Become a Part of History at Colonial Williamsburg
Over the years, my children, Kathleen and David (10 and 8), have been to lots of historic sites: Old Salem, Mount Vernon and more than once, Colonial Williamsburg. Our most recent walk into history took place this fall, and it turns out the kids were the perfect ages for it.
As you step off the bus from the visitor center into Colonial Williamsburg, you're stepping back to the time leading up to the American Revolution. The royal governor is still in place, although there are rumblings for change among the people.
One of the first buildings you should visit is the Governor's Palace. Seven royal governors, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson would all live in the palace at some point. Visiting the palace gives everyone the chance to understand how the British elite lived in the colonies. Following your visit in the building, take the time to walk through the gardens in back, where you'll find a maze. No fears of getting lost - the maze is small, easy to traverse and has benches for tired adults to sit and talk while the kids run themselves ragged. If yours are like mine, one walk-through won't be enough.
Walking Duke of Gloucester Street, you'll find plenty of shops to enjoy, including the outdoor market. On certain days there's an outdoor auction in Market Square, where visitors can bid on items from the gift shops. Definitely stop by the silversmith to learn his craft, then walk through the attached shop where you can buy pieces made onsite. Moms and daughters alike will love a visit to the milliner's shop, where you can learn about the clothing of the day and how it was produced. Don't worry, the boys will love visiting the blacksmith, gunsmith and the magazine (the warehouse for gunpowder and firearms) and guardhouse.
In every building you enter, you'll meet historic interpreters, some playing historic roles, others giving you a taste of the daily lives of people in Colonial times. You can meet with a founding father and hear about the politics of the day. Need a break in the middle of the day? Plan ahead and book a carriage ride through town. The kids loved meeting the horses, and it was an easy way to give everyone a few minutes off their feet to relax.
Colonial Williamsburg has six hotels surrounding the historic area, ranging from the economical Governor's Inn to the Williamsburg Inn. For those who really want to get into history, visitors can book rooms in authentic Colonial houses in the historic area. The benefits of staying in one of the hotels is a discounted price on admission into the historic buildings (the historic area itself is open to the public). You also get discounts on evening performances. Many of the hotels include a free continental breakfast.
There are four taverns serving food in Colonial Williamsburg, each catering to something different, all realistically requiring reservations in advance. We ate dinner at Christiana Campbell's Tavern, which is known for seafood. It also has a children's menu. If you don't think your kids are ready for a sit down, hour-long meal with historical figures, try stopping in at Shield's Tavern during the day for a cookie and coffee or cold drink (no reservation necessary).
Historic characters can be found there as well, giving you a taste of what you'd get during a full meal, without being tied to a long program.
Running around the perimeter of the historic district is a shuttle bus. There are enough stops that when someone gets tired of walking (the only way around the 12 block-by-6 block historic area), it's easy to head back to a hotel for a few minutes of rest or swimming. Two stops are near Merchant Square Shops, a modern day shopping area adjacent to the historic district. Here you'll find tasty treats for all ages (there's even a candy shop), as well as clothes, books and all the traditional tourist gift shops. While prices are still higher than at home, there's a variety of food if the kids want pizza or burgers without historical significance.
There are several ticket prices for Colonial Williamsburg depending on what you're interested in doing. There are also add-on items like day and evening walking tours, costumes for children who really want to play the parts, and special day and evening performances. With younger children, consider staying for two days, visiting the historic district part of the day and playing or visiting the nearby Jamestown Settlement during the rest.
If You Go
250 1st St.
Williamsburg, VA 23185
Be sure to download the Vacation Planner. You can plan everything, from staying on site to attending a ghost tour of the town online.
Also check for upcoming events and view the calendar to see what's planned when you're in town. There are plenty of special deals and events to make any visit something the whole family will remember.
March 17-June 15, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Open 365 days a year
Several ticket packages are available. See Web site for details. Ticket prices range from $14-$49.
Kim Justen, a freelance writer, lives in Advance and is the mother of two.