Even though Williamsburg isn’t one of the most touristy cities in the US and it’s not even the capital of Virginia anymore, it’s one of the most important historic cities in America. The city was the capital of the Virginia Colony and had a crucial role in the American Revolution. A stroll through Colonial Williamsburg can take you back to this age of history but Williamsburg has a lot more to offer than just history. Williamsburg today is one of the most important historic cities (as well as one of the best autumn destinations in the US) a lot of interesting museums, outdoor adventures, activities for families, gorgeous parks, and even some hidden gems and in this post, we’ll cover the best things to do in Williamsburg VA.
Historic sights in Williamsburg
Starting off this list of unique things to do in Williamsburg, we have the Colonial oldtown. To put it simply, Colonial Williamsburg is the place where American history comes to life. The area is surprisingly well-preserved and here, you can see a lot of old buildings and palaces and even the people who work there greet you and speak in a language that’s very similar to the one used during this era and very different from the English we use today.
If you’re wondering what to do in Williamsburg VA with kids, this is a great place to start. You can learn some history, walk through the old, cobbled streets where no cars are allowed, see some fascinating old architecture, and there are a lot of great restaurants in the area too. One great place to start exploring this part of the city is…
The palace was built in 1706 and was home to seven royal governors and two elected governors. Even today, the palace is a symbol of British wealth and power and even though the palace was burned in 1781, the 1930 restoration was amazing and the palace still reminds people of its glory days today. If you get the chance, walk around and visit the buildings behind the palace. Most of them are even older than the palace.
During colonial times, people used to come to dine, socialize and keep up with the most recent news. Some of the old tavernas are still open today and a few even have an 18-century-style interior. One such example is Raleigh Tavern that was one of the most popular places in town during colonial times and is one of the most popular places in Williamsburg today as well.
Some other interesting taverns which are worth visiting are Wetherburn’s Tavern, famous for the grandiose balls that took place here and the numerous artifacts that were discovered onsite throughout the years and King’s Arms Tavern, that has been around since 1722 and is one of the premier dining places in the area.
Talking about historic sights and things to do in Williamsburg VA, we just have to mention Jamestown Settlement; a place that’s a living museum of life and culture in Colonial Virginia. The Jamestown Settlement features a series of exhibits that narrate the story of the life of the first English settlers in Virginia. It’s an amazing feeling to follow the footsteps of the first settlers of the early 17th century and learn about their struggles, the new diseases they encountered and the battles with the indigenous Powhatan people.
In case you’re wondering, there’s a whole section devoted to the life of the Powhatan Indians before the arrival of the British settlers too. It was here where I learned that Pocahontas was not just a Disney princess but a woman who had a big influence in normalizing the relationships between the indigenous people and the new “invaders”.
Additionally, history lovers can admire the 1,000+ archaeological artifacts and there are a lot of interesting things to do for kids as well, like wandering through the recreated English colonial ships and steering the whipstaff, climbing into a sailor’s bunk, etc.
Museums in Williamsburg
As one of the most important historic city in the US, it’s no surprise that there are a lot of interesting museums in Williamsburg VA. It was difficult to choose just a few of them but here are our choices.
Yorktown Battlefield & American Revolution Museum
Touring the Yorktown Battlefield was one of my favorite things to do in Williamsburg VA. My tip is to combine a trip to the battlefield with a visit to the American Revolution Museum where you can learn a lot about the origin and history of the Revolution. The museum is interactive and allows visitors to learn not only about the revolution but also about complex documents like the Constitution. If you have the time, also watch “the Siege at Yorktown”, an award-winning 180-degree movie dedicated to this historic event.
After learning a lot about this era, it was a fascinating experience to see the exact spots that played a crucial role in the Revolution that ultimately gave the United States its independence. Just note that these two places are two separate places with separate tickets but I strongly suggest you visit both if you want to get the full story of the battle for independence.
Muscarelle Museum of Art
Located at the campus of the College of William & Mary, this museum is a collection of artwork or gifts given to the college in its 300 years of history. The museum was opened in 1983 and is today one of the most popular attractions in Williamsburg VA. Some of the artwork you can see here has been made by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Hans Hofmann, John Singleton, etc. If you’re an art lover, this is one place you don’t want to miss.
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum
Another place that all art lovers have to visit. In the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, you can find a lot of sculptures, paintings, and different forms of artwork created by talented local artists. The artists use interesting and unusual materials to portray the everyday life of the city. It’s one of the largest folk art collections not only in Virginia but in the entire country too. Some of the most interesting exhibits feature the wooden dog Prince, Down on the Farm, We the People, etc.
DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Gallery
When it comes to museums and art galleries in Williamsburg VA, we can’t complete this list of things to do without at least mentioning DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Gallery. This dazzling gallery includes the largest decorative arts collection in Virginia. The collection includes decorative artwork from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, including the largest collection of furniture in the American south and one of the largest collections of English porcelain and silver in the world.
The story of Colonial Williamsburg can’t be complete without visiting Bassett Hall; an 18th-century farmhouse that was restored by John and Abby Rockefeller, who made this house their home in the early 1900s but long before that, the Union cavalryman George Armstrong Custer was a guest in the home for 10 days. Today, the house looks almost the same as it did when the Rockefellers were living there and is a museum that entirely reflects the 18th-century heritage of Colonial Williamsburg.
Enjoying this post and finding the colonial architecture interesting? Then you should also check out our guide to storybook houses in Los Angeles.
Must-visit buildings in Williamsburg VA
No list of cool things to do in Williamsburg can be complete without some of the city’s most famous historic buildings. And there are a lot of them! Some very old, some very new, and some restored to their original form. A few must-visit historic buildings that pop up at first sight are the Bruton Parish Episcopal Church, Kimball Theater, Wren Building, and George Wythe’s House.
Bruton Parish Episcopal Church
Built in 1715, this church was the first cruciform-shaped church in this part of the US. The church quickly became one of the most prominent churches in Virginia. Some of the most prominent people who attended service in this church are President George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry. During the Revolution, the church was used as a hospital for Confederate soldiers and was later restored (1939). Today, the church is still active and it offers more than 100 concerts and recitals, and performances to all visitors.
Talking about things to do in Williamsburg VA, how does a visit to a theatre located in an old, quaint Colonial building sound? The theatre is still working with regular plays, film screenings, and musical performances happening daily. Oftentimes, these performances are organized by students and performance from the College of William & Mary. On weekdays, you can catch a lot of movie screenings and if you’re lucky enough, you might even see one of the midday screenings.
The Wren Building
Wren Building is another historic building that’s part of the William and Mary College. The building was in use as an academic facility in the past but it was also home to the temporary government headquarters between 1700 and 1704. The building was destroyed by fire in 1705 but was restored in 1716. Today, the building is not only still standing but it’s also the oldest surviving college buildings in the United States.
George Wythe House
George Wythe’s house belonged to a prominent attorney of the 18th century. In case you’re not familiar with the name, George Wythe was the mentor of Thomas Jefferson, one of the most significant intellectuals of the Revolutionary era, and signer of the Declaration of Independence. The house he lived in is relatively well-preserved and still decorated in Colonial style. It’s one of the most grandiose buildings in town and a must-visit site for history lovers.
Fun fact: this house was the headquarters of George Washington during the siege of Yorktown.
Nature sights in Williamsburg VA
This is my favorite part about Williamsburg; it’s a modern city with a Colonial charm, there are a lot of interesting museums and galleries, and activities for different kinds of travelers, as well as beautiful surrounding nature. In this part of the article, we include the most fascinating nature sights in town that are included in most Williamsburg vacation packages.
Yorktown Sailing Charters
If you’re looking for some inspiration on things to do in Williamsburg VA, there aren’t a lot of more fun experiences than sailing along the York River and seeing one of the main battlefield sites of the American Revolution. During the journey, you can click a lot of stunning photos but also learn a lot. The captain is always in a mood to share some interesting stories and show you some places that played a significant role during the Revolution. If you can, try to take this journey at sunset. The views are absolutely spectacular!
York River State Park
When talking about things to do in Williamsburg VA for nature lovers, York River State Park always comes up. The park consists of two natural habitats and is home to numerous marine and plant life species. There are also a lot of fossil beds and Native American artifacts on site which is just another reason why you should visit this beautiful park.
If you’re a fan of horse riding you can also indulge in this activity and there are a lot of playgrounds that people who travel with kids will adore. For hiking enthusiasts, there are more than 30 miles of trekking routes, including the popular hike to Fossil Beach. Last but not least, the park is also a great place to learn about the history and habitat of the York River through the guided tours organized by the Visitors Center.
Powhatan Creek Park
This park was once inhabited by the indigenous Powhatan Indians. Today, it’s a beautiful getaway that’s home an abundance of wildlife, making the creek the most biodiverse place on the Virginia peninsula, according to the Natural Resources Inventory. Visitors can enjoy the scenic views of Jamestown and the surrounding area and there are also several non-motorized boats that you can get on. This was my favorite sunset spot in Williamsburg.
Waller Mill Park
Stretching across 2,705 acres, Waller Mill Park offers plenty of things to do for outdoor enthusiasts. The park has its own nature reservoir, kayak and canoe facilities where visitors can get from the upper to the lower portion of the reservoir and vice versa, several pavilions, and a lot of playgrounds and sports fields. If you’re into trekking, there are also several trekking routes that stretch over miles of untouched nature.
Things to do in Williamsburg VA with kids
Go-Karts Plus is a great choice for people traveling to Williamsburg VA with kids. The property has go-karts, blaster boats, bumper cars, a mini-golf course, and a small rollercoaster. Even though personally, I don’t travel with kids, I’ve seen a lot of people coming out of the facility with happy faces.
Ripley’s Believe it or Not
If you didn’t hear about Robert Ripley or are living under a rock, he was an explorer, reporter, and collector of unusual artifacts. He was the founder of the franchise “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” that also includes the very popular TV show. This building in Williamsburg is a museum that features some of the rarities Ripley discovered. Some of the most interesting items include a 1,000-pound Millennium Falcon, a shrunken human skull, and other rare animal skeletons.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg
The Busch Gardens are one of those places that can bring out anyone’s inner childing. It’s a theme park that’s supposed to make visitors feel like they’re in different countries in Europe. In the gardens, you can cruise the Rhine, attend October Fest, see the Colosseum or the Eiffel Tower, explore the Pompei ruins, etc. There are also a lot of attractions to choose from, such as rollercoaster rides, Broadway-style shows, Sesame Street forest, and several different types of tamer rides.
Williamsburg Indoor Sports Center
If the weather isn’t on your side during your trip, one of the best things to do in Williamsburg VA with kids is to visit the Indoor Sports Center. You can play laser tag, try indoor rock climbing, or even go for a swim.
Finally, another great kid-friendly thing you can do in Williamsburg is to go bike riding. There are a few places where you can do this with the Jamestown Bike Trail or the two loops on Island Drive being the most popular ones. The Jamestown trail ends with a beautiful view of this historic area while the Island Drive loops culminate with a dazzling view of the James River and the surrounding landscape.
Places to eat in Williamsburg VA
In this section, we’ll cover a few must-visit restaurants in Williamsburg. If you’re a gastro-traveler and enjoy trying new food when traveling, you’ll surely find this useful.
If you’re looking for a good breakfast or are a fan of omelet dishes, give Baker’s Crust a try. They also have some very good pancakes, English muffins, and French Toast.
From my experience, the best donuts in town and their coffee was pretty good too.
If you’re looking for an unusual café with a cozy atmosphere and tasty food, check out Culture Café. It’s one of the locals’ favorite brunch spots and there’s a great reason for that. While you’re there, also try their signature lavender latte.
Retro’s Good Eats
For some delicious old fashioned fast food meals on a budget, Retro’s Good Eats is an amazing choice.
Second Street Bistro
This is one of my favorite restaurants in Williamsburg VA. Most of the food they serve is upmarket food but their clam and corn chowder is absolutely delicious.
Located in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg, this is one of the finest upscale restaurants in town. Their Rappahannock oysters are to die for and their homemade mozzarella is one of the best ones I ever tried.
Opus 9 Steakhouse
Not only does Opus 9 serve the best steak in Williamsburg but their customer service is also one of the best. Its casual atmosphere makes it perfect for any occasion from dates to business meetings.
The number of French restaurants in Williamsburg throughout the years significantly increased but none of them can compare with Le Yaca. According to locals, this isn’t only one of the best restaurants in town but also the most creative one. Some of their signature dishes include lamb leg, French onion soup, and Marquis au Chocolat.
The Williamsburg Winery
At a glance, the Williamsburg Winery looks like a regular winery where tourists and locals can attend wine tasting events. However, this winery is special. In 1988, the winery released its first critically-acclaimed wine that started a new wine-making tradition and ever since, it became one of the most popular tourist attractions in Williamsburg VA. If you decide to visit you should know that there are two main tasting events; the fine wine tasting and reserve wine tasting that are available for guests throughout the year.
The Virginia Beer Company
Finally, we round up this list of unique things to do in Williamsburg VA with the Virginia Beer Company. If you like beer, this is one place you wouldn’t want to miss. The beer is amazing, there are a lot of good food trucks in the beer garden, and a lot of activities for kids who visit with their parents.
Helpful resources for visiting Williamsburg VA
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Did you ever visit Williamsburg? Does the city look interesting? Did you like this list of things to do in Williamsburg VA? Let us know in the comments!
Sunday 19th of January 2020
Williamsburg is often so overlooked as a historic travel destination. Since it’s under the radar, it’s even more ideal to venture to. Definitely lots of great recommendations. I’m particularly intrigued by the Powhatan ruins! I definitely want to visit ASAP!
Sunday 19th of January 2020
Great to hear that you liked it, Martha.
Sunday 19th of January 2020
I am not really into museums but I would love to explore Colonial Williamsburg. Not only does the architecture look amazing but the fact that people talk in the sort of English that they used to historically, will take one back into a very different century and that is an experience I would love. Also would not mind strolling in one of the beautiful green nature parks or trying out some great food!
Sunday 19th of January 2020
Great to hear that Medha.
Saturday 18th of January 2020
I never knew that Williamsburg is one of the oldest city of USA. It would be nice to visit this important historic cities in America. Jamestown Settlement really looks interesting as to see the remains of Powhatan Indians before British settlers arrived. The 2,705 acres, Waller Mill Park looks very green and nice place to relax.
Saturday 18th of January 2020
That's true that the WA looks really interesting.
Thursday 16th of January 2020
I really need to spend more time on the East Coast. So many great cities filled with history. The history books only tell a part of the story so it would be cool to see the actual sites. I’ll have to make time for a stop at Duck Donuts.
Thursday 16th of January 2020
Glad to hear that, Debra.
Wednesday 15th of January 2020
Stop! I'm salivating!! The foodie tour at the end of this post immediately jumped to the top of my list of things from your post I'd most like to do in Williamsburg!! Seriously though, it sounds like it's got something for everyone - history, architecture, museums, natural attractions - what's not to love? But once I'm done with the eateries, I'd do the American Revolution duo you recommend - it sounds fascinating!
Thursday 16th of January 2020
Great to hear that you loved it