From 1699 to 1780, Williamsburg was the capital of England’s oldest, richest and most populous mainland North American colony and the seat of power in the new nation’s most influential state. Named in honor of William III, King of England, and designed by Royal Gov. Francis Nicholson, Williamsburg is one of the country’s oldest planned communities.
Encompassing 301 acres, Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area re-creates 18th-century Williamsburg as it appeared preceding and during the American Revolution. Throughout the city, sights, sounds, and activities help guests reconnect with America’s past and become active participants in 18th-century life. The Historic Area is protected from modern intrusions by a 2,800-acre greenbelt.
Williamsburg’s mild climate enables visitors to participate in outdoor activities year-round. The mean annual temperature is 60°F (15°C), with an average annual snowfall of 6 inches and an average annual rainfall of 47 inches. The wettest seasons are the spring and summer, although rainfall is fairly consistent year-round. The highest recorded temperature was 104°F (40°C) on June 26, 1952, and August 22, 1983. The lowest recorded temperature was -7°F (-21.6°C) on January 21, 1985.
Miles to Major Cities
Williamsburg is midway between Richmond and Norfolk on Interstate 64 (exit 238). After exiting, look for the red, white, and blue signs for the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center. Once you purchase your admission pass, you can either take the shuttle bus or walk to the Historic Area.
All airports have rental car and limousine services.
Amtrak also serves the Williamsburg Transportation Center, 468 North Boundary St. with a connecting train from Washington, D.C., Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. The center is just blocks from the Historic Area and provides car rentals, a cabstand, and Greyhound Bus connections.
The Historic Triangle Shuttle which used to provide transportation from the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center to nearby Jamestown and Yorktown has been discontinued.
No cars are allowed in the Historic Area. Sites within the area are easily walkable.
The award-winning DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum houses the Foundation's renowned collection of British and American decorative arts dating from 1600 through 1830. These include the world’s largest collection of Virginia furniture; one of the largest collections of southern, British, and American furniture; and the largest collection of English pottery outside England. Masterworks and period pieces acquired for Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area exhibition buildings bolster the museum's holdings in furniture, metals, ceramics, glass, paintings, prints, maps, and textiles. The Wallace Museum, opened in 1985, features 15 galleries in 27,500 square feet of exhibition space as well as an auditorium, and a café. The museum is open daily; hours of operation vary seasonally.
The award-winning Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum -- the oldest institution in the U.S. dedicated solely to the collection and preservation of American folk art – features paintings, whirligigs, weather vanes, carvings, toys, embroideries and other folk works representing many diverse cultural traditions and geographic regions. John D. Rockefeller Jr. established the museum in 1957 in honor of his wife Abby and her love of folk art. Mrs. Rockefeller gave the core collection of 424 objects to The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 1939. Today, the collection includes items dating from the 1720s to the present. Currently closed, the folk art museum re-opens in early 2007 in new, expanded quarters adjacent to the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum with 11 galleries in 10,400 square feet of exhibition space. The museum will be open daily; hours of operation vary seasonally.
In addition to serving as the entrance to the Museums of Colonial Williamsburg, the Public Hospital of 1773 provides exhibits that document the treatment of mental illness from the hospital’s founding in 1773 to its destruction by fire in 1885. Originally built as the first medical facility in North America constructed solely for the treatment of the mentally ill, the current hospital was reconstructed by The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 1985. The exhibition details the theory and practice of the treatments and doctor-patient relationships that were common in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The former home of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller is a part of the story of the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg. The house looks much as it did in the 1930s and ’40s when the Rockefellers restored and furnished it to be a comfortable family home. Bassett Hall reflects both its 18th-century heritage and the neighborly comfort that was part of the Rockefeller's 20th-century life in Williamsburg.
There are a number of price options for tickets to the Historic Area:
A one day pass for adults (12 & up) is $39.95 and Youth is $20.95. A Multi-day Pass is valid for three consequtive days; Adult $47.95 and Youth $24.95. The passes allow access to all Colonial Williamsburg buildings and programs (at least those open to the public - some buildings are private residences) from 9am to 6pm. There are evening programs that may require an additional fee.
Colonial Williamsburg’s Revolutionary City is a dynamic two-hour event that reflects Williamsburg’s role in one of America’s defining historical periods. Each day, the east end of the Historic Area comes alive as guests become a part of the town’s activities.
Participants have the opportunity to witness the collapse of the royal government and revolutionary citizens at war, join the debate over the newly written Declaration of Independence and march from the Capitol to the Courthouse as Washington and his troops begin their journey toward Yorktown and victory.
A Three Night, Four Day Visit Plan
A Colonial Willimasburg "Day" has a major two hour re-enactment in the late morning (10:30AM - 12:30PM), with afternoon times of various presentations / open houses and finally shows and walking tours in the evening.
The following suggestion allows you to see most of what is offered (this plan assumes arriving in the area in the morning of your first day, checking into your lodgings and then going to Williamsburg in the early afternoon).
Arrival day: Visitor Center to get oriented, do some exploring ending with a dinner and a show.
At the visitor center, there is a 38 minute introductory film, free parking, a shuttle to the Historic zone, and a big souvenir shop.
Plan on at least an hour there to purchase/pick up your ticket, see the film and get familiar with your surroundings.
Leave your car in the parking lot and use the shuttle bus to get to the city. They run all day and late into the evening.
Take the 30 minute Orientation Walk that starts every 10-15 minutes anytime between 9AM and 4PM. If you have time, visit one of the museums on the south side of town, take a carriage ride around town (reservations required) or go shopping at the Merchants Square.
After dinner, attend one of the "Walking Tours" or "Shows" in the evening. (Make sure to make reservations ahead of time in the busy months.)
Day 2 & 3: Two full days of Williamsburg (Open 9AM to 5PM).
A Colonial Williamsburg day is organized into a three parts. The "Historic City Re-enactment" is a two hour block of time and it is the big show. It runs from middle morning through early afternoon.
This re-enactment has two "acts", performed on alternate days.
Act I - Collapse of the Royal Government: Events before the Revolution (performed on Tues, Thurs, & Sat).
Act II - Citizens at War : Events during and ending the Revolutionary (performed on We., Fri, & Sun).
Each act ends with a Fifes and DrumsFifes and Drums march that everyone joins in to the last location.
If you want to get the whole Revolutionary story, you need to participate/attend both parts (in winter months this all moves indoors).
NOTE: Monday has a special program called "Nation Builders" comprised of many of the personalities of the Revolution. It's a good bet if all you have is one day and that day is Monday.
The re-enactments start at one location within the "Revolutionary City" boundaries and then everybody walks to another area a block or so away where different characters are encountered. Often there are four or more people and they speak about the events both in dramatic/conversational style with each other or in proclamation style to the gathered crowd (wireless microphones and speakers in the trees allow for clear hearing).
Only ticket holders are allowed into the "Revolutionary City" at that time. These re-enactments are powerful and well worth it.
The afternoon is filled with shorter presentations scattered around the city plus time to wander about, take a carriage ride and visit all the various "businesses" and displays. You can easily spend an hour in your favorite shop/craft recreation.
After dinner, take in one or two of the evening "shows" or "walking tours", but be sure to get your tickets early.
Last Day: A day to say goodbye.
After you have packed and checked out of your lodgings, you can stop by the Merchant's square and indluge in a day of shopping.
Alternate "One Day" Plan:
Arrive early, get to the Visitor Center by 8:45AM. Move quickly and catch first re-enactment. See a couple of shows that night. Stay one night, catch the second re-enactment the next morning and then stay as long as you can before returning home.
Located in Merchants Square, the Kimball Theatre offers current films and live performances. On any given day, you might see a Colonial Williamsburg interpreter portray Patrick Henry or enjoy a jazz ensemble of talented students from the College of William and Mary. Fall 2006 films include Wordplay, Who Killed the Electric Car, The Great New Wonderful, and A Scanner Darkly.
Golf enthusiasts will find a sanctuary at Colonial Williamsburg’s Golden Horseshoe Golf Club, a resort that combines a world-class golf experience with living history and was recently named in the Zagat Survey 2006/7 America’s Top Golf Courses.
Guests at Colonial Williamsburg’s hotels also can enjoy swimming pools, tennis courts, lawn bowling greens, lawn croquet, shuffleboard, bicycling, and miniature golf.
Recognized as one of the first planned shopping malls in the United States, Merchants Square is home to more than 40 shops and restaurants, including local and national specialty stores and a selection of restaurants.
The Williamsburg® brand offers fresh, spirited designs in all categories of furniture and accessories for the way people live today. The Williamsburg products program includes 60 licensees producing more than 7,000 products in home furnishings, collectibles, and gifts. It operates 26 retail stores, a mail-order catalog, and an e-commerce site. Sales of products support the preservation, research, and educational programs of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the not-for-profit organization that oversees the restored colonial capital.
Eat and Drink
Just remember the basics.