Postcards & Passports

Colonial Williamsburg: the ONE Thing to Do in Williamsburg

This post was most recently updated on July 9th, 2019

Colonial Williamsburg courtyard

Me in Colonial Williamsburg, by K. Smithson

A couple years ago I had the opportunity to go to Williamsburg, VA with my Dad on a business trip. Since I knew little about what to do there, I searched blogs and found great advice. I read several “10 things to do” posts for Williamsburg. But now that I’ve been to Williamsburg, I would never write a post about “10 things to do” there, because there is just ONE thing you must do:  Colonial Williamsburg.

The posts I read mentioned Colonial Williamsburg, but having it somewhere on a list of 10 saddens me now. How could such a unique and amazing place be just one of 10 things to do when it should be number one?!

Only 3 Days in Virginia

We only had 3 days in Virginia. Luckily I was able to narrow the “10 things” down significantly before we got there. Being from Southern California I quickly ruled out things like shopping at the mall, or Busch Gardens.  While I’m sure Busch Gardens is a great amusement park, I’m from California which means I can go to a number of amusement parks without flying across the country. It also means that mall shopping can be done almost anytime. Sorry Virginia malls,  but a mall is not likely to make my vacation to-do list anywhere. There are other historic sites (Jamestown and Yorktown), but they are much smaller and not as immersive. 

Colonial Williamsburg costumed staffExperiencing Time Travel at Colonial Williamsburg

What Southern California doesn’t have is time travel. You may be thinking, “Sorry dear, but Virgina doesn’t have time travel, either.” Except you’re wrong. Have you been to Colonial Williamsburg? Being there is definitely traveling back in time! Colonial Williamsburg brings history to life. The tour guides really knew their stuff; they had the answers to almost every question asked. And if they didn’t, they would tell you where you might find it. Not to mention the many historic reenactments you just might stumble upon.

Immersion in the History

I remember one reenactment that I thought I was watching from the sidelines, until I realized that I was indeed in 18th century America. Now I know the answer to the history question: “What would you have done if you had lived back then?” I knew the answer in that moment because I was living it…and feeling it! Words can’t truly convey how real it all felt. So I will stop trying to give it words and merely suggest that you go and gain your own experiences.

Reenactments might include trials, famous speeches, bucket brigades to put out a fire, military actions, and much more!  Sometimes, they will ask for volunteers, like when my sister got to play the part of a teenage girl in a servitude hearing.

During reenactments, there might also be actors mingling with the crowd. They even argue with each other and see if they can get crowd participation. You can easily be just a spectator, but the actors make it easy to join in. The more the crowd participates and asks questions, the more you learn and the better it is. The actors lingered and discussed the events afterwards, making us feel like part of the townsfolk.

At a “Storm the Palace” demonstration, I had the opportunity to both watch and feel like I was part of history in the making. As a mom with young children, I was able to put myself in the place of a woman during that time of conflict. Trying to avoid going to war felt very real to me!

Special Memories at Colonial Williamsburg

My parents slipped away one evening for a ghost tour. I did not join them, but from what they said, it was a perfectly scary ghost walk, rich with history and true stories.  

During the day, our party consisted of my Mom, my 16-year old sister, me, and my 2 daughters, ages 1 and 3. Colonial Williamsburg is a great place for a family getaway — for all ages from baby to grandmother! I was surprised how much there was to do, even for very young children.

A “Mother Goose” walk was perfect for my daughters. They learned something of the Mother Goose rhymes and what they meant as they collected items to represent each one.

The bucket brigade involved all of us. It was as much fun as it was educational.

There are museums, historic buildings and gardens you can tour, and colonial shops where you can purchase items as if you were back in colonial days. Soaps, linens, baked goods, clothing, etc. are all available for purchase, but it’s fun just to look, too. There is also a blacksmith, brick maker, shoemaker, tailor, weaver, and more trade shops where you can watch demonstrations and ask questions.

Many of the buildings in Colonial Williamsburg are original buildings. The most impressive is the Governor’s Palace, completed in 1722. Every effort is made to use authentic flooring, wall paints, and fabrics in the interior design, so that the buildings will look just like they did in the 1700’s.

You’ll love exploring the beautiful gardens and cobblestone pathways throughout Colonial Williamsburg. And so will your children!

If you only have three days in Williamsburg, I suggest you buy the three-day pass to Colonial Williamsburg and get lost in 18th century America. We only spent two of our three days in Colonial Williamsburg and it left me wanting more. Our last day we split between Yorktown and Jamestown–both great historic places with good museums. I’m glad we did get to see them, and if I lived closer I would love to spend more time in and around all of the historic sites. But Colonial Williamsburg was really the highlight.

Colonial Williamsburg remains on my bucket list. I will definitely go again, Next time we will take my husband when the kids are older and learning American history in school. I hope to make it a 4 or 5 day trip so we can have 3 full days in Colonial Williamsburg, and then have time to check out Jamestown and Yorktown as well.

Pro Tips:
  • A single day ticket for Colonial Williamsburg is $40.99 for adults and $20.49 for kids. It includes free shuttle service throughout the property. A three-day pass is only an additional $10 for adults or $5 for kids. It is well worth the extra few dollars.
  • Keep in mind that some activities have an additional charge, like learning how to fire a flintlock musket, or going on an ox wagon ride. The prices will be listed in the daily schedules.
  • Pick up a schedule when you visit Colonial Williamsburg. That’s how you’ll know what is going on each day, and every day is different!
  • Parking at the Visitor Center is free.
  • Modern restaurants and other services can be found at Merchant Square.
  • You can walk through Colonial Williamsburg free of charge. However, this will not allow you to visit the places where there are interactive living history events, enter the museums or tour the Governor’s Palace and gardens.

If you enjoy US historical sites, you’ll want to read ‘A Day in Philly (Philadelphia, PA)’. I’ll show you how our family explored the history in Philadelphia without spending any money!

Thank you to my daughter-in-law, BrookeLynne Wilcox, who wrote this post and shared her love of history with us! She still dreams of taking her family back to Virginia to see all the historic sites, especially Colonial Williamsburg!

 Colonial Williamsburg


8 thoughts on “Colonial Williamsburg: the ONE Thing to Do in Williamsburg

  1. Heather

    Great post!! It brought me back to the time my family and I visited years and years ago. Reading all about your recent experience makes me want to go back again!

  2. Sandy N Vyjay

    Colonial Williamsburg sounds really fascinating. It must indeed be a great experience when you see and are actually part of events that till now you have only read in history books. It is indeed like travelling back in time. A great way to not only learn about history but also experience it.Definitely, something really worthwhile which all the Malls in the world can not match.

  3. knycx.journeying

    Thanks for taking us travel back in time and experience the colonial times! It sounded a fun but also educational experience – didn’t realize the site is so big that we need to 3-day pass to complete! I will mark that down for my next visit to Virginia! @ knycx.journeying

  4. aimee horgan

    I love visiting places that offer me a unique slice of history and it feels here as if they really trully embrace the Colonial era, I haven’t yet visited Williamsburg but would certainly consider this seems like a very fun day out for the family.

  5. Holly

    I like history so this would be up my alley. This is pretty cool. I also think its cool that they had a full reenactment with costumes stuff going on. Glad that others helped you so that you can pass along your experience.

  6. Tyler

    I’m the Dad that was on the work trip – if anyone from work is reading this – don’t worry – I made all the conference sessions and did the work!
    …but the Ghost tour with my wife one night was fun and we enjoyed our dinner and entertainment in an authentic tavern. Over those few days I did get a real taste of the history and participation in history. It was easy to slip in a few activities during breaks and in the evenings. I was on the town council helping to judge whether my teenage daughter was truly willing to commit to the apprenticeship – including no dating in the coming years! I was willing to join rebels against the British governor – but could also feel the risk of the repercussions of escalating fighting with my wife, daughters & grandchildren in the crowd.
    Great experience!

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