Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
"Thomas Jefferson" Addresses Visitors to Colonial Williamsburg
Wigmakers Shop, Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, previously a winner of FTF’s Top 10 Getaways for Family Travelers Award gets a fresh look in 2015.

Upholding their mission to help the future learn from the past, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has created America’s most famous and comprehensive living history museum, inviting families to step back to the time and place where the ideas of independence, democracy and revolution were born. Located 150 miles south of Washington, DC, midway between Richmond and Norfolk, this city was the capital of the largest and most dominant British colony in the New World from 1669 to 1779.

Today, over 88 original buildings and hundreds of reconstructed homes, shops and public buildings on 301 acres welcome visitors to experience life in the 18th century. The key to capturing the minds of visitors is involvement, not just watching: learning about foods and clothing both by visiting trade shops and by hands-on participation in a wide array of traditional crafts such as boot, barrel and wig-making, furniture construction, dining in taverns and attending and participating in court proceedings.

You can learn about the contributions of slaves and gentry, attend speeches by Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, and question the principles which lead to their call for independence and were the basis for its declaration. Evenings are for strolling candle-lit streets and attending music, dance and drama performances. Most activities will grab the attention of school-aged children, and even your youngest kids will enjoy the surroundings.

Begin at the well-organized Visitor’s Center, which presents an informative introductory film and offers a multitude of choices to make the most of your visit. We recommend the key-to-the-city pass for two consecutive day’s admission. Accommodations are available at The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation ranging from a five-star, award-winning resort to an economical motel; many package plan rates depend on the selected lodging. Discounted tickets to to visit various Colonial Williamsburg attractions are also available through the Colonial Willaimsburg Official Hotels. 

Jamestown Settlement & Yorktown Victory Center

Although you must plan for at least two days at Colonial Williamsburg, you can stay very busy for several more days by visiting nearby Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum adjacent to Historic Jamestown, the site of America’s first permanent English settlement, and the Yorktown Victory Center, a museum of the Revolution ( 888/593-4682). Both are family-friendly museums that offer a “hands-on” learning experience.

At Jamestown Settlement, visitors can steer with a tiller or whipstaff aboard a re-creation of one of the three ships that brought English colonists to Virginia in 1607, explore contents of a “see” chest on the ships’ pier, try on 17th-century-style armor and play ninepins or quoits at the re-created colonial fort, grind corn and weave plant fibers into cordage at the Powhatan Indian village, and use oyster shells to scrape out a dugout canoe at the riverfront discovery area.  Visitors may be invited to join an artillery crew or drill with wooden muskets at the Yorktown Victory Center’s re-created Continental Army encampment, and help water the garden or “break” flax at the 1780s farm.  

In both museums’ exhibit galleries, displays at a child’s eye level ask thought-provoking questions that help visitors compare their lives today with life in the 17th and 18th centuries.  At the Yorktown Victory Center, youngsters can try on 18th-century-style clothing.

And, when you’ve had your fill of history and the summertime heat, head to the Europe-themed Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA super theme and water parks delivering thrills and chills for every member of the family.

For places to eat, see Visit Williamsburg.

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