creations of the three 1607 ships—Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery—are moored for visitors to explore. Climb aboard for a look the colonists’ accommodations on their four-and-a-half month journey from England.

Throughout all of these Jamestown Settlement venues, costumed historical interpreters engage visitors in activities of 400 years ago. Whether it’s grinding corn, preparing meals, steering a ship or shaping a canoe, hands-on experiences abound in this living-history arena.

TOURING TIP:  Take the naturally scenic Colonial Parkway between Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown. The scenery is gorgeous and the traffic is minimal. Just be sure not to speed on this road since it’s within the jurisdiction of the Federal government.

Williamsburg’s Influential Role in Colonial Times

The capital of the Virginia colony relocated from Jamestown to Williamsburg in 1699. It was then that Williamsburg became a center for education, politics, and business. The city attracted great political minds including Peyton Randolph, George Wythe, and Thomas Jefferson, who studied at the preeminent "Royal" College of William & Mary before he later penned the Declaration of Independence and became the country’s third president. Many ideas about breaking with England were developed in Williamsburg, as were some of the thoughts behind the structure of American democracy.

Colonial Williamsburg
101 Visitor Center Drive
Williamsburg, Virginia
www.ColonialWilliamsburg.com • 888-965-7254

Colonial Williamsburg allows guests of all ages to immerse themselves in 18th-century life in the capital of the largest English colony in the New World. On guided and self-guided tours, guests explore sites, gardens and trade shops, learn about rare breeds of animals, and interact with colonial citizens from the past at the world’s largest outdoor living history museum.

Daily programming brings to life the events that led to the fight for American independence. Visitors can participate in debates with patriots and loyalists and see how the differing viewpoints led to tensions among neighbors. Trade shops portray the detailed work that was undertaken to produce daily necessities for the local population. Help the brickmaker stomp water into clay, see sparks fly at the blacksmith shop, or “sentence” a family member to the stockades for a great photo.

Two of the city’s cornerstone buildings—the Governor’s Palace and the Capitol—offer popular tours that showcase the changing tide from British rule to an independent and democratic republic. Just off the Palace Green, you can do some shopping in Market Square for colonial-style items, just as they did in the 18th century.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg showcase the finest British and American decorative arts pieces from 1670-1830 at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, and the nation’s premier collection of American folk art at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. In addition to the beautiful pieces of hand-carved furniture, woven arts, musical instruments, and eye-catching portraits, exhibits are regularly on display and new items are constantly arriving for a different perspective on every visit!

TOURING TIP:  Colonial Williamsburg offers a number of additional programs and activities that require separate tickets from the standard admission. Examples include horse and carriage rides, musket firing at the range, dining events, and evening programs such as their “Ghosts Amongst Us” ghost walk, and “Escape the King” (an escape room challenge). Plan ahead and purchase advance tickets if you are interested in taking part in any of these activities as they usually sell out quickly!

Victory! The Beginning of a Nation at Yorktown

In 1776 the original 13 colonies of America declared their independence from England. After seven long years at war (beginning at Lexington and Concord in 1775), and despite tremendous hardships, the American militia was victorious and British General Cornwallis ultimately surrendered at Yorktown in 1781. Examine the events that led to this historic milestone at the Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center and then walk through the still-standing ramparts of the battlefield. To get a glimpse of camp life as part of General Washington’s army and to explore interactive exhibits and galleries, visit the newly opened American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.

Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center
1000 Colonial Parkway
Yorktown, Virginia
www.nps.gov/york • 757-898-2410

The Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center features a 15-minute, live-action film about the siege at Yorktown, as well as a gallery of exhibits including portions of the very tents used by General Washington during the siege. The Visitor Center is also the starting point for park ranger-led walks of the battlefield and the seven-mile battlefield auto tour.

Beautifully maintained by the National Park Service, Yorktown preserves the earthen fortifications and parapets of the 18th-century military forces. Park Service signs indicate the whereabouts of British, French and American forces throughout the siege. Also preserved is Surrender Field, where the British forces laid down their arms for their American and French victors.

Standing amid the battle sites is Yorktown’s historic Victory Monument, which was erected by the United States government after the cornerstone was laid in October 1881, on the centennial of the Yorktown victory. Inscribed on a plaque near the monument are the names of Americans known to have lost their lives in the Yorktown campaign.

American Revolution Museum at Yorktown
200 Water Street
Yorktown, Virginia
www.historyisfun.org • 888-593-4682

The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, formerly the Yorktown Victory Center, tells anew the story of the nation’s founding from the twilight of the colonial period to the dawn of the Constitution and beyond. Comprehensive indoor exhibits and outdoor living history capture the transformational nature and epic scale of the Revolution and its relevance today. The introductory film, Liberty Fever, shown throughout the day in the museum theater, sets the stage for indoor gallery and outdoor experiences. Galleries feature period artifacts, immersive environments, interactive exhibits, and films including The Siege of Yorktown, with a 180-degree surround screen and dramatic special effects.

Visitors can witness demonstrations at the new artillery amphitheater and drill with wooden muskets at a re-created Continental Army encampment, where costumed historical interpreters explain medical practices and the role of the quartermaster in managing supplies for the troops. Soldiers demonstrate how to fire a flintlock musket, and recruit and train “volunteers” for positions on an artillery crew, followed by the interpreters taking the helm to fire the artillery piece. Visitors can explore—and help work—a Revolution-era farm based on a real-life 18th-century family, helping lend a hand with daily chores in the farmhouse, separate kitchen, and tobacco barn.

TOURING TIP: Combine attractions that are within a close distance of one another such as Jamestown Settlement and Historic Jamestowne, or The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown and Yorktown Battlefield. It is recommended that you spend a full day in each area to fully take advantage of your admission tickets.

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