Few places take you back in time like Williamsburg, Virginia. It started as Middle Plantation between 1630 and 1633 when some settlers from Jamestown moved there. When the Jamestown capital burned down, a temporary capital was built at Middle Plantation. When the capital of Jamestown burned down again in 1698, they decided to move it permanently to Middle Plantation and renamed it Williamsburg, in honor of King William III. After Governor Thomas Jefferson moved the capital to Richmond, Williamsburg became a sleepy town.
In the 20and century, tourism led to the renaissance. Today, Colonial Williamsburg is Virginia’s most popular tourist destination. There is a good reason. Where else can you meet famous people from history? I met the Marquis de Lafayette. You can meet George Washington or dozens of people who participated in the American Revolution.
It was an organized trip, but all opinions are mine.
The Capitol is Williamsburg’s most impressive building. It is built in a Georgian style and has twin apses, curved turret-like buildings and a joined central section. This is not the original but an authentic recreation of the first capital built in 1705.
Our guide started in the section used as a courtyard and walked us through the general assembly sections. She gave examples of demonstrations of the activities carried out in each of the sections, enabling us to act as participants in the development of Virginia’s first laws. An interesting historical fact about the Capitol: On June 29, 1776, Virginians declared their independence from Great Britain and drafted Virginia’s first constitution 4 days before Congress passed the Declaration of Independence.
The most interesting event is Cry Witch which is held in the Capitol at night. We witnessed a mock trial of Grace Sherwood, the so-called witch of Pungo. The actors representing the judge, the district attorney, Grace and the witnesses were so talented. During the trial, the judge called the public to ask questions, and after hearing the witnesses, he allowed us to vote. Grace was found guilty by a vote of 42 to 40.
Pro tip: Colonial Williamsburg is within walking distance, but there is a free shuttle every 15 minutes from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. with eight stops in the neighborhood.
2. Governor’s Palace
The Governor’s Palace, also a replica of the original that burned down, has Palace Green, a beautiful green space in front of it. It is surrounded by gardens and outbuildings which I visited myself. To enter the palace, I took my place on a bench outside the gate while a docent gave some basic facts. Then another docent gave us a tour of the building, explaining what each room was for. Few people walked past the lobby and the offices that adjourned at that time. The elites invited to the balls danced until dawn. Our docent explained why no one wanted to be the first to leave because as soon as they left the other guest started gossiping about them. Some things never change.
3. Archaeological sites
Williamsburg prides itself on being historically accurate. Archaeologists use evidence combined with historical documents and images to create the city as it really was. One important location they are digging is the site of two African American Baptist churches. The mid-19th century First Baptist Church was demolished, as it later depicted. Now they are digging a smaller old building under this church. Built in the mid-1700s, it is considered one of the oldest African-American churches in the country.
There is an exhibit telling the story of the church in the Taliaferro Cole stable across the street.
Custis Square, around the corner from the church site, is another archaeological site where the house and gardens of John Custis IV once stood. Custis was the father of Daniel Custis, Martha Washington’s first husband. John was an avid gardener and had many unusual plants. The excavations have recovered many artifacts, including old wine bottles, coins, etc.
4. Randolph House and Yard
The dark red-framed Peyton Randolph House, built in 1715, is one of the oldest homes in Colonial Williamsburg. It was the home of Peyton Randolph, president of the First and Second Continental Congresses, and his wife, Elizabeth. They used it as a hospital to treat wounded soldiers during the Revolution. It has the reputation of being the most haunted house in the United States. Lafayette spent two nights there during his visit to the United States in October 1824. He wrote about strange paranormal events that happened to him there.
The Randolph Yard showcases the lives of the slaves who worked here. A docent showed us the kitchen where Betty, the cook and her helpers worked.
Throughout the historic district there are places where various tradesmen worked and we visited several of them. The tailor and his companion explained how they made clothes for the city. The blacksmith’s workshop was occupied by several blacksmiths who worked at the forges. There are tinsmiths, cabinetmakers, builders, apothecaries, hatters, wigmakers, etc.
At Charlton Stage, you can learn a trade, meet a nation builder in person, learn about Native American life and much more.
6. Public Jail
This was where debtors and criminals were imprisoned. Some of the Blackbeard pirates were held there before they were hanged. Cells make you want to stay law abiding.
7. Bruton Parish Church
It was the official Episcopal church in the area, and they expected all Virginians to attend regularly. It’s still an active church with a small museum and gift shop on the same block.
8. Historic Gardens
Throughout the neighborhood there are several historic gardens with guides to tell you about the crops grown then. We saw many farm animals, including sheep and horses, which pull the historic horse-drawn carriages which you can book to tour the village.
Pro tips: You can walk around the neighborhood for free, but you must purchase a ticket to enter the Visitor Center buildings. Additional tours are available for purchase.
9. Haunted Williamsburg Ghost Tour
The night we did the ghost tour it rained so we didn’t get the full experience. Still, it was fascinating and Iris, our guide, told many stories about the places in the neighborhood, including personal experiences and encounters with staff members.
10. Merchants Square
Merchants Square, at the end of the historic district, offers modern shops, restaurants and the Kimball Theater.
11. Art museums
Art museums are filled with multiple galleries ranging from folk art to Colonial Williamsburg artifacts. Some collections I visited were A gift to the nation, Navajo weaving: adapting the tradition, The art of quiltingand American folk pottery.
12. Golden Horseshoe Golf Club
The courses here were designed by the father-son team of Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Rees Jones. We took a tour of the course in a golf cart, and although I’m not a golfer, the beauty of the course is impressive. There is only nature surrounding the course, not the housing estates. Hole 16, an island green where we stopped, has been compared to that of Augusta, where the Masters takes place.
The Spa at Colonial Williamsburg is a treat for body and soul. Besides the traditional spa facilities, steam rooms, showers and whirlpools, which surpass any I have ever visited, they have hair and nail salons, a well-equipped fitness center, an indoor pool, a family pool and an adults-only tranquility pool. I had an aromatherapy massage.
The spa provided bathrobes, slippers and a private locker. Clint, my masseur, had magic hands and I left feeling like all my muscles were back to perfect condition. We enjoyed the Spa Food package consisting of a charcuterie board and an equally delicious dessert board.
14. Kings Arms Tavern
Since Jane Vobe opened the original tavern in 1772, this authentic reproduction of a pub has been serving 18th century cuisine adapted to today’s tastes. The decor is authentic and the waiters dress in period costumes. John, our server, was amazing with his knowledge of how they did things at the original tavern. At each class he told us detailed stories about the food and culture. Peanut soup – the spelling of the menu is true to the era – was a popular dish then. I had the Smoked Golden Yard Bird for my entree and it was superb! John assured us that people back then ate desserts to cleanse the palate, so I took his advice. The pecan pie with pecan buttercream ice cream refreshed my palate.
15. Terrace Room
The Terrace Room is in the Williamsburg Inn where Queen Elizabeth II stayed during her visit to Williamsburg. I started with the Shrimp Cocktail and had the Maple Mustard Glazed Duroc Pork Tenderloin. Dessert was banana Foster creme brulee. The food and ambience are fit for royalty.
16. Sweet tea and barley
On our last day in Williamsburg, we dined at Sweet Tea and Barley at Williamsburg Lodge where we stayed – another cozy place with an 18th century feel. I started with the Chesapeake crab chowder, then had shrimp and grits for my entree. Dessert was spiced bread pudding with vanilla ice cream – so delicious.
Pro tip: Williamsburg Lodge, on the edge of the historic district, is a wonderful place to stay. There is a shuttle stop in front. I loved my room at Ashby Guest House with modern amenities in a 17th century style building.
Be sure to visit the many historic towns Virginia has to offer: