Imagine yourself in a time when soldiers were marching in the dusty streets at the sound of drums, a time when wigs, corsets and crinolines were in high fashion. It may sound like a long gone era, but not so. Just an hour away from Richmond, you can witness history coming alive in the Historic Triangle of Virginia: Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown. A visit to any of these historic towns is a must for any history lover. So if you are planning to stop by, here is a comprehensive guide to Colonial Williamsburg:
What to Expect in Colonial Williamsburg
Once the capital of Virginia, Colonial Williamsburg is today a large settlement that recreates the era of the American Revolution. At the beginning of the 20th century W.A.R. Godwin, the rector of Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, came up with the idea of rebuilding the town and reenacting its history, but the project was far too big and costly.
The son of a wounded Confederate captain, Godwin held Williamsburg very dear to his heart. He made several attempts to find supporters for his project, but with not much success. His big chance came in March 1926 when John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his wife visited Williamsburg. The Rockefellers liked the idea of recreating the early history of the United States and agreed to fund the project. And so began the reconstruction of Colonial Williamsburg.
Visiting the Historic Area
Visiting Colonial Williamsburg is like stepping back in time. Everything, from the clothing to the horse drawn carriages and the atmosphere of the taverns, makes you feel like you are in the Revolutionary War era.
Extending on 300 acres along the Duke of Gloucester street, the historic area starts at the Visitor Center. Here you can buy your tickets and also park your car, since the area is closed to motorized vehicles. The historic district can be visited free of charge if you only want to walk the streets. Purchasing tickets will allow you to visit the buildings, exhibits and museums, take the guided tours and attend the shows. Ticket prices are relatively high, but well wort it. You have the option of buying a single-day ticket for $43.95, a multi-day ticket for $47.95. There is also the option to buy a Historic-Triangle ticket for $88.50, which grants you access to all three sites (Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown) for seven consecutive days.
Out of the several hundred buildings that have been reconstructed, 88 are original. Some of them are historic landmarks, like the Governor’s Palace, Bruton Parish Church and the Capitol Building. Others are workshops, like a printing shop, blacksmith, cabinetmaker, gunsmith, or wigmaker. There are also some stores selling various goods.
But what makes the visit so memorable are the “residents” of the town, who are taking their role very seriously and are always in character. You can chat with tailors, barbers, lawyers, or black servants and learn about the ups and downs of the colonial life.
We loved being invited at the Governor’s Mansion for tea, or attending a trial at the Courthouse. You can visit the old cemetery, drink a beer at the local tavern, go to the market for some fresh herbs and vegetables farmed in the next-door garden.
Places to Eat in Colonial Williamsburg
The dining options in the historical area are also in tune with the time period, serving authentic menus in a charming 18th century decor. The food is good but the places are overcrowded and require reservations. Prices are moderate to high. Some historic taverns are:
Christiana Campbell’s Tavern –once a favorite of George Washington– serves delicious seafood dishes.
Shields Tavern, specializing in southern food. After dinner you can take a Tavern Ghost Walk and learn about the ghosts that haunt Williamsburg today.
King’s Arms Tavern, offering authentic 18th century recipes adapted to the 21st century taste.
The Trellis Restaurant, right across from the Visitor Center on Duke of Gloucester street, serves delicious regional dishes. We tried them several times for lunch and were always pleased with the selection. Prices are moderate.
The Blue Talon Bistro, a little outside the historic district, serves very authentic, delicious French food. We fell in love with this restaurant and its cozy atmosphere, so we came back twice. The prices were very good too.
Colonial Williamsburg is a real historical treasure that should be on every traveler’s bucket list.