Tell me about Colonial Williamsburg (Need help fast!)

A good friend of mine and I are taking our families on a road trip along the East Coast this week. We just want to get away (we’re both Floridians), see a few things, bond, let the kids see some snow. We’re weird that way.

Anyway, depending on the weather, we may get as far north as Washington, DC. On the way up or back we’d like to stop by Colonial Williamsburg, but don’t really know much about the place.

  • Is this a good time of year to visit?
  • Will we be able to see and do things without advanced reservations?
  • Any recos on hotels?
  • What’s the minimum/maximum amount of time one would normally spend there?
  • What else have I not asked about?

Thanks for your input and opinions,


Weather-wise, it’s chilly up hereabouts (bearing in mind, I’m a little north of your destination) so outdoor activities could be uncomfortable if you’re hard-core Floridians. I’d advise against flip-flops… :smiley: I’ve never been to Williamsburg myself, so I’m afraid I can’t give any personal recommendations.

I assume you saw the official website - you can find out specific events here.

If you do get to DC, wave as you go by - I’m just a little south and east.

This week? I recommend checking with hotels for availability.

If I had the chance, I’d look at the hotel-residences in the historic district. They’re period (original or reconstructed) buildings turned into modern suites; you walk right out and you’re in downtown Williamsburg.

Christmas is a very popular season in Colonial Williamsburg - there are many special events. to encourage people to come in the colder weather. It is a “secondary high season.” I would call around if you want to stay in the CW hotels. If not, there are lots (and I mean lots) of inexpensive chain hotels a short drive away.

CW is an open air museum (which includes some close air museums) so you pretty much just wander around when you get there. You might stop into, say the tanners shop and the Tanner will answer your questions about tanning, and give a demonstration. Depending on the shop there could be a hands-on component you can try for yourself (I believe brickmaking does). Repeat for chandler, distiller, tailor, baker, etc. How long you spend is really more a factor of how deep your interest in the subject matter is. Then there are daily scheduled events like the Fife & Drum Corps march, an evening at a period play, a trial, and others. Some of these do require reservations. You can check on events here.
I went to The College of William & Mary, part of which is part of CW… so I stayed four years. :slight_smile: School is out until Jan 20, so it will be quiet on campus.

If you don’t stop into Pierce’s Pitt Bar-b-que you are wasting your life.

Christmas really is quite popular in Williamsburg; four years ago, my family and I spent Christmas there. However, since you’re going just after Christmas, you may be able to find reservations at a Colonial Inn. The nice thing about booking a stay at a Colonial Inn is that you get passes for the Colonial City for the length of your stay; if you stay in a cheaper place right outside of Williamsburg, you’ll save a few bucks on your room, but you’ll pay $$ for passes to the Colonial area.

Now, you don’t need passes to the area; much of it can be visited/viewed without passes; but certain shows, the Governor’s Palace, and shuttle buses, are only for those with passes.

Our very favorite Colonial restaurant within the District is The King’s Arms.

My fave is the Cream of Peanut soup; hubby adores the Game Pot Pie.

  • Is this a good time of year to visit? It’s OK but not the best. There are more activities and events during warmer weather as you would expect.

  • Will we be able to see and do things without advanced reservations? Yes but if they are having witch trials tickets will be hard to get.

  • Any recos on hotels? When I have stayed in town, in the colonial part, it has been as an guest interpreter. I’ve been camped next to the Government House in the ox pasture and I spent a weekend in the jail. Short of that I usually head out more towards Toana (sic?) towards the Holiday Inn 1776 and all that stuff. Usually for me I try the Super 8 or Best.

  • What’s the minimum/maximum amount of time one would normally spend there? One day at the least (11-6) and one week at the most unless you are a serious colonial history and lifestyle freak. Most people start looking at the other area sites (Yorktown, Jamestown) come day 3 or 4.

We’re here now. Stayed at Sleep Inn on 60 for 49 dollars a night for each room. Best hotel price so far on the trip. Ate at Pierce’s last night and the kids swam. We’ll see the town today once everyone is awake.

Check out Yorktown and Jamestown. I really liked them both much more than Williamsburg itself and they are pretty close. Jamestown especially is really interesting and on a much smaller scale than I had previously imagined. Yorktown is great as far as battlefields go. In Northern Virginia we tend to have battlefields that are . . . well . . . fields where battles took place. This is boring. Yorktown preserves some of the strategic fortifications and lets you get a better idea of how the battle lines were drawn.

I completely agree with this.

Also, I believe that the Busch Beer factory is right near Williamsburg as well as Busch Gardens (which is a fun amusement park).

BGW (the amusement park) is closed right now for the holidays IIRC. But if you catch it open the coasters are fantastic! And it isn’t as expensive a park to visit (for most families) as something like Disney can be.

We were just at CW on 12/21-22. Everything was decorated for the holidays and it was busy, but not annoyingly so. The weather was cold and sunny, but we bundled up and you’re in and out of the different buildings, so you have a chance to warm up. One day was enough for us to see everything we wanted to in CW itself. We did not go to the other nearby attractions. I would suggest that you get a ticket that includes the Governor’s Palace tour. Also, check when the different exhibits are open - some buildings are closed on certain days (a lot seemed to be closed on Mondays).

We stayed at Hampton Inns & Suites Williamsburg Historic District, and I would recommend it. Very serviceable hotel, clean, friendly staff, and I found the bed to be really comfortable. It was very close to the historic district. There is free parking at the Williamsburg Visitors Center for ticketholders, and a shuttle over the Colonial village, which is what we did (we had two elderly people & two small children with us, so we were keeping walking to a minimum).

well? did you enjoy it?

We mostly had a good time. The one place there that I’d definitely recommend for families with kids the ages we had there (9,9,11, 13,14) was the Powell House, which we missed on the way in - it’s near the second shuttle stop - but caught toward the end. I wish we’d hit it first. There’s a lot there for kids to find interesting. Other spots were hit and miss. I would love to spend a day or two there, plus Yorktown and Jamestown without the kids. Oh, most of the kids also liked the place where they showed you how to write with a quill. We ate at the King’s Arms and enjoyed it. Best dish, IMO, was the “Pottage Pie”.

We stayed at the Sleep Inn which was also good given the amount we’d driven, price, etc. We got a double room for $49/night/room. Hotel pool was indoor and open from 6 am until 11 pm. We also ate at Pierce’s BBQ which I enjoyed but my friend did not. He’s not a fan of NC/VA BBQ - but his tastes tend to run to more pedestrian style places, which sometimes causes us some problems, as I like the hidden out of the way gem and he likes to eat stuff where he knows exactly what he’ll get.