Why Williamsburg? Williamsburg is one of the oldest towns in the United States and has, for nearly eight decades, built itself up to appeal to tourists from all over the world. It is within a stone's throw of literally hundreds of attractions which will guarantee that you'll want to visit Williamsburg again and again.
American history buffs will never run out of things to see and do. Williamsburg was a political focal point of the British colonies until after the Revolutionary War, then became the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia.. Colonial Williamsburg, a restored version of the colonial capital, is open 365 days per year. You can visit the House of Burgesses, walk in the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson (who took his law degree at the College of William and Mary in Virginia and served as Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia when Williamsburg was the fledgling state capital), visit the second oldest public building in the United States (The Wren Building at William and Mary), walk the campus of the oldest continuously operating college in the country, and much, much more. There are living history tours, colonial living demonstrations and candlelit ghost tours. The giants of American history walked here, George Washington, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, James Monroe, Nathaniel Bacon, and General LaFayette, the list goes on and on. And plenty of just plain folk too. You can learn about them here as well.
Just a few miles from town center is the site of the real origin of the United States, historic Jamestown. As the Jamestown living museum gears up for the 400th anniversary of the landing of the first established American colonists, Jamestown will more and more find its way into the news. Currently it is site to the filming of a major motion picture entitled "The New World", slated to open in theaters in 2005, starring Colin Farrell and Christopher Plummer.
If you're like most Americans, heavy emphasis was placed in your American history classes on the Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, the Pilgrims, Paul Revere's ride, and the Boston Tea Party in association with the founding of America. However, the Mayflower landed in 1620. Less emphasis tends to be placed on the earlier, 1607, landing at Jamestown, yet it was really the first British colony founded on US soil (barring the mysterious disappearance of a colony at Roanoke Island, also within driving distance of Williamsburg and venue of the summer outdoor drama "The Lost Colony").
Jamestown, located on the James River, is no longer a town. It has been preserved as a national historic monument and much of the original colony has been restored on the banks of the James (the site of the colony was originally on Jamestown Island, just off shore, now currently an archeological dig site). It hosts a museum, a native Powhatan village, historical interpretation tours, and full-scale, ocean-going replicas of the original three ships which sailed on the exploration, the Susan Constant (pictured above), Godspeed, and Discovery.
If that's not enough history for the history buffs among you, you're just a hop away from Yorktown beach where the Yorktown maritime battle took place. There you can also walk the Yorktown battlefield or take in the Mariner's Museum. Or take the 45-minute drive to historic Richmond, home of the capital of the Confederacy and present day state capital. You can visit Maymont mansion, take in the Fan District, ride on a canal boat tour or visit the Civil War museums. You can see Hollywood cemetery, where Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee are buried, and much more. The entire region is replete with Civil War battle sites. Reenactments take place almost every weekend all summer long. Or take a plantation tour and see some of the finest antebellum plantations in the country. Hop in the car and see Mt. Vernon or Monticello or historic Fredericksburg. You can also take in the President's Park, a new site which contains giant sculptures of the heads of all the US Presidents and relates their place in American history.
If history isn't your thing, there are plenty of other things to do. Busch Gardens is a theme park in Williamsburg with some of the best roller coasters in the world. They produce nightly entertainment extravaganzas, concerts and any number of other shows. Around the corner is Water Country, U.S.A., a large water park run by Busch Gardens. King's Dominion theme park is just north of Richmond, as well.
Did you say shopping? Williamsburg is home to some of the most unusual shopping opportunities around. In addition to two large outlet malls, there is the Pottery Factory, acre upon acre of warehouse-sized buildings filled to the brim with bargain shopping items. They sell everything from silk flowers to gourmet foodstuffs to novelty t-shirts. Nearby is a candle factory and a doll factory. Baskets, other folk crafts and native American crafts are also available for the avid shopper. Colonial Williamsburg houses Merchant's Square, a walking mall on Duke of Gloucester St. (the main road through CW). Merchant's Square has dozens of shops from a toymaker to a chocolatier to a shop devoted to all things Scottish. In summer, there is an outdoor concert series on the square and a farmer's market on Saturday mornings.
Cultural events abound in Williamsburg and surrounding areas. There is a summer Shakespeare festival, a restored historic theater, and a community theater with a reputation for fine productions. There are arts festivals and concerts galore. You can take in a dinner/mystery theater show, a romp at a colonial tavern complete with serving wenches and song, or visit nearly any kind of museum which strikes your fancy.
Like the beach? Virginia Beach is only an hour and a half away, the Outer Banks just a hop farther. Mountains? Same distance in the opposite direction. Big city type? Washington D.C. is just up the road. Hiking, biking, fishing, boating, go-kart racing, mini-golf, horseback riding (and we won't even talk about the world-class golf courses), all are within arms reach of Williamsburg.
Accommodations in the area are abundant, but you need to book as far in advance as possible to get the best rates. Williamsburg receives an average of four million visitors each year. There are many campgrounds in the area, including one directly across from Jamestown which boasts a beach on the James River. If you're thinking you'd like to attend the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown landing, book now. Anticipated attendance is causing local and state authorities to widen the roads and hoteliers to build additional accommodations. Dignitaries from the world over are expected to attend.
Accommodations range from budget motels to colonial bed and breakfasts. Restaurants range from McDonald's to the five-star restaurant, "The Trellis", on Merchant's Square. There are more pancake houses per capita than any other town in the US.
The summer climate in Williamsburg is hot and muggy, so be forewarned. The natural flora are spectacular, particularly in springtime, and trees abound, but if you can't do the heat, it's best to visit in spring or fall. Winter is the least attended time of year and great rates can be had with minimal cold temperatures attendant. If you visit on the first weekend of December, you can attend the Grand Illumination, the local official start of the Christmas season and well worth your time.
No matter what your pleasure, Williamsburg is a destination sure to please the entire family. For more information on booking your Williamsburg vacation, go to http://www.williamsburg.com. (For more Williamsburg history, see "Return of the Vault People, parts 1-3" in the Piker Press archives.) Welcome to Virginia, y'all come.