Colonial Williamsburg Part 1: A First-Timer’s Guide

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One of my favorite things to do include visiting museums. I finally visited one of the most well-known museums in Hampton Roads: Colonial Williamsburg. Colonial Williamsburg is a historic living museum that is part of the “Historic Triangle of Virginia”―a trio of communities that were part of the original Virginia Colony of the United States. The triangle includes Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown. The museum itself is not just one building, but a collection of art museums, reconstructed buildings, streets, farmland, and archeological sites.

Let me tell you, this place is huge! I visited with my friend Chy over the course of two days, and we barely scratched the surface of what the entire museum has to offer. This is an experience that definitely requires multiple visits.

Walkway entrance into Colonial Williamsburg features key dates of American History

Where to Stay

If you don’t live locally, you can stay at the Williamsburg Lodge, Griffin Hotel, Williamsburg Woodlands, or within the 18th Century Colonial Houses or Tavern Rooms. Each of these locations are within walking distance of the museum or within the museum. For fun, stay in the 18th Century Colonial Houses or Tavern Rooms to put you back in time. Don’t worry―despite their old timey appearance, they have modern accommodations.

Choose an Itinerary

You will not see everything in a single day. In fact, you probably won’t see everything even if you visited seven days in a row. It can be overwhelming figuring out what to do, so the museum website offers itineraries that can serve as guides. Chy and I combined some of the activities of three different itineraries, and we ended up visiting the Governor’s Palace, the Governor’s Palace Kitchens and Cellars, the Gardens, Chowning’s Tavern, and Tarpley, Thompson & Company. In a separate post, I’ll talk about the nearby Merchant’s Square, which is part of the historic site, but not exactly part of the museum. I highly recommend choosing an itinerary because it narrows down where to go and what you can see. Whichever one you decide to follow, definitely bring your walking shoes!

Catherine Blaikley House Reconstructed. Blaikley was a midwife that delivered at least three thousand babies!

The Colonial Williamsburg site has an itinerary for first time visitors called A First Timer’s Multiday Itinerary. It takes you through some of the museum’s most popular exhibits such as the Governor’s Palace, Historic Trade Sites, and tours.

Explore

The museum offers a variety of exhibits, some including live reenactors and artisanal craftsmen. Some exhibits include the African American Religion Exhibit, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museums. My favorite features of the museum are the “Historic Trades” where you can view demonstrations of old world crafts such as blacksmithing, bindery, farming, weaving, cookery, cabinet and harpsichord making, and more. During my first visit, I spent a lot of time in the “Foodways” exhibit where I got to view colonial cooking at work. Eventually, I plan to see other trades at work.

Abby and Dom (left) at work preparing historic dishes

The Red Lion Reconstructed. A building that housed the barber and wig-maker Walter Lenox.

Where to Eat

You can go for the modern eats from Sweet Tea & Barley, Golden Horseshoe Gold Grill, and more. Or, you can check out the 18th-century taverns such as Chowning’s Tavern and King’s Arms Tavern. Chy and I visited Chowning’s Tavern where we ate meals inspired by local traditions and 18th-century recipes.

Chy and me at Chowning’s Tavern

Special Events and Seasonal Activities

There are seasonal events and activities, so there is always a reason to visit throughout the year.

Archeology Projects

There are still many active archeology sites. From a safe distance, you can view archeologists digging and researching Custis Square, a “4-acre pasture… where the 18th-century home and gardens of John Custis IV once stood,” First Baptist Church, “one of America’s oldest churches founded entirely by Blacks, under the guidance of the congregation,” and other projects (Colonial Williamsburg, 2022).

Our Itinerary

As I mentioned before, we just couldn’t see everything within the two days we visited, but here’s what we did visit:

  1. The Gardens
  2. The Governor’s Palace
  3. The Cellars
  4. The Governor’s Palace Kitchens
  5. Chowning’s Tavern
  6. Tarpley, Thompson, & Company
  7. Merchant’s Square

Overall, the experience was pleasant with plenty to do and love.

REFERENCES

Colonial Williamsburg, 2022. Colonial Williamsburg. Retrieved from https://www.colonialwilliamsburg.org

Colonial Williamsburg, 2022. Itineraries. Retrieved from https://www.colonialwilliamsburg.org/visit/itineraries/?from=navvisit

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