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How to Plan Your Visit to Colonial Williamsburg: The Largest Living History Museum in the World


There is so much to see in Colonial Williamsburg – as someone who now lives here, I can’t get enough history! It’s the largest living history museum in the world and now that I’m officially out of 9-5 life and into blogging, I’m thrilled to share it.

While you are here you can find something for everyone with a bit of interest in history at the largest living history museum in the world. Truly.

Admission and Tickets

If you’re here for one day, get the day pass. Note military discounts and ask about any other specials.

If you plan to be here multiple days or make another visit, consider the annual pass. For anyone living in the area and unaware, you can get a “good neighbor” annual pass currently under $20!

If you genuinely want a connection to Colonial Williamsburg, be a donor. A $250 donation currently gets you an annual pass as well as vouchers for two good neighbor passes you can use for your spouse, family, or friends. In addition to special programming, discounts for lodging, food, and other CW purchases, you get access to the Donor Reception Center: the historic St. George Tucker House.

Every Aspect of Colonial Williamsburg

The Trades

From gunsmithing to farming and the tailor shop and the bookbinder, we have it all. Here is the twist: the people doing the trades aren’t actors. They aren’t simply interpreters. They’re historians and are learning and mastering the trade. Every one of them does an apprenticeship that could take up to 7+ years to complete. All their work is done by hand, traditionally, and they learn the history of that trade in-depth.

Colonial Williamsburg
Photo Credit: Daphne Reznik

The work each individual does is done to support each other, the museum, and even other museums. For example, the tin plate workers are creating kitchenware for George Washington’s Mount Vernon as this article is being written.

The Nation Builders

Colonial Williamsburg
Photo Credit: Daphne Reznik

Colonial Williamsburg has a team of actor historians that bring everyone from George Washington to the Marquis de Lafayette, and our newest member James Armistead Lafayette, to life! This isn’t just an acting role. They do this long-term and immerse themselves in primary sources. Kurt Smith, who portrays Thomas Jefferson has read close to 50,000 letters to, from, and about Jefferson over approximately 8 years. Not many people living today know the man as well as Mr. Smith.

Performances

This comes in many forms.

  • Street theatre
  • The outdoor stage
  • The Hennage Auditorium inside the Art Museum

You’ll find everything from period music to Nation Builders discussing an event in their life or even the subjects of Colonial Williamsburg archaeological excavations.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg

  • Folk art and furnishings
  • Exhibits and galleries
  • Artifacts

Whether you love art, décor, woodworking, clocks, maps, textiles, or anything else that existed in history- you’ll find something at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. And it’s included with your pass!

Guided Tours

Colonial Williamsburg
Photo Credit: Daphne Reznik

Multiple buildings such as the Raleigh Tavern and the Capitol give guided tours. You’ll see authentic period pieces, learn the stories of what happened in the building, and get an overall picture of the American colonies in context.

Special interest tours are given throughout the year. Examples are the wreath decoration tour during Christmastime or the behind-the-scenes tours at the stables you can catch most of the year. Typically these tours require walking.

When to Visit Colonial Williamsburg

Holidays tend to be busy, but there are sometimes ticket deals. If you’re okay with crowds, this could be an option. That said, I’ll break it down by season to help your decision!

Summer: it’s HOT in the Tidewater region of Virginia during the summer months. If you’re planning a visit between June and August, dress accordingly (linen is your best friend!).

School is out, so you may see more families at this time. This may impact lodging prices, so keep that in mind. There is quite a swing from busy times to “less busy” times of week, month, and year.

The crepe myrtles are in bloom, and you might see additional programming such as an arboretum tour! As far as trades go, both the Colonial Garden and the farm are active during the summer.

Fall: For those of you who love that “perfect temperature,” bright blooms, and color on the trees, this is the season to visit. You’ll see lots of school tours, but they’re guided/planned so it’s easy to navigate and get seats at performances, or time in the trade shops.

Winter: There are two parts to winter in Colonial Williamsburg- the holiday season and post-holidays.

The holiday season starts at Thanksgiving. (Colonial Williamsburg is open every day, including Thanksgiving and Christmas!). The famous wreaths of Williamsburg go up on the historic buildings and residences, the holiday market is open, along with the skating rink, and programming includes more music and performances aimed at Christmastide.

Post-holidays start January 2nd. For the next two months, the Nation Builders are less seen, performances pretty much cease and trade shops change up their hours. This period is used by all of them for more time spent on planning, research, writing, and projects. That said, for true history buffs and if you want a deal on lodging or less of a crowd, you can get a lot out of a visit between January and mid-March but watch the weather! It could be 70 degrees or light snow; it is Virginia after all.

Spring: Many say this is the best time to visit because flowers start blooming as early as February and through the season. The tulips are magnificent. Once March hits, the programs are back in full force. One of the busiest times of the season is “spring break” so be conscious of that.

Where to Stay in Colonial Williamsburg

Vacation clubs: Whether you belong to a vacation club or just book direct or third-party, there are plenty of them around! You can get a hotel room or a condo unit (villa). This option is fantastic if you want a kitchenette, washer and dryer, or other amenities. I’ve personally stayed at the Marriott Manor Club for a workcation!

Traditional hotels: Colonial Williamsburg has its hotels from the Williamsburg Inn to the family-friendly Woodlands. In addition, you can find every chain represented multiple times. Double-check when booking whether or not the hotel is within driving or walking distance because, for example, there are 3 Hampton Inn within a mile or two of the historic area.

The Colonial Houses: Part of the CW hotel system, you can rent a Colonial house or a tavern room! The houses range in size to accommodate a solo visitor, a couple, a small family, or even a group!

Traditional bed and breakfasts: Many are located walking distance from the historic area.

Airbnb/VRBO: Yes, we have some if this is your thing.

Campgrounds: Have your RV? You’ll find stellar-rated options minutes from the historic area. In fact, search out Colonial Williamsburg on You Tube, where RV-lovers have filmed their stays.

What’s Nearby Colonial Williamsburg

Jamestown and Yorktown, in conjunction with Colonial Williamsburg, make up the Historic Triangle. For history buffs who have more than 1-2 days in town, you can easily add either or both into your schedule. When purchasing tickets you can buy a bundle that includes the Jamestown Settlement and the Museum of the Revolution at Yorktown. The beautiful Colonial Parkway connects all sites providing easy access.

In Williamsburg itself, Busch Gardens and Water Country are for anyone interested in theme parks and who loves rides.

If you are planning several days, or even a week in Virginia, I recommend:

  • Berkeley: Home of Presidents Benjamin and William Henry Harrison, in Charles City.
  • Fort Monroe, Hampton: Now part of both the City of Hampton and the National Park Service, it was the longest serving fort – and my partner in life grew up there as his dad was stationed there with the U.S. Army. Thus, my connection to this area and how I fell in love with history.
  • Scotchtown: Home of Patrick Henry, in Hanover County.
  • Agecroft Hall: A medieval English home deconstructed, shipped to the United States and rebuilt in the early 1900s, Tuckahoe- the boyhood home of Thomas Jefferson, and The Virginia State Capitol – all in Richmond.

Practical tips to make your visit to CW efficient and stress-free!

Wear comfortable shoes: Although you can hop on the shuttle if you are a ticketholder, there will be plenty of walking! The streets are typically asphalt but you’ll find shell paths and sidewalks made of uneven bricks. If you have limited mobility, scooter rental is a thing here but note getting into some of the 18 th century buildings can be a challenge.

Bring water: There are refilling stations but bring some to kickstart your visit! Side note: if you visit in the summer, the humidity can be unexpected and hit you hard. Stay hydrated.

Parking: If you can find a spot across from the Art Museum, those are currently free. Most lots utilize the Passport Parking app, so have that downloaded in advance. You can also park at the Visitor’s Center and take the shuttle.

Utilize the calendar and map to organize your visit: you can access it online or pick up a copy when you get your tickets. Plan your visit around the performances you want to see and the days each trade shop is open.

Get a printed pass: even if you order your tickets online, stop by the Art Museum, the Visitor’s Center, or the Lumberjack Ticket office on Duke of Gloucester Street to have a pass printed. This way you won’t have to open your phone for every single building you go into!

Buy special event tickets in advance: if you purchase tickets for evening events, carriage rides, etc., you can call or get them online. Doing it in advance, especially during busier times, will increase your ability to get tickets.

Visit on weekdays: I know this isn’t always possible but if you can, you’ll get better deals on lodging and less people in the buildings- shorter lines for guided tours as well!

Food: You can make reservations at one of the taverns, try a holiday meal if you’re here at the time, hit Merchant’s Square at the edge of the historic area, or even pack a lunch and picnic on the Palace Green! Of course, there are excellent restaurants outside the historic area as well.

And if you’re going beyond Colonial Williamsburg, which is open 365 days a year, please check the hours for any sites you plan to visit. This will help you organize your time and ensure you see everything on your list!

This article originally appeared on The World Overload. Featured Photo Credit: Unsplash

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