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Williamsburg, Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg

Go back in time to 18th-century Virginia


Colonial Williamsburg meticulously re-creates the crucial period of 1750 to 1775, the end of the colonial era and the anxious eve of the Revolutionary War. The level of detail is astonishing, from the actors who portray Revolutionary-era statesmen, blacksmiths, wig makers and slaves to the flocks of squawking ducks and grazing sheep. It’s the country’s largest and most popular living-history museum—and one of the world’s finest.

The cultural and political capital of Virginia from 1699 to 1780, Williamsburg was home to government buildings and a lively social scene among the colonial aristocracy. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both spent time here debating the merits of forming an independent country. In 1926, John D. Rockefeller Jr. initiated a top-to-bottom $68 million (£43 million) restoration in which 88 of the original buildings and 500 other structures were either restored or rebuilt, along with 90 acres of gardens and public greens. Today, it’s impossible to tell which of the buildings were restored and which were totally reconstructed on their original foundations.

Williamsburg is a treat for both adults and children. Walking the cobbled streets of the Historic Area, you might find yourself having an impromptu discussion with ‘Thomas Jefferson’, ‘Martha Washington’ or one of the wide cast of townspeople going about their daily lives. You can attend the trial of a pig thief; watch a gunsmith craft a flintlock rifle; sign up for a candlelit tour of the city’s haunted spots; or view a performance by the town’s parading fife-and-drum corps. Tour the Georgian-style Governor’s Palace with its extensive topiary gardens and holly maze, the H-shaped Capitol, the Courthouse of 1770 with its pillories and stocks out front, and the George Wythe House, home to Thomas Jefferson in 1776, when he was a Virginia General Assembly delegate. Stop for a tipple at any of the four historic taverns offering colonial dishes in period settings.

Built in 19th-century Regency style and furnished with exquisite reproduction furniture, the august 1937 Williamsburg Inn was created as part of the town’s restoration and has hosted notables from queens to presidents since its earliest days. Three superb golf courses at the nearby Golden Horseshoe Golf Club include the Gold Course, one of Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s finest. The Williamsburg Foundation also offers guest rooms in 28 restored colonial homes, each with its own unique history.

Nearby is family fun of another sort: Busch Gardens, home to some of the highest-rated roller coasters in the country and great animal viewing. You can visit the grey wolves and marvel at the size of the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales, each of which stands at least six feet fall and weighs between 1,800 and 2,000 pounds. About five miles south of Williamsburg is the Williamsburg Winery, Virginia’s first modern winery and the largest in the state. It helped to launch the area’s now-flourishing wine industry, numbering some 100 vineyards.

This trip idea can be found in:

1,000 Places to See in the United States & Canada Before You Die®

Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.

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