If you're visiting on a weekend, be sure to catch an authentic musical performance by the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums.
Imagine a time when powdered wigs, ruffled petticoats and horse-drawn carriages were in high fashion, when fifes and drums sounded daily in the dusty streets and when legendary patriots electrified crowds with revolutionary concepts of freedom, liberty and independence. If this sounds more like a distant memory than a modern event, think again. Just one hour east of Richmond, the 18th century breaks free from the faded pages of history and comes alive inside Colonial Williamsburg—the largest living history museum in America and one of our country’s greatest historical treasures.
Once the thriving capital of Virginia, the town today appears untouched by time. Eighty-eight colonial-era structures stand fully restored with several hundred more reconstructed on their original foundations, thanks to a preservation project begun in the 1920s. Now open 365 days a year, visitors are encouraged not only to observe American history, but to participate in it—and with all the daily programming found throughout the grounds, it’s impossible not to become fully immersed in this 18th century world.
Your trip to Colonial Williamsburg should begin at the Visitor’s Center, where you’ll find plenty of free parking and can purchase your tickets. Though not needed to enter the grounds, tickets are required for access into the exhibition areas. Be sure to grab a free copy of “This Week”—which includes a map of the town and the most up-to-date listings of schedules and special events—and take time to make reservations for guided walking tours, carriage rides and other popular activities that fill up quickly.
From the Visitor’s Center, it’s a short walk (or shuttle ride for ticket holders) into the 300-acre Historic Area, where you’ll immediately be transported into centuries past. The property is extensive, so be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes. First-time visitors should tour the Governor’s Palace, the historic Capitol and the Randolph House and Kitchen for a well-rounded glimpse of life in 18th century Virginia. And in between, take time to enjoy a delicious pot of colonial coffee or tea at the ever-popular and newly restored R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse.
But there’s more to Colonial Williamsburg than historic buildings; what makes each visit so memorable are the “residents” of the town. Modern-day visitors can do more than walk the same streets as the founding fathers—they can walk beside them. Dressed in period-accurate clothing and trained in their individual professions, costumed interpreters throughout the town are always in character and are happy to answer visitors’ questions. Spend time conversing with blacksmiths, tailors, lawyers and merchants as they go about their daily lives; learn about the challenges they faced and gain unique perspectives on colonial life. And if you’re lucky, you might even run into more notable figures—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other giants of early American history are known to frequent these historical streets.
Apart from touring the town, a variety of activities and special functions are offered daily, from dancing lessons and garden tours to plays, concerts and costume rentals. One of the most popular events occurs every afternoon in Revolutionary City—a captivating street theater that puts on a two-hour outdoor show in the Historic Area’s east end. And don’t miss rousing weekend performances by the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums as they march through town from the Capitol to the Palace Green.
Even the dining options in Colonial Williamsburg are accurate to the time period. Christiana Campbell's Tavern, once a favorite of George Washington, serves up delicious seafood in a historical environment, authentic in menu and décor right down to the lanterns on the tables. Stop by any of the taverns in the Historic Area for a true taste of the 18th century—though be sure to make your reservations well in advance.
Twenty-first century meals are also available at the exquisite restaurants found inside the on-site hotels, for you’ll need more than a day to fully experience all this historic treasure has to offer. Treat yourself to a stay at the magnificent Williamsburg Inn, one of the world’s greatest luxury hotels, or opt for a more authentic experience at one of the popular 18th century Colonial Houses. For those looking for a little more rest and relaxation, unwind at The Spa of Colonial Williamsburg and enjoy a round on the blissful greens of the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club. There’s something for every preference and every budget—a perfect fit for vacationers and history buffs alike.
Colonial Williamsburg is anything but a stationary collection of museum houses—it is a living, moving, breathing piece of American history. A trip to this historical gem should rank near the top of every traveler’s bucket list. And with its easy proximity to Richmond, it's the perfect destination for an unforgettable weekend getaway.