For History Buffs, Williamsburg Has Charm

Posted October 13, 2010 at 5:23pm

Visiting Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia is similar to watching a movie based on historical events. Not everything presented is entirely accurate. Plus, the actors portraying the historical characters take their own creative liberties in their roles.

But for history buffs, it’s a surprisingly good time ‘ and visitors might actually learn a thing or two.

About a three-hour drive southeast of Washington, Williamsburg offers a quaint retreat for those looking to spend a quiet weekend away from the hustle of life in D.C. without braving the urban gridlock of the Northeast or making a trip to the airport. There’s enough stuff to do to stay busy, but at the same time, the city is so quaint that lounging around all day is OK too.

While Williamsburg is a city of about 12,000, its colonial area is a 301-acre site within city limits that has been restored to operate as it did in the 18th century, when it was the thriving capital of colonial Virginia. More than 88 original structures remain, while other prominent buildings have been rebuilt on their original foundations, giving visitors a sense of what the city looked like back in the pre-Revolutionary War days.

Visitors can experience Williamsburg on the cheap; there’s no fee to simply walk around the site and look at the buildings, and guests will likely run into actors in historical garb portraying figures such as George Washington or lesser-known Williamsburg residents.

But to actually enter the buildings and partake in historically based activities, guests must buy a ticket ‘ starting at $36 for adults and $18 for youths (ages 6-17). With the ticket, visitors can check out true-to-life demonstrations from blacksmiths, cabinetmakers, silversmiths or wigmakers. There are also walking tours, historical re-enactments and concerts to keep visitors busy.

Colonial Williamsburg is also home to several taverns, which serve meals that are modeled after the types of dishes that colonists would have eaten (but with a few modern touches). And Williamsburg is always abuzz with activity during the holiday season, as specially themed performances, dining and decor take over the town from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.

But not everything in Colonial Williamsburg and its surrounding areas is so, well, colonial. William and Mary College, founded in 1693, is a block or so outside the historical area.

There are also modern touches for those seeking to take a break from the historical fare. Situated between the historical district and the college, Merchants Square is home to several restaurants that provide a relaxing setting to enjoy a meal.

The Fat Canary dishes out hearty entrees such as pan-roasted quail, grilled salmon, grilled Piedmontese beef tenderloin and a variety of fine wines. The Trellis Restaurant across the street serves up similar fare and features live jazz on Friday nights.

But if you’re seeking a less formal setting, the Cheese Shop sells a variety of wines, cheeses and sandwiches to go, a cheaper option that allows visitors to take their purchases back to their hotel or lounge on the patio just outside the shop.

For those looking for something a little more exciting than candlemaking and cheese, the city is home to Busch Gardens Williamsburg, a European-themed theme park with four major roller coasters, three water rides and other attractions, including an animal conservation area that houses gray wolves and bald eagles. Busch Gardens includes a water park, Water Country USA, which is closed for the season but will reopen next spring.

For those who can’t get enough of all things colonial, the Jamestown settlement is just down the road from Williamsburg, offering a similar glimpse into how America’s first colonists lived. Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the United States, now serves as a living history museum, complete with a number of galleries and exhibits, a replica of one of the ships that sailed from England to Virginia in 1607 and a re-created Powhatan Native American village, honoring the people colonists encountered when they came to North America.

About a 15-minute drive from Williamsburg is Yorktown, the waterfront site of the historic battle in the Revolutionary War that sealed victory for the newly formed United States. Visitors can tour the battlefield and see historic relics, while the Yorktown Victory Center tells the story of the war.