United States

Things to Do in Williamsburg, VA

In Colonial Williamsburg, tourists are not just outsiders looking in -- they are temporary citizens experiencing the Revolutionary City as it was in the 18th century. Savvy tourists start with the orientation film featuring Jack Lord before his Hawaii Five-O heyday at the Colonial Williamsburg Regional Visitor Center, and then follow the Footbridge to the Past, lined with informative timeline plaques. The visitor center also sells one-day, multi-day, or tri-city passes that allow admission to most attractions in Jamestown and Yorktown as well, with passage on the free Historic Triangle shuttle. Here are the top 10 attractions you can't miss in Colonial Williamsburg and beyond.

Ron Cogswell, flickr

1. Experience Colonial Williamsburg

At 301 acres, Colonial Williamsburg isn’t as compact as it looks: it includes more than 100 gardens, 3-dozen exhibition sites, several museums, and a variety of taverns and coffeehouses still serving 18th-century staples like peanut soup.

The mile-long Duke of Gloucester Street is devoid of cars but has plenty of points of interest, from historic churches to the wooden stocks where petty criminals were publicly humiliated. It’s no surprise that visitors delight in posing there. Colonial Williamsburg still has a blacksmith, silversmith, brickmaker, and almost 100 other avocations, who provide regular demonstrations of cooking, farming, shoemaking, and more.

2. Go on a Haunted Tour

Another popular pastime is the “Ghosts of Williamsburg” candlelight tour, offered nightly at 8 p.m. from March through December. Guides are full of local folklore and trivia not found on any other tour through the historic district. The original Ghost Tour is family friendly and based on the book The Ghosts of Williamsburg by L.B. Taylor. Visitors hoping for a ghostly encounter (or 2) can opt for the Extreme Tour (not recommended for children).
Lee, flickr

3. Explore the Public Hospital

One-time residents of the 1773 Public Hospital, the first colonial facility for mental patients, could be responsible for some ghostly encounters. Officially named the Public Hospital for Persons of Insane or Disordered Minds, the building still stands complete with its display of early mental health treatments. Also inside the structure is the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, with art, antiques, and folk art from early America. A block away, at Bassett Hall, are paintings and artifacts from colonial times collected by Colonial Williamsburg benefactor John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who lived in the 18th-century house with his wife Abby Aldrich Rockefeller.

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