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 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.
- Newport News/Williamsburg, (IATA: PHF) Newport News . Served by AirTran, Delta/Delta Connection, US Airways Express.
- Richmond International Airport, (IATA: RIC) Richmond, (804) 226-3000 . Served by AirTran, American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, US Airways, United Airlines. Shuttle service from Richmond International to Williamsburg is provided by Groome Transportation. 
- Norfolk International Airport, (IATA: ORF) Norfolk . Served by American/American Eagle, Delta/Delta Connection, Southwest, United Express, US Airways/US Airways Express.
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 provides transportation from the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center to nearby Jamestown and Yorktown.
No cars are allowed in the Historic Area. Sites within the area are easily walkable.
Important Historic Area sites include:
- Governor's Palace. The symbol of British authority in the colony.
- The Capitol. The seat of colonial power and site of Virginia’s vote for independence on May 15, 1776.
- The Peyton Randolph site. An “urban plantation.”
- Raleigh Tavern. Where Virginia patriots met to discuss independence in open defiance of the crown.
- George Wythe House. Home of Thomas Jefferson’s teacher and friend.
- James Geddy House and Foundry. Site of a family’s pewter and brass founding business.
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:
- Colonial Williamsburg Hotel Guest: Guests of the official, on-site Colonial Williamsburg Hotels receive length-of-stay admission and discounted performance tickets. Adults $29, kids 6–17 $15.
- Capital City Pass: A single-day pass for admission to the Historic Area sites. Adults $34, kids 6–17 $15. Excludes Governor’s Palace, Bassett Hall, DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, Colonial Explorer activities. Excluded sites can be added (extra charge).
- Governor's Key-to-the-City Pass: A two-day pass to the Historic Area, museums, and programs. Adults $48, kids 6–17 $24. Excludes Colonial Explorer activities.
- Annual Pass: Good for multiple days, up to a year. Adults $59, kids 6–17 $29. Includes all activities, plus a 25% discount on evening Colonial Performances tickets.
Admission pass cost and entitlements are subject to change.
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 Drums Fifes 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.
- Crime and Punishment. Gain “firsthand” experience of the system of English common law and the laws of the Colony of Virginia and discover how they form the basis of our modern justice system.
- To Go A’Pirating. Witness the 1727 trial of two accused pirates — John Vidal and Martha Farley — and help determine their future.
- Capitol Concert. An evening of 18th-century harpsichord music with Williamsburg’s premier musician, Peter Pelham, the 18th-century organist of Bruton Parish Church.
- Legends, Ghosts, Mysteries, and Myths. Tour candlelit rooms and hear colonial stories and tales of the unexplained.
- Cry Witch. Participate in the re-creation of a trial and determine the guilt or innocence of “The Virginia Witch.”
- Papa Said, Mama Said. A moving program in which 18th-century free and enslaved blacks reflect on lessons learned through stories told by their elders.
- Grand Illumination. Colonial Williamsburg’s holiday season is officially ushered in with this event, as candles illuminate in the windows of the Historic Area at dusk and fireworks are set off simultaneously at the Governor’s Palace, the Magazine, and the Capitol. Additional holiday activities include:
- Breakfast with the Chefs
- Thomas Jefferson Wine Dinner
- Shields Tavern Holiday Feast
- Christmas Breakfast at the Williamsburg Lodge and the Taverns
- Dancing at the Palace
- Yuletide Supper
- Christmas Decorations Walking Tour
- Community Christmas Tree Lighting
- Decorating for a Colonial Williamsburg Christmas
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
- Chowning’s Tavernserves traditional-style pit barbecue during the day; family entertainment takes over from 5PM-8PM. After 8PM, it becomes an 18th-century tavern serving light bar food and alcohol. Casual attire.
- Christiana Campbell’s Tavern was George Washington’s favorite when he came to Williamsburg. Today, it’s Colonial Williamsburg’s premier seafood restaurant. Casual attire, dinner reservations recommended.
- Shields Tavernoffers the atmosphere of an 18th-century coffeehouse serving light fare. In the evening, part of the tavern operates as a bar. Casual attire.
- King’s Arms Tavern is an 18th-century-style chophouse. Casual attire, dinner reservations recommended.
- The Regency Room at the Williamsburg Innserves favorites from the Chesapeake to regional markets in an elegant setting. The wine list was named an Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winner. A proud member of the Nation’s Restaurant News Fine Dining Hall of Fame.
- Williamsburg Inn, 136 E. Francis St, ☎ . The Inn is the most luxurious of the Colonial Williamsburg Hotels and offers gourmet dining, an outdoor pool, tennis courts, golf, and a fitness center. Renovated in 2001, the Inn offers 62 rooms and suites in the main building.
- Providence Hall, ☎ . Contact the Williamsburg Inn. Located a short distance from the main Williamsburg Inn building, Providence Hall provides accommodations for guests who want additional privacy combined with the amenities that are offered to Inn guests.
- Colonial Houses–Historic Lodging, ☎ . Contact the Williamsburg Inn. The Colonial Houses offer a unique opportunity for guests to experience the 18th century. Stay in colonial style at one of 26 guest houses, some as small as one room within a tavern and others as large as 16 rooms — all located within the Historic Area. Furnished with authentic period reproductions and antiques, each Colonial House has a unique history and appeal.
- Williamsburg Lodge, 305 South England St, ☎ . The Williamsburg Lodge, one of John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s original Colonial Williamsburg hotels, is undergoing a significant expansion and restoration through 2006. When finished, the Lodge will feature 126 new guest rooms, as well as an all-new, 45,000-square-foot conference center.
- Woodlands Hotel & Suites, 105 Visitor Center Dr, ☎ . The Woodlands Hotel & Suites is a mid-budget hotel located adjacent to the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center. Amenities include continental breakfast and high-speed Internet. Guests can reach the Historic Area via a footbridge from the Visitor Center or by riding one of the shuttles.
- Governor’s Inn, 506 North Henry St, ☎ . Located just three blocks from the Historic Area, the Governor's Inn is the most economical of the hotels and offers 200 guest rooms, an outdoor swimming pool, and complimentary continental breakfast. Guests also enjoy free use of the recreational facilities of the nearby Woodlands Hotel & Suites.