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Williamsburg, situated just inland of the coast of Virginia, is a beautiful city, well known for its role in Colonial-era history and its modern charm. Named in honor of King William III of England, Williamsburg served as one of the capitals of the Colony of Virginia, and then the first capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Along with its neighbors of Jamestown and Yorktown, it’s part of the Historic Triangle of Virginia, filled with Colonial history. Today, the city is well known for showcasing its rich history with Colonial Williamsburg, as well as other major attractions like Busch Gardens and the second-oldest college in the United States, the College of William & Mary.
If you love immersing yourself in history, while also having the opportunity to explore, you’ll never run out of things to do in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Map for this guide
Here is a made-for-you map to all of the things to do in Williamsburg listed in this guide.
- Light Green: Where to Stay
- Orange: Where to Eat – Restaurants
- Light Orange: Where to Eat – Desserts
- Purple: Things to Do
- Green: Historic Triangle of Virginia
- Blue: Beaches
How to Get to Williamsburg, VA
Williamsburg is well-connected for both public and private transportation. It’s right off I-64 highway, making it a great stop to add on a road trip. We drove to Williamsburg from Maryland, and the drive was an easy 3 hours and 30 minutes. It’s also easy to reach after driving over from the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry.
It’s also accessible by train and bus. Amtrak has a station in Williamsburg that can be accessed “from anywhere in the Northeast Corridor or points south,” Bus companies like Ourbus and Greyhound have stations here as well.
Where to Stay in Williamsburg, VA
If you’re looking to stay within walking distance to the major things to do in Williamsburg, one of my favorites is located within the historic district. The Williamsburg Inn (Hotels | Booking) is just steps away from the heart of Colonial Williamsburg and offers an indoor pool, an outdoor terrace and tennis courts, a full-service spa, and three on-site restaurants.
For a great budget option, Hampton Inn and Suites (Hotels | Booking) is a hotel property located in a more residential area of the city. It’s about halfway between Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens Williamsburg. If you plan to visit both locations, it’s worth checking out.
This area has plenty of resorts and timeshares, in addition to hotels. Since I went during the off-season, a few of these exclusive properties were offering stays for reduced rates. Let me just say, when I picked the hotel and saw the luxe locations for lower prices than the average 2- or 3- star hotels, it certainly made for an even better experience!
We stayed at The Historic Powhatan Resort by Diamond Resorts (Hotels | Booking). While it’s outside of walking distance to Colonial Williamsburg, it was an excellent option for our trip. Our suite was equipped with a full kitchenette, a washer/dryer unit, and a pull-out couch, and two bathrooms.
Not to mention the property’s amenities–an indoor pool, a small miniature golf course, a historic house to explore, and a schedule of daily activities. If you’re looking for a space that’s all your own, or you want to be able to cook your own meals while away, this is the best hotel choice for your vacation.
Fair warning to you – since they usually operate as a type of timeshare, they will kindly encourage you to attend one of their informational sessions. However, after a two-hour informational session spent learning about their brand, we walked away with a sizeable gift card! They convince you to attend and stick around by giving discounts on restaurants, gift cards, or even a free admission ticket or two to one of the thrilling theme parks.
A phenomenal, reasonably-priced luxury option is Wedmore Place (Hotels | Booking) at the Williamsburg Winery. Most rooms come with their own fireplace, complimentary continental breakfast, amenities include a spa and an outdoor seasonal pool, and of course, you’re on the property of one of Virginia’s finest wineries.
For a family getaway, I recommend the hotel at the Great Wolf Lodge, especially if you were already planning to take advantage of their water park. There are several room and suite options to suit your family’s needs, five different restaurants, and free on-site parking.
Where to Eat in Williamsburg, VA
If you love breakfast food, Williamsburg is well-known for its pancake houses. Local favorites include Capital Pancakes, Smokey Griddle, and Astronomical Pancake House.
In Colonial Williamsburg, you’ll find a selection of fantastic restaurants to choose from. Check out Blue Talon, Dog St. Pub, The Cheese Shop, Fat Canary, Mello Mushroom Pizza, and Barrett’s Seafood Restaurant.
If you’re outside Colonial Williamsburg, you still have some great options! Second St Bistro, Oceans & Ale, La Casona Mexican BBQ & Grille, Baker’s Crust, Chanello’s Pizza, and Paul’s Deli should all be high on your list. Special mention for delicious, all-you-can-eat sushi found at Ichiban.
If you’re looking for a night out, favorite bars in the area are Precarious Beer Project, Green Leafe Cafe, and Amber Ox.
Last but not least, we can’t forget about sweets. Aroma’s is a great coffee shop loved by locals, and Wythe Candy & Gourmet Shop, Jamestown Pie Co., Duck Donuts, and Kilwin’s are all favorites for different desserts.
Interested in trying several of these restaurants? Sample a night out on a Williamsburg culinary tour with tastings.
Tips for What to do in Williamsburg, VA
- Can you walk around Colonial Williamsburg for free? Yes, walking around Colonial Williamsburg is totally free; however, you need to purchase tickets to enter several historic Williamsburg buildings
- Break up your days based on what major attraction you plan to spend your day exploring
- You can tell the difference between free spots and structures that require a paid separate ticket by whether or not there is a flag in front
- Parking at Colonial Williamsburg is free
Things to do in Williamsburg, VA
Spend a day exploring Colonial Williamsburg
Known as the largest outdoor living history museum, Colonial Williamsburg is more like a giant, historic neighborhood that has come to life.
The reconstruction began with the 1907 restoration of Williamsburg’s Bruton Parish Church, led by the Reverend Dr. W. A. R. Goodwin. Although his initial intention was to restore the church, he later expanded the project when he realized that many other historic Williamsburg buildings were decaying. Standard Oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller Jr., the same man behind Rockefeller Center in New York City, financed Goodwin’s project, and together they developed Colonial Williamsburg.
Today, the site contains hundreds of restored or rebuilt buildings from the city’s Colonial-era history, situated on more than 300 acres of land. Many of these buildings are open for visitors to walk through and observe historic reenactors bustling around, carrying out everyday tasks from years gone by. You’re welcome to ask them questions and learn about what life was really like in the Colonial age.
Colonial Williamsburg offers many different walking tours, focusing on various aspects of the site, bringing history to life throughout the day. Besides, with all of this Colonial history, it’s easy to imagine that there are some eerie undertones. They offer ghost tours of its haunted past, and a Ghost Walk Junior meant for the whole family.
The living museum also offers several smaller museums on-site. Check out the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum for one of the largest exhibitions in the world of American Southern furniture and of British ceramics. And at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, guests will find some of the most interesting pieces and pictures in American folk art.
While it’s free to wander around the ground of Colonial Williamsburg, you’ll need to purchase tickets to enter most of the historic buildings. If you only plan to spend one day exploring Colonial Williamsburg, single-day passes are available. However, if you want to take your time walking through all of the different shops and museums, consecutive three-day passes are what you need. You can explore different options, as well as see their daily schedule of events, on the Colonial Williamsburg website.
Take a tour of the College of William & Mary
Established in 1693 and named to honor Great Britain’s monarchs at the time, the College of William & Mary is the second-oldest collegiate institution in the United States. Three United States presidents attended the College, and the elite academic honors society Phi Beta Kappa was founded on its campus in 1776.
Roam through the campus using the College’s self-guided tour instructions or request an informal, student-led tour from the campus’s Spotswood Society Tours when classes are in session for more things to do in Williamsburg.
History buffs can also visit the campus’s Muscarelle Museum of Art, a learning laboratory with an encyclopedic collection of more than 5,000 artworks and artifacts spanning the pre-Columbian to post-modern age.
Explore the Yankee Candle Village
Only 10 minutes up the road from Colonial Williamsburg, the Yankee Candle Villages is one of the best-kept secrets in Williamsburg, Virginia. One of the world’s largest candle stores, it’s home to more than 200,000 candles in hundreds of fragrances.
In addition to the thousands of candles that line the walls, there are several other family-friendly areas. Tour the candle factory, watch a candle-making demonstration, and purchase candles, scented oils, and other candle-making supplies.
And no matter what time of year you visit, children can wander through the Holiday Park, which has a Santa’s workshop, ornaments, and other exhibits and surprises for the holidays year-round.
But the Yankee Candle Village is more than just a place to shop and take a tour–it’s also a place to satisfy your sweet tooth. Popcornopolis is their gourmet popcorn shop, Yankee Candy shop offers 125 different candy varieties, Hershey’s Ice Cream is available, and they even make their own flavors of homemade fudge on-site.
Go antique shopping at the Williamsburg Antique Mall
With thousands of items on display and over 40,000 square feet of floor space, the Williamsburg Antique Mall is an antique shopping dream destination. The climate-controlled facility is a great place to go if you’re looking for something special to decorate your home.
The variety of antiques available ranges from antique furniture, pottery, and paintings, to rare collectibles, sports memorabilia, and vintage clothing and jewelry, with more than 300 shops showcasing their valuables. It’s been in business since the early 1990s, and the staff is passionate and very knowledgeable–many of the employees are also antique dealers.
The mall is open every day, there’s plenty of parking and they even have a cafe. They also now have the option to shop online, which means you can find gems even after you’ve returned home from your vacation.
Check out the wineries and breweries along the Williamsburg Tasting Trail
When you’re looking at what to do in Williamsburg, the town has some remarkable vineyards, breweries, distilleries, and even a meadery within its bounds. A selection of twelve was chosen as part of the Williamsburg Tasting Trail. You can take a day and do a self-guided tour through the twelve taprooms on your own time, or you can let a tour take care of the driving and attend an abbreviated journey through four craft breweries.
If you’re only interested in visiting the wineries, there’s also a dedicated vineyards tour with tastings included.
Or if you’re interested in a truly luxurious drinking experience, book a tasting at the Williamsburg Winery. With more than 50 acres of land, the grounds are inspired by stunning estates and impressive palaces in Europe. As one of the top wineries in the state, they offer a wide variety of wine tastings and guided tours of the facilities.
Enjoy the scenery, taste the wines, shop for souvenirs, or grab a meal at one of their restaurants. If you’re even interested in staying on the vineyard’s property, Wedmore Place (Hotels | Booking) has a fireplace in almost every room, as well as a seasonal outdoor pools, complimentary continental breakfast and a spa on-site.
Spend a day playing at the amusement parks in Williamsburg, VA
Looking for some family-friendly things to do in Williamsburg? Do you love amusement parks? Williamsburg has three!
Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Busch Gardens Williamsburg is located outside the city center, and it a ton of fun for all ages. During the summer, you can travel around the park to various sections designated by international countries, where you can see performances inspired by that country’s culture. Halloween’s Howl-O-Scream and Christmas Town transforms the park for its holiday season.
Be sure to check out Celtic Fyre in the Irish Pavilion for some incredible Irish dancing performances, and thrill rides like Apollo’s Chariot, or the Griffon.
Water Country USA
Just under four miles away from Busch Gardens is Water Country USA. Virginia’s largest water park is packed with 17 different water rides, play areas, a lazy river, a children’s area, swimming pools, and aquatic performances. And the 1950s/60s beach theme is a fun throwback touch.
If you’re planning to visit both Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA, look into tickets that combine both parks with a bit of a discount.
Great Wolf Lodge
The last amusement park in Williamsburg, Virginia, is the Great Wolf Lodge. While this indoor water park has many water rides, it also offers a ton of different activities for anyone who needs a break from the pool. A bowling alley, a ropes course, an arcade, a live-action scavenger hunt, a kid’s spa, and a 3-D movie theatre are all available for the entire family, as well as the fitness center and spa catering for their adult crowd.
The Great Wolf Lodge also has a hotel on the property. With suites and dining options, you might never run out of options for things to do in Williamsburg on your family vacation!
Learn about one of the first free Black settlements in the United States at Freedom Park
Dating back to the 1680s, Freedom Park is another outdoor living history museum located in Williamsburg, Virginia that tells the story of one of the first free Black communities in the USA.
From 1803 to 1850, the free Black settlement thrived here, and the park tells the story of its success, ingenuity, and perseverance. The three cabins on the grounds are recreations that have been furnished with historic accuracy to show how residents lived.
Freedom Park is also home to the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, GoApe Treetop Adventure Course and Treetop Junior Course with zip lines, swings, and ropes courses, and the Freedom Park Interpretive Center which showcases artifacts recovered from the park’s grounds.
Spend some leisure time outside enjoying Williamsburg’s parks
Originally part of the Powhatan Indian Confederacy and used for survival and transportation, the biodiverse Powhatan Creek Park and Blueway is a beautiful place to spend a few hours enjoying nature. The urban park and trail system in the heart of the city provides an excellent physical and mental escape.
The creek connects the James River to Jamestown Island, and the park has a scenic view of Historic Jamestown. This is a great spot for fishing and for birdwatchers to observe the many species of birds found in this environment.
York River State Park is located on the York River. Freshwater and saltwater meet here, which creates a rich and diverse habitat for animal and plant life.
Hikers can challenge themselves with elevation changes and gorgeous views of the surrounding area from Taskinas Creek Trail, or check out the prehistoric fossils at Fossil Beach on the Mattaponi Trail. Canoes, kayaks, and boats are available to rent from the visitor’s center from April through October. Otherwise, you can walk, bike, fish, or simply relax and enjoy the park’s natural beauty and scenery.
Chickahominy Riverfront Park has a huge fishing pier at its catch-and-release pond, available all day and features access to the Virginia Capital Trail, sand volleyball and basketball courts, and green space along the waterfront. The park also has more than 120 campsites to accommodate groups of any size.
Waller Mill Park is a great place to get a little exercise, enjoy being outside and even catch a glimpse of some wildlife. The park sits next to a 360-acre lake, and is packed with activities. Make the most of your time in the great outdoors by taking advantage of their hiking, fishing boating rentals, fishing, picnicking and playgrounds.
Day Trips from Williamsburg
Historic Triangle of Virginia
The other two towns making the Historic Triangle of Virginia, Yorktown, and Jamestown have their own unique Colonial history.
Established in 1607 as James Fort, the settlement in Jamestown, Virginia, is considered the first successful settlement by English colonizers in the United States. Today, you can visit Historic Jamestowne and Jamestown Settlement. Re-creations of many of the original buildings still stand on the grounds, as well as a museum, replicas of the original ships in Jamestown’s pier, and a recreated Native American Powhatan historic village.
The Battle of Yorktown was a defining instance in the American Revolutionary War. British General Charles Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington in 1781. Although the war officially continued for another year, this moment is noted as essentially the end of the war. This city was also a battleground during the American Civil War. Visit The American Revolution Center at Yorktown, walk through the Yorktown Battlefields, and spend a day strolling along the river’s edge.
If you’re thinking about visiting either of these historic areas, you can purchase a combined ticket for Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown to visit as often as you want for 7 consecutive days.
For a different perspective of the historic site, take a boat tour with Yorktown Sailing Charters. These authentic sailboats will cruise along the York River past Victory Monument, the Yorktown Battlefields, and you might even catch a glimpse of some dolphins or osprey while out on the water.
Lounge on the beaches near Williamsburg, VA
Both Jamestown and Yorktown have public beaches accessible by car to add to your Williamsburg itinerary. However, if you’re willing to drive about an hour away, you’ll find tons of things to do in Virginia Beach, best known for its boardwalk, aquarium, and gorgeous coastline.
Sample 5 Day Williamsburg Itinerary
When I went, we only had three days to explore Williamsburg and the surrounding area. I definitely think we could’ve used an extra day or two to really feel like we visited every historic site we wanted to see and experienced all of the different things to do in Williamsburg.
First and foremost – breakfast at one of the local pancake houses. Then, straight to spend the day at Colonial Williamsburg! Wander around the College of William & Mary campus, and learn about the life and culture of Colonial Williamsburg from the historical reenactors. Take an opportunity to try out a couple of the restaurants in the area, and end your day with a treat from Kilwin’s.
Next up on your Williamsburg itinerary, if you feel like you fully explored Colonial Williamsburg, visit the rest of the Historic Triangle of Virginia – Jamestown and Yorktown! Once you’ve spent the day traversing through the other two Triangle towns, head back towards Williamsburg for dinner outside the Colonial center. Perhaps even experiencing the Williamsburg Tasting Trail?
When you have so many to choose from, today is for the day trip. Start your day at Duck Donuts and then head to the parks! Busch Gardens and Water Country USA, and the Great Wolf Lodge are all amusement parks within easy driving distance from the center of the city.
Or, if you’re interested in going a little farther, you can spend your day on the beach. Stay close to Williamsburg with either Jamestown or Yorktown beaches, or drive an hour out to Virginia Beach.
Day 4 & 5
These days are for overflow. If you decided to take your time through Colonial Williamsburg, spend today exploring all of the other shops and buildings you didn’t get to see on your first day. If you purchased a two-day pass, make sure you choose consecutive days; otherwise, you’ll be able to head into any building that does not have a flag out front.
If you want to spend additional days at the beach, explore a few of the surrounding parks or shops, or visit more than one of the theme parks, these days would be your opportunity to explore the rest of the things to do in Williamsburg!
The next time you have a chance to enjoy a few days in a historic center – from the largest living-history museums to amusement parks – Williamsburg, Virginia, is a great choice, filled with fantastic activities. If you’re looking for a city filled with American history, add Williamsburg to your next East Coast road trip!
What are your favorite things to do in Williamsburg, Virginia? Do you have any recommendations for a Williamsburg itinerary?