Colonial Williamsburg is a "living-history museum" located in a historic district in Williamsburg, Virginia. 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.
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.
In the late 1920s a project was started to recreate the town as it would have existed in the 18th century, led in part by John D. Rockefeller. In 1928 public land was transferred for the project, and thereafter 720 buildings that postdated 1790 were demolished. Reconstructions of colonial buildings were built on the original foundations using period illustrations, written descriptions, early photographs, and informed guesswork. In total, 500 buildings were reconstructed or restored, with 88 being labeled as original colonial structures.
Today the area is owned and operated by the non-profit Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, a foundation initially endowed by the Rockefellers. Visitation peaked in 1985 with 1.1 million visitors but declined thereafter, but has grown somewhat since bottoming out in 2004.
See Williamsburg#Get in for details on getting to the city. While it is free to walk through the historic district, to experience all of the sights within the historic district requires purchasing a ticket from the visitor center. Once you purchase your admission pass, you can either take the shuttle bus or walk to the Historic Area. The historic district is open 365 days a year.
- Sampler Ticket. Allows use of the shuttle, entrance to two trade shops, entrance to the Public Gaol, and entrance to one family home. $25.99 for adults (13+), $12.49 for youths (6-12).
- Single-Day Ticket. Allows use of the shuttle, and access to all trade shops, homes, gardens, reenactments and other sites in the historic district. Also provides a 10% discount on tours, evening programs and carriage rides. $40.99 for adults (13+), $20.49 for youths (6-12).
- Multiday Pass. Offers everything included in the single-day pass but is good for unlimited repeat visits through December 31. $50.99 for adults (13+), $25.49 for youths (6-12).
- Annual Pass. Offers everything included in the multiday pass but is good for unlimited repeat visits for one year from the date of purchase. Also allows for exclusive tours and provides a 25% discount (instead of 10%) on tours, evening programs and carriage rides. $66.99 for adults (13+), $33.49 for youths (6-12).
No cars are allowed in the Historic Area. Sites within the area are easily walkable. The Duke of Gloucester Street is one mile long, so wear comfortable shoes.
The Historic Triangle Shuttle provides transportation from the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center to nearby Jamestown and Yorktown.
Some of the sites in Colonial Williamsburg are reconstructions or were built after colonial times. Buildings that are original colonial structures are denoted below as "an original colonial building".
Note: Many buildings are closed on certain days of the week, with hours varying seasonally, so be sure to check in advance that a desired destination is open.
The trade shops are staffed with individuals who wear costumes from colonial times and carry out the tasks that the shop owner of the time would have performed.
- Anderson's Blacksmith Shop & Public Armoury. The blacksmith shop provides the opportunity to watch blacksmiths working at their forge. Ticket required.
- Apothecary. The apothecary was a doctor who prescribed and prepared medicines. This shop offers the chance to learn about medicines and treatments during colonial times. Ticket required.
- Basketmaker. Basket making includes everything from preparing the fibers from oak logs to weaving them into a finished product. Ticket required.
- Bindery. Bookbinders in Colonial times compiled printed sheets into book format, painstakingly arranging them to lie flat, sewing the pages together to create an organized manuscript, and then constructing book covers out of leather. Ticket required.
- Brickmaker. The brickmaker molds and dries thousands of bricks during the summer, then bakes them in large ovens in the Autumn. Visitors can take off their shoes and help stomp water into clay to prepare the brick material. Ticket required.
- Cabinetmaker. The cabinetmaker built both cabinets and furniture after training that took many years. Ticket required.
- Carpenter. The job of the carpenter was to transform trees into lumber, and then to transform that lumber into housing. Carpentry was one of the most common trade professions in Colonial times. Ticket required.
- Cooper. The cooper built casks and barrels in colonial times. Visitors can watch the work, starting with the raw materials and ending with a completed product. Ticket required.
- Governor's Palace Kitchen. This kitchen affords visitors the opportunity to witness meal preparation as it would have occurred during Colonial times. Ticket required.
- Great Hopes Plantation. Many Virginians lived on small plantations, and this working recreation offers the chance to interact with farmers, carpenters and slaves and to learn about their lives. Ticket required.
- Gunsmith & Foundry. Learn how a Colonial musket was built in this recreation of the Geddy family shop. Ticket required.
- Historic Foodways. Learn about everything from how meals were made in homes, how they were prepared in the governor's palace, brewing, and even chocolate making. Ticket required.
- Joiner. Joiners worked closely with carpenters to create door frames, windows, shutters, and built-in cupboards. Ticket required.
- Magazine. The Magazine is where the arms and armaments of Virginia were kept and provides an opportunity to learn about weapons used in Colonial times. The Magazine is an original colonial building. Ticket required.
- Military encampment. See drill practice and canon firing as soldiers train for war, cook, and play music. Visitors can "enlist" and do their own training, allowing them to join in the Military Review at the end of the day on Market Square. Ticket required.
- Milliner. Milliners made shirts, neckerchiefs and other fashionable items, as well as importing luxury items from London such as jewelry or hosiery. The Milliner shop is an original colonial building. Ticket required.
- Printing office. The printer created the newspaper, pamphlets and books that were the primary means of mass communication in Colonial times. The shop affords visitors the chance to see type being set and documents being printed. Ticket required.
- Shoemaker. Boots and shoes were pre-made in a variety of sizes, but individuals with large or small feet could place custom orders that would generally be ready in a day. Ticket required.
- Silversmith. Silversmiths made cups, teapots, and utensils, both as a status symbol and as a way to store wealth in a time before widespread banks. They would often begin the process by melting down coins or out-of-fashion items. Ticket required.
- Tailor. Tailors made everything from silk suits to linen jackets. Visitors to this shop might get to experience the process of being measured for a new garment. The tailor shop is an original colonial building. Ticket required.
- Weaver. See how raw flax, cotton and wool were spun into cloth. Prior to the American Revolution most fabrics were imported, but when the imports were cut off the colonies turned to weavers to fill the void. Ticket required.
- Wheelwright. Wheelwrights used wood, iron, and sturdy construction to build the wheels that were critical for commerce and everyday life in Colonial times. Ticket required.
- Wigmaker. In the 18th century a wig was a fashionable accessory, even for men, and the job of the wigmaker was thus an important role. Ticket required.
- African American Religion. A self-guided tour that explores the religious heritage of slaves in colonial Virginia. Ticket required.
- Bruton Parish Church. The Church of England was the official church of the colonies under British rule, and all colonists were expected to worship regularly. This three-century old church was the Episcopalian church is still an active church today, and hosts over 120 recitals each year. The graveyard outside of the church is the final resting place of several notable early Virginians. The Parish Church is an original colonial building. Free.
- Capitol. The seat of colonial power and site of Virginia's vote for independence on May 15, 1776. Ticket required.
- Courthouse. Visitors to the courthouse can learn about the laws of the time and participate in a mock trial. Built in 1771, the Courthouse is an original colonial building. Ticket required.
- Duke of Gloucester Street. This street is the main thoroughfare through the historic district. Free.
- Governor's Palace. The symbol of British authority in the colony and home to seven royal governors. The current building is a reconstruction that was completed in 1934 built on the foundations of the original Governor's Palace. The original building was constructed from 1706-1722 before being destroyed by a fire in 1781. Ticket required.
- Market Square. Market Square was a central square where military reviews were held, wares were sold, and proclamations were made. Free.
- Palace Green. The Palace Green is an open space in front of the Governor's Palace where visitors can practice hoop rolling or participate in 18th-century games. Free.
- Playbooth Theater. An open-air stage where, weather-permitting, the Williamsburg Company of Comedians performs 18th-century farces. Ticket required.
- Presbyterian Meetinghouse. Although the Church of England was the official religion of the colonies, Presbyterians practiced their faith in this meetinghouse. Ticket required.
- Public Gaol. Pirates, thieves, runaway slaves, debtors, and political prisoners all inhabited cells in this building as they awaited trial, or they were convicts awaiting branding, whipping, or hanging, according to their sentences. The most famous inhabitants of the gaol were fifteen members of the pirate Blackbeard's crew, held here in 1718. The Public Gaol is an original colonial building that dates to approximately 1704, and was restored in 1936. Ticket required.
- Public Hospital. 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. Ticket required.
- R. Charlton's Coffeehouse. Guests can sample coffee, tea or liquid chocolate as it was prepared in the 18th century. Ticket required.
- Raleigh Tavern. Where Virginia patriots met to discuss independence in open defiance of the crown. Guests can join in political discussions or enjoy musical and comedy performances. Ticket required.
- Wetherburn's Tavern. Visitors can experience the lifestyle of a tavern owner, his family, and the slaves who ran the business. Wetherburn's Tavern is an original colonial building. Ticket required.
Family homes and gardens
- Bassett Hall. 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 1940s 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. Ticket required.
- Colonial Garden. Guests can assist gardeners using period tools, and learn about the plants grown for food and ornamentation. Ticket required.
- George Wythe House. Home of Thomas Jefferson's teacher and friend, the attorney George Wythe. The George Wythe House is an original colonial building. Ticket required.
- James Geddy House. Site of a family's pewter and brass founding business. Visitors can participate in games, music and daily chores. The James Geddy House is an original colonial building. Ticket required.
- Mary Stith House. Visitors might encounter Martha Washington, Mary Stith, or others. In her 1813 will Mary Stith freed the slaves in her household and left them her shop. Ticket required.
- Peyton Randolph House. An "urban plantation." Peyton Randolph was the president of the First Continental Congress. His home demonstrates the contrast between the lifestyle of the white family and, behind it, the living conditions of the slaves they owned. The Peyton Randolph House is an original colonial building. Ticket required.
- Powell House. Visitors to the Powell house can experience what middle-class life was like in Williamsburg. The Powell House is an original colonial building. Ticket required.
- St. George Tucker House. This house serves as a donor reception center serving light refreshments for those who have donated $100 or more to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The St. George Tucker House is an original colonial building. Ticket required.
- Thomas Everard House. Thomas Everard arrived in the colonies as an orphan and rose to become a wealthy planter and civic leader. The house has been restored to its original appearance, including 18th-century antiques. The Thomas Everard House is an original colonial building. Ticket required.
- DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, 326 West Francis St, toll-free: +1 888-965-7254. Museum open daily, hours vary seasonally. 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. Included in the single-day ticket price. Admission for those without single-day tickets is $12.99 for adults (13+), $6.49 for youths (6-12) which includes entrance to both the Decorative Arts Museum and the Folk Art Museum.
- Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, 326 West Francis St, toll-free: +1 888-965-7254. Museum open daily, hours 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. Included in the single-day ticket price. Admission for those without single-day tickets is $12.99 for adults (13+), $6.49 for youths (6-12) which includes entrance to both the Decorative Arts Museum and the Folk Art Museum.
Historic re-enactments occur daily and present dramatic presentations of historic events. The "Storming of the Palace" re-enactment recreates the historic event in which colonials marched on the governor's residence to demand that powder removed from the town magazine be restored. The "Order in the Court" re-enactment allows visitors to participate in a trial in the courthouse. During re-enactments staff members in period costumes assume historic roles, and visitors are often encouraged to participate. Check the daily calendar for times and locations of re-enactments as schedules vary. Tickets may be required for visitors to be present when re-enactments are taking place.
Evening programs take place every night, including ghost walks and witch trials. Separate tickets are required, and many of these events are not recommended for children due to the subject matter and sometimes intense emotion.
Tours are offered for everything from orientation to Colonial Williamsburg to guided walks through residences or other areas in the historic district. In the evenings there are ghost walks and similar tours. The daily calendar includes a list of some of the available tours.
Special events are held throughout the year and are listed on the special events web page.
- The Grand Illumination. A ceremony that began in 1935 and occurs on the first Sunday of December. During the holidays Colonial Williamsburg is decorated for Christmas, and the Grand Illumination is a ceremony in which thousands of decorative lights are activated simultaneously.
Guests at Colonial Williamsburg's hotels also can enjoy swimming pools, tennis courts, lawn bowling greens, lawn croquet, shuffleboard, bicycling, and miniature golf.
- Kimball Theatre, 428 West Duke Of Gloucester (Merchants Square). 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.
- Golden Horseshoe Golf Club. Golf enthusiasts will find a sanctuary at Colonial Williamsburg's Golden Horseshoe Golf Club, a resort that offers 45 holes and was recently a top-100 resort golf course by Golfweek Magazine.
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.
Additional dining options can be found outside of the historic district in the town of Williamsburg.
Historic dining taverns
Colonial Williamsburg's historic dining taverns feature food and drink of the 18th-century as well as period entertainment meant to provide guests with a sense of what dining in Williambsurg more than 200 years ago would have been like.
- Christiana Campbell's Tavern, 101 South Waller St, ☎ +1 757-229-2141. George Washington's favorite when he came to Williamsburg. Today, it's Colonial Williamsburg's premier seafood restaurant. Casual attire, dinner reservations required.
- Chowning's Tavern, 109 East Duke of Gloucester St, ☎ +1 888-965-7254. Serves 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. No reservations required, casual attire.
- King's Arms Tavern, 416 East Duke of Gloucester St, ☎ +1 757-229-2141. Originally opened in 1772. An 18th-century-style chophouse. Casual attire, dinner reservations recommended.
- Shields Tavern, 422 East Duke of Gloucester St, ☎ +1 757-229-2141. Offers the atmosphere of an 18th-century coffeehouse serving light fare. In the evening, part of the tavern operates as a bar. Dinner reservations are required, casual attire.
- Huzzah! BBQ Grille, 113 Visitor Center Dr, ☎ +1 757-229-2141. Family-friendly cuisine including barbecue, pizza, chicken wings, wraps, smoked salmon, and salads. There is also an assortment beers from local and regional breweries on tap.
- The Lodge Lounge, 310 South England St (Williamsburg Lodge), ☎ +1 757-229-2141. Offers bar snacks, cheese boards, soups, artisan flat breads, sandwiches, and desserts, as well as Virginia craft brews on tap and an extensive wine list. Live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
- The Regency Room, 136 East Francis St (Williamsburg Inn), ☎ +1 757-229-2141. Serves favorites from the Chesapeake to regional markets in an elegant setting. The wine list was named an Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winner. A member of the Nation's Restaurant News Fine Dining Hall of Fame. Dancing on Friday and Saturday evenings.
- Terrace Room, 136 East Francis St (Williamsburg Inn), ☎ +1 757-229-2141. Casual dining with options like Wagyu beef burgers, Cobb salad and crab cakes. Also offers afternoon tea, and in the evening the Restoration Bar offers cocktails.
- Traditions, 310 South England St (Williamsburg Lodge). Southern-inspired cuisine, with many ingredients harvested from the 90 acres of gardens in Colonial Williamsburg. Offers a seafood buffet every Friday evening.
The following lodging is operated by Colonial Williamsburg and can be found within or adjacent to the historic district. Other lodging can be found in the city of Williamsburg.
- Colonial Houses–Historic Lodging, 136 East Francis St, ☎ +1 757-220-7978 (front desk), toll-free: +1 888-965-7254 (reservations). 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. Amenities include free onsite parking, free wifi, free two-hour bike rental and access to offsite pool & fitness center.
- Governors Inn, 506 North Henry St, ☎ +1 757-220-7940 (front desk), toll-free: +1 888-965-7254 (reservations). 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, free wifi, and complimentary continental breakfast. Guests also enjoy access to amenities at some nearby facilities, and a shuttle bus provides access to the historical area.
- Providence Hall Guesthouses, 136 East Francis St, ☎ +1 757-220-7978 (front desk), toll-free: +1 888-965-7254 (reservations). Located a short distance from the main Williamsburg Inn building, Providence Hall provides accommodations for guests who want additional privacy combined with amenities including free onsite parking, free wifi, free two-hour bike rental and access to offsite pool & fitness center.
- Williamsburg Inn, 136 E. Francis St, ☎ +1 757-220-7978 (front desk), toll-free: +1 888-965-7254 (reservations). The Inn is the most luxurious of the Colonial Williamsburg Hotels and offers gourmet dining, free onsite parking, free wifi, free two-hour bike rental and access to offsite pool & fitness center. Renovated in 2001, the Inn offers 62 rooms and suites in the main building.
- Williamsburg Lodge, 310 South England St, ☎ +1 757-220-7976 (front desk), toll-free: +1 888-965-7254 (reservations). The Williamsburg Lodge, one of John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s original Colonial Williamsburg hotels, features 126 guest rooms, free onsite parking, free wifi, free two-hour bike rental, access to offsite pool & fitness center, as well as a 45,000-square-foot conference center.
- Woodlands Hotel & Suites, 105 Visitor Center Dr, ☎ +1 757 220-7960 (front desk), toll-free: +1 888-965-7254 (reservations). The Woodlands Hotel & Suites is a mid-budget hotel located adjacent to the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center. Amenities include free continental breakfast, free onsite parking, onsite fitness club, and high-speed Internet. Guests can reach the Historic Area via a footbridge from the Visitor Center or by riding one of the shuttles.
- Busch Gardens Williamsburg - Located a few miles southeast of Williamsburg, this amusement park features roller coasters and other thrill rides and was voted the world's "Most Beautiful Park" for 20 consecutive years by the National Amusement Park Historical Association.
- Newport News - Located approximately 20 miles southeast of Williamsburg on I-64, Newport News is home to the massive Newport News Shipbuilding, a shipyard that was founded in 1866 and that is currently the location where many American aircraft carriers, submarines and other military ships are built.
- Richmond - Located approximately 50 miles west of Williamsburg on I-64, Virginia's current capital city was settled in 1607, served as the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War, and today offers a wealth of Civil War history.