Touring Colonial Williamsburg is a great way to connect with America’s past. Part interactive drama, part open-air museum and part historical re-creation, this area is a perennial favorite with everyone from school groups to vacationing families. In fact, Colonial Williamsburg doesn’t just welcome large groups of visitors – it caters to them, with several itineraries ready-planned on the website and plenty of facilities for large gatherings.
What is Colonial Williamsburg? To answer that question, we have to travel back in time to the years when Virginia was still a British colony. Williamsburg was both the area’s capital and its cultural and political hub. This favored status also led it to be one of the major players in the United States’ bid for freedom. Today, many of the original buildings have been lost to time, but re-creations and approximations are used to give the visitor a feel for what life was like in these momentous times.
Will you feel exactly like you’ve been transmitted to 1776? Probably not – and that’s not a bad thing. Modern conveniences are still available – 21st century plumbing and some wider food choices included – that no doubt the Colonials would have adopted if they could have. What Colonial Williamsburg does offer is a way to directly connect with the spirit of the time by way of costumed actors, knowledgeable guides and staged re-enactments of principal moments in the American Revolution.
It’s recommended that visitors plan to spend at least one full day touring Colonial Williamsburg; two days are really necessary if you want to get the full flavor. This is because alternate days feature different historical perspectives. For example, an immersion into pre-Revolutionary War Williamsburg is featured on Saturday, while “living” through the years of the war is the theme of Sunday, and so on through the week.
Should your appetite for history reach its tipping point, there are a number of other activities in Colonial Williamsburg to do as well. Things like art museums, eateries and special events are available throughout the year.
Where is Colonial Williamsburg?
Colonial Williamsburg is located within the present city of Williamsburg, Virginia. It’s about midway between Norfolk and Richmond, and it makes up one-third of America’s Historical Triangle (the other points being Jamestown and Yorktown). You can get to it by car via Interstate 64. There’s an Amtrak station nearby that connects to Washington DC, or you can fly into one of the region’s three airports: Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport, Norfolk International Airport, or Richmond International Airport.
Group Travel to Colonial Williamsburg
At more than one mile in length and covering over 300 acres, Colonial Williamsburg is the largest living museum in the US, so groups can easily be accommodated in this historical area. Unlike visiting a traditional museum, guests are welcome, even encouraged, to join in the activities.
This emphasis in hands-on experiences starts as soon as you arrive; while your group is welcome in Revolutionary City, the area’s main thoroughfare, motorized vehicles are not. Costumes are available for rent, and carriage rides can be arranged.
Group travel itineraries are broken down into two main groups: plans for adults and plans for youth and school trips. School groups, youth groups and homeschooling groups are provided with grade-appropriate plans that include various activities. Want to march with the militia, participate in a criminal trials, explore period-accurate homes or interact with “residents”? At about three hours, the group plans for younger guests allow plenty of time to participate in all of these. Guided and self-guided plans are available. Students can also visit Great Hopes Plantation, a working farm and model of Colonial-era agriculture. Band and choir groups can also perform in various public spaces (with advance arrangements).
For adults, group packages are divided into half-day, full-day and multi-day excursions. Half-day packages include visits to the Governor’s Palace, Capitol or Raleigh Tavern, plus various trade shops, houses and exhibition sites. At about four hours, it’s immersive, but not intensive. Another half-day option is the Museum Luncheon Tour, which includes a midday meal at the Museum Cafe, and extensive forays into decorative and folk art in the 18th and 19th centuries. The full-day tour includes a variety of exhibitions, plus time for shopping and dining in Colonial Williamsburg’s noted restaurants. (Colonial-era food is available, but optional.)
Other passes available for adult groups are much less structured; one- and two-day passes allow access to all historical areas, sites, museums and Revolutionary City re-enactments and programs.
Group Dining and Lodging in Colonial Williamsburg
Group-friendly lodging in Colonial Williamsburg is not hard to find. Not only is this a museum, it’s also a full-fledged resort, complete with numerous hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, golf courses and even a spa. The Governor’s Inn is the choice for most value-conscious groups; at the other end of the spectrum, Williamsburg Inn offers guests a taste of Regency-style luxury. Woodlands Hotel and Suites and Williamsburg Lodge round out the area hotels. If your group is looking for a truly 18th century-style experience, the Colonial Houses are stocked with period reproductions – and modern conveniences.
When it’s time to eat, you’ll find just about every type of cuisine available, from pizza to the favorites of the Founding Fathers.
Colonial Williamsburg’s Special Events
Special events dot the calendar at Colonial Williamsburg. Throughout the year, visiting speakers take part in the Colonial Williamsburg Speaker Series. Visiting art exhibitions stop by, and other special events are offered. This year, these include a series on the history and culture of Native Americans, a series about Southern art, and Festival Williamsburg, Virginia’s own salute to music and dance. Each year, Independence Day celebrations are held on July 4, and the Grand Illumination kicks off the holiday season in early December.
Are you ready to take history out of the books and into your life? At Colonial Williamsburg, vivid experiences, carefully restored buildings, expert interpreters and audience participation are waiting to bring this slice of American history home to you.