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Top 10 Things for Families to do in Williamsburg

Top 10 Things for Families to Do in Williamsburg

Photo by: Shutterstock/Stacie Stauff Smith Photos

Few people have fond memories of the hours that they spent studying history as students in school; books about people whose time has long past or lists of dates that lack context are rarely inspiring. However, children who travel to Williamsburg will gain a new perspective. Even though the stories told in Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown are over three hundred years old, everything about these historic sites is interactive. The entire family can plant corn in the Powhatan’s garden at Jamestown Settlement or sort small grains of ceramic pottery from the debris at Jamestown Rediscovery’s archeology site. Kids can join in the action by storming the Governor’s Palace in Colonial Williamsburg or by going on a mission as a colonial spy at Yorktown Victory Center. A family vacation to Williamsburg will not soon be forgotten – nor will the history lessons learned by the entire family.

10. Paddle the Back River

Canoe Jamestown Virginia James City County Marina

Photo by: Melissa Moore

Driving along the Colonial Parkway between Jamestown and Williamsburg, visitors can get a glimpse of what the land might have looked like to the first English settlers over 400 years ago. The Powhatan tribes in the area used dugout canoes to transverse the wetlands and trade with their neighbors along the James River to the south and the York River to the north. For a different perspective on the Historic Triangle go to the James City County Marina and rent a canoe or kayak for a couple of hours; then 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!

Treetop Junior Williamsburg Freedom Park

Photo by: Melissa Moore

Your kids can run, they can hide, and they can climb up to the treetops in an effort to escape from the immersive history lessons that will surround them in Williamsburg. While your little baboons will surely have fun maneuvering through obstacles in the treetops and zipping down to earth at Go Ape! Treetop Adventures, Freedom Park, 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 of Spencer’s Ordinary and the location of a 17th century colonial period domicile. I doubt you’ll be thinking about the Revolutionary War though as you follow your child on a 600 foot ride down Zip Line #5!

8. Participate in an Archeological Dig at Historic Jamestowne

Archeology Historic Jamestowne Captain John Smith

Photo by: Melissa Moore

Jamestown Rediscovery (also referred to as Historic Jamestowne) is the original site of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America. This area, now managed by the National Park Service, is a large archeological site and aims to teach the next generation about the work being done on site. On select days, the Ed Shed is open to the public providing families the opportunity to actually participate in the research. Kids can join in Sorting N’ Picking, using forceps and magnets to sort through debris for small pieces of iron or ceramics, or observe how a 3D printer is used by archeologists for investigations.

7. Ride the Water Slides at Water Country USA

Water Country USA WilliamsburgPhoto Courtesy of: 2015 SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

Water Country USA is one of Trekaroo families’ 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

Kings Arms Tavern Williamsburg

Photo by: Melissa Moore

In Colonial Williamsburg there are four taverns where families can get a bite to eat while still immersed in the history of the area. 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 the 18th century style. Reservations can be made for dinner on Duke of Gloucester Street just a few doors down from the Capitol building at the King’s Arms Tavern, known for its peanut soup, or Shield’s Tavern, and Christiana Campbell’s Tavern, serving seafood just behind the Capitol building; 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; however, more adventurous children might want to sample off their parents’ plates or choose an adult entrée.

5. Take a Ride Across the James River

Jamestown Scottand Ferry James River

Photo by: Melissa Moore

The Jamestown-Scotland Ferry transports cars free of charge across the James River from a pier next to the Jamestown Settlement to the southern side of the river. The ferry ride across the James River in itself is an adventure, but there is also more history to be found on the other side of the river. Across the river from Williamburg, families with older children will want to consider visiting the Smith Fort Plantation, a 18th Century Plantation built on the land that Chief Powhatan gave to John Rolfe as a dowry for Pocahontas in 1607 now managed by Presere Virginia. Alternatively, nearby Chippokes Plantation State Park, one of the oldest continuously farmed plantations in the country, has an agricultural museum, Olympic-sized pool, and river access.

4. Drive the Colonial Parkway to Yorktown

Yorktown Capitulation Surrender

Photo by: Melissa Moore

Driving the 23 miles of 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 Battlefield, the place where General Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington essentially ending the American Revolution, is likely the most under-appreciated point in the Historic Triangle. However, that all might change in 2016 as the Yorktown Victory Center, currently functioning as a visitor center with daily living history reenactments, opens the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. If this new museum is anything like it’s counterpart at Jamestown Settlement, it will likely be one of the premier American history museums in the country. After touring the battlefield, run by the National Park Service and museum. Don’t forget to stop in the charming historic town for a bite to eat and a walk along the York River.

3. Experience the Thrill of Busch Gardens

Busch Gardens Spring Roller Coaster Williamsburg

Photo by: Melissa Moore

When you’re ready to leave the history behind for a day, head to Busch Gardens Williamsburg for fun rides and delicious food. Parents will appreciate Busch Garden’s award-winning landscaping, food, and beer while the 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. Yes, 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 James River Virginia

Photo by: Melissa Moore

Jamestown Settlement is a living history site that sits right at the edge of the James River less than a mile from the original site of the James Fort, now Historic Jamestowne, an archeological site managed in part by the National Park Service. Each year in early May, Jamestown commemorates the anniversary of the 1607 founding in Virginia of America’s first permanent English settlement. In 2015, my family took part in the festivities for the 408th anniversary – recorded history doesn’t get much older than that in America! 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.

Families traveling to the Historic Triangle seem to agree that the living history at Jamestown Settlement is actually more accessible and interactive for kids under the age of ten than the history 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. Still, Jamestown Settlement should be on every family’s itinerary as they plan a visit to the Williamsburg area; the large museum at Jamestown is easily one of the top history museums in America, and it is the perfect place for older children and teens to look a bit more critically at the stories told about the region.

1.  Go Back in Time to Colonial Williamsburg

Stocks Williamsburg Virginia

Photo by: Melissa Moore

Colonial Williamsburg is the highlight of any visit to the Historic Triangle. It’s impossible to see it all, or more accurately do it all, in just one visit. Most families should plan to spend one or two full days exploring the Revolutionary City. If you’re traveling with older children and teens, take some time before your trip to research different activities such as RevQuest, an interactive scavenger hunt game, as well as theater performances, and interactive activities such as Escape the King, a ticketed event held at the Raleigh Tavern. 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, change 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, and 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 and visit the Great Hopes Plantation to experience what life was like outside the city limits for most common Virginians of the time period. Year round families can rent costumes so they can become even more immersed in the interactive history lessons that Colonial Williamsburg has to offer or ride a carriage through the streets of the city.

Where to Stay

Great Wolf Lodge Slide Boarding

Photo Courtesy of: Great Wolf Lodge

There is no shortage of lodging options available for families visiting the Williamsburg area. From the Great Wolf Lodge, conveniently located just off Hwy 64, 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.

Great Wolf Lodge Williamsburg is clearly a favorite for Trekaroo families staying in Williamsburg. The indoor waterpark is just as welcoming the first week of January as it is the final week of August. While the indoor waterpark has several slides that keep families coming back year after year, each season they seem to add something new and original. For the fall of 2015 they’ve added “slideboarding,” the world’s first interactive video game waterslide. Using rafts that double as video game controllers, riders score points on their way down the thrilling waterslide. Also new for 2105 is the outdoor Howlers Peak Ropes Course where adventure seeking visitors can traverse rope bridges up to 50 feet in the air.

Kingsmill Resort with its complimentary shuttle to area attractions is another Trekaroo favorite especially during the summer months when the outdoor river pool complex is open for families to relax and play as the sun sets over the James River within view of the pool.

Day Trips in Hampton Roads

Battleship Wisconsin NorfolkPhoto by: Melissa Moore

Part of the challenge of planning a family vacation to the Williamsburg area is there is just so much to do. However, if you’re looking for a change of pace, nearby Norfolk and Hampton are also packed with family-friendly attractions.

The entire Hampton Roads region is known for its naval and maritime history, but, currently, Norfolk is home to region’s the star attraction, the USS Wisconsin. If you’ve ever had the slightest curiosity about what it would be like to live or serve upon a ship in the US Navy during WWII or the Persian Gulf War, 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, but my kids enjoyed the expertly manicured formal gardens with lion statues and perennial flowers just as much. 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

Disclosure: The author and her family were provided with complimentary admission passes to several attractions in the Greater Williamsburg area. All opinions are her own.



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