Williamsburg Guide

Williamsburg is part of the Historic Triangle of Virginia, a designation for three towns—the others are Jamestown and Yorktown—that played a pivotal role in early American history. In fact, visiting all three is like taking a survey course of the entire colonial period: Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in North America, Williamsburg was the colony’s capital for nearly a century, and Yorktown was the site of the final battle of the Revolutionary War. Williamsburg is the most popular of the trio, but you can easily visit all of them on the Colonial Parkway, a scenic drive that runs 23 miles from Jamestown to Yorktown.

Historic Jamestowne

In 1606, Captain John Smith set sail for the New World to found an English colony in Virginia. He landed the following year with three small ships and named the settlement Jamestowne after King James I. Though the going was rough—more than half of the settlers died the first year from starvation and disease—Jamestown survived to become England’s first permanent colony in North America.

  • James Fort: Take a walking tour of the 1607 settlement to see excavation sites and artifacts.
  • Jamestown Glasshouse: Glassblowers craft wine bottles, pitchers, and other glassworks using 17th-century equipment and techniques inside a workshop built in 1608.
  • Island Loop Drive: Beginning at the fort, this scenic route on Jamestown Island goes past numerous historic sites and tidal ecosystems. Drive slow—the speed limit is 15 mph.
  • Where to stay: The romantic Colonial Gardens Bed & Breakfast is located just 5 miles from the Jamestown settlement. A hot gourmet meal is served each morning.

Colonial Williamsburg

A living museum that spans several blocks in the heart of the city, Colonial Williamsburg pays tribute to Virginia’s patriotic past. Here you’ll find fifers marching in Revolutionary War regalia and other costumed actors portraying colonists amid 88 carefully preserved and restored 18th-century structures.

  • George Wythe House: This two-story red-brick home belonged to the first Virginian patriot to sign the Declaration of Independence. It served as General George Washington's headquarters just before the siege of Yorktown.
  • Governor’s Palace: Built in 1722 to house the British governor, the opulent manse features a grand ballroom, tiered gardens, and a display of period swords and guns.
  • Merchants Square features old-timey shops selling everything from toys to hand-cooked Virginia peanuts. You’ll also find locally owned restaurants and a landmark theater that hosts first-run movies, classical concerts by the Williamsburg Symphonia, and lectures.
  • Where to stay: Williamsburg Inn, a luxury hotel adorned with 19th-century Regency furnishings, is a short walk from Colonial Williamsburg.

Historic Yorktown

The final battle of the Revolutionary War took place in Yorktown. On October 19, 1781, Lord Charles Cornwallis surrendered to American and French forces led by General George Washington.

  • Yorktown Battlefield: Explore the site of the fighting and the house where the British negotiated their surrender.
  • Yorktown Victory Center is a living museum that recreates the Continental Army encampment; daily artillery demonstrations are featured.
  • Riverwalk Landing: Browse local boutiques and art galleries, dine at waterfront restaurants, and stroll a 1-mile riverwalk along the York River.
  • Where to stay: The historic Hornsby House Inn sits right on Main Street, a short walk from the river.
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