Colonial Williamsburg, VA: Living History

Colonial Williamsburg is the perfect place to encounter Early American living history! Step back in time as you immerse yourself in colonial life. Why just read about history when you can experience it for yourself?!

Williamsburg served as home base for our late September 2019 trip to Virginia that included Williamsburg, Jamestown, & Yorktown, along with a day trip to Washington, DC. You can find an overview of the trip in my post, A Homeschool Mom’s Dream Trip! Williamsburg, Jamestown, & Yorktown, VA + Washington, D.C. This post will focus specifically on Williamsburg, VA.

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Keep in mind that we went on this trip before we started blogging, so we weren’t focusing on making sure we had just the right photos or keeping track of all the details that our followers might want to know about. However, it was one of the most memorable trips we’ve taken, so I hope our family snapshots and the story of our adventure will inspire you to visit Colonial Williamsburg, VA, too.

We spent two days in Colonial Williamsburg and the downtown area, but we really wished we had at least one more day there. There were several things we didn’t get to see, either because it wasn’t available that day, we had been enjoying another activity while it was going on, or we just weren’t there at the right time of day. If you have a multi-day pass, like the Historic Triangle Pass, then you can go back as many times as you want during a 7-day period. We did have the pass, but we were splitting our time between Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown, and Washington, DC, and we needed to add some downtime in there as well. You might think that quiet time wouldn’t be as necessary once your kids are teenagers, but people still get cranky when they’re tired (this applies to husbands too!). For our family, a day of rest goes a long way in making our time on the go more fun for everyone!

Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center
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Colonial Williamsburg, VA

We started our first day in Williamsburg at the Colonial Williamsburg Regional Visitor Center where we parked for free. From there, you can either take a shuttle into Colonial Williamsburg, or you can go on a scenic walk to get there. We chose to walk the path for our first time, so we could see as much of the beautiful area as possible. Along the way, we toured the Great Hopes Plantation and stopped for some photo ops beside a gorgeous bridge.

When we emerged from the path, we were pleasantly surprised to find these sweet guys waiting to greet us!

Our first stop, once we were on the main grounds of Colonial Williamsburg, was the Governer’s Palace. The period characters standing at the gate informed us that a tour was just about to start, so we hurried inside. I guess that’s why we didn’t get any better pictures of the outside of the Palace. It was truly a fascinating tour, and I was mesmerized at the thought that we were climbing up the same staircase that such important figures in our country’s history had climbed. You see, this was our first visit to any historic site that was a part of our nation’s early days. I don’t know about you, but when I learned about history in school, it just didn’t make much of an impact on me. Now that I’m learning about it again as an adult while homeschooling my kids, I have a true appreciation for the stories of history-not so much the facts and figures-but the stories. That is what makes history come alive! I don’t know if visiting these historical places carries as much meaning for my kids as it does for me, but I hope that these experiences are helping to create a connection between their lives and those who have gone before them.

After our tour of the Governer’s Palace, we took some time to stroll around the quiet, peaceful streets and just take in the atmosphere of the bygone era. I don’t know about other times of the year, but in late September when we were there, the area was not crowded at all!

A super fun part of the day was the mock court session! Visitors were able to take part in different roles, and we learned a lot about early colonial life.

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We were disappointed that we missed the Fife and Drums display, but we did get to see the firing of the cannon. Make sure you plug your ears for this explosive event!

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Everything was starting to close down by this time, and we were all getting tired and hungry. We decided to take the shuttle to the downtown area and see what we could find to eat. On the way, we spotted the museums and decided to stop in and look around before we went downtown. Of particular interest to me, as a psychology Ph.D., was The Public Hospital of 1773. We didn’t take any photos inside, but walking through the hospital, reading the stories, and viewing the “treatment tools” that were used on those who were perceived as being mentally ill (I say “perceived” because some of the stories told of individuals who were only placed there due to unfortunate life circumstances) was heartwrenching.

The art museums could be accessed through an underground tunnel from the same building and housed an amazing collection of treasures!

Downtown Williamsburg, VA

We finally made our way downtown and were invigorated by the quaint historic, yet modern setting. Most of the buildings seemed to hold the stories of the past two centuries, but they were bustling with college students, families, professionals, and retirees within their restored and reimagined walls. Bookstores, coffee shops, pubs, galleries, and restaurants spilled onto the sidewalks and invited guests to add to their enduring sagas.

We decided on dinner at the Amber Ox. I had read some online reviews that had said not to miss this place, so we had to try it out. It’s a brewery on one side and a restaurant on the other. We don’t drink, so I can’t comment on that. The food, service, and atmosphere were outstanding! We didn’t get any photos of our meal. We were just so hungry, that we dug right in! It was so good!

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Final Day in Williamsburg

Our last full day in Virginia, we went back to Colonial Williamsburg to see some of the things we had missed on our first day there. This time, we took the shuttle from the visitor’s center and got off on the opposite side of town where we hadn’t gone before. Although we couldn’t go inside, we visited the exquisite grounds of The Rockefeller’s Basset Hall. It was such a peaceful setting, and I was probably way too amused by the frowny-faced tree!

We happened upon the Capitol just as a tour was about to start. It seems our timing for tours is impeccable. This was another building with an extraordinary story of history! We appreciated the insight of the tour guide and her ability to impart such a wealth of knowledge in a way that kept everyone’s attention.

We were excited to get to visit some of the tradespeople and shops on this last visit to Colonial Williamsburg! From the apothecary to the wigmaker’s shop, this glimpse into 18th-century life in Williamsburg was an experience to remember!

Of course, we had to end our day back in the downtown area to indulge ourselves in one of the popular eateries we had seen before. The Mellow Mushroom was our choice this time around, and this place did not disappoint either. If you are craving pizza in Williamsburg, The Mellow Mushroom is where you go! It was a perfect ending to our trip!

My final thoughts…give yourself at least three days in Colonial Williamsburg, VA. There was so much more to experience than we could fit into the two days we visited. Plan ahead by getting the daily schedule from the website, and make sure you give yourself time to explore. You’ll want to make it to Jamestown and Yorktown while you’re in the area, and Washington DC is a great add-on to your Williamsburg area vacation!

What would be your can’t-miss opportunities in Williamsburg?

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I love to share my passion for family, faith, learning, and adventure! I am a worship pastor's wife, a homeschool mom, a former public school teacher and counselor, and a Ph.D. in educational psychology. My heart is to encourage and support families who are homeschooling kids with ADHD, homeschooling high school, and raising teenagers. I'm so excited for you to follow along on this joyous journey!

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