“world's largest living history museum!”
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation operates the world’s largest living history museum in Williamsburg, Virginia—the restored 18th-century capital of Britain’s largest, wealthiest, and most populous outpost of empire in the New World. Here we interpret the origins of the idea of America, conceived decades before the American Revolution. The Colonial Williamsburg story of a revolutionary city tells how diverse peoples, having different and sometimes conflicting ambitions, evolved into a society that valued liberty and equality. Americans cherish these values as a birthright, even when their promise remains unfulfilled.
Like others have said, if you're a history buff this is a lot of fun. If you only have a little bit of time to spend or you're not enthralled with history, do NOT waste your money. It is free to walk around and look at the old houses, see the shops, watch the militia, watch the fife and drum corps, etc. I wish we'd known that before dropping $70 on sampler passes. I literally paid $70 for the privilege of then purchasing a ball of handmade soap for my daughter, then was still asked to make a donation to their restoration projects at checkout.
FYI, we had the sampler pass due to our late arrival, and it is a total waste of money. It is nearly as expensive as the full pass, which would have cost my family just over $100, and it does NOT include anything worth paying for. It includes the choice of looking inside ONE house, observing ONE trade (which you are not allowed to participate in, only observe...my daughter went to Candlemaking and got to hear a lecture then watch full-ticket holders make a candle), and of course, all the shopping and eating you can handle.
If you don't have the time or interest to pay for the full tickets, save your money and just enjoy a very pleasant walk through a "reconstructed" colonial village.
NOTE: we also added $30-worth of additional tickets to attend one of the evening ghost tours. It was very disappointing. I even love "chilling" tales, but it was a somewhat goofy person relaying stories from employees who claim to have seen something strange. That's all. Certainly not worth what we would have spent on our dinner instead.
Colonial Williamsburg is good for those interested in the formation of the US. It really makes history come alive. The the colonial district is a little bit away from the visitors center (VC) and across from William and Mary College. There is a walking path from the VC to the Governor's Mansion (pictured above). Shuttles are available that run from the VC making stops around the historic district. Passes are required to use the shuttles.
Passes are about $43 dollars per person per day. Or $50ish dollars for two days. Discounts are offered for Military, Teachers, and those with Food Lion grocery store savings cards.
At the VC you can purchase tickets, make reservations for specific shows, restaurants, etc. There is an 7 minute welcome video and a good half hour movie called The Patriot.
It is free to walk around the buildings, but a pass is required to go inside most buildings (except for shops, taverns, restaurants, the old Episcopal church.). There are many street theater performances all through out the day (We visited in July, not sure if the season makes a difference.) Pick up a "This Week" brochure at the VC or information booth at Merchant's Square.
Merchant's Square houses many small gift shops, boutiques, jewelry stores, etc. Even a Peanut shop with lots of samples! On Wednesday night's at 7 from June - August there is a free Summer Breeze concert series. Bring a lawn chair or blanket to sit on.
In the colonial district things start happening around 9 am and finish about 5 pm. There are special evening shows but they are an additional price, not included in the pass.
I live 200 miles away and have been traveling to CW for 20 years. I have been known to go down and back in the same day just to see some special programming that might be going on at certain times of year. For those planning a trip, the programming is scaled back between New Years and Easter. (The last two years it has shut down for the month of January, although the town can still be walked through.) Spring break is when things start to pick up, full programming returns, and the crowds increase. It's a great time to visit with smaller children because so many baby animals are being born. Summer is in full swing and the crowds are larger. It's a great place to spend 4th of July, just by virtue of the nature and history of the place and the patriotic programming that day. Autumn is a WONDERFUL time, my FAVORITE time of year to go - the weather is great, the foliage is beautiful, full programming is still going on. In addition to some on-and-off events, like George Washington's pre-Yorktown encampment taking over the town, they do a VERY nice Veterans Day event. And then the Christmas season kicks off with Grand Illumination the first weekend and beautiful decorations (albeit c. 1930s, hearkening back to when the Restoration took place) and Christmastide programming of all kinds, including music, dance and character-driven ones. Currently they have interpreters representing George Washington, Thomas Jefferson (young and old), Patrick Henry, George Wythe, George Mason, James Madison, the Marquis de Lafayette and Martha Washington, as well as numerous other named townsfolk of the era, and you won't find historians any more knowledgeable or immersed in their subjects that those playing the roles. The trades range from candle and shoe making to coopers (barrel makers) printers, furniture makers and even brick and beer makers at certain times of year. And the DeWitt-Wallace Museum is world class, with an extremely impressive collection of folk art, much of which belonged to Abby Aldrich Rockefeller.
Unfortunately, it has become a common complaint in recent years that CW is pricing itself out of the reach of many families, even while it has added more activities for children, such as the archeological dig during the summer time. It is true that passes and food and souvenirs can add up (although it's still a cheaper option than Disney World or even the two amusement parks that are nearby.) I recommend packing lunches or eating off-site. There are few options in Merchant's Square, a few blocks' walking distance outside the Historic Area, that are easier on the wallet of families with children - notably "Retros" on Prince George Street. But they will not find a better opportunity anywhere to delve into history as deeply or gain as great an appreciation for their Founding as they will in Williamsburg, so if it is important to you that your children develop that sense of pride, it's worth the investment. CW doesn't sugar coat things. They tell the story "warts and all" including colonial slavery and interactions with regional tribes that both sides courted for frontier warfare during the Revolution. So they won't come away with only one side of the story. And the interpreters LIVE for the opportunity to interact with children and young people. They all recognize that future is theirs.
I would pay for many of the experiences if I had a whole day to hang out in Williamsburg, if you only have part of a day it is free to walk around, see the buildings, eat lunch and shop in the old timey shops. It is a lot of walking and a really cool experience.
Williamsburg is what you make of it. If history isn't your thing, you really shouldn't go here. What they strive for is to make history come alive, and if you slept through it in high school, well... your loss.
However...if it is your thing. Wow! This is the holy grail of historic sites in the US. My favorite place was the Court House "Crime and Punishment" where my daughter was put on trial as an indentured servant who has a dispute with her mistress. Seriously, she had to answer questions to the judge! It was a blast! There tends to a line for it, but it's worth the wait.
Highly recommend the Tours and Experiences add ons. We did the night Tavern Ghost Walk and loved it. Hearing the stories of the staff's run ins with ghosts tickle the hairs on the back of your neck as you walk by the walled cemetery in the moonlight. We also did the Life of a Soldier which included drilling and marching, and firing of muskets. Great experience for the kids.
Williamsburg rocks, but it requires a little pre-planning. Go to their web site and look for those things that might interest you. The place is full of hidden gems beyond the standard blue hair bus tours. You just need to find them.
Boring. I think this place is only for retired persons or children. I don't know what's that rapture in Lonely Planet about.
Still enjoyable for free: It was a windy freezing cold Sunday and we only had the afternoon to explore Colonial Williamsburg. We still enjoyed our time without entering the buildings: walking the streets, soaking up the history and catching the buildings in ‘golden hour’. It’s a quiet, pretty historic town, the planning is reminiscent of the Mall in Washington DC. Highly recommend Kilwins Chocolates and Ice Cream for fudge and hot chocolate.
You can walk around the town for free but you can not enter any of the buildings unless you have a ticket. The ticket and or pass is extremely overpriced. Active military gets one free pass so if you have the ID on you then use it. Otherwise your paying way more than necessary to walk around and visit only a handful of buildings.
My family has been to Williamsburg twice now and we plan to go again in the future. If you love history (or even if you don't) this is an amazing place to visit. The staff is so knowledgable and the historical interpreters/reenactors will take you back to colonial times. Last time we visited I learned about furniture making, listened to the Marquis de Lafayette speak for America's freedom and even had a conversation with a brilliant man of the law - Mr. Patrick Henry - at the local coffee house.
There is seemingly an endless amount of things to look at and people to talk to. It's a great vacation area for families - with Jamestown, Yorktown, Busch Gardens and a water park in the immediate area, there is a lot to do in Williamsburg.
Im only 19 and came here when they opened it for locals for free, spent all day there and had a pretty good time. I would consider coming back when they have everything opened, I really wanted to see the governors palace.
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