There really is no other American city quite like Williamsburg. Famous for its role in the American Revolution, Williamsburg was the capital of the Virginia Colony from 1699 to 1780. If you have any interest in US history, you’ll be spoiled for things to do in Williamsburg!
No trip to the city is complete without spending some time exploring Colonial Williamsburg. This is where you’ll find costumed characters re-enacting scenes from daily 18th-century life, glimpse historic buildings and churches, and see soldiers practicing musket drills. Colonial Williamsburg is also part of the Historic Triangle, so you’ll also want to pay a visit to the nearby towns of Jamestown and Yorktown for more history.
While it’s tough to ignore all of the historical sites, there’s a lot more to Williamsburg than its storied history. Outdoor enthusiasts will love going kayaking on the James River and hiking in nearby York River State Park. Families traveling with kids can spend their days riding thrilling roller coasters and waterslides at Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA.
However you decide to fill your action-packed days, you’ll love spending your evenings sampling traditional colonial-style cuisine at a historic tavern and enjoying international eats in the bustling Merchant Square.
With so many cool things to see, do, and eat, you might not know where to begin. So we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do in Williamsburg for you. Stick to these fun and unique Williamsburg bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an amazing time exploring this historic city!
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15 Fun and Unique Things to Do in Williamsburg, VA
1. Sample Local Wines at The Williamsburg Winery
A trip to The Williamsburg Winery should be at the top of any oenophile’s Williamsburg bucket list. The 300-acre farm is located an easy 15-minute drive from Colonial Williamsburg, so it’s very convenient to reach.
The winery is owned and operated by the Duffeler family and has been producing award-winning wines since the 1980s. The Extensive Tour and Reserve Wine Tastings offer visitors the chance to sample reserve wines in the private wine cellar. During the 2-hour and 15-minute tasting, you’ll learn all about the winery’s different varietals while sipping wine and snacking on crackers and cheese.
For something a bit more casual, head over to the 1619 Wine Pavilion or the Susan Constant Hall where you can choose from five tasting flight options. If you want something to soak up all that wine, The Williamsburg Winery is also home to the renowned Gabriel Archer Tavern, which serves up incredible farm-to-table dishes.
If you want to go all out or are in town to celebrate a special occasion, you can stay at the winery’s luxurious 28-room boutique hotel, Wedmore Place.
2. Bike around Jamestown Island
Going for a bike ride on Jamestown Island is easily one of the coolest things to do in Williamsburg if you’re an outdoor enthusiast. Jamestown Island Drive is a paved figure-eight-shaped trail that’s open to cars, bikes, and pedestrians.
You can opt to tackle the entire 5-mile loop, or you can just do the first 3-mile loop. No matter which you choose, the entire route is flat and perfect for all levels. Do note that you will have to share the road with cars, so be mindful of your surroundings.
The shorter route will lead you to attractions like Swann’s Tavern, the May-Hartwell House, and Historic Jamestowne. Opt to bike all 5 miles, and you’ll have the chance to visit Black Point. This is the tip of the island that was first glimpsed by colonists in 1607!
Expect to see all sorts of marshland, wildlife, historical markers, and informative signs about the area’s history along the entire Jamestown Island Drive.
3. Step Back in Time in Colonial Williamsburg
If this is your first time in the city, Colonial Williamsburg is a must on your Williamsburg sightseeing tour. The sprawling living history museum takes up 301 acres right in the heart of the city, so it’s best to allot an entire day to exploring Colonial Williamsburg.
Take a look around, and you’ll find a mixture of original and newly-built colonial-style buildings, costumed actors re-enacting scenes from everyday life in the 17th and 18th centuries, and demonstrations by craftspeople.
There’s so much to see and do it’s pretty much impossible to fit it all into one day. But you’ll want to make sure you check out the Governor’s Palace (the seat of Royal power in 18th-century Virginia) and the 1715 Bruton Parish Episcopal Church. You can also explore the rose-studded Colonial Garden, take a horse-drawn carriage ride around the cobblestone streets, and catch a show in the Hennage Auditorium at the Art Museums. The options are endless!
4. Dine on Colonial-Style Fare at a Historic Tavern
Enjoying a meal at one of the city’s many historic taverns is easily one of the most unique Williamsburg activities. The city’s taverns are very popular, so it’s best to make reservations ahead of time.
If you want to dine at one of George Washington’s favorite seafood haunts, you’ll definitely want to pay a visit to Christiana Campbell’s Tavern for their famous seafood-centric dishes. Be sure to try Mrs. Campbell’s famous crab cakes, filet beef with crab-stuffed shrimp, and Gloucester chicken!
King’s Arms Tavern opened its doors way back in 1772. Today, patrons are served colonial-style dishes by staff dressed in 18th-century costumes. Be sure to try the Williamsburg ice cream, which is made just like they did it in colonial times.
Alternately, you can head over to Chowning’s Tavern, where you can listen to colonial-era fiddlers while you dine on Brunswick stew and Virginia pulled pork sandwiches. The restaurant turns into an 18th-century alehouse after dinner!
5. Have a Family-Friendly Day at Busch Gardens & Water Country USA
Williamsburg isn’t all about history. Thanks to its massive theme parks, this city is a popular destination for families with kids of all ages. Busch Gardens is located on the outskirts of town and is one of the best Williamsburg attractions if you’re in town with kids.
Set on 422 acres of land, you can spend the day riding thrilling roller coasters, getting up close and personal with friendly animals, and seeing epic family-friendly shows. If you’re really looking to get your heart pumping, the newly-opened Pantheon is the world’s fastest multi-launch roller coaster!
If you happen to be visiting in the summertime, it’s well worth cooling off at the nearby Water Country USA. This is the Mid-Atlantic’s largest water park, where you’ll find all sorts of 1950s and ’60s surf-themed water rides, daring water slides, fun wave pools, laid-back lazy rivers, kid-friendly play areas, and so much more.
6. Take a Hike in York River State Park
Outdoor lovers should definitely add a day trip to nearby York River State Park to their to-do list. The lush park is set right on the banks of the York River, just 20 minutes from Colonial Williamsburg.
The 2,500-acre state park boasts 30 miles of hiking and biking trails, as well as an estuary, marshes, and forests. Rest assured, you’ll see plenty of local wildlife during your visit, including a wide range of birds.
If you want to take a hike in York River State Park, we highly recommend lacing up your walking shoes and taking a scenic hike to Fossil Beach. As you approach the beach, you’ll see a sign explaining what sorts of fossils you might find.
You may find a shark’s tooth if you’re lucky, but you’re almost guaranteed to come across a Chesapecten Middlesex (an extinct type of scallop). Plus, you’re allowed to take one fossil home with you, which makes this a fun hike for kids and adults alike!
York River State Park is also brimming with opportunities to go boating, kayaking, fishing, and so much more.
7. Get Tipsy on the Williamsburg Tasting Trail
Whether you’re in town on a romantic retreat or a fun-filled getaway with friends, traveling along the Williamsburg Tasting Trail is always a good idea.
Williamsburg has a long history of brewing, fermenting, and distilling alcoholic beverages. Fast-forward to today, and the city is now home to dozens of wineries, craft breweries, and meaderies! And you can sample all of Williamsburg’s best on the Williamsburg Tasting Trail.
If it’s craft beer you’re after, Alewerks Brewing Company has 16 beers on tap and tempting half-pound soft pretzels on the menu. There’s also the innovative brews at Brass Cannon Brewing Co., small-batch brews at Billsburg Brewery, and beer and food pairings at Amber Ox.
For Virginia wine, you’ll definitely want to stop off at the award-winning Williamsburg Winery before heading over to Saudé Creek Vineyards, where you can sip while taking in views of the Pamunkey River.
Then there’s Eight Shires Distillery, which uses 18th-century methods to make some seriously unique craft spirits using traditional recipes and ingredients from the 17th and 18th centuries. Think bourbon made with Indian corn! And don’t miss out on the herb- and fruit-infused meads at Silver Hand Meadery.
And that’s just scratching the surface of everything on offer along the Williamsburg Tasting Trail!
8. Take a Day Trip to Yorktown
History buffs will definitely want to take a day trip to neighboring Yorktown, which is part of America’s Historic Triangle. To get a better idea of the town’s role in the American Revolution, start your day at the American Revolution Museum. Here you can browse artifacts, exhibitions, and military equipment that will take you back in time.
Entry to the museum includes access to the Continental Army Encampment, which is a living history exhibit set just outside the museum. You’ll have the chance to interact with Continental Army soldiers and learn all about their daily life. Yorktown is also home to an 18th-century farm, where you can learn about the family of Edward Moss and their slaves from historical interpreters.
If you’ve got the energy, it’s well worth taking a tour of Yorktown Battlefield – where the last major battle of the Revolutionary War took place – and strolling through Yorktown National Cemetery. Once you’re all tuckered out, head over to Riverwalk Landing, where you can relax over dinner and drinks at one of the many seafood restaurants.
9. Take a Tour of the Governor’s Palace
Located in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg, the Governor’s Palace is easily one of the most iconic Williamsburg attractions. The extravagant estate was home to seven royal governors, as well as the first two elected governors in Virginia: Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.
Unfortunately, the original Governor’s Palace burned down in a fire in 1781, but a replica was built in the 1930s on the exact same site as the original palace. Today, it’s possible to take a fascinating tour of the grounds. Head inside the home, and you’ll have the chance to check out the antique furnishings, period weapons, and regal ballrooms.
In its heyday, the palace functioned as the social heart of Williamsburg and played host to all sorts of extravagant balls and galas. Head outside, and you can wander around the beautiful gardens and watch as cooks prepare traditional colonial dishes in the kitchen.
10. Browse Famous Works at the Muscarelle Museum of Art
Art enthusiasts will not want to miss out on a visit to the Muscarelle Museum of Art. The excellent museum is located on the College of William & Mary campus, which is a must-see attraction in its own right.
The museum’s collection dates back to a portrait that was given to William & Mary by the Earl of Burlington in 1732. Since then, the collection has grown to over 6,000 works across a wide range of mediums. From Japanese prints to German Expressionist works and 17th-century American colonial portraits, there’s a lot to take in!
Peruse the museum, and you’ll see works from famous artists, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and more. You’ll also have the chance to check out rotating exhibits. Past exhibitions include “Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist” and “The Human Frame: Prints by Leonard Baskin.” It’s well worth taking a look at the website to see what fun events are on the calendar during your visit.
11. Sample Sea-to-Table Seafood
With its location right on Chesapeake Bay, it’s no secret that Virginia is famous for its fresh seafood. So rest assured that Williamsburg is brimming with excellent sea-to-table restaurants.
If you only have time to sample one restaurant in Williamsburg, make it Casa Pearl. Set inside a fully refurbished gas station, dining at Casa Pearl is definitely one of the most unique things to do in Williamsburg. Ambiance aside, this upscale eatery is known for its excellent raw bar and creative tacos – think Oyster Po-Boy Tacos!
Berret’s Seafood is another ultra-popular seafood restaurant in Williamsburg. All seafood dishes are sourced directly from Chesapeake Bay and the York and James Rivers.
You’ll love their signature Sautéed Backfin Crabcakes and Potato Chip-Crusted Salmon Fillet! Plus, you can wash it all down with one of the many local craft brews on the menu. For something casual, Fat Tuna dishes out delicious Blackened Tuna Nachos, Coconut Shrimp, and Oysters Chesapeake.
If you’re really hungry, head over to The Captain George’s where you can gorge yourself on a full-service seafood buffet. With delights like She-Crab Soup, Fried Oysters, and Snow Crab Legs, you’d better come very hungry!
12. Go Kayaking in Powhatan Creek Park
Powhatan State Park is just five miles from Colonial Williamsburg, making it the perfect destination if you’re looking to have a bit of outdoor fun. On nice summer days, visitors flock here to go paddling on the park’s 2.5 miles of the James River.
This stretch of river is pretty much flat, so it’s suitable for paddlers of all levels. Along the way, you’ll pass old aqueducts, island beaches, and tidal marshes. You’ll likely also spot all sorts of local wildlife, including a wide range of bird species. The journey takes around two hours, so it’s best to pack a picnic lunch.
If you don’t have your own gear, you can rent kayaks, tubes, and stand up paddleboards from Maiden Voyage Outfitters. They drop you off at the launch site in Powhatan State Park, and you’ll float 4.7 miles down the James River to Maidens Landing where you’ll get picked up.
If kayaking and canoeing aren’t your thing, you can also hike through the forest on the Gold Dust Trail, go swimming in the river, or go star gazing at night from one of the park’s wide-open fields.
13. Embark on a Creepy Ghost Tour
With so much history, it’s no surprise that Williamsburg is a hotbed for paranormal activity. If making contact with ghosts and spirits is up your alley, going on a ghost tour should be at the top of your Williamsburg bucket list!
Get Your Guide offers their Ultimate and Bone-Chilling Ghost Tour, which takes you to 12 of the most haunted sites in downtown Williamsburg. You’ll pay a visit to an eerie insane asylum, stroll through the pitch-black hallways of The Public Gaol (Old Jail), explore a 350-year-old cemetery, visit Williamsburg’s most haunted house, and stop off at the haunted Governor’s Palace, where Thomas Jefferson once lived.
Throughout the 60- to 90-minute tour, your guide will pepper you with all sorts of fascinating historical facts and recount eyewitness accounts of what happened at each different location. Prepare to be spooked!
14. Learn Something New at Historic Jamestowne
If this is your first time in Williamsburg, you’ll definitely want to pay a visit to Historic Jamestowne and the nearby Jamestown Settlement. Located on Jamestown Island, Historic Jamestowne is where the James Fort was built in 1607, as well as the site of the first capital of the Virginia Colony and the first permanent English settlement in North America.
Today, the living museum offers the chance for visitors to learn all about what life was like for early colonists in the 17th century. With the challenges of mysterious diseases, bouts with famine, strife with the indigenous Powhatan people, and the harsh Virginia winters, life was difficult. You’ll also have the chance to peruse the 1,000 archaeological artifacts that have been unearthed over the years.
Jamestown Settlement is just a stone’s throw away and is yet another living-history museum, where you can learn all about the life of the Powhatan people before colonization, the arrival of English colonists in 1607, and what daily life was like for both Native Americans and colonists in the 17th century. It’s a fascinating glimpse into a world gone by.
15. Shop Till You Drop in Merchant Square
Located in Colonial Williamsburg, this unique shopping center is designed to be an 18th-century-style retail center. The picture-perfect Merchant Square is now home to over 40 shops, boutiques, and restaurants, perfect for an afternoon of shopping and an evening of dining. Plus, there’s always something fun going on in this part of town!
If you’re looking for something to bring back home, you can pick up gifts at Wythe Candy & Gourmet Shop, The Spice & Tea Exchange, and R. P. Wallace & Sons. Head to French Twist Boutique for upscale clothes, peruse Danforth for handcrafted metal goods, or pop into Everything Williamsburg for locally-made goods and gifts.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, you can sample hundreds of cheeses at The Cheese Shop, indulge in comfort food at Blue Talon Bistro, or treat yourself to homemade desserts at Blackbird Bakery.
Plus, there are always pop-up events going on in Merchant Square. With its art fairs, music festivals, and farmers’ markets, you’ll love spending time in this beautiful part of town.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Williamsburg, VA. What’s your favorite thing to do in Williamsburg?
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