People ask me all the time what to see in Williamsburg while they’re here on vacation. It depends on how much time you have, but here’s my list of Top Ten Things. It includes in parenthesis the ranking for the attraction or activity on Trip Advisor.
This list correlates to the main Top Things list on Trip Advisor, where 89 attractions (including Let’s Go Sail) are listed. Be sure to check the subsets on the left side of the screen because it shows the list broken down by Sights & Landmarks, Museums, Shopping, Tours, Outdoor Attractions, etc. (Let’s Go Sail tops the list of 21 Tours and 19 Outdoor Attractions.)
Colonial Williamsburg (2)
This is the reason many of us moved here. It is the largest outdoor history museum in the world. My wife and I used to do house swaps with professors who would come here for a week or ten days of research. The Historic Area is a stunning restoration and full of life with interpreters and actors. Plan on at least an entire day, preferably two. The main attractions are History, Architecture, Art, Furnishings, and Gardens. The indoor museums are replete with fascinating originals.
Historic Jamestown (1)
The short story of why there are two Jamestowns is that this one is National Park Service and the other one is state-operated. This one has the original fort excavation from 1607, which is breathtaking to imagine as well as look at. A nearby museum houses the best of a million artifacts pulled from the site over the past 15 years.
Colonial National Historic Park, Yorktown (0)
Trip Advisor doesn’t rate this because it’s not in Williamsburg, but it’s spectacular anyway. Here is the battlefield where the 1781 victory was secured. Let’s Go Sail narrates the story along the coast where Redoubt Ten was penetrated by Alexander Hamilton. The museum is a bit shabby and the movie hasn’t been updated since the 1950s, but the artifacts are intriguing. This is where Gen. Washington established the Purple Heart.
American Revolutionary War at Yorktown (0)
The non-ranking is the same rationale by Trip Advisor, but pay no attention to that. They just opened a $50 million museum with a few new artifacts, a revamped floor plan, and two excellent movies. Docents give hourly lectures on components of the battle. Outside is a detailed war encampment that shows how soldiers lived.
Busch Gardens (4)
The World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park lives up to the hype because Anheuser-Busch went to great lengths in 1975 to preserve as many trees as possible. Nowadays, every American lives within two hours of a theme park, but this one is special. At least five roller coasters will keep the kids occupied in mild terror.
Jamestown Settlement (5)
Here is Virginia’s take on the 1607 landing and subsequent early settlement. One of the largest museums in the area walks you through a timeline of development that honestly portrays slavery, commerce, pestilence and everything else that happened in the English founding of America. Look for the three replica ships. They are quite seaworthy and the big one made the cross-Atlantic passage some years ago.
DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum (10)
Everything from porcelain to silver to maps to weapons to furniture is displayed in a massive underground set of galleries. Look for the giant portrait of Washington mocking King George III.
Water Country USA (11)
This may be the best place to go after sailing on a hot summer day. The rides are gentle on adults (except for one). Parents and grandparents can ride with the kids in a unique family bonding.
Bassett Hall (13)
Here is the home of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his wife Blanche while he was underwriting the restoration of Williamsburg in the 1930s. The house still has the furnishings and personal effects of the period. They reflect Mr. Rockeller’s humility, typified by his small bedroom. Nearby is the Rockefeller Tree, where the Rev. W.A.R. Goodwin and Mr. Rockefeller sealed the plan to restore the town.
Williamsburg Indoor Sports Complex (60)
One low fee covers all manner of rock climbing and other challenging events. It’s a great way to spend a rainy day with the kids.
Except for one, I recommend all the top ten restaurants on Trip Advisor. Here is crowd-sourcing at its best, with hundreds of reviews to sort through. Merchants Square at the top of the Historic Area has several of them in proximity to each other.
Let’s Go Sail, and tour afterward