SPECIAL OFFER: - Limited Time Only!
(The ad below will not display on your printed page)
Brush up on your American history. On a trip to Colonial Williamsburg, you could find yourself debating politics with Thomas Jefferson, discussing military strategies with General George Washington, or sipping tea with Martha. And the kids? They'll be practicing penmanship with quill pens, playing colonial games, and saluting young patriots in the Fife and Drum Corps.
Indeed, this is not your average restoration village with token townsfolk and gift shops. It's a bustling, living history city. Just about everything in the Historic District -- the people, public buildings, shops, taverns, homes, and gardens -- looks and feels as it did 225 years ago, when Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia and the colonies were on the brink of war with England. It's like being in a time warp.
Plan to spend at least two days in Colonial Williamsburg. The town's 88 restored buildings are spread over one mile, but the best way to see it all is still on foot. (Cars aren't even allowed during the day.)
Start your time-travel adventure by picking up a copy of the Visitor's Companion. This 12-page newspaper, available at the Visitors Center, lists loads of weekly tours, reenactments, character encounters, live demonstrations, and participatory events. Programs change daily and there's lots to do, so review the paper carefully before taking to the streets. It will help match your family's interests and attention spans to the right activities. Some of the top activities include:
A trip to Williamsburg isn't complete without visiting two other cities in Virginia's Historic Triangle: Yorktown, where George Washington defeated Cornwallis and ended the Revolutionary War, and Jamestown, the first English-speaking settlement in the New World, founded in 1607.
Must-see stops in Yorktown include the Battlefield itself (the kids will be impressed with all the cannon artillery) and the re-created Continental Army camp at Yorktown Victory Center. In Jamestown, don't miss the Jamestown Settlement. This living history museum features James Fort (the kids can try on armor), Powhatan Indian Village, and replicas of three ships colonists used to cross the Atlantic -- Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery.
After all the history lessons, it's time for some 21st-century fun. Several popular amusement parks are within three miles of Williamsburg.
At Busch Gardens, the theme is 17th-century Europe. The hamlets of England, Germany, Scotland, France, Italy, and Ireland each have their own thrill rides, restaurants, shows, and shops. A don't-miss for your daredevils: Apollo's Chariot, a roller coaster that climbs up 210 feet and plunges back down at 70 miles per hour.
Over at Water Country USA, a '50s and '60s surf motif is the backdrop for splish-splash fun. Zoom Flume is the latest rage, propelling passengers down a water slide at 20 feet per second. Chill out after a day of touring at Big Daddy Falls, an inner-tube river ride that twists and turns through 670 feet of flumes and tunnels.
Type of trip: Historic sightseeing and theme parks
Best ages: 8 and up
Ideal trip length: Five days
Distance: Richmond (50 miles), Washington, DC (150 miles), Baltimore (195 miles), Philadelphia (295 miles)
Best time to go: Spring and fall, for the most comfortable touring weather. Summer, for the greatest number of family events at Colonial Williamsburg and longest hours at theme parks.
Weather: 69/45 degrees in April, 86/63 in June, 71/48 in October, 60/37 in November
Lodging: More than 10,000 rooms in the town of Williamsburg (outside the historic village).
Squirm factor: Some, if you don't carefully choose activities.
Colonial Williamsburg Off I-64, Williamsburg Phone: 800-HISTORY or 757-220-7645
Yorktown Battlefield End of Colonial Parkway, Yorktown Phone: 757-898-2410
Yorktown Victory Center Old Route 238 near Colonial Parkway, Yorktown Phone: 888-593-4682
Jamestown Settlement Route 31 South at Colonial Parkway, Jamestown Phone: 888-593-4682
Busch Gardens Williamsburg 1 Busch Gardens Blvd. off Route 60, Williamsburg Phone: 757-253-3350
Water Country USA Route 199, Williamsburg Phone: 1-800-343-SWIM
Williamsburg Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Phone: 757-253-0192 or 800-368-6511
Williamsburg Hotel and Motel Association Phone: 800-999-4485
Virginia Tourism Corporation Phone: 800-VISIT-VA
You can drive it. But it's more fun riding any or all of the 23-mile Colonial Parkway on two wheels.
Considered one of the most scenic bike routes in the state, the Colonial Parkway connects three towns in the Historic Triangle -- Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. You'll ride along the banks of the James and York Rivers, and through a tunnel under Colonial Williamsburg's Historic District.
Along the way, there are scenic turnouts with great views of the rivers and glimpses of wildlife. There are also picnic areas, but no restrooms or places to stop for food and drink.
The 10 miles between Williamsburg and Jamestown are relatively flat, but have the most traffic. The 13 miles to Yorktown are hillier and quieter. Cars must stay within speed limits of 25-45 mph and no commercial traffic is allowed. Colonial Parkway, Colonial National Historic Park, 757-898-2410. Bikes and helmets can be rented at several Colonial Williamsburg hotels (Call 800-HISTORY for more information).
Favorite local spot: Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop in Colonial Williamsburg for old-fashioned "pasties" and "cakes," now known as pastries and cookies. For kids, can't-go-wrong choices include gingerbread cakes, sugar cakes, apple turnovers, and sweet potato muffins. Best when eaten between sips of ginger ale, root beer, or English tea.
Local foods: Virginia ham and peanut soup.
Best souvenir: Three-corner hats and white linen "mob" caps for boys and girls, and bilbo catchers for everyone.
Annual events: For information, contact the Williamsburg Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (800-368-6511) or Colonial Williamsburg (800-HISTORY).
Reviewed April 2004.