Few parents have fond memories of the hours that they spent studying the history books at school. However, many remember their favorite childhood vacation or the field trip that they enjoyed with their 5th grade class. A family vacation to Williamsburg, Virginia will create those lifetime memories for your kids. Wondering what to do in Williamsburg Virginia with the family? Read on for our top 10 choices.
What to do in Williamsburg Virginia with Kids
10. Paddle Like Pocahontas the Waterways of Williamsburg
Powhatan tribes in the Williamsburg area used dugout canoes to transverse the wetlands and trade with their neighbors. For a different perspective on the Historic Triangle, go to the James City County Marina and rent a canoe. Paddle through the channels humming Disney’s “Just around the Riverbend”, imagining what life might have been like in the days of Pocahontas.
9. Hang out in the Treetops with Go Ape! Freedom Park
Need some adventure in your family vacation? Go Ape! Treetop Adventures, has plenty for the entire family. Your little baboons will surely have fun maneuvering through obstacles in the treetops and zipping down to earth. Go Ape! Treetop Adventures, like everywhere else in the Historic Triangle, has a rich history. Freedom Park sits on land that was once the setting of the Revolutionary War battle. I doubt you’ll be thinking about the Revolutionary War on a 600 foot ride down Zip Line #5!
8. Participate in an Archaeological Dig at Historic Jamestowne
Historic Jamestowne is the original site of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America. This area is now managed by the National Park Service alongside a historic preservation society. It is a large archaeological site and aims to teach the next generation about the work being done on site. If you’re a history lover, don’t miss the daily Archaeology Tour that tells the stories of the artifacts found on site.
7. Ride the Water Slides at Water Country USA
Photo Courtesy of Sea World Parks and Entertainment
Water Country USA is one of Trekaroo’s favorite water parks on the East Coast. It can get hot in the Historic Triangle and there is no better place to cool off than at Water Country USA. With plentiful life jackets for the little ones, a lazy river where anyone can float as long as they’d like, and over a dozen rides and slides, there is something for the entire family at this seasonal outdoor water park.
6. Dine like it’s 1779 at a Tavern in Williamsburg or Enjoy the Williamsburg Taste Festival
In Colonial Williamsburg, there are four taverns where families can get a bite to eat while still immersed in history. At these taverns, visitors can hear the servers explain the history of the hospitality business during the time of the Revolutionary War and enjoy a serenade from a musician singing a ballad in 18th century style. Reservations can be made for dinner at King’s Arms Tavern, Shield’s Tavern, and Christiana Campbell’s Tavern. King’s Arms Tavern is known for its peanut soup. It is not necessary to make a reservation for lunch at these taverns or at Chowning’s Tavern. The simple four item kids menu is the same no matter which tavern your family chooses to dine. Picky kids can choose from favorites like hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. More adventurous children might want to sample off their parents’ plates or choose an adult entrée.
If you’re a family of foodies, plan your vacation for spring so that you can experience the Williamsburg Taste Festival. Families can enjoy the a variety of local food only a short walk from Colonial Williamsburg. There are tastings and cooking demonstrations, as well as bands, games, and food trucks.
5. Take a Ride Across the James River to Williamsburg
The Jamestown-Scotland Ferry transports cars free of charge across the James River. A ferry ride across the James River is an adventure, but there is also more history to be found on the other side. Across the river from Williamsburg, families with older children will want to consider visiting the Smith Fort Plantation. This 18th century plantation was built on the land that Chief Powhatan. It was given to John Rolfe as a dowry for Pocahontas in 1607. Nearby Chippokes Plantation State Park, one of the oldest continuously farmed plantations in the country, has an agricultural museum, Olympic-size pool, and river access.
4. Drive the Colonial Parkway to Yorktown
The windy, scenic Colonial Parkway will fast-forward families almost 175 years forward from the time that the English struggled for survival at the original Jamestown Settlement to the British capitulation at Yorktown. Yorktown Battlefieldis likely the most under-appreciated point in the Historic Triangle. It is where General Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington essentially ending the American Revolution.
Not far from the battlefield is the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. This modern museum has even more living history for families to experience. Don’t forget to stop in the charming historic town for a bite to eat and a walk along the York River. We recommend lunch at the Riverwalk Restaurant where the view is amazing!
3. Experience the Thrill of Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Leave the history behind for a day and head to Busch Gardens Williamsburg for fun rides and delicious food. Parents will appreciate Busch Garden’s award-winning landscaping, food, and beer. Kids will enjoy coasters ranging from Sesame Street-themed Grover’s Alpine Express for little ones, to Tempesto, which launches more experienced thrill seekers to speeds of 63 MPH and features a high-speed inversion at 154 feet in the air. Even if your family has already visited your local amusement park recently, you’ll still want to leave time in your Williamsburg itinerary for Busch Gardens. The European-themed villages throughout the park are charming and the rides are exhilarating.
2. Meet the Powhatan and the English at Jamestown Settlement
Jamestown Settlement is a living history site that sits right at the edge of the James River. It is less than a mile from the original site of the James Fort, now Historic Jamestowne. Jamestown Settlement is composed of four main areas: the Powhatan Indian Village, the James Fort, a pier where the ships are docked, and a museum. In early May, Jamestown commemorates the anniversary of the 1607 founding of America’s first permanent English settlement. My family took part in the festivities for the 408th anniversary – recorded history doesn’t get much older than that in America!
Families agree that the living history at Jamestown Settlement is actually more accessible and interactive for kids under the age of ten than at nearby Colonial Williamsburg. At Jamestown the story is simpler. There are two groups of people, the Native Americans and the Settlers, in a situation mirroring the familiar story of the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth. The large museum at Jamestown is easily one of the top history museums in America. It is the perfect place for older children to look a bit more critically at the stories told about the region.
1. Go Back in Time at Colonial Williamsburg
Colonial Williamsburg is the highlight of any visit to the Historic Triangle. It’s impossible to see and do it all in just one visit. Most families should plan to spend one or two full days exploring the Revolutionary City. Families with younger kids will likely want to leave their days unplanned and wait to see what sparks the interest of their children as they walk around town. Each family’s experience will be different based on which costumed storytellers they speak and interact with during their visit.
Everything, from the food available for purchase to the events on the daily calendar, changes with the seasons. In January, our tour of the Governor’s Palace included a chat with a musician practicing the harpsichord for the winter social season. We warmed up by sipping hot apple cider as we walked down the Duke of Gloucester Street. Summertime visitors can learn the art of making mud bricks firsthand by stomping in muddy clay at the brickyard. Visit the Great Hopes Plantation to experience what life was like outside the city limits for most common Virginians of the time.
Where to Stay in Williamsburg, Virginia
There is no shortage of lodging options available for families visiting the Williamsburg area. From the kid-friendly condos at Kingsmill Resort to camping at a nearby state park like Chippokes Plantation State Park, just across the James River, there are options for every family and every budget.
Kingsmill Resort has a complimentary shuttle to area attractions. It’s a Trekaroo favorite ,especially during the summer months when the outdoor River Pool complex is open. Families can relax and play as the sun sets over the James River within view of the pool. It’s also a lovely property to bike around with the family.
Great Wolf Lodge Williamsburg is another favorite for Trekaroo families staying in Williamsburg. The indoor water park is just as welcoming the first week of January as it is the final week of August. They’ve added “slideboarding,” the world’s first interactive video game water slide. Using rafts that double as video game controllers, riders score points on their way down the thrilling water slide. At the outdoor Howlers Peak Ropes Course, adventure seekers can traverse rope bridges up to 50 feet in the air.
Day Trips in Hampton Roads
Part of the challenge of planning a family vacation to the Williamsburg area is that there so much to do! If you’re looking for a change of pace, nearby Norfolk and Hampton are packed with family-friendly attractions.
The entire Hampton Roads region is known for its naval and maritime history. Norfolk is home to region’s the star attraction, the USS Wisconsin. The Battleship Wisconsin is open for the public to explore as part of the ticket to the neighboring Nauticus Museum. Seeing photographs of the battleship launching the first missiles of Operation Desert Storm, brought me back to one of the first historic events I remember seeing on television as a kid in school. My own kids were quite entertained checking out everything to the ship from the radio control room to the living quarters.
For a total escape from history, check out the Norfolk Botanical Gardens. There is a huge children’s garden complete with three separate water features. My kids enjoyed the expertly manicured formal gardens with lion statues and perennial flowers. We could have easily spent the entire day strolling the paths and stopping to smell the roses.
Looking to spend more time in the “Old Dominion State”? Check out our Top 10 Things To Do in Virginia with Families.
This post was sponsored by Visit Williamsburg. No specific opinions were asked to be expressed by the sponsor and the author’s resulting coverage is unbiased.
All photos by Melissa Moore unless otherwise credited.