For an American history lesson unlike any other, you’ve come to the right place. This town prides itself on its living history museums, which include Colonial Williamsburg and the cluster of sites around Jamestown. When you need a break from the past, plan a visit to the area’s Busch Gardens or Water Country USA.
#1 in Williamsburg
According to many, this site is like a Disney theme park for history fanatics. Plus, Colonial Williamsburg’s appeal isn’t just for kids but also for anyone who feels young at heart. Visitors to Colonial Williamsburg will be greeted with townspeople, shopkeepers, politicians, slaves and more who called the Revolutionary City home. More than 20 guided and self-guided tours are available on a daily basis, including ghost walks, garden tours, city itineraries and carriage rides. Travelers can also shop authentic wares and sample 18th-century-inspired meals.
#2 in Williamsburg
If you can stand the large crowds, you should be more than pleased with Water Country USA, say several recent parkgoers. Some of Water Country’s popular attractions include Surfer’s Bay (a wave pool), Vanish Point (a 75-foot tower slide), the Jet Scream (an inner tube slide) and Big Daddy Falls (a whitewater rapids ride). There’s also Cow-A-Bunga (a kiddie pool area) and lessons can be arranged for less-confident swimmers (these cost extra). Visitors appreciate the variety of water attractions and say the wait times aren’t unreasonable at rides, slides and concession stands despite all the people.
#3 in Williamsburg
You’ve probably heard the legends of the settlers that first arrived in the spring of 1607; of Captain John Smith’s leadership; of Pocahontas’ role in smoothing relations between the settlers and the Powhatan Confederacy. All these historical stories are on display in living museums, exhibits and monuments clustered around a parcel of land loosely known as “Jamestown.” Despite its colloquial associations, this area is technically made up of several historic areas. First up: Historic Jamestowne, the actual archeological site on Jamestown Island where the original 1607 settlers were based. Next door is the Jamestown Settlement, a re-enactment museum with replicas of the settlers’ ships, plus life-size models of their homes and the villages of the area’s American Indians. And adjacent to that: Yorktown Victory Center, another open-air living museum that chronicles the British troops surrender to the United States at the Yorktown Battlefield in 1781.
#4 in Williamsburg
One of the real perks of this theme park, located southeast of Williamsburg, is that it truly does have something for all ages to enjoy. And that’s not just a PR pitch: Toddlers will love the Sesame Street Forest of Fun and the chance to meet some of that show’s most beloved characters. Bigger kids can enjoy rides and animal shows like Pet Shenanigans, which features trained dogs, birds and cats. Teens are the prime candidates to stand in line for thrilling coasters like the Alpengeist, the Griffon or the Loch Ness Monster. Finally, adults flock to the themed country lands, especially the Oktoberfest village and its beer gardens.
#5 in Williamsburg
According to the National Park Service, “one of the first English attempts at industrialization and manufacturing in America was glassblowing.” This replica of a colonial glasshouse allows visitors to get a feel for how artisans produced glass centuries ago. The original structure was built in 1608, when settlers first arrived at the colony. Travelers can get a close look at what’s left of the original furnaces and see modern-day glassblowers create everything from candleholders and vases to wine bottles and other useful glass products. What’s more, visitors can purchase some glass goods at the on-site gift shop.
#6 in Williamsburg
When you need a break from the history lessons in Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown, head to these outlets for some modern-day shopping. Housing stores like Nike, Banana Republic, Coach, Gap, J. Crew, Polo Ralph Lauren and more, the Williamsburg Premium Outlets offer steep discounts on brand-name clothes and gear. Recent travelers were particularly impressed with the selection of shops and the deals available, though some lamented encountering parking challenges and suggested arriving early to beat the crowds.
#7 in Williamsburg
Though this winery is only 4 miles south of central Williamsburg, travelers describe it as a decent daytrip and a break from the numerous historical sites in town. The 320-acre winery features Old World- and New World-style wines and grows plenty of grape varietals, including merlot, cabernet franc, malbec, vidal blanc and viognier. The winery offers basic tours and tastings, in addition to more elaborate experiences; there’s also an on-site retail shop for those interested in taking home some vino as well.
#8 in Williamsburg
With so many spots devoted to Colonial and Revolutionary history in the Williamsburg area, what makes Yorktown Battlefield so special? For starters, it’s the site of the 1781 siege and surrender of British troops to General George Washington in the Revolutionary War. And second, it completes the “Historic Triangle” of southeastern Virginia’s colonial sites, which also include Jamestown and Williamsburg.