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One of my biggest travel pet peeves is having technically visited somewhere, but not really. For example, I’ve visited the state of Virginia several times since I was a teenager, but only one town: Arlington, a suburb adjacent to Washington, DC, and only used as a place to sleep. So while I’ve technically been to Virginia, it feels like I’m cheating. It’s almost like there’s an asterisk after my visits.
So when I got the opportunity to visit Greater Williamsburg in southeast Virginia, I was eager to finally get rid of that asterisk and give Virginia the attention it deserves. While it’s only one little corner of the state (though Virginia is technically a commonwealth, as are Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and my home state of Massachusetts), getting to see three different towns allowed me to experience much more than I had in Arlington.
Even better: this wouldn’t be a solo trip but a GIRLS’ TRIP with my friend Oneika the Traveller.
Oneika and I have hung out around the world — in New York, London, Hong Kong, and Bangkok — but we had never actually traveled together before. (Or, now that I think about it, ever spent time together anywhere that wasn’t a megacity!)
And a great girls trip it was — completely with conventional girls trip activities (Spa treatments! Brunch! Gossiping about literally everyone we’ve ever met!) and some less conventional (making music videos singing along to Ginuwine’s “Pony” in our VW Beetle!).
Why go to Greater Williamsburg?
Say “Williamsburg” and the word “Colonial” is probably what comes to mind. Colonial Williamsburg bills itself as the world’s largest living history museum, with forty sites to visit, four historic taverns, and two museums. It’s absolutely worth the visit.
What I loved most is that the people who work at Colonial Williamsburg are so passionate about what they do. It goes beyond simply wearing eighteenth century clothing and checking your tickets on the way in — all of them are well versed in the history and culture of the time period, and you’ll see several of them engaged in activities typical of the time, from embroidery to blacksmithing. Ask a Colonial Williamsburg employee a question and don’t be surprised if you end up chatting for ten minutes!
Technically visitors can walk around Colonial Williamsburg for free, but visiting several of the homes, trades, and other sites requires a ticket. (We used our tickets on the one rainy day we had, which was smart in retrospect, as we got to explore the outside on sunnier days.)
My favorite place that we visited was the George Wythe house, with its bright and colorful rooms.
I mean, if you can make an avocado-green dining room look good, you’re clearly doing something right.
One night on a lark, Oneika and I ended up visiting one of those historic taverns: Christiana Campbell’s, which apparently was a favorite of George Washington.
We were served seafood by candlelight, had napkins tied around our necks, and were served “spoon bread” — an underdone, almost pudding-like cornbread served out of a cast iron pan with a spoon. I could have eaten that spoon bread all night!
(Let me share a somewhat related story: I was 12 years old and on one of my school’s many field trips to historic Salem, Massachusetts. We were on a bus tour and the guide said, “George Washington slept here. He also slept everywhere, and that’s why he’s the Father of our Country.” We EXPLODED. To a busload of seventh graders, that was the funniest joke on the planet and one that we repeated ad infinitum for the rest of the year.)
One Great College Town
Williamsburg is home to the College of William and Mary, the second oldest college in the United States (only Harvard predates it), founded in 1693. The William and Mary campus is pushed up against Colonial Williamsburg, so it integrates well with the town.
I absolutely love college towns, especially towns home to smaller liberal arts schools like William and Mary. They have a great energy and excitement to them. There are lots of intellectual events taking place. If a major political event happens, you can bet there will be protests. Plus, cheap eats galore.
I’m pretty sure I never dragged myself out of bed before 10:00 AM during my college years, but there was a surprising number of students studying and drinking coffee at Aromas Coffeehouse at 8:00 AM! (Everyone was in hoodies and yoga pants. Apparently college fashion has stayed the same since I was there.)
I also loved the Culture Cafe, which had funky small plates — they even had deep-fried cheese curds on the menu.
But even the high-end restaurants in town cater to the students — like Blue Talon Bistro, arguably my favorite restaurant in Williamsburg. You might think that a nicer restaurant would eschew college students — but they actually welcome them. Certain nights of the week, they offer discounted entrees to the students. It’s known as the “special” spot in town, popular for dates and parents’ visits. As a result, many students who marry their college sweethearts in Williamsburg have their rehearsal dinner at the Blue Talon!
Another thing I loved about Williamsburg is that there are so many dogs! We made so many new puppy friends — including a three-month-old American Eskimo dog who had been adopted the day before, was walking on a leash for the first time ever, and whirling around like a tornado!
The Tasting Trail
If you’re a fan of tasting booze along the way, you can visit the Williamsburg Tasting Trail! The Greater Williamsburg region is home to excellent wineries, breweries, and distilleries.
I tried some local whiskies at Copper Fox Distillery. If you’re a whiskey fan in the least, you should stop here because they uniquely use fruitwood peat to flavor their whiskies. You can taste soupçons of cherries, peaches, and apples thanks to using the peat from those trees! You’d be hard-pressed to find that at any other distillery in the world.
This was another of my favorite meals in Williamsburg. Everything was plated beautifully and their risotto was beyond sensational.
And pretty much every girls’ trip involves you and your friend debating for ten minutes whether you should order dessert, then ordering it and polishing it off in two minutes flat. For me and Oneika, it was the chocolate macadamia cookie ice cream sandwich.
If you’re more into beer, one nice restaurant and brewery is the Amber Ox.
You can get flights of beer — they also have the most delicious pimento cheese and a killer pecan pie!
Unlike a lot of the other restaurants, it’s walking distance from Colonial Williamsburg, so you can indulge a bit and walk back without needing a designated driver.
And if your tastes don’t happen to be as boozy, go for a chocolate tasting instead! We went for A Chocolate Tasting Exploration at Taste Studio for a lesson and demonstration on different types of chocolate. We finished it off with a rich homemade hot chocolate and homemade marshmallows.
Dipping Into Luxury
If you’re looking to treat yourself, Greater Williamsburg is an excellent place to do so. We started out with some spa treatments at The Spa of Colonial Williamsburg.
Whenever I get the opportunity to get a spa treatment, I go for a facial — living in a big city means I get all kinds of gunk and pollution embedded in my skin — and the one in Williamsburg did not disappoint.
My esthetician actually put a pumpkin enzyme mask on me, so I joked that I was getting the full pumpkin spice facial, just in time for fall!
Later that day, we visited the Williamsburg Inn, one of the most famous properties in town. I fell in love the moment I walked in — it was just so grand and peaceful. If you’ve got a late afternoon free, you should absolutely come to the back patio for cocktails.
That evening, we went to the Inn’s restaurant, the Rockefeller Room, for a six-course tasting menu. And was this ever DECADENT!
Every dish was immaculate and the wine pairings were outstanding. My favorite was the champagne-esque sparkling white wine that came from the local area!
My favorite dish of the evening? Olive oil-poached salmon with dukkah, jalapeño yogurt, and cushaw.
“The battle of Yorktown. Seventeen-eighty-one.” I may have whispered this to myself multiple times in Yorktown, as I’m sure any Hamilton fan would!
Yorktown is a short drive from Williamsburg and the site of the battle that ended the American Revolution. You can explore the battlefields or just spend time in the small but lovely town. There’s a beach, too.
For me, the highlight of Yorktown was the excellent American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. There are a few different films, and one told the stories of three lesser-known heroes of the American Revolution — a black man, a white woman, and a Native American man. I was floored. You rarely see these storylines put front and center.
Another film is shown on a curved screen, IMAX-style, and you feel the cannons shoot as smoke swirls around you! It’s such a cool experience and you should sit in the front row.
Also, Oneika and I couldn’t have been more polar opposites in terms of American Revolution history. I grew up outside Boston, going on constant field trips to Revolutionary War-era sites. There’s a historic home on my street dating back to the 1700s — which means there’s a decent chance that Paul Revere or one of the other midnight riders rode through the land on which my childhood home now sits.
Oneika, on the other hand, is Canadian, and thus came in with very little American Revolution knowledge. It was a lot of fun sharing my favorite historical tidbits with her.
OH, AND WE GOT TO DRESS UP IN THE CLOTHES, TOO.
Jamestown brought to mind memories of my technically-honors-but-really-AP US History class in high school, with our teacher telling us his job was to teach us, “Everything that happened from Jamestown until yesterday.” Truthfully, our class lost steam around the 1950s, and that’s why I ended up getting a humiliating 2 on the AP exam (WHY was my essay question about Eisenhower and highways? But I digress…).
Jamestown, of course, was the first permanent English settlement in what is now the United States. It’s also the place where John Smith and Pocahontas met. We visited Historic Jamestowne, a live archaeological site and national park. This was the original settlement — and it wasn’t rediscovered until 1994. That blows my mind.
Historic Jamestowne (with an e!) is part of the Colonial Historical National Park, which also includes Yorktown Battlefield and the Colonial Parkway. There is also the Jamestown Settlement (no e!), a re-created monument with replica ships, James Fort and a Powhatan Village.
After visiting the settlement, we went for a sunset cruise on the Jamestown Discovery.
The Jamestown Discovery is a pontoon boat that takes you along the James River. And BOY did we have an amazing sunset that night!
It was a casual, low-key way to spend the evening. I love how the boat played tons of 80s hits, culminating with “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” the moment the sun dipped out of view.
Where We Stayed — the Williamsburg Lodge
The Williamsburg Lodge was a great place to stay. Rooms were elegant, comfortable, and had a bit of the Colonial Williamsburg air without being gimmicky. I enjoyed heading down to the bar one night and listening to some live music while enjoying a glass of local red wine. And the location was ideal, literally right across from Colonial Williamsburg.
Do know that it’s a pet-friendly hotel. The room next to mine had a dog that literally barked every four seconds and it drove me crazy, so I called the front desk and they moved me to another room. Their pet policy says pets aren’t supposed to be left alone and if there’s a complaint about a pet, the owners get a warning; if there’s a second complaint after that, they’re asked to leave the hotel.
Would I stay here again? Absolutely.
I never would have chosen to go to Greater Williamsburg on my own, so I’m so glad this opportunity came my way! This is a lovely corner of Virginia and a wonderful setting for a girls’ trip.
If I had to choose my absolute favorite activities of the trip, it would be Colonial Williamsburg itself, the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, and the Jamestown Discovery sunset cruise.
My three favorite meals were brunch at the Blue Talon, lunch at Gabriel Archer Tavern, and the six-course tasting menu at the Rockefeller Room at the Williamsburg Inn if you can swing it.
Essential Info: Greater Williamsburg is a 50-minute drive from Richmond Airport and a 20-minute drive from Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport. I was able to fly to Richmond Airport direct from LaGuardia. Definitely rent a car and be sure to be cautious while driving — the speed limits around Colonial Williamsburg are almost comically low and you don’t want to get a ticket.
We stayed at the Williamsburg Lodge. Rates from $116 per night.
Tickets to Colonial Williamsburg are $40.99 for a single day pass and $50.99 for a three-day pass.
Copper Fox Distillery offers free tours every 30 minutes. They also have tastings and seasonal cocktails for a small fee.
The Chocolate Tasting Exploration at Taste Studio costs $22.50.
General admission to the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown is $15 and the Jamestown Settlement is $18, but you can get a combination ticket of both for $25.50. (Read on for more combination tickets.)
There is also a combination ticket that gives you access to all Colonial Williamsburg sites, Historic Jamestowne, Jamestown Settlement, American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, and Yorktown Battlefield, all for seven days. If you plan on visiting each these destinations on your trip, definitely buy this ticket.
You may want to time your Greater Williamsburg visit to avoid major events at the College of William and Mary. We were there during Parents’ Weekend and some of the restaurants in Williamsburg were booked solid. I would especially encourage you to avoid graduation weekend!