Have you ever wanted to visit the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area with your family but don’t know what to expect? We recently visited Greater Williamsburg, Virginia and I’m so excited to kick off my coverage from the trip and help you plan a spring break or summer vacation.
While the Colonial Williamsburg area is well-known for the history, there are so many fun things to do that I’ll be recapping in future posts, but today, let’s start with Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area!
In case you haven’t heard of the destination before, Williamsburg Virginia is best known it’s part in shaping political culture and was truly the most influential of the American colonies in the 1700-1800s. Now, set as an educational center geared to recreate a living history encounter of what once was, the property showcases what life was once like as part of the colonies.
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is a private, not-for-profit educational institution that receives no regular state or federal funding and oversees the preservation and interpretation of the Historic Area
The first time my husband and I took our kids down to Greater Williamsburg, Virginia, Natalie and Liam were 5 and 3 years old and BOY did we have a blast. This time around, our children were 6, 11, and 13 and it was just as fun. There is just so much to do and see for every single person in your tribe. I cannot encourage you enough to pull out your calendar and find the time to head down to Greater Williamsburg, Virginia for a family vacation.
A trip to Colonial Williamsburg offers a bit of history and a whole lot of fun. It gives you the LITERAL opportunity to step back into time, remove yourself from anything that needs wifi and allows the people you love to truly register what it would feel like to live in a time other than our own.
I really love when family vacations spark conversation and this one did just that.
Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area – Family Vacation Idea
Ticketing & Guest Services DAILY 8:45 AM – 5 PM
Colonial Williamsburg Regional Visitor Center
101 Visitor Center Drive
Williamsburg, VA 23185
Do I Need A Ticket To Explore?
Colonial Williamsburg is located near Merchants Square in downtown Williamsburg, so, you can take in the colonial area and stroll up and down the streets as soon as you arrive. In fact, we went nice and early and saw quite a few locals jogging or walking their dogs since the main drag blocks off all cars from driving on it during the day.
However, the FUN is inside all of the buildings. And in order to get into the experiences, you will need a ticket. There are several ticket types available to purchase. While chatting with some locals, I was told that it’s best to really split the day up into two. It’s pretty hard to see everything in one SWOOP. If you plan on seeing everything that Colonial Williamsburg has to offer, it would be hard to do it all in one day. If you aren’t keen on experiencing every single tour, then that’s a different story.
But when you head into the little trade houses and get a chance to step back into time, you won’t want to rush through anything. The detail we found in each home was just amazing. I couldn’t help but try to capture a good chunk of it so that you could feel some of the essence and so that my children could reference it at a later date.
The LOVED the fact that they could ask questions about how carpets were made and how the yarn was dyed. I mean… I couldn’t even answer those questions! So I stood right alongside my little ones absorbing every answer.
Every outfit, every piece of item on the walls, every article left on the table that we were allowed to touch – perfection. A true time machine! And it didn’t escape any of my children – not even my 6-year-old.
SINGLE-DAY TICKET –Explore all the Colonial Williamsburg historic sites and trade shops, including two art museums and a complimentary shuttle service.
- $40.99 ADULT
- $20.49 YOUTH (6-12)
MULTIDAY TICKET – Explore all the Colonial Williamsburg historic sites and trade shops, including two art museums, and complimentary shuttle service for any three (3) consecutive days.
- $50.99 ADULT
- $25.49 YOUTH (6-12)
ANNUAL PASS – Enjoy unlimited admission to Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area for a year from date of purchase. Explore the city sites and museums whenever you want, for as many days as you want. Annual Pass Holders also receive discounts on tickets, tours, and more.
- $66.99 ADULT
- $33.49 YOUTH (6-12)
Stagecoach And Carriage Rides
We had the opportunity to tour the historic area in a stage coach which was an absolute highlight of the day. We had amazing weather in March. I must say! But, truth be told, if it was in the dead of summer, I think I would seriously make sure this was 10000% on my vacation list because it was an excellent way to tour the entire look without having to foot it yourselves. My little 6-year-old is a beast on the soccer field, but ask him to walk to a parking garage and all life is over.
Related: Greater Williamsburg Travel Guide
The stagecoach absolutely broke up the afternoon and gave my kids a rest and felt like somewhat of a treat.
Carriage rides operate daily, weather permitting. Tickets may be purchased at the Lumber House Ticket Office (on Duke of Gloucester Street across from Palace Green), or the William Pitt Store (on the corner of Duke of Gloucester Street and Botetourt Street) on the day of use.
These rides sell out quickly. So, try to keep that in mind. All guests 18 months and older will need a ticket. Even if they are sitting on your laps. Just an FYI. While you are touring around, your carriage hosts will tell you a bit about some of the history, point out things you absolutely would have missed and tell you some great places to eat (if you ask). 😉
If you have a large family, you can request the stagecoach over the carriage. Just make sure you let the ticket booth know how many people are in your party. I cannot reiterate how much we all enjoyed this quick little ride around the property. My children love horses and we even got to learn all about their lives, how many children they have, and whether or not had any siblings that also work the course. It was a true treat.
Do People Live WIthin The Historic Area?
I feel terrible using this picture but I feel like it’s important because I noticed something right after I photographed my children playing with their new harmonicas. There are residents that live in some of the buildings – all year round. It isn’t a “for show” area.
Yes, the majority of the buildings are for display and part of the tourist/historical/cultural learning experience. However, you will notice that as you walk around, there are houses with plaques that say “private residence”. Be conscious of that because I wasn’t aware and I just want to put that out into the universe. We immediately got off of the steps of this home because we recognized it was not part of the cultural experience.
Approx 80 employees rent/live in the in houses, shops, kitchens, and laundries that are either some of Williamsburg’s 88 original restored Colonial buildings, or structures painstakingly reconstructed from information found in early records.
Please use this section as an FYI.
You can tell if a house is part of the experience if it has a flag outside, a person dressed up (which is easy) or its door open. Just keep an eye out for these flags.
How Hands-On Is The Experience?
Every encounter is different. Sometimes, you are handed things to touch and feel. Other times you just listen. This isn’t a place where you are stepping into a kitchen and asked to start churning butter. It isn’t immersive. I made the mistake of telling my children that they were going to make butter over and over and over again to gear them up for the trip and then it never happened. So, apparently, I now have to figure out how to make butter with them at home.
So, you CAN touch things a bit when they offer it to you, but the focus is more about the stories and specifically … the stories as told by people not books. That’s what makes this place so grand. History comes to life!!
I do want to note three specific experiences that you should look out for:
- Brickmaking: Help Colonial brickmakers and get a little dirty by taking off your shoes and stomping water into the clay with your bare feet!
- Colonial Garden: Meet a gardener and handle the specialty tools used in the 1700s for planting and harvesting crops.
- Ax Throwing – After a quick safety briefing, take a swing at the Ax Range.
History comes to life for sure!
We watched as men and women made shoes. Who even could conceptually think about how that was possible? Not me? Something about elves and old men with dirty kitchens. Wasn’t that the old fable? But no – during our trip to Colonial Williamsburg, we saw spoons being made from silver, carpets woven via huge machines, the soles of shoes getting prepared and then… we were able to ask questions about it all.
And remember, there is so much more to see— art museums, special and seasonal events, fifes & drums, dining in historic taverns, talking to the National Builders (historical interpreters) and more! I wish I had some more time to explore. I didn’t have time to capture everything I wanted because the clock won. If you book a family vacation to Virginia, then you will have more time to see it ALL. And I truly hope you do.
What About Shopping?
Great news! The streets are lined with shops, restaurants, and experiences which also sell trinkets for you to take home. Remember when I told you about the silver spoons that we saw getting hammered? Well, during that chat, we were told that everything in the house was for sale. A full wall lined with silver jewelry and home goods – all made in Colonial Williamsburg. Can you believe it? And made just as it was so many years ago. They stayed true to the craftsmanship.
If I remember correctly, a customer would bring in his silver coins, have them melted down and then turned into a pot or a cup – whatever he wanted – and then the item would be valued at 2/3rds of the cost. What an interesting way to figure out how much something was worth, right?
Lots of souvenirs up for grabs! We took home plenty of musical instruments. And oddly enough, we did the same thing when we visited last time. Drums and harmonicas then and this time around we bought harmonicas and a yoyo on a stick.
Of course, we also snuck in some apple cider and root beer while strolling around. How could you not? The perfect sweet treat for a warm, Spring day.
Where To Eat Breakfast – Blue Talon
If you get to Colonial Williamsburg early, odds are you will be looking for a breakfast place nearby. You should absolutely check out Blue Talon – a gorgeous a quaint feeling eatery with a Parisian vibe located in Greater Williamsburg’s downtown area, minutes away from Colonial Williamsburg. Not only did we love the staff, but the food won our hearts and souls over for life. Part diner, part cafe, part old world feel … this culinary equation transported over the pond but felt grounded at the same exact time.
Blue Talon Williamsburg
Address: 420 PRINCE GEORGE ST • WILLIAMSBURG, VA 23185
Also, personal side note – my old bedroom when I was a teenager looked exactly like this. I painted every wall a different color – maybe even those exact colors – even the ceiling. It was very reminiscent of my childhood as I walked in. I almost wanted to call my mom.
The menu options at the Blue Talon were excellent. You had choices for those looking to satisfy their sweet tooth and then you had a heartier fare. My husband opted for the heartiest plate on the list… because that’s who he is lately and WOW isn’t it beautiful? Check out more here.
The kids all indulged in hot chocolate – but not the packet hot chocolate that you and I make. The one that tastes like you literally melted a bar of chocolate because I think that’s what they did. YEOW! Have I mentioned that the marshmallow was also fresh? Like, fresher than fresh?
This is what I chose because when I’m on vacation, nothing matters and nothing else did as I ate my fluffy waffles and extra crispy bacon. SO GOOD. A must visit. This location is just around the corner from the start of the historic area. A great place to start!!
A note about parking
One block away from Blue Talon is the Prince George Street Parking Garage. You can leave your car there for the full day. You can eat here for breakfast, head to Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area for a few hours, and then when you get hungry… hit up Chowning’s Tavern.
For lunch, there are so many great places to choose from, but we went with Chowning’s Tavern, one of the historic taverns in Colonial Williamsburg. One thing to note – this restaurant is right at the front of Main Street which means that most people just stop here to eat. We were told if you don’t want to wait, just keep walking further down the road and we would find less of a crowd at the other taverns. But we got there right at the opening and had no problems getting seated right away.
However, when we left after our meal was over, the line was literally out the door. Just keep that in mind. You might want to opt for an early lunch if you plan on eating at Chowning’s Tavern.
Chowning’s Tavern Address
109 E Duke of Gloucester St Williamsburg VA 23185
Super bonus – live music.
Um, whut? We were just eating and then all of a sudden, we started to hear this music coming from the hall and we all got up and ran and saw this quad singing live. How fun is that? They sang quite a few songs, too. There’s just something about live music and good food, right?
Speaking of good food, I wasn’t STARVING and so I ordered this soup sampler which I thought was pretty smart. Three different soups that you could get small cups of which was right up my alley. Totally loved it! Bill got the Beef Trencher – which is basically a beef brisket sandwich with cheese and sauce. He loved it and it totally hit the spot. Kids did their usual kid thing, so I didn’t even BOTHER photographing what they always eat. UGH.
We also started the meal with this appetizer sampler which was delicious.
The wings had a sweet and sour kick to them and the pimento cheese truly hit the spot. I’m the only one in my family that likes sweet pickles. So, I happily ate that little section all to myself. LOL!
And for dessert, we split a cobbler and a pecan pie. Both were rich and decadent. The dessert is a definite must. A great meal for this spot. I understood the wait!
History Is A Story
Make sure you stop and talk to everyone that you come across. They all have something to add and share to your family vacation. And I truly do mean that! Everyone was so friendly and kind and warm-hearted. It was a great day because the people made it so. I would encourage you to make it a point to talk to as many people as possible – on the street and off.
We would never have known that this was a fire escape! They used to leave ladders on the roof just in case there was a fire. I thought someone was doing construction. LOL! This isn’t a place to make assumptions. Ask questions.
And I want to reiterate one more time – go inside the buildings and take part in the experiences. Yes, it’s one thing to admire the architecture, but it’s another to hear about the history of this great nation.
Where To Stay – Woodlands Hotel & Suites
We made things SUPER EASY and stayed at the Woodlands Hotel & Suites, which is part of the Colonial Williamsburg Resorts portfolio. Start your day off with a continental breakfast, and then enjoy their exclusive access to the best that Colonial Williamsburg has to offer because “location” is everything with this hotel. There is complimentary transportation provided to the perimeter of the Historic Area and you should absolutely take advantage of it!
Guests of official Colonial Williamsburg hotels can purchase admission tickets and passes at a special discounted rate. If you are a large family like me – this will really add up! Why not look into saving while you can? Oh, and do you have a dog? Well, guess what? You can bring your furry baby along because this is a pet-friendly hotel.
We loved having a home base to hit every night so close to everything. We happened to rent a car, but if you didn’t, your cab rides would be short and sweet to all the best restaurants in town. Everything we checked out was about 5-8 minutes away at best.
And continental breakfast was a lifesaver and… a money saver as well.
Kids could get whatever wanted – from waffles to grits to cereal to eggs – and it didn’t add anything to our bill. What a treat!
Also, I want to note that personally, I had to print out a few contracts while I was on vacation, and their business center was free to use. I didn’t have to pay to print or for my time in front of their computer. I really appreciated that because I was in a pickle and without my computer.
If you like to spa or play golf, you will be happy to hear that there is something for everyone at Woodlands Hotel & Suites. Not only is it the right choice for your family if you are visiting Greater Williamsburg, but it’s a relaxing destination as well. We didn’t have a chance to check out their restaurant, Huzzah, but I heard two separate groups raving about it in the lobby. Add it to your itinerary for sure.
I have so much more to write about this trip. Please stay tuned!! We tackled plenty of adventurous places in Greater Williamsburg. It’s not just about Colonial Williamsburg – even though that’s what most people think about when they think of this particular area. Wait until you see all that we did. You are going to be so surprised and hopefully inspired to book your next adventure. If you can’t wait, be sure to visit the Visit Williamsburg website for more information about what’s available in Greater Williamsburg.