Things to See & Do

You won’t believe how many amazing attractions are in greater williamsburg

There’s a reason this area is known as the Historic Triangle. Lessons from grade school or tidbits from television documentaries will come back to you as you explore your way around Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown. With four centuries of history dating back to the 17th century, this region contains an incredible amount of significant events.

Start your journey where it all began, in Historic Jamestowne where you can discover a whole world of uncovered history. Saturated with attractions to see and activities to do, Colonial Williamsburg is like walking back in time. The battlefield in Yorktown where allied American and French troops won the American Revolution in 1781 awaits your visit! At the new American Revolution Museum, you can discover the story of the Revolutionary Period through hands-on experiences, re-created encampments, exhibits and more.

Although the Historic Triangle is full of fun educational opportunities, there are numerous activities to do around Williamsburg that go beyond uncovering history. For all those thrill seekers, several amusement parks are just a short distance away. There’s also tons of outdoor excitement—from ziplining to biking and hiking.

Some of the most leisurely vacations are without an itinerary but simply go with the flow allowing for more opportunities to discover new things. Perhaps you’re interested in spending a day shopping and snagging all the best deals or discovering the fabulous local arts and culture scene. You will find a wide variety of specialty shops, unique boutiques and large shopping malls throughout the area offering anything and everything you are seeking.

If you’ve got food on your mind, partake in a delicious dish at one of the many unique restaurants in the area. Seafood dishes are as bountiful as the sea and a variety of international cuisine to satisfy your cravings. For the confection junkie, Williamsburg is home to the finest cupcakeries, candy shops, ice cream joints and bakeries where you will find freshly drizzled, dipped and frosted sweets.

No matter how you spend your time in the Historic Triangle and beyond, chances are you will never want to leave!

Reading The Buildings

The Chesapeake House uncovers the true art of fieldwork done by Colonial Williamsburg historians and provides a new view of early American architecture

Carl Lounsbury is used to letting folks down gently. “Their buildings are often not as old as people think,” Lounsbury, senior architectural historian at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, says about people who send the museum photographs of their houses. “We urge them to do it, but it can be disappointing to them. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had to give the bad news: ‘No, George Washington did not live in your house or stay there.’”

The College of William & Mary history professor and his accompanying team of historians are so seasoned and battle-tested that not only can they tell you whether Ol’ George stayed in your crib but also the likely room where he ate his supper. The team of experts, has surveyed hundreds of houses, structures and plantation foundations from across the region. Their groundbreaking research has been compiled into a new book, The Chesapeake House.

Beautifully designed with hundreds of photographs, period landscape paintings and floor plans, The Chesapeake House isn’t just a coffee table tome about the Coastal Virginia region’s stately buildings, it’s a look at the CW Foundation’s ongoing puzzle-solving.

The Chesapeake House is filled of mysteries like that, scraped away like paint until a garish glaze of truth, a secret nail, a loose piece of wallpaper, is revealed. “Sometimes when we go look at these old buildings,” Lounsbury says, “We think we know what the story is, but the more we look the more confused we get.”

The Real Early Virginia: Much Less Grand Than What You See At Colonial Williamsburg
Here’s some bad news right off the bat: Early Virginia was not exactly like the scenes you see depicted at the many restored residences overseen by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which was founded in 1927 by John D. Rockefeller to help preserve the original architecture of the region.

Co-editor Cary Carson, the retired vice president of Colonial Williamsburg’s research division, breaks it to us gently in The Chesapeake House introduction: “Millions of visitors to Williamsburg find it hard to forget the handsome public buildings where so much American history took place.”

But, he adds, time travelers would also encounter “other landscapes,” less familiar to today’s tourists—a countryside populated with ordinary people on smaller farms, modest houses, ramshackle buildings—structures that had less of a chance to survive than the houses of the local grandees, which make up most of the Colonial Williamsburg experience today.

“We sort of dissect it like a forensic crime investigator,” Graham says. They tease out the structure’s sequence of development—what did it originally look like, how did it change? “And then we want to figure out why it changed—why people made the decisions that they made.”

Usually, he says, there’s a pattern to these changes—a societal pattern. Buildings were usually designed by the clients themselves, and in a very traditional way. Lounsbury: “A tobacco planter would call up a carpenter and say, ‘Build me a house like Mr. Smith’s house over there.’ And carpenters would build the same way from one house to the next until someone told them something differently.”

All of the little details make up the Chesapeake House’s evolution. “Especially the timber framing, the way Chesapeake carpenters framed their houses was certainly far different than anywhere else—New England, Old England, Ireland, South Carolina. And it finally evolved into a peculiar regional form that addressed distinctive needs.”

“It wasn’t like they were starting new with new ideas,” adds Willie Graham, who knows a little about timber framing. “They were basically in the wilderness. It was physically different. Initially there just wasn’t room for lavish building because the structure had to be efficient and quickly erected.”

By the middle of the 17th century, virtually all planters, rich and poor, were building some version of what they first called the Virginia House. “They still had wind chimneys and dirt floors,” Graham says. “But by the 18th century, they’d created an efficient way to use the materials on hand, particularly wooden materials.”

Construction became, as Lounsbury says, “a matter of technology, materials, climate and attitudes toward building.” Concerning the latter, the mindset of our forebears is often reflected in their construction habits. “The early settlers encountered an environment that was difficult and actually detrimental to their health so that they didn’t have great prospects for living long lives.” The result was that they would build cheap houses to just last their lifetime. “But not build for the future.”

So when settlers started to build better homes in the New World, it showed that they were here for the long haul. “In the beginning, they were just trying to survive,” Graham says. “But certainly by the second quarter of the 17th century, there are people coming here to stay.” You can read it in their houses.

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American Revolution Museum

American Revolution Museum at Yorktown tells anew the story of the nation’s founding

The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, formerly the Yorktown Victory Center, tells anew the story of the nation’s founding, from the twilight of the colonial period to the dawn of the Constitution and beyond.

Personal stories of citizens and soldiers caught up in the American Revolution unfold in the introductory film, “Liberty Fever,” setting the stage for experiences in expansive exhibition galleries. A truly national perspective comes to life in exhibit settings featuring nearly 500 period artifacts, interactive displays and games, and immersive environments. “The Siege of Yorktown” film transports visitors into the action of America’s 1781 victory shown on a 180-degree screen with dramatic special effects. Visitors can witness artillery demonstrations and drill with wooden muskets at a re-created Continental Army encampment and Revolution-era farm based on a real-life 18th-century family.

New Film and Exhibits Dazzle and Inform

In the museum theater, “Liberty Fever” introduces visitors to the world of Revolutionary America. The film is narrated by an early 19th-century storyteller who has traveled the country gathering stories about the American Revolution and shares his accounts using a moving panorama presentation of the time period.

The permanent exhibition galleries engage visitors in the tumult, drama and promise of the Revolution through period artifacts and immersive environments, dioramas, interactive exhibits and short films. Among the 500 artifacts on exhibit are a Declaration of Independence broadside dating to July 1776; a June 1776 Philadelphia printing of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, one of the inspirations for the U.S. Declaration of Independence; a coronation portrait of King George III from the studio of Allan Ramsay; one of the two earliest known portraits done from life of an African who had been enslaved in the 13 original colonies; and an extremely rare early southern American long rifle.

Visitors Interact With Historical Interpreters in Outdoor Settings
The living-history Continental Army encampment and Revolution-era farm continue as an integral part of the museum experience, and newly expanded and reconstructed interpretive areas will debut this spring to support the new gallery storylines and expand capacity for visitor-participatory demonstrations. The encampment, which represents a portion of an American regiment and includes tents for soldiers and officers as well as surgeon’s and quartermaster’s quarters, allows visitors to join costumed historical interpreters on a drill field and in an artillery demonstration area with tiered seating that from the outside looks like a redoubt.

Situated just beyond the encampment, the farm features a larger house, kitchen and tobacco barn and a new building representing quarters for enslaved people, along with crop fields, corncrib and kitchen garden. A specific 18th-century York County family serves as a frame of reference for historical interpretation.

The museum’s inaugural special exhibition, “AfterWARd: The Revolutionary Veterans Who Built America,” opening June 10 through November 27, 2017, explores the post-war stories of veterans of the Siege of Yorktown and how they went on to shape the America we know today. A series of plays, performances and public lectures June through November complement the special exhibition. Special events and programs include “Liberty Celebration” in July, “Yorktown Victory Celebration” in October, “Foods & Feasts of Colonial Virginia” in November and “A Colonial Christmas” in December.

American Revolution Museum at Yorktown is located at 200 Water Street and is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and until 6 p.m. from June 15 through August 15. You should allow three to four hours for your visit. 2017 admission is $12 for adults and $7 for ages 6-12. Children under 6 are admitted free.

A value-priced combination ticket is available with Jamestown Settlement, a museum of 17th-century Virginia. Call 888-593-4682 toll free or 757-253-4838 for more information, or visit