For Christmas, Jay got a hotel reservation in Williamsburg, right next to the old historic town. When researching the area, we realized the tickets were really expensive. We only had one full day to spend in Williamsburg, so we kept wondering, “Is it really worth the price?”
- We had a lot of fun and were able to see most of what was open for the day.
- The town was a nice size, just big enough without being an overwhelmingly long walk.
- Definitely plan on TWO days, so that you can get your money’s worth! (One day pass= pretty expensive for what you get. Two day pass = much better value and will give you a chance to see everything! Make sure to check for discounts, such as senior discounts. Also, Jan-March 15 offers reduced pricing because it is the “off” season.)
- We had read on someone’s website that you could save “huge money” by just walking around the town. True, you can for the most part just walk around the town. BUT, to get into any of the buildings or interactions, you needed to have a pass. If you are a local, then of course just walking around most of the time would be fine. But if you’re visiting, you need to just pay the fee (remember, fees = historic preservation, so it’s a good cause!) and ENJOY the day!
- Decide what time of year you want to go. Some things were not open in March. So, next time, we might go back a different time of year. We DEFINITELY had a lot to see, even for March!
- If you plan to return, you will get to see different things. Each day, each week, is representing different dates and times in history. So when you go through a lot of the buildings, they will be telling you about different events.
- Bring your own water. All the faucet’s were turned off and the vending machines caused much agony throughout the day. If you want to buy water, save your coins (bloodthirsy vending machine will steal your $$!) and buy water at $2.50/bottle from the Bakery on the East end of town.)
- This town tour is meant for those interested in history, politics, and how a CITY runs.
- IF you are a farmer or are there for a more “country” experience, you will likely be disappointed. The pigs had been butchered last fall for the butchering program (would have been fun!) and the animals were on the outskirts of town, with NO interaction between the town and animals.
- If you want to see 1830’s with a lot more rural town, we recommend Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. http://www.osv.org/ ($20 for a two day pass, and tons to see and do!)
- Or, something closer to Williamsburg but involving more animals, definitely check out Mount Vernon! www.mountvernon.org/
Next, you need to decide how to spend your time. Some visits are 45 min to an hour long. Yes, you learn a lot of history. But my theory has always been that you go to SEE the old town, and you can buy the guide book before or after the trip to read up on history. When you arrive at the visitor’s center, they will advise you to see the Governor’s Palace (left photo) and the Capitol building (right photo). These are the two longest visits. Yes, very cool inside the Governor’s mansion. The latticework in the middle of the photo is actually historic swords that have been hung on the walls to decorate the entire front of the house. Tons of guns and swords. FYI, this is a replica of the original house which burned in the late 1700’s. Capitol building would be a recommendation IF you are a Virginia resident or if you’re tired from walking around and would like to just sit and listen and learn about state government.
If you want to, you can participate in many activities. Above, Jay is sitting on the court, where we heard of two trials. I was Mrs. Jane, a tavern owner wishing to renew her taxes for the year. I ad-libbed a bit, to get the crowd a little rowdy. The man third from left is in politics in D.C. and he also got the court woke up by arguing the fine points of the case. This whole section was in the courthouse and was only 25 minutes.
Don’t worry about meals. If you want, you can bring a picnic lunch. There are lots of places to eat. But know, some of the buildings do not allow food or drinks, and it’s not much fun to carry around a big bag. We ate at the King’s Arm’s Tavern, which was the only restaurant open right now on the historic district. (There are tons of restarants closer to the visitor’s center, but for the same price, you get much better QUALITY food at the tavern. Plus, you can try some historic foods such as a berry shrub (berry vinegar with raspberry sherbet, very sweet and delicious!) or rice pudding (imagine bread pudding with rice as the main base. A fun mix of two good desserts). Jay (on right) ordered the beef stew, which was a huge meal with lots of beef. Dad (on left) ordered the Pot Pie, which is made with a cream base. Mom had the daily “macaroni” which was mushroom ravioli. I had the baked chicken with sweet potatoes and green beans. Our waiter George was AWESOME and told us a lot of history and really made the lunch more than just about food!
In the afternoon, Williamsburg turns into a theater where different plays are put on depicting historic events. This is called “Revolutionary City” and is in the eastern part of the town. On the day we visited, the local law keepers were going to tar and feather a man. No, they didn’t actually do it. He “apologized” at the last second. So, not as exciting or dramatic as we had hoped for…
TIP: Spend the MORNING in the eastern part of the town (capitol building, coffeehouse, silversmith, etc.) when the crowds are all on the other end closer to the visitor’s center. Spend the AFTERNOON on the western side, over by the governor’s mansion, church, cabinetmaker, etc.
We started at the printer’s office (left) and he was so informative! He told us about how in the 1600’s, a version of the Bible omitted the word “not” from the seventh commandment. (fyi, 7th command is: Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery” so you can see why it caused a ruckus!) According to him, only certain printers were allowed to print KJV English Bibles, to prevent such omissions from occuring. To prepare a book the size of the Bible for printing would take months, and each individual letter had to be set into place. In conclusion, we spent a lot of time at the printers and highly recommend stopping in there!
Another fun stop is the Silversmith’s, where she taught us about making silver. Apparently, different coins had different levels of silver. You brought your silver to the silversmith and they would melt it down and give you back whatever you asked for in return. In Dad’s hand is what would become a ladle. So, in essence, your currency was kept in many ways!
You can buy items made with 18th century tools from the shop next door. A plain silver ring was $40, to give an idea of price.
This man was making the stick that goes in a butter churn. The pieces made in Williamsburg are generally commissioned from other living history museums. This butter churn for example was headed up to Vermont upon completion.
Across the street was the cabinet maker. He had a huge crowd and really had some interesting things to say. The people speaking are generally the ones that do the work, so they have come to really understand the tools that would have been used “back in the day.” The cabinetmaker was working on a musical instrument, a type of piano, I think. So the work is varied.
When you get your map, the back side will have “Days of the Week” and events posted for that day. (Above) We attended an event for Women’s History Month, where a slave turned Indian was returned to slavery as a casualty of the war. We had to get tickets to go to the event, due to limited spacing. But, the tickets were FREE. Everything listed on the map is included in admissions EXCEPT for the evening events.
Before going, take a look at “Historic Area” map: http://colonialwilliamsburg.org/visit/planYourVisit/howToGetHere/index.cfm
Behind the Governor’s House is a terraced garden. You can’t tell well from this photo, but we just loved the idea! If you are a farmer or gardener with hilly land, be sure to check out this area! (No, not applicable in Maryland! lol)
Each bed is raise about 3-4 feet higher than the next bed.
Something else to check out is the Public Hospital and Museums. The wording is VERY DECEPTIVE: It says “Art Museum” But really, it is just a plain ole EXCELLENT museum. You can get separate tickets, CHEAPER, and spend half a day or more just checking out that area! To give you an idea of what is in there: Paper and Coin money; Silver dish collections; Quilts; Handcrafted furniture; Paintings; old Musical Instruments; Weapons; “How the Coffeehouse was rebuilt” exhibit; maps; etc!
TIP: THIS MUSEUM IS OPEN UNTIL 7PM, so if you have only one day, head to the museum at 5pm when the town closes down!
After dinner, be sure to check out the evening events. Our pocketbooks were empty by then, so we sat in on the Flute Recital at the Bruton Hall Parish. Gave us a time to sit and relax in a warm environment and check out the cool old Episcopal Church! The paid events required a ticket, $12 per person, and you could buy those right in the town at the lumber house.
As we were walking back from the recital to our hotel, I snapped a shot of the full moon. I guess the biggest moon in the past 20 years… It surely was pretty! And as we headed down the street, we were able to stop and listen to the paid Ghost tour going by. The guide was telling a story about one of the hotels where guests heard a ghost walk through their room and out the front door. Pretty hokey, in my own opinion. But, a full moon was the night to do it if you were into Ghost tales! The other paid evening programs were: Legends, Myths, and Fables for Familys OR Learning 18th century Dancing. (I so wanted to do that one!)
SOME MORE TIPS:
- Try to get to the visitor’s center the night before your main day(s) and get a map with that week’s events on it. That way you can plan your trip. Plus, you can check out the book store. Lots of the farming books were heavily marked down. 🙂
- The day of your visit, make sure you are to the town around 8:30 am. Everything opens up and the crowds tend to be less before noon.
- If you think you’ll be coming back often, consider an annual pass or other contributions which may make your visits cheaper in the long run.
- Bass Pro Shop runs a promotional deal for a 2 night stay at Williamsburg really cheap.
- Unless you’re going for knick-knacks, stay out of the shops. This way, you can maximize your time seeing things!
- Be sure to visit the coffeehouse. At the end of the tour, you get a sample of coffee, tea, or chocolate. The hot chocolate, I think, is made from that Colonial Chocolate with all the spices. Mmmmm, it was really good. 🙂 (Yes, free!)