This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy for more information.
It may be impossible to hop on a time machine and travel to the past, but visiting Colonial Williamsburg is the closest you can get without a DeLorean and a flux capacitor. My family recently spent two nights near Colonial Williamsburg, one of the three points of Virginia’s Historic Triangle. I had spent a few hours there briefly during a trip to Washington, D.C., as a child, but I’d never had a chance to really explore. As an adult, my appreciation of history has only increased, and I was so excited to spend some time here with my travel partners in crime–Jeff and Kristin.
We really only spent a day and a half in the area, and we decided to come and go into Colonial Williamsburg as we needed breaks. It’s really easy to go for a few hours, take a break, and then head back. We stayed in town at the Comfort Suites, and it was perfect for us. It had the indoor pool and hot breakfast that we look for, and the decor was really contemporary. When I was planning the trip, I wondered if we should stay closer to Colonial Williamsburg for the experience. It turned out to not be a big deal, and we probably saved a little money. Our drive to Colonial Williamsburg only took a few minutes.
It was cloudy on this part of our trip, and we had just come from some rainy weather at Virginia Beach two days before. The temperature was perfect, though, and even a little chilly at times for early June. It certainly wasn’t horribly hot like some of our summer adventures can be.
I’ll be honest here. When I was planning this trip, it was difficult to understand what Colonial Williamsburg would be like and how everything worked. I’m a planner, but I had trouble visualizing this place as I read information. I hope this post can help someone like me, at least a little. When I looked online, I was undecided about which ticket would be best for our family. I knew I wanted my family to eat in one of the taverns, so I made sure to make a reservation for that. But beyond that, I had no idea. After we settled into our hotel room, we jumped in the car and set out for Colonial Williamsburg. To be helpful, I’ve made a list of tips of my best advice for experiencing this wonderful historic place.
1. Park your car at the Colonial Williamsburg Regional Visitor Center and take the shuttle.
You could try to find parking near Colonial Williamsburg, but it really is so much easier to park here and take the shuttle. The parking lot is huge, and the shuttle arrives and departs frequently. We never waited for more than ten minutes, and most of the time it was much quicker.
The visitor center has a place to buy tickets if you want access to select buildings. It also has some gift shops that my family really enjoyed. You can also rent costumes here, so if you want to really immerse yourself in the experience, you can. If you’ve read about some of our other adventures, you know that Kristin liked to dress the part, but sadly, I think she is over the costume part of our adventures. They had costumes for all ages, sizes, and genders, so if you want to participate, check out their website here. You can also read more about ticket prices and special events.
2. Explore Colonial Williamsburg a little before you decide on what ticket, if any, you should purchase.
The shuttle is free, so hop on and see what’s out there! You may want to pick up a map at the visitor center, but you will also find maps in Colonial Williamsburg.
I also recommend not getting off at the first stop unless you plan to tour the Governor’s Palace right away, for which you’ll need a ticket. We left the visitor’s center without any tickets. We were contemplating a sampler’s ticket that they offer, but we still weren’t sure what we wanted. Plus, we planned on coming back the next day. You don’t need a ticket to walk around the area or to go in many of the shops. There is signing to help you know which buildings require a ticket. The sampler ticket allowed you to choose a few buildings to enter, but it did not include the ornate Governor’s Palace. You would need to purchase a single-day, multi-day, or annual pass for that. You could also buy a combo ticket that would give you admission to the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown and the Jamestown Settlement.
In the end, we didn’t buy a ticket at all. I’m sure Colonial Williamsburg would be disappointed with us. We had such a great time just exploring the free areas and events that we never felt the need to get tickets. Since it was our first visit, we had so much that we hadn’t experienced. If we ever go back, I would get a ticket so I could tour the Governor’s Palace. But as a first-time visitor, you may not feel the need to buy tickets. As I mentioned before, we did eat dinner in a tavern, so that was our special experience on this trip. It was a little pricey for us, but I felt it was completely worth it. If you’d like to read more about our tavern experience, click here. You’ll just have to see what you want out of your experience.
3. When you first arrive, take some time to explore the area.
From the moment we stepped off the shuttle, we were transported back in time. You really feel like you are part of Colonial America. When we arrived for the first time, we got off at the tavern stop and just started walking down the street. I hadn’t realized that Colonial Williamsburg is just like a small town in that there are houses and businesses lining several blocks. The streets are closed to modern vehicles, but it really is a little community that you can walk into from any point like any other town. When you step out of the colonial part, you are in residential areas that do allow modern transportation. I was expecting more seclusion, I suppose. But don’t take this to mean that I was disappointed in any way. I absolutely loved Colonial Williamsburg!
We walked around until the sun started to go down that first evening. We decided to grab some dinner and swim before going to bed at a reasonable time so we could get an early start the next day. Now we had a little bit more understanding about what we were doing. You may notice from our pictures that there weren’t a lot of people around. It was a little deserted on this evening. We did see a school group and a few people here and there. It was Thursday night, and area schools were still in session, so that contributed to our peaceful exploring. But there were still little events going on, such as a militia that was recruiting some kids from a school trip. Here the troops are receiving their orders about training the new recruits. One soldier seems to be looking those kids over and making some judgments!
4. Check the schedule for events your family may be interested in so you won’t miss anything.
There are events happening all day, but not everything happens multiple times a day. You can catch a reading of the Declaration of Independence on the court house stairs, or you may see a musket demonstration. Maybe you want to see the Fife and Drum Corps. Also, inside buildings that require admission, there are demonstrations about colonial life. It’s good to take a look to see what you want to do. Of course, you may just stumble upon something really cool, too. On our second day, we happened upon an archaeological dig for kids. Kristin saw the dig, and she immediately wanted to be a part of it. It was also absolutely free!
We signed her up, and she was off! First, the archeologists explained that they are still looking for artifacts in Colonial Williamsburg to learn more about the people who lived there. They also explained that this particular site had been excavated a few decades before, but it had been filled in again to protect it. Now it was being reexamined for artifacts while being a teaching tool for kids. They showed the kids how to scrape the earth rather than dig or poke, and then they gave them gloves, a trowel, a dustpan, and a bucket and sent them digging.
After the kids filled a bucket, they dumped the dirt through a screen. When everyone was finished, they sifted through the dirt together to see what they could find.
After this process, they grouped what they found and compared their findings to a book with pictures of the possible items. They learned how to date items by their features. For example, they could date dishes by whether they were pre-revolution imports made in England or if they were made of materials found in America. The American dishes would’ve been legal after the revolution. I learned a lot too as I watched the process!
5. Plan your day, but leave plenty of time to let the unexpected happen.
As I mentioned in the previous section, we just happened upon the archaeological dig. It was an experience I’ll never forget. And I won’t forget many of the other little things we just happened to see without any planning whatsoever. We enjoyed exploring the city streets and the shops that lined them.
The marketplace is a fun area.
There are so many buildings that help you understand the past, like the courthouse.
Step away from the main streets, and you’ll find homes with gardens.
You could just spend the day looking at different homes and their gardens.
It’s so peaceful to walk around and let these places capture your imagination.
As you walk along, you may just happen to stroll by a little cottage that looks like it’s from a fairytale.
There are surprises around every turn. It’s also fun to see all the buildings that make Colonial Williamsburg a community.
Later that evening, we walked past this church, and we discovered that there was an organ concert in progress. We peeked in for a moment, but we didn’t want to disturb anyone.
So we explored the churchyard instead.
Near the historic district, there is a more modern shopping area with several restaurants. We also saw live music here on our first night. Be sure to make some time for this area. You can even sit by Thomas Jefferson.
Don’t forget to explore Colonial Williamsburg in the evening. It is absolutely gorgeous at night.
There are some ghost tours available. We considered one, but we had just done one at Gettysburg. If we go again, I would probably do it. There are some other evening options, too, like chamber music, historic dancing, and witch or pirate trials. We just walked the historic district. It was magical.
You can see the Governor’s Palace from across a grassy courtyard. It was beautifully lit.
6. Be sure to interact with the history all around you.
The citizens and costumed visitors are there to educate you about the history of Williamsburg and the colonies, so be sure to interact with them! We met the publisher of the newspaper.
We found various people in various buildings.
People were just going about everyday life, just like in any other community.
You never know who you may meet as you walk along.
Carriage rides are also available. This would be another great way to immerse yourself in Colonial Williamsburg.
Things are happening all around you, really. People are just doing what they do every day, and we were able to see pieces of everyday history happening.
My best piece of advice for families is this–be sure you are making memories with your family. Even goofy ones!
We had a wonderful trip to Colonial Williamsburg. We did take an afternoon break on our second day, as we often do, to eat a late lunch and take some down time at the hotel. Then we were refreshed for our tavern dinner and evening exploring. We use this strategy on trips a lot, actually. Not only is Kristin rested, but Jeff and I are, too! I really hope we can return someday and explore even more. I’d love to go at Christmas time. If you are considering a trip to Colonial Williamsburg with your family, I would certainly say to give it a go. You can’t go wrong with history and family fun!